The transition from teaching your students face-to-face in your classroom to teaching them online in virtual mode is an unexpected challenge that has educators around the globe rising to the occasion.
But, much like teaching a difficult lesson to your students, breaking the task down into distinct steps can be incredibly helpful. Ready? Let’s begin.
What is Remote Teaching?
Online learning (also known as distance learning, eLearning, etc.) has a long history dating back at least 1960 when the University of Illinois created an “intranet” system of linked computer terminals that students could use to access course materials and hear recorded lessons.
Fast-forward to 2020 and — thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic — remote teaching has been forced to the forefront. Today, educators around the country and across the globe are getting resourceful and creative amid the ongoing transition to remote teaching.
- Key characteristics of remote teaching include:
- It occurs outside the traditional, physical classroom.
- Educators are separated from their students by distance and, often, time.
- Technology is essential (video conferencing software, discussion boards, learning management systems, etc.).
- Teachers deliver their lessons either synchronously (live) or asynchronously, meaning students watch them via recording.
- Technology is also used to facilitate two-way interaction between teachers and students.
Of course, by now everybody is aware that effective remote teaching is considerably more complex and challenging than simply flipping a technological switch and mirroring the same techniques they have successfully used in the classroom.
“The remote teaching experience has already begun to transform the way teachers teach and learners learn,” says Matthew Evans, who teaches a course titled Basic Remote Teaching Strategies, one of many such courses among the University of San Diego’s online educational offerings.
“Out of necessity,” he notes, “educators are finding creative ways to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of remote teaching and learning — an experience that includes optimizing what can often be unfamiliar technology, collaborating with parents and keeping students safe online while effectively engaging them in meaningful learning activities.”
For teachers eager to excel in the remote teaching environment, taking an online course is not just an opportunity to learn about new strategies, tools and best practices; embracing the role of online student can provide valuable first-hand insights into the remote teaching experience.
The following are some of the most important steps to consider in order to effectively make the switch from traditional classroom instruction to the brave new world of remote teaching:
1. Determine Your Schedule
Though this may seem like a bland bit of advice, creating a sense of order and organization is essential for remote teaching. Putting in place a daily routine helps give students a sense of stability and predictability. Doing so is also important for parents, who likely need to make scheduling adjustments to accommodate their children’s ongoing educational needs, as well as for teachers.
One recommended way to put structure in place is to establish a shared class calendar. This makes it easy for students and parents to know, at a glance, when offline assignments are due, when to jump online for virtual classroom activities, etc.
2. Establish Your Communication Plan
Remote teaching works best when there is a centralized hub, or home base, for your communications with both students and their parents.
Typically, this hub takes the form of an online learning platform or learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard (the LMS used by the University of San Diego for its online educator programs) or countless others.
In most public school settings, the school district will put in place the online learning system and support teachers in using it effectively. Today, millions of teachers and students are also using Google Classroom; though consensus is lacking as to whether it is technically an LMS, some influential educators contend that Google Classroom is actually better than an LMS.
3. Be Mindful of Instructional Delivery Methods
There are multiple methods to deliver your lessons and educational content. But whether you use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, prerecorded video, self-study or even game-based activities, it is essential that the delivery method you choose for any particular lesson enables each student to engage with the material in an organized manner that puts the focus on the lesson rather than how it is delivered.
To accomplish this, it can be helpful to identify key learning objectives for each lesson when deciding on the most effective way to deliver the material your students. This is because the methods you use to share the material can make a big difference in how well students engage with it.
4. Revise Assignments for Remote Teaching
Revising or updating assignments for remote teaching can be considered a combination of several important factors:
- Part smart use of your available technology tools
- Part putting yourself in your students’ shoes
- Part professional instinct
To be more specific, here are several tips shared by leading educational websites:
- Look for ways to encourage students to interact with your lessons (perhaps by including questions with the information).
- Thoughtful and careful sharing of links to third-party online resources can add value to some lessons.
- Place greater emphasis on self-study and independent learning, a technique that supports the idea of allowing students of all abilities to learn at their own pace.
- K.I.S.(f)S. — or “Keep It Simple (for the) Students” — is a twist on a familiar acronym suggested by ReadTheory.org; a concept that they note is helpful for parents too.
Education blog Albert.io features some advice on how to: “Level up your presentation skills.” Their first tip (Show Your Face) is to consider using your face as the onscreen focal point rather than the content. Their second tip (Pay attention to your tone and facial expression) encourages teachers to avoid overly scripted communication in favor of talking to the camera as you would to your students in the classroom.
In terms of how students engage with the material, USD instructor Evans adds the following observations:
- Many teachers have become more flexible in allowing students to revise assignments to make sure students are learning.
- Teachers are also allowing multiple submissions and providing feedback on improvement.
- Many teachers are using Google Doc “Comments” and “Suggested Editing” functions to help students.
5. Implement Strategies to Deliver Assessments Online
Asking questions related to your assignments to gauge students’ understanding and skill development is considered to be one of the keys to handling assessment while teaching remotely.
This is one of several assessment-related strategies offered by ConnectionsAcademy.com, an online schooling network that also suggests:
- Using online assessment tools such as Google Forms, Kahoot and Quizlet.
- Inviting students to submit video recordings of themselves using applications like Flipgrid.
- Providing self-assessment opportunities (This involves engaging students to consciously reflect on their learning goals, be observant of their progress toward those goals during the learning process and, afterward, reflect on how well they achieved those goals and what they might do differently next time).
6. Have a Plan to Keep Students Motivated During Remote Learning
Having students set individual or class goals for working remotely, and communicating about their progress is one strategy suggested by Khan Academy.
Another is to “recognize milestones.” They give an example of a teacher who engaged students in a specific challenge; then once they succeeded, his end of the deal was to film a celebratory video of himself gingerly walking across a pile of Legos.
Being conscious of the language that you use to motivate students during remote teaching can also make a significant difference, according to Edutopia.org, which invites to consider the value of “moving from compliance to engagement.” Their examples include:
Instead of “I expect you all to ...,” try “Your next challenge is ...”
Instead of “Here are three things you need to do ...,” try “Here are three things to try as you ...”
7. Be Aware of the Emotional Impact of Remote Learning on Students
“It’s essential to remember that remote learning is about more than just the curriculum,” advises Khan Academy. In a helpful article titled “7 Tips for Effective Remote Learning,” they suggest:
- Encouraging reflection (“Try switching out an assignment with an opportunity for students to write and reflect on their remote learning experience.”)
- Being honest about the challenge (“Remote learning is a lot to take in all at once. Share your remote teaching and learning experience with students, and let them know it’s ok to struggle with a new tool or a new concept.
From an overall perspective, “It is paramount for the teacher to be available for support and reaching out to students and parents,” says University of San Diego online instructor Evans, who has closely studied this important topic and teaches a course on Social Emotional Learning with Remote Teaching.
Remote Teaching Tools & Resources
One of the ongoing themes as the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the move to remote teaching is a mutually supportive “we’re all in this together” mindset that is evident in the wealth of online resources connecting teachers with:
- Specific remote teaching tips
- Helpful technology tools
- Clearinghouse type compilations of strategies, best practices and more
Here are just a few of the latter:
Additionally, many educational institutions have shared their wisdom on this vitally important topic. For example, the University of San Diego has published several comprehensive blog posts on how teachers everywhere are approaching their online teaching “learning curve”:
For educators seeking to learn applicable new skills and advance their understanding of remote teaching tools and best practices, USD’s Division of Professional & Continuing Education offers a range of helpful online courses. These include:
Remote Teaching FAQs
How Do I Revise Classroom Assignments for Remote Teaching?
Key strategies for revising classroom assignments for the remote teaching environment include focusing on creative ways to engage students across the virtual divide, thoughtful and careful sharing of links to third-party online resources that can expand students’ understanding of important concepts related to your lessons. Additionally, though remote teaching is by nature filled with complexities, many educational thought leaders suggest that teachers look for ways to “keep it simple.”
What Do I Need to Know About Instructional Delivery Methods for Remote Teaching?
There are multiple methods to deliver your lessons and educational content while teaching remotely. These range from the technology you use to the strategies you employ engage students. The technology side focuses on tools like Zoom, Google Classroom, online learning management systems, live chats and more. Your mix of strategies might include both synchronous and asynchronous lessons, prerecorded video, self-study, game-based activities, discussion boards, engaging students by asking questions related to your assignments to gauge their understanding and skill development, etc.
How Do I Deliver Assessments in a Remote Teaching Environment?
Popular methods for delivering assessment while teaching remotely include online tolls such as Google Forms, Kahoot and Quizlet. Many educational resources also suggest strategies for engaging students in self-assessment exercises that are overseen by their teacher.