Monday, August 10, 2020

Remote Learning Best Practices (Sort of)

I've been teaching high school physics for 22+ years, and for 18 of those years I've also been a professor at a nearby community college, where I teach every summer. Most of my colleagues think that I need to have my head examined for voluntarily teaching in the summertime, but - what can I say? - I'm hooked on this teaching gig.

This past summer I had the opportunity to teach a completely online class for my college, and it was a great experience! I’ll admit that at first I was concerned about delving into this brave, new world of remote teaching, but now that I’ve gone through an entire course, start-to-finish, I wanted to share with you my thoughts and advice for how to teach a class remotely in terms of what I have found to be best practices. Of course, not all of this advice will apply equally for all situations or classes, and I encourage you to experiment with what works best for you and your students.

1. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: having done asynchronous teaching last spring for my high school and synchronous teaching for my college this summer, I think it is far better to do live, synchronous teaching. It provides a regular structure for the students, and many are reassured to have regular "face-to-face” contact with their teacher. However, I plan to structure my classes with a strong asynchronous component as well – in the form of required, regular discussion board posts to keep students engaged and accountable even when they aren’t “in class”.

2. Student Interaction During Live Class: if you are doing a class live, then something that worked out very well for me was for students to disable their video and audio. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) It lessens the bandwidth that you need to use (which decreases lagging and/or dropped sessions), and 2) it lessens distraction on the students’ part since they have to watch you. In terms of having students interact live, the way that worked best for me is to have them post questions and answers in the online chat; of course, you have to keep an eye on that chat window while you’re doing a lecture, so you have to be on your game!

3. Make Use of Breakout Rooms: the breakout room feature is very helpful; whether it was having my class do group discussion, in-class problem solving, or remote lab work, I found that providing time for students to work directly with each other was critical to both their learning and positive social interaction. I recommend having some kind of breakout room session at least once per week, but make sure you “run laps” and drop in to keep those kiddos on task!

4. Record Your Live Class: for every live lecture/class I did at the college this summer, I recorded the sessions and uploaded the videos daily so that students who wished to go back through the lesson could do so. This is also very useful for students who, for whatever reason, were absent from class.

5. Outfit Your Teaching Space: make sure that you have your own teaching space or “classroom” at home, if you’re teaching remotely. This will help provide you with a degree of familiarity and comfort, and if you are comfortable it will help set your students more at ease.

6. Use Tech to Your Advantage: as a follow up to #5, if you are doing live teaching, there are a *lot* of options – you can use your computer’s webcam and set up a white board to lecture at; you can use a digital writing pad (I personally use a Gaomon, cost $70 on Amazon) in conjunction with the Paint program on your computer (Paint is easier to use and more versatile than the digital whiteboard on Zoom or Google Meet, in my view); you can also get a document camera to write on paper directly for display; on that last note, doc cams are rather expensive and can be quite finicky, but here’s a cheap teacher hack that I’ve used in a pinch J

Make your smartphone a webcam -

7. Regular Assessments: again, in order to provide structure and a degree of accountability for students, I recommend that you work regular assessments into your remote teaching. For example, something I did at both my high school last spring and the college this summer is require students to do a weekly quiz over that week’s material. Working properly with your institution's online CMS, you can set up such assessments to be timed (and adjusted accordingly for students with extended time) and draw questions from a question bank so that no two students’ quizzes look exactly the same, etc. There are lots of options, and if you play around with it you’ll find something that works for you.

8. Take Brief Breaks: my college class over the summer was 3-hours every morning, Monday through Thursday, and that is a *lot* of screen time! Both teachers and students this fall semester will be experiencing a lot of screen time as well, so try to work in regular, short (roughly 5-10 minute) breaks during any live classes to give your eyes a rest, go to the restroom, etc.

9. Check Email Regularly: some students won’t feel comfortable engaging you in class, so make sure to check your email a few times per day to see if they’ve sent you private questions. I’ve found that many students are quite appreciative of that “personal” touch.

10. Embrace the Insanity & Ask for Help: honestly, these past months I’ve felt more like a first-year teacher than any other time since I actually was a first-year teacher back in 1998! While it has been quite a challenge, I’ve taken the view that this situation is an opportunity to adjust and hone my skills as a teacher, and that positive outlook has definitely helped me during the rough patches. Also, DO NOT HESITATE to ask your colleagues for assistance when you need it. Due to the wonders of modern technology (such as this blog), we are not separate from each other, so maintain your connections with your colleagues and lift each other up. In short, we can view this challenge in the following manner…

Those are my thoughts and advice, such as they are; if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. Semper Gumby! J

Cheers – Matt Lowry

No comments: