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Teaching Online & Remotely

Here are four best practices for teaching online (ONLN) and remotely. Pragmatic tips are offered for how you might translate the recommended practices into your own teaching this fall. For a more comprehensive guide, please review the Teaching Commons’ YorkU Guide to Teaching Remotely.

1. Focus on the course’s most important learning outcomes, and scale down passive learning components.

Sometimes, online and remotely-delivered courses end up being a ‘course and a half’ in terms of workload for students as well as for instructors. To balance instructor and student workload in online/remote teaching and learning, consider how you might scale down the way you deliver the required components in your course, especially as they pertain to passive learning components such as lectures. While you may need to scale back your expectations in term of content delivery, this does not mean that you create a diminished student learning experience.

What does this scaling down look like in practice?

  • Review your existing course, and consider which learning outcomes are the most important to achieve. Focus on the most important learning outcomes, and consider how they may be achieved in an online/remote format.
  • Select readings that will be easily available to students from anywhere in the world, such as the Open Access materials or York Library’s e-resources.
  • Scale down the length of your lectures. If you are scheduled to deliver a two-hour lecture each week and plan to record it using PowerPointCamtasia (TechSmith Relay)Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, please consider reducing the overall duration of your lecture. Because we speak at a faster pace and do not pause as often in our recorded lectures, we need to take this into consideration, and reduce the overall length of our lecture by 25 to 50% (e.g., a two-hour lecture could be scaled down to 1 to 1.5 hours).
    • Break down your lecture into meaningful segments that are no longer than 20 minutes each. For lectures premised on content delivery, be concise and focus on the most important points (e.g., concepts, themes, etc.) that students need to know, especially if this knowledge will be tied to assessment. In response to students’ shorter attention spans, it is more impactful to deliver lectures as a series of shorter, well-organized, hyper-focused chunks of content.
    • In response to students’ different learning styles and needs (e.g., ESL students and students registered with Student Accessibility Services), please provide students with multiple formats for accessing your lecture. Your lecture notes should be supplemented with audio (e.g., podcasts) or video. Online/remote lectures should approximate the richness of face-to-face lectures in content and format, so that text-only presentations (e.g., lecture scripts or PowerPoint slideshows alone) are not by themselves sufficient stand-ins for online/remote instruction.

2. Go (mostly) asynchronous, especially for large lecture classes.

Online/remote learning is most effective when students are provided with flexible learning opportunities that allow them to learn and engage with course material at their own pace. While we have always taught a diverse group of students, this diversity is amplified by the circumstances in which students currently find themselves (e.g., international and out-of-province students in different time zones; students affected by local or global digital divides and uneven access to technological resources; students who are primary caregivers to sick family members; students working on the frontlines of COVID-19 in the service industry, health care, military or criminal justice system).

To provide equitable learning opportunities to all students, please consider the following asynchronous learning opportunities:

  • Pre-record your lectures, and post them to eClass at a specified day and time each week. If you plan to deliver your lectures ‘live’ during your scheduled meeting time, please record them, and make them available on eClass for students who are unable to attend your class. For more information about the standard operating procedures for recording synchronously-delivered content, whether through Zoom or another videoconferencing platform, read our tips and guidelines.
  • If participation grades will be assigned to students as part of your assessment of student learning, please tie these grades to tasks and/or discussion activities that can be completed by students through eClass.
    • For example, participation grades can be assigned to lower-tech, asynchronous forms of weekly participation, such as weekly posts on the eClass discussion forum. The discussion forum can be used to encourage students to relate new concepts to their own lived experiences, or to real-life/hypothetical case studies. Provide clear instructions, checklists or rubrics (you can download this example) so that students know what you want them to post, and when and how often they should be posting. Let students know that you (or your TA) will be visiting the discussion forum at preset times each week, so that you can facilitate the discussion with additional questions, nudges or clarifications.

3. Add synchronous extensions to enhance the student learning experience.

To accommodate as many students as possible, an asynchronous core is being recommended, so that students can complete the required components of weekly learning (e.g., lectures and participation) at their own pace and convenience as much as possible. However, synchronous extensions should be offered to students to enhance their learning experience, especially in smaller class settings such as seminars. If you will be offering synchronous components in your course, please be sensitive to time zone differences, as some students will be joining your class from time zones as far apart as China and Dubai.

Synchronous extensions are meaningful because they can virtually replicate some of the intimacy and immediacy of face-to-face learning. As we continue to physically and socially distance, students would like to be provided with opportunities to connect with their peers, instructors and TAs in real time. These connections will be important for keeping students engaged and motivated as they learn in the online/remote environment.

Here are some ways that you can add synchronous extensions to your course.

  • Provide weekly virtual office hours or schedule weekly check-ins with students.
  • Consider a flipped classroom model for your remotely-delivered course. In a traditional classroom, instructors deliver content to students through lectures. Students listen and take notes during the lecture, and consolidate new knowledge through the completion of homework (e.g., assignments). In a flipped classroom, students watch/review lecture material prior to class. They are also able to stop and review the lectures as often as they need until they understand the covered material. Students are expected to engage with lecture material prior to attending class, so that class time can be spent on student-centred learning activities. The flipped classroom builds time for active learning, and as such, has been a proven model for creating online learning communities.

Here are some ways that you can run a flipped classroom in your course.

  • For a remotely-delivered course with scheduled two-hour lectures, pre-record a one-hour lecture. Make yourself available to synchronously meet with students at the second hour of your scheduled lecture time. You could use that synchronous meeting for a Q&A period, real-time discussion or an application exercise among other instructor-led, interactive activities.
  • For a three-hour seminar course, pre-record the lecture-like components for each class (e.g., the part of the seminar that is most dependent on instructor-led content delivery). Meet with your class for the last two hours of your scheduled meeting time for real-time discussion, and/or the completion of instructor-assisted activities. You could further break down those two hours, so that one hour is devoted to Q&A and discussion, and the remaining hour is devoted to collaborative group work (project-based learning) or the completion of application exercises (instructor-assisted classwork).

4. Be present and responsive to your students.

It is important that we continue to create and maintain a sense of connection to our students, and that they also continue to connect with us as instructors. Fundamentally, teaching and learning depend on the cultivation of strong, positive relationships between teachers and learners. These relationships facilitate learning.

Here are some ways that you can remain present in your students’ lives despite teaching them from a distance.

  • Inform students about your email policy and respond to their emails according to it. Please ensure that your policy ensures that you will respond to student emails in a timely fashion. For examples of different email policies, please visit the eClass template.
  • Create an eClass discussion forum for student questions. On the forum, students can post questions about the course. Ideally, other students will help answer some of these questions. However, you can also let students know how often you will enter this forum, and address all unanswered or unresolved queries each week. It is reasonable to ask students to check this Course FAQ forum before emailing you.
  • Host virtual office hours each week.
  • Be present each week in the synchronous delivery of an interactive student experience.