Suggestions for Remote Learning

Suggestions for Remote Learning

By Timothy Dohrer

March 19, 2020

The biggest problem teachers face with remote learning is we lose the human act of connecting to each other in proximity. Neuroscientists identify mirror-neurons as the key ingredient in our face-to-face interactions, impacting development, emotion, and relationships. We also know that teachers make a thousand decisions over the course of a single school day, usually “in the moment” decisions or because of interactions with individual students as we differentiate instruction and the classroom. All of these are limited when we move to remote learning and is the main reason why face to face teaching and learning will always be superior to remote learning.

However, there are many things we can do to create a positive learning experience for students and much of it can be done from afar. In fact, I would argue that our penchant to control the learning experience as teachers, to lean too heavily into “teacher-centered” classrooms, is a problem in too many schools. This may be a perfect opportunity for us to shift towards more independent, student-centered learning! But it will take some effort and changes…Here are some suggestions I have offered to our Instructors here at Northwestern for moving to remote learning:

  1. You can do this! Teachers are experts at change. And are among the most creative professionals on the planet. I am confident that every teacher can apply their usual creative thinking to come up with challenging learning environments, activities, and assignments for students that will engage them in learning. We can also create connections over the Internet using some of the amazing technology tools at our disposal. 
  2. Whole Class learning: Whole class discussions and activities are central our classrooms. Video conferencing software allows us to recreate some of that. Here are some things we have learned about high-quality video-based work:
  • For synchronous classes, video conferencing should not be used for a long class session. Depending on the age of your students, aim for 50% to 75% of your normal length for a class period.
  • Zoom offers the ability for the instructor to put students into groups and monitor/moderate those small group sessions. Watch a tutorial video on the Zoom website. Then try it out!
  • Use a combination of whole class and paired/small group activities, just as you would in person. All this can happen via Zoom.
  • The biggest challenge to remote learning will be hands-on activities or labs. However, it is possible that students can find materials on their own for these activities OR schools can create kits for certain upcoming activities and ship them to students.

3. Group time: Paired and Small Group activities/projects are still very possible in remote learning. Use Canvas “Collaborations”, Google Drive, and/or Zoom. You may want to increase this kind of activity to make up for lowered time in whole class learning.

4. Independent time: Again, this is already a staple of most courses: reading, writing, research, video/film, lesson/unit planning. You may want to increase this kind of work in lieu of reduced class time.

  • One tip is to give each student a chance to select a topic for independent investigation with a paper and/or presentation at the end of the quarter.
  • Use Canvas to organize PDF’s of articles or chapters that students can read online.
  • Think about a film or documentary that might be perfect for your class. Just make sure it is available to ALL of your students. Not everyone has Netflix, for example! But there are ways of getting 30-day trials and some of these are available for free on the Internet. I would also recommend TED Talks, Edutopia, and Teaching Channel for excellent video content.

5. Office hours: Establish regular office hours each day or week where students know they can contact you via phone, video, text, or email. Zoom can be great for this, too! Just set up the hours and then you can move individual students into a Breakout room.

6. Zoom Conferencing Software

  • Scheduling Zoom sessions: Go through a tutorial on scheduling. I really like that I can set up meetings ahead of time and then use Outlook to send those appointments with all the log-in information. Use the “Advanced” button to control whether the meeting can start without you and whether you want to auto-record it.
  • Audio/Video access: Click on the up arrow at the bottom left of your screen next to “Audio” or “Video” to select the source that works best for your computer.
  • Chat: Click on the “chat” button in the bottom bar to open the chat window. You can also share files via chat.
  • Share Screen: This is powerful for sharing your desktop, browser window, or a program like PowerPoint. You can also have student share THEIR screens with you and others.
  • Breakout Rooms: These are accessed via the Share Screen button and is one of the coolest features of Zoom! Check out this great, short video from Zoom:
  • Record: You can open a Zoom session and record yourself if you want to make a video for sharing later. Or you can record a class session and save it for later. Save to the Cloud and Zoom will autogenerate an email with a link to the recording.

7. Learning Management System: These are the times when an LMS can be a huge help in organizing your course, material, and students. I strongly recommend you take as many LMS workshops that you can.

8. Other technology: There are so many great resources being shared by teacher right now! Please share any good sites or software with the rest of us! You may also want to invest in a good set of headphones WITH a microphone. See if your school will let you check out a Swivl robot to record instructional videos if you want to stand and deliver, or walk around!

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