Step 1: During the Shift
Your students’ first impressions will influence their opinions and attitudes about your course. Think about how your students might feel when they enter your remote course for the first time.
If your face-to-face class is suddenly forced to go remote, let students know you are glad they are here. An inviting tone – somewhat informal, but still professional – is equivalent to a smile and a greeting to a student who walks through the door in a traditional class. Add the following elements to your course:
- A message on the Announcements page that welcomes students to the remote experience.
- A staff profile or biography on the Start Here page so students can get to know the person behind the course. Even if they already know you from the classroom, this area in the course helps them relate to you as a person – it is also an ideal place to put your contact information.
- Specific instructions on how to continue the course remotely – or how to get started, if you are remote at the beginning of the term. For example, if they need to review the syllabus first, tell them how to access it.
- Simple warm-up activities that build confidence, showcase Blackboard Learn tools, and prepare students for more challenging work in the weeks ahead.
- An icebreaker that helps class participants connect, or reconnect, to one another and helps to maintain a sense of camaraderie and community. This can be done in Zoom or in a Discussion forum, whichever you choose for your new discussion environment.
Remote (Online) Best Practices
Based off of Chickering and Gamson’s original 7 principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, a team of five evaluators from Indiana University’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT) created the Seven Principles of Highly Effective Online Learning, which apply to remote learning as well. The first four principles relate directly to providing feedback and communicating with students:
Principle 1: Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact
Lesson for online/remote instruction: Instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students.
Instructors want to be accessible to online/remote students but are apprehensive about being overwhelmed with e-mail messages or bulletin board postings. They fear that if they fail to respond quickly, students will feel ignored. To address this, we recommend that student expectations and faculty concerns be mediated by developing guidelines for student-instructor interactions. These guidelines would do the following:
- Establish policies describing the types of communication that should take place over different channels. Examples are: “Do not send technical support questions to the instructor; send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.” Or: “The public discussion forum is to be used for all communications except grade-related questions.”
- Set clear standards for instructors’ timelines for responding to messages. Examples: “I will make every effort to respond to e-mail within two days of receiving it” or “I will respond to e-mails on weekdays between three and five o’clock.”
Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students
Lesson for online/remote instruction: Well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.
In their research, they found that instructors often required only “participation” in the weekly class discussion forum. As a result, discussion often had no clear focus. For example, one course required each of four students in a group to summarize a reading chapter individually and discuss which summary should be submitted. The communication within the group was shallow. Because the postings were summaries of the same reading, there were no substantive differences to debate, so that discussions often focused on who wrote the most eloquent summary.
The CRLT developed guidelines for creating effective asynchronous discussions, based on substantial experience with faculty members teaching online. In the study, they applied these guidelines as recommendations to encourage meaningful participation in asynchronous online or remote discussions. They recommend the following:
- Learners should be required to participate (and their grade should depend on participation).
- Discussion groups should remain small.
- Discussions should be focused on a task.
- Tasks should always result in a product.
- Tasks should engage learners in the content.
- Learners should receive feedback on their discussions.
- Evaluation should be based on the quality of postings (and not the length or number).
- Instructors should post expectations for discussions.
Principle 3: Good Practice Encourages Active Learning
Lesson for online/remote instruction: Students should present course projects.
Projects are often an important part of face-to-face courses. Students learn valuable skills from presenting their projects and are often motivated to perform at a higher level. Students also learn a great deal from seeing and discussing their peers’ work.
In a remote setting, students might be able to present their projects via Zoom, provided they have the bandwidth and a webcam. While formal synchronous presentations may not always be practical, instructors can still provide opportunities for projects to be shared and discussed asynchronously. Students can present case study solutions or projects on video via the class Blackboard site. The other students can critique the videos and make further comments about the case or project. After all students have responded, the case or project presenter can update their work and post a response, including new insights or conclusions gained from classmates. At the end of all presentations the instructor can provide an overall reaction to the cases/projects and specifically comment about issues the class identified or failed to identify. In this way, students learn from one another as well as from the instructor.
Principle 4: Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
Lesson for online/remote instruction: Instructors need to provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback.
There are two kinds of feedback provided by online/remote instructors: “information feedback” and “acknowledgment feedback.” Information feedback provides information or evaluation, such as an answer to a question, or an assignment grade and comments. Acknowledgment feedback confirms that some event has occurred. For example, the instructor may send an e-mail acknowledging that he or she has received a question or assignment and will respond soon.
Often, instructors give prompt information feedback at the beginning of the semester, but as the semester progresses and instructors become busier, the frequency of responses decreases, and the response time increases. In some cases, students get feedback on postings after the discussion has already moved on to other topics. Clearly, the ideal is for instructors to give detailed personal feedback to each student. However, when time constraints increase during the semester’s busiest times, instructors can still give prompt feedback on discussion assignments by responding to the class as a whole instead of to each individual student. In this way, instructors can address patterns and trends in the discussion without being overwhelmed by the amount of feedback to be given.
Similarly, instructors rarely provide acknowledgment feedback, generally doing so only when they are behind and want to inform students that assignments will be graded soon. Neglecting acknowledgment feedback in online/remote courses is common, because such feedback involves purposeful effort. In a face-to-face course, acknowledgment feedback is usually implicit. Eye contact, for example, indicates that the instructor has heard a student’s comments; seeing a completed assignment in the instructor’s hands confirms receipt.
This video from Lone Star College talks about feedback and student assessment in online/remote learning:
Embedded Video Player: Student Assessment-Feedback
YouTube URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVWSrIhurfY
How can you help your students feel at ease in your remote learning environment?
How can you feel confident, and keep the channels of communication open, in an inclusive way?
List your ideas and share them!
You can also use one of these available mind mapping tools:
- https://www.mindmup.com (allows for map and vertical brainstorming)
- Educator’s Technology has a list of other tools.