Below is a pyramid which displays the level of technology needs students have. Click on each level of the pyramid to display a description. As you click on each tier, you will see a list of problems that may arise. These lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but merely to illustrate the challenges facing students in a remote instruction environment.
The Research and Best Practices Subcommittee has collectively identified four areas of challenges facing instructors in remote environments. Please read the summaries below and click on the interactive drop-down menus to read more about potential solutions to these issues.
This section helps instructors to effectively communicate new norms and expectations in an online environment.
Norms are patterns of behavior that socially enforced. Sometimes norms are explicitly spoken or taught, but more often they are silently modeled and learned without a person being aware of their existence. A good example of a norm that is never explicitly stated but that is generally understood is the way people seat themselves in public. In a public setting such as on public transportation or a waiting room, it is generally understood that a person only sits directly next to another person when there is no other seat available (in times before social distancing and the six foot rule). Think about how awkward and uncomfortable you would feel if you were the only one in a large waiting room and a stranger sat down in a seat directly next to you. This might feel like an act of aggression. You may feel threatened. This is an example of an unspoken norm.
The sudden transition to remote learning may leave students wondering what behavior is expected of them. For example, what should a student do when have a question during lecture? Should they interrupt the instructor? Type a message in the chat window? Click on the “raise hand” button? Or wait until the end of class or office hours to ask?
Norms which may have been previously well-established in a face-to-face classroom may need to be explicitly defined and stated in a remote environment. Consider explicitly stating your expectations to your students in the following areas.
Face-to-Face classes were historically distraction free. At the postsecondary level, most students have learned the cultural norms associated with expected classroom behavior, so the need for classroom management is low. Additionally, distractions that may enter the classroom such as cell phone use, food, or drink can be addressed and eliminated by the instructor. But what happens in a virtual environment when the instructor may not even be able to see the student?
Below is a list of challenges facing instructors teaching in a remote environment:
These instances and many more are not conducive to learning. Consider taking time at the beginning of class to encourage students to create an environment conducive to learning. You may even have the students break into small groups and discuss strategies they can use to minimize distractions.
For lectures that span more than an hour, consider giving students a scheduled break at a fixed time so that they know if they need to use the restroom, get food or drink, or take care of any other tasks, they may do so during the break.
You may have to be creative when thinking of ways to address these concerns, but the main thing is to openly talk about these issues on Day 1 so that students can establish and maintain a distraction-free learning environment.
Online tools that allow students to interact with the instructor and with each other include polls, surveys, and breakout rooms.
If students are reluctant to engage and participate in an online environment consider administering a short survey or poll at the beginning of class. Then incorporate this anonymous feedback into the lesson to help break the ice.
Breakout rooms are another way to foster discussion among students in a remote learning environment. Both Zoom and MSTeams have versions of breakout rooms. If you plan to use breakout rooms, make sure you follow the following guidelines:
Instructors are used to having to repeat information. However, in remote learning, the need to repeat information is at an all-time high. Why is that?
It is helpful to remember that in a traditional classroom setting, students received almost all of their information aurally as the instructor made announcements and answered questions in class. In remote or fully online courses, students must now find the information themselves. Students may find this process intimidating or overwhelming.
How can instructors make it easier for students to locate information pertaining to assignments, calendar information, deadlines, rubrics, etc. when they need it and not be overwhelmed?
Executive functioning skills include time management, prioritization of tasks, planning, scheduling and problem solving. In a remote setting, the demand for these skills is at an all-time high. How can instructors foster and encourage executive functioning skills so that students can succeed academically?
Teamwork makes the dream work. Peer study groups and student-to-student interactions facilitate the learning process. Additionally, students often help each other remember deadlines or other administrative aspects of a course. In a virtual environment, such interactions disappear. What can instructors do to bring back communication among students?