Exchange: Session 3 Tips

The November 11th iLearn Exchange looked at intensive or compressed curriculum and stimulated some great discussion. Dr Peter Keegan outlined the approach Ancient History has taken in Session 3 units. Ms Scarlet An talked about the FBE ‘KickStart‘ initiative and working with convenors on developing intensive units. Thank you, Peter and Scarlet!

Dr Peter Keegan, Ancient History

The unit that Peter used as an illustration is a ‘Planet’ unit that is 1st year or level 1. In session 3, it has between 250-300 students. One convenor manages and marks the unit.

Peter’s advice:

Preparing students

  • Look at your student cohort by the first week. They can be mixed:  some might be intending to use the session to finish their degree program; some will be domestic, some international; for some, session 3 is the only chance to take a course they are interested in. Students might also be taking two session 3 units, which is very demanding. If you have access to student records, you can check whether they have experience in your subject and so gauge what support they may need.
  • Students coming to it as a new field don’t know much about Ancient History, History in general or even Arts, so some support resources, from information on referencing style to bibliographic guidance, are useful. Especially if they are coming into a 200 or 300 level unit without experience in the subject, students need to be informed of what is required. Have a prepackaged info memo that is sent to students.

Q: Do you expect any work from students before the start of session?
A: No, this is difficult as session 2 ends a week before session 3 starts. I open up the unit a week early and have all content available from the start.


  • Quizzes take time to set up but are very useful for engaging students and structure their work through the content. Suggestion: have three sets of quiz questions that are rotated each year.
  • Online discussion can be chaotic – try to keep it restricted to one thread per discussion.


  • Note that students won’t read every post and you should include information in lectures and in as many other places as you can.
  • Use announcements and dialogue – announcements are instrumental in keeping students informed.


  • Christmas break is useful for students to do reading over this time and prepare. The uni is online, but note that there is no support for any tech problems, so you should try to avoid making assessments due in that time.
  • For design, keep it simple and clear.
  • Need to find a balance between content and the time students have. Select key content. Don’t want to overload on readings etc.

Q: How do you have the equivalent of a 13 week course in 5 weeks?
A: Intensive format looks at depth rather than breadth of content.


  • Set parameters on your availability at the beginning of program to establish reasonable expectations.
  • For assessment, be careful to have something you can manage for the expected number of students. As always, but especially for Session 3, alignment and clarity on assessment is important.
    As students may be in different timezones, be specific about the local time for deadlines on assessments.
  • Session 3 can roll mercilessly into Session 1, so bear in mind what you need to do to get marks in – build in a little leeway if you need to keep an eye on preparing for S1.

See more on Peter’s approach and other case studies on the Session 3 section of the MQ site.

KickStart program, Ms Scarlet An

The Faculty of Business and Economics have worked on a ‘KickStart’ initiative in which some units have opened up content to students about two weeks in advance. This enables students to get oriented and even judge the suitability of the unit before the official start of session.

In the intensive-mode pilot, convenors in FBE worked as a group, so were able to see what each person was doing and share ideas. Some units opened up only a couple of topics before session so students wouldn’t be overwhelmed, while others opened up all the content from the start. Some convenors looked at ways of being more flexible in stretching the time out and even scheduling a break. Of course, this was possible in the pilot trial, but would be difficult in a more strictly scheduled session.

One online unit uses Blackboard Collaborate (virtual classroom) to deliver content rather than through prerecorded video. As content in the unit is dynamic and turns about quickly, the convenor wanted to try the webinar format. She also used a webinar session to allow students to drop in and get to know their convenor.

Students tended to use text to interact rather than audio. While a webinar takes place at a particular time, students can access a recording if they are unable to attend live. Sessions between 6 and 7pm tend to work best – however, for example, convenors and students with children might find this timing difficult.

Feedback on intensive mode so far has been positive, with participants experiencing more connection and interaction with teachers. For example, due to the short time frame, students receive assignment feedback quickly. Scarlet is continuing to collect further data on the pilot.

See more KickStart information on the MQ site.

For more information on Blackboard Collaborate, see the Communication section in iLearn Infosheets.