Best Practices for Teaching Remotely
Keep these principles in mind:
- Communicate early and often: Early and frequent communication can ease student anxiety, and save you dealing with individual questions. Let students know about changes or disruptions as early as possible, even if all the details aren’t in place yet, and let them know when they can expect more specific information. Don’t overload them with email but consider matching the frequency of your messages with that of changes in class activities and/or updates to the broader crisis at hand. For example, if the campus closure is extended for two more days, what will students need to know related to your course?
- Set expectations: Let students know how you plan to communicate with them, and how often. Tell students both how often you expect them to check their email, and how quickly they can expect your response.
Distribute course materials and readings
You will likely need to provide additional course materials to support your changing plans, from updated schedules to readings that allow you to shift more – or all – instruction online. In a pinch, providing some new readings and related assignments may be your best bet for keeping the intellectual momentum of the course moving.
Considerations when posting new course materials:
- Make sure students know when new material is posted: If you post new materials in AIMS or another shared resource (e.g., Office 365, be sure to let students know what you posted and where. You might even ask that they change their notification preferences to alert them when new materials are posted.
- Keep things accessible & mobile friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a mobile device available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats including PDFs. Consider saving other files in two formats, its original application format and a PDF. PDFs are easier to read on phones and tablets and keep the file size small, and the original file format often has application features that are helpful to students who use accessibility software. Also note that videos take lots of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have the network and computing resources to access them during the current situation.
Instructors may use Zoom:
- Zoom is an existing NEOMED tool available to all instructors, staff, and students that can facilitate remote attendance. Instructors can use Zoom’s video conferencing to offer online sections and/or lectures. Zoom also allows you to record these sessions and share a link for viewing by your students. (Note: When setting up Zoom sessions, you should avoid making students use passcodes to connect to the session.) Before you can use Zoom, you must install the Zoom software for your device and log in for the first time.
Due to the many compliance issues (e.g., student privacy, copyright) associated with public posting of recorded lectures, instructors should not post this content on any site other than their AIMS course site.
Run lab activities
One of the biggest challenges of teaching online from anywhere is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.
Considerations as you plan to address lab activities:
- Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work). Save the physical practice parts of the labs until access to campus is restored. The quarter might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.
- Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
- Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
- Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities such as Zoom.
Foster communication & collaboration among students
Fostering communication and collaboration among students can build and maintain a sense of community that can help keep students motivated to participate and learn.
Consider these suggestions when planning activities:
- Use asynchronous tools when possible: Having students participate in live Zoom conversations can be useful, but scheduling can be a problem, and only a few students will actively participate (just like in your classroom). In such cases, using asynchronous tools like AIMS Discussions allows students to participate on their own schedules. In addition, bandwidth requirements for discussion boards are far lower than for live video tools.
- Link to clear goals and outcomes: Make sure there are clear purposes and outcomes for any student-to-student interaction. Define how this activity helps students meet course outcomes or prepare for other assignments.
- Build in simple accountability: Find ways to make sure students are accountable for the work they do in any online discussions or collaborations. Assigning points for online discussion posts can be tedious, so some instructors ask for reflective statements where students detail their contributions and reflect on what they learned from the conversation.
- Balance newness and need: As with any changed activities, you will need to balance the needs and benefits of online communication and collaboration with the additional effort it will require on everyone’s part. Learning new technologies and procedures might be counterproductive, particularly in the short term, unless there is clear benefit.
Collecting assignments during a campus closure is reasonably straightforward, since many instructors already collect work electronically. The main challenge during a campus disruption is whether students have access to computers, as anyone needing a campus computer lab may be unable to access necessary technologies. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid email for assignment collection: It may be easy to collect assignments in small classes via email, but larger classes might swamp your email inbox. Consider using Office 365 Shared Drives or AIMS Assignments instead. Balance what is simplest for students with what is easiest for you to manage.
- State expectations but be ready to allow extensions: In the case of a campus closure or other crisis, some students will undoubtedly have difficulties meeting deadlines. Make expectations clear but be ready to provide more flexibility than you normally would in your class.
- Require specific filenames: It may sound trivial, but anyone who collects papers electronically knows the pain of getting 20 files named Essay1.docx. Give your students a simple file naming convention, for example, FirstnameLastname-Essay1.docx.
Portions of Teaching Remotely is adapted from “Keep Teaching,” with permission, from the Indiana University keepteaching.iu.edu website. “Keep Teaching” content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License by the Trustees of Indiana University.