remote teaching

Remote teaching: five top tips

Remote has 7 meanings.

Over the last five years I have been both editing research through my own business and tutoring online for a university. Reduced capacities due to the pandemic have made the current situation rather blocked all over the world.  Our way of working has changed as we are staying at home. Here are some tips when teaching online:

1. Check the clock

There is a human machine at every university that links with other human machines to give you ever more advice and requirements which are supposed to be your job. Try to resist the time sapping ones. Those that look like quick fixes when not much information is given about them might lead nowhere. Move with what you do best.

2. Focus on essential student needs

You might be offering weekly Collaborate sessions where students can share ideas about the readings in real time. You might be delivering lectures by Zoom. There are so many variations. In my university we stayed with discussion board forums and only had one collaborate session for each assignment, which was recorded for those who couldn’t participate in the session.

After students’ initial whirl of excitement in the early weeks of the teaching period, I always focused on the assignments rather than trying endlessly to generate questions in class forums which remained unanswered. I kept up a stream of advice about the assignments which then generated questions. Many course developers and lecturers have tried to keep the weekly discussion “aligned” with the assignments but students might read much more than they express to the group.  It is surprising how someone who has never made contact in the group often writes a really well researched and original assignment.  

3. Be the model for how to use clear language

Unfortunately, some students tend to dump into very brief words and sentences what was in the front of their minds and expect you to understand them. Without a context. It often isn’t worth asking them what they mean and waiting for an answer. Phrasing your response as “if you mean X, then Y but if you mean Q, then R” tends to work. Guessing what they might mean seems to be more proactive and reinforces your helpfulness.

Alternatively you might get a huge list of questions from a student who wants reassurance very step of the way. This is partly driven by how precisely worded the assignments have now become over time. That precision is, in turn, has been driven by the behaviourist pedagogy of teaching students to demonstrate “work ready skills”.  Here is an example for health workers. How you deal with this is up to you. There are benefits in giving quick tips to all queries but this can also look very prescriptive to other students who will also see your answer (I try to avoid these questions coming to me in emails because other students might be thinking about some of the questions as well). Balancing your response so as to encourage independent thinking with enough guidance for the hesitant student is an art form.

4. Humour

Stay with the fun!  Even if it is tainted with some cynicism.

A high point for me was meeting someone who gave out an award every year for the assignment that had the most official words of advice compared to the word length of the assignment.

5. Family boundaries

If your children are forced to stay at home while you are, there is the potential for problems. Your students might be facing the same issue. This could be when you need to lower your standards about limiting the amount of time they spend using devices. After all, we are living in an emergency and it will pass. Though some of the best (and worst) about working remotely may well stay with us into the future.

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