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Five Remote Teaching Strategies to Keep for Online Teaching

Photo of woman working in the dark on a laptop by Victoria Heath on Unsplash
Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

Roslyn Miller, PhD 

Before a global pandemic drove practically all on-campus instruction to emergency remote instruction in Spring 2020, several elements that students need for effective learning were often lacking:

  • Inclusion in the community of learners
  • Access to all content
  • Interaction with the teacher
  • Interaction with other students
  • Engagement with the content

The importance of these elements for learning has been well-established and emphasized in professional development for online teaching, as witnessed in the comprehensive resource for faculty development professionals, TOPkit; however, these best practices may have been sacrificed for the sake of getting content into a course and grading student work.

Remote education during the pandemic has been challenging for everyone. With all students learning at a distance, the need for equity and inclusion, interpersonal interaction, and engagement with course content became even more apparent.

As we emerge in fits and starts from the pandemic, these elements should retain priority. As we move toward a likely increase in intentionally-designed online teaching and learning, students’ needs warrant our sustained attention. The pandemic helped us see the value of humanizing learning, and many teachers upped their games to use these strategies.

Inclusion

During remote teaching, teachers became more aware of the range of environments in which students were trying to learn. Many students did not have a good computer or fast, reliable internet. Students had at least some of their attention diverted from class meetings and assignments to address home, family, and work issues. They were not in environments conducive to focused study or virtual meetings.

To address these needs, faculty, institutions, and communities scrambled to supply students with computers and teach with mobile-friendly strategies. Faculty development professionals encouraged teachers to ensure all students were welcomed, seen, and heard, even while they were physically isolated. Faculty empathized with and accommodated the variety of student learning contexts. They strove to provide a safe, reliable space for students while the world around them was disrupted and the future unpredictable. They tried to meet the needs of students where they were and make them feel welcome and heard.

Practices that have been used in remote teaching to help students feel included in a class’s community warrant continued emphasis as intentionally designed online learning is expected to increase post-pandemic. These practices include:

  • Ask students to introduce themselves as a course begins.
  • Ask students about their learning context and adapt teaching with their needs in mind.
  • Facilitate a discussion early in the course to create a set of community values.
  • Tell and show students you care by asking how they are doing or feeling.
  • Invite students to share an item with the class that represents their cultural background.
  • Provide opportunities for all students to be seen and heard throughout the course. Collaborative tools such as Padlet, Google docs, or Jamboard are useful for this.

Practices that help students feel included help create a learning community. We need to continue to prioritize building community in online teaching.

Accessibility

Before the pandemic, each piece of course content may have been provided in one format, such as text or video or images; accommodations for alternate access were provided perhaps only when requested for students with specific needs. During the pandemic, we faced the spectrum of student needs across the population, not just a dichotomy of normal/special. On a greater scale, teachers realized all students have needs and provided for the range of needs, such as providing means to read content that was spoken or listen to content that was written. These provisions included:

  • Captions for videos for students to read along, even those with full hearing
  • Transcripts of video and audio content so students can read as needed or desired
  • Text descriptions of images or graphics

These alternative means of accessing content benefit not only students with disabilities, but also those whose work-life situations make distance learning valuable. This is the goal behind Universal Design for Learning—to benefit all students in their great diversity.

Student-Teacher Interaction

Emergency remote teaching demanded a regular schedule of teacher presence by default with its synchronous virtual meetings, but online courses that do not have synchronous meetings also need a strong teacher presence.

Make time each week to show your presence in your online class. Here are some ways to do that:

  • At the beginning of each week send an announcement that provides a brief overview of the coming week’s objectives and activities.
  • Post office hours, whether virtual or in-person, and encourage students to visit you in them.
  • Be present in online discussions, not by posting replies to every student, but by occasionally clarifying muddy points, correcting misconceptions, or extending the learning when needed.
  • Provide prompt and substantive feedback for student work.

Inject some audio or video of yourself in your course.

  • Record a brief video to introduce yourself to your students. Include it in your course orientation module.
  • Many learning management systems include a built-in feature to provide audio or video feedback in the gradebook. Use it at least occasionally. You might find you like it better than providing written feedback.
  • Create and share a video of where you are.

Frequent meaningful interactions with your students in your online courses can increase their motivation, satisfaction with their online learning experience, and their outcomes (Protopsaltis & Baum, 2019).

Student-Student Interaction

During the time of emergency remote education, teachers found ways for students to connect with each other and work collaboratively:

  • Discussion boards (e.g., discussion forum in the learning management system, Flipgrid, Packback)
  • Virtual conferencing (e.g., Zoom, MS Teams, conferences feature in your learning management system)
  • Virtual labs
  • Social media (e.g., Twitter, Discord, Slack)
  • Real-time collaborative tools (e.g., Google docs, Office365, Jamboard, Padlet)

These tools are useful beyond emergency remote teaching and valuable for intentionally designed distance learning.

Engagement

One of the areas about which teachers expressed the greatest trepidation during remote teaching, after perhaps integrity in tests and assignments, was student engagement. Teachers lectured in virtual meetings with only a screenful of student names to view and heard only silence in response to questions or discussion prompts. They quickly acquired practices and tools to get students to engage actively with course content. They used polls to elicit student responses; they used breakout rooms to provide students opportunities to talk to each other; they used technology to provide students opportunities to reflect on their learning. We need to sustain this increased attention to student engagement in our intentionally designed online courses post-pandemic. Here are some ways to support student engagement in online content:

  • Provide a preview of content to pique curiosity and interest. For example, ask questions in a poll to get students to guess answers that will be provided in the content.
  • Provide content in bite-sized chunks so students can digest content adequately (e.g., short videos, brief readings). Introduce each chunk of content with a brief description of its purpose, the learning objective it will address, and how they will apply the content or demonstrate their learning (e.g., a specific assignment or assessment).
  • Provide low-stakes opportunities to rehearse or apply content immediately after seeing or hearing content (e.g., poll questions, practice quiz, game simulation).
  • Provide course content in a variety of ways (e.g., video, audio, text, images).

Engagement methods can and should continue. Let’s carry these best practices forward.

Conclusion

As we slowly return to our regularly scheduled educational programming, let’s not leave behind the solid learning strategies that we turned to during emergency remote teaching:

  • Equity and inclusion
  • Accessibility
  • Interaction with the teacher
  • Interaction with other students
  • Engagement with the content

For those who contribute to faculty development programs, guiding faculty to practice these important humanizing, community-building strategies, feel free to engage in the TOPkit community. We empower you with timely, trending events and resources to improve your practice of preparing faculty to teach online/blended courses.

 

References

Protopsaltis, S., & Baum, S. (2019). Does Online Education Live Up to Its Promise? A Look at the Evidence and Implications for Federal Policy.