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Supporting Students Experiencing Remote Teaching and Learning

Updated: May 15, 2023

Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology

We are in unprecedented times, as many universities around the world expeditiously moved traditional, face-to-face courses to remote delivery. Many wonder how to manage this switch. Some campus teaching centers are gearing up with well-intentioned workshops on how to use the tools of technology to teach online. The only problem is this: teaching remotely as a response to an emergency is not the same as teaching online.

Students in face-to-face courses are often not prepared to learn remotely. Affected students may not have access to high-speed internet or a reliable computer. They may have never taken a course in the online modality and feel uncertain in this new environment. These students begin at a disadvantage in remote instruction. To successfully support all students, faculty must focus on the humans behind the computer screens to strengthen community within the online classroom. Three ways faculty can focus on the human side and support students are through:

1) clear communication,

2) tempered expectations, and

3) compassionate understanding.

Clear Communication Can Ease Anxiety

When courses move online, it is imperative that faculty communicate to students what they should expect. Students may be anxious about the new format; giving them a clear understanding of the new normal will help to ease their fears. To do this, faculty can send an email or post an announcement in which they clearly and concisely identify how the course will continue. In this announcement, address the questions that students are likely to have: Will we meet in real-time during our regular class period? If so, how will that work? Is it required? What do I do if I do not have access to the internet at that time? How will I turn in assignments? And what if I have a question? Addressing these and other pragmatic elements will provide students with a greater sense of comfort during the change.

Tempered Expectations can Reduce Obstacles

Because some students will not have reliable access, faculty may need to temper their expectations, to better support students and reduce the number of obstacles they face.

Tempering expectations means considering which aspects of the course are requisite and which elements of the course can be more flexible.

For example, if a professor schedules real-time class lectures via the internet, some students may not be able to log in. To support all students, the professor could make such sessions optional and provide an alternative way for the students to get the lecture information (such as a recording of the lecture or lecture notes posted in the online classroom).

Similarly, some students with limited access to reliable computers may not be able to type all materials for submission. Consider allowing students to take a picture of their hand-written work to show progress and accept typed work at a later date. Tempering expectations and focusing on the important will go a long way in supporting students.

Compassionate Understanding can Build Community

The most essential strategy faculty can employ to support students during this uncertain time is to provide compassionate understanding. Our students represent a myriad of backgrounds. They and their families are being affected in many different ways by this pandemic. Providing an open channel of communication for students, demonstrating flexibility, and exhibiting compassionate understanding makes students feel both supported and important. In turn, this builds a stronger learning community. Creating this positive tone may be one of the hardest parts of teaching remotely.

What if the students try to take advantage of the teacher? What if a student claims there was internet problems when there wasn't? How will I know? The truth is, you may not. A student might try to take advantage of the situation, but the vast majority of your students will just be trying to get through this. Your compassion and support will be a key factor in ensuring the best possible outcome for most students.

Remote teaching that incorporates educational technology tools of the learning management system supports teaching and learning efforts. This movement to remote teaching is in response to a developing crisis rather than a planned, decisive action; as such, neither faculty nor students were adequately prepared for teaching and learning under duress. As such, neither faculty nor students were adequately prepared for teaching and learning under duress. Not everyone had the necessary skills and resources to transition from the face-to-face environment. This new condition is an opportunity for faculty to provide leadership to their learning communities, ensuring that all students feel supported and grounded in an uncertain time. Focusing on the human element is the first step to ensuring our learning communities remain whole during this challenging time.

Discussion Questions:

1. Which elements of your face-to-face curriculum were directly transferred to the online environment? How will you enrich content that is less readily transferable to online teaching and learning?

2. For content being delivered synchronously, what alternatives formats might you offer for those students who are unable to meet in real-time?

3. Given students may experience limitations to reliable internet service and or access to computers/mobile devices, how might students demonstrate learning competencies using nontraditional methods?

For Further Reading:

Center for Research on Learning & Teaching. (March 12, 2020). “Getting Started with Teaching Remotely in an Emergency.” University of Michigan.

Miller, Michelle D. (March 9, 2020). “Going Online in a Hurry: What to do and Where to Start.” Chronicle of Higher Education.

Schultz, H. (April 2, 2020). “Authentic Teaching and Connected Learning in the Age of Covid-19.” The Scholarly Teacher.

Samson, Perry. (March 3, 2020). “The Coronavirus and Class Broadcasts” Educause Review.

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