Steven R. Crawford, Ed.D.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to temporarily adopt remote teaching as a measure to help our students continue their education through the end of the spring semester. There is even a possibility, in some parts of the country, that remote teaching may need to be utilized for summer and fall courses as well. Below are five steps you can take to ensure your students have the educational experience they need without overwhelming both them and yourself.
1. Consider bandwidth
One of the simpler things we can do during this transition to remote teaching is to record video lectures or present our course content via videoconferencing tools. However, this may not be the most equitable approach for our students. There are many students who once relied on internet access from public spaces such as libraries and coffee shops that are now relying on their phone’s mobile data plan for access to your course. The increased use of video may cause your students to quickly reach the limits of their data plan and become cut off from the internet and your course for weeks at a time.
Stanford (2020) asks us to consider both this question of bandwidth and the need for immediacy — how quickly we expect students to respond during learner-to-instructor and learner-to-learner interactions. A student’s ability to be interactive may be hampered by the need to provide child care or to provide care for other family members. Stanford has divided various interactive methods into four quadrants based on bandwidth and immediacy (see Figure 1). Using this model, it becomes clear that video conferencing tools place an expectation on students that they will have reliable access to the internet and the ability to be interactive whenever the course is scheduled to meet. Meanwhile, other tools in the lower half of the figure will allow students to access critical course content and interact without using limited resources to access the internet and allows for them to manage other issues that may be occurring at home.
2. Focus on your objectives
Marie Kondo has popularized a philosophy of how to clean different spaces and you will need to do the same for your course. The best way to do that is to focus on your course alignment. You will want to begin reviewing your course objectives and then identify if your course’s content, activities, assessment, and interactions fully align with course objectives and are not overly duplicative of each other.
- Write out each course objective.
- Under each objective, list all of the course elements that support the objective.
- Review the list to see which course readings, videos, activities, assignments, etc. are supporting each objective.
You may find that multiple items support the same objective. To simplify the course, remove some of the extra or duplicate items. You may also find that some items support multiple objectives. These are items you’ll want to keep. Finally, you may find that you have some orphan items that have been part of your course for years but no longer support a course objective. These should also be removed from the course.
This can be very difficult as it may mean your favorite resources and assignments may no longer have a place in the course. Try not to focus on what course elements you might be losing. Instead, remember how important it is to simplify your course so that the important parts stand out as such for the learners.
3. Explore alternative assessments
One of the greatest concerns as you shift to remote teaching may be related to how you will assess your students’ learning. While one response is to conduct a multiple-choice test using remote proctoring, this may not be the most equitable for your students. Not every student will have the required webcam, internet connectivity, and/or quiet space in which to take the proctored test. Instead, when a test of knowledge and comprehension is needed, make the test an open book test and limit the amount of time students have so that they can not look up every question.
Whenever possible, you will want to focus on projects and activities that are fully aligned with your course learning objectives. These types of projects will allow your students to be creative and you should encourage your students to submit not just a paper, but also video and other materials that will allow them to show that creativity. For example, if you have a course objective where your students are expected to do a particular activity, they could write a report on what they did, they could create a photo essay, or they might record a video.
It is important to acknowledge that not every assessment can be conducted while remote teaching due to limitations in resources and safety concerns. This is often the case for career and technical programs where the students must use specialized welding equipment, special labs, or participate in clinical rotations. However, there may be options where the students still demonstrate some of the required skills at a smaller scale at home. In some cases, there might be simulations or home kits that students can use to meet the expectations of your objectives.
4. Be wary of free tools and resources
Many companies are offering their tools and content to the education community at no cost during the pandemic. But there are several reasons why you will want to approach these tools with caution. Here are the things to look out for:
Service Agreements — One of the first signs that a tool is being overwhelmed by users is that it will begin to slow down or even go offline. As a “free user” you do not have a service level agreement where the provider agrees to have the tool fully functioning within a certain amount of time. Nor do you have someone to call to let them know you are having a problem. Therefore, you and your students may be waiting and hoping a tool becomes functional in time to complete an assignment.
Student Data — Another concern is related to student data. When you are using free tools, you do not have the ability to discuss how the data will be used and how it will be protected. Some companies have recently come under scrutiny because they are accessing more data than needed such as a user’s Facebook profile and providing that data to advertisers. More importantly, you may not be able to access a student’s data during a grade dispute. There are also concerns that what you may believe to be a private interaction through the tool is not and is publically accessible.
Cost — While the tool may be free today, it will not be free forever. If you need to teach your course remotely beyond a few weeks, you may find yourself needing to pay for the tool to finish teaching your course. Your students may also be sent a bill after the tool is no longer free, which could be problematic since they may not have the funds to pay this unexpected bill and continue in the course.
If your institution has adopted a tool, you can safely assume that they have negotiated these issues and that the tools will be there when you need them as you teach remotely. You may also want to look at open educational resources as these tools and content have been developed by the educational community to be used at no cost. More importantly, you can often update and revise the open educational resources to meet your specific needs.
5. Embrace compassion and community
Remember, while you may not have intended to teach this course in a remote manner, your students did not initially sign up for a remotely taught course either. Both you and your students may be struggling with the adjustment. That’s why it is important to communicate often with your students and remind them that we are in this together.
You will also want to make sure you are providing your students with an educational experience similar to their other courses in the program. To do this, work with your department chair and other faculty in your discipline to ensure you are using similar methods for remote teaching. This will help reduce the stress for yourselves and your students as they will have similar expectations when moving from course to course. If you are a department chair, invite instructional designers and librarians into your department meetings to discuss how you can better support your students via remote teaching.
Stanford, D. (2020). Videoconferencing alternatives: How low-bandwidth teaching will save us all. Retrieved from https://www.iddblog.org/videoconferencing-alternatives-how-low-bandwidth-teaching-will-save-us-all