Many students have expressed gratitude to UTS teaching staff for their efforts to create valuable remote learning experiences in this new and challenging context. Here are some common things our students say they would like to see more of in remote teaching, and some practical tips for achieving them.
These themes were identified from analysis of the qualitative responses to the 2020 Autumn session Early Feedback on Subjects (EFS).
1. Clear expectations for each week
Coming to classes each week provided structure automatically. Online learning can be much more flexible, but students need a clear structure and guidance on how to make the most of it.
Signpost what students need to do – include a ‘How to be successful in this subject’ page or content item with expectations outlined to students.
Post announcements at least once each week at the same time, to make sure students feel informed, motivated and supported throughout the subject; use a warm and friendly tone.
Include a Session planner: a structured overview of weekly activities or tasks for the whole session, especially with any changes you’ve made for remote teaching. This could be a high level map so students know where everything falls, or a quick reference guide for topics, readings and assessments.
Provide instructions in your regular announcement to students each week and/or via a page in Canvas or UTSOnline. You could include a short informal video talking the students through the focus of the week’s work.
If you’re going to post an announcement every Friday with the important info for the following week, let students know that. (Don’t worry that this might be spoon-feeding, it’s helping students know what’s important in a less-familiar environment.)
Make sure assessment information is clear and in one place as much as possible – and remind the students about where to find it.
Students find it easy to get lost in some subject sites. Help them to spend less time searching and more time engaging with the content.
Chunk content into meaningful topics and activities so students can work through the subject logically.
Use templates for consistent navigation – templates in UTSOnline and the Canvas Shell are designed to help students find important information such as assessments, announcements, readings and discussions.
Use consistent learning patterns. If you’re sharing a YouTube video that explains a certain point, consistently include an explanation for why students are watching and what they should pay certain attention to, plus a post viewing activity, whether reflective or summative.
Clear explanations and instructions can direct students through each part of the subject – give clear overviews for modules or topics to ensure students know where they are supposed to go next.
Ask for a second opinion to identify what’s needed – if you are unsure whether parts of the subject are clearly organised, ask for advice from one of your colleagues or the LX.lab.
Students miss the face to face to contact with academics and want more of a personal connection (‘teacher presence’) in the online environment.
Be yourself – address the student as ‘you’ and use friendly, informal language. Use warmth and humour to create a supportive online environment for learning.
Communicate regularly, and mix it up – post a weekly announcement with updates, general comments on discussions, references to upcoming assignments or links to relevant current events, and create variety by introducing a podcast or video.
Give feedback throughout the session – consider recording a video with short but personal and specific feedback on assessment tasks, or host a review session in Zoom.
Actively participate in class discussions – getting involved in class discussions, whether through the LMS, Zoom or Teams, gives a boost to teacher presence.
Say when and where you’re available by letting students know when you’ll be checking discussion boards or responding to emails. Offer defined times for Zoom or Teams consultations or Q&A sessions.
Ask “how are you going?” Students’ concerns might be really informative and touch on things you have never anticipated.
Narrating a short Powerpoint presentation can be a simple but effective asynchronous learning resource, but to engage students it needs to be carefully designed.
Chunking your presentation is an excellent way to create more engaging and digestable content. Cut up a longer monologue into more digestible pieces on a particular topic. Then, intersperse the chunks with explanation, examples or opportunities for discussion between students. You could introduce a poll or a quiz to get quick feedback. Also elaborate what’s on the Powerpoint to go deeper into ideas and concepts.
Create and release your narrated Powerpoint ahead of time – ask students to watch your presentation and submit their questions ahead of a Zoom class or online discussion the following week.
Make yourself available to students. Pre-recorded narration over Powerpoint can work well to get ideas across to students, but they can miss the contact with academics and want the opportunity for a personal connection (see the tips above). Consider scheduling a regular drop-in session or live chat to provide students an opportunity to interact with you.
Is your group assignment going ahead? Make it clear what students are expected to do and whether there have been any changes to those expectations.
Clearly explain what the task will involve, how students will be grouped, how they should participate, and how you will support them. Students need to know who their group members are and have their contact details. Groups then need a way to communicate and work on their group task, and have know how they’ll present or submit the outcome. If tasks can be broken into discrete sub-tasks, flag this and consider devising specific roles for group members to take.
Foster student introductions by making sure that group members have opportunities to meet each other and bond early. For example, ask students to find out where their group members are located and what time zone, students discussing group roles and responsibilities, and setting a plan for meeting or staying in contact.
Set up a way for groups to meet regularly – this could be a Teams site set up by you or students, Breakout rooms in a Zoom session, or a group-only discussion in Canvas or UTSOnline.
Check in throughout the whole process. Set regular times for groups to update you on their progress, not just at the beginning or end of the task. Either set times during class, or set ‘consultation times’, or a place for students to post updates at set times, like a blog or shared document.
Without some planning and organisation, Zoom breakout room sessions can leave students feeling left alone and lost in an unstructured or unfocussed discussion. Planning your breakout sessions and giving students explicit instructions about participating will help ensure all students experience them as valuable learning spaces.
Think about each breakout room session as consisting of ‘before’, ‘during’, and ‘after’ phases; each one requires planning.
Before students leave the main meeting room, give them explicit instructions on a collaborative document (e.g., a Google Doc) so they know what to do in each breakout-room phase.
Once you have started your breakout room session, monitor and engage with students in similar ways as you would during face-to-face classes by joining each room in turn.
Once a breakout room session has ended, ask students to report to the main meeting room by giving feedback, summarising their discussions and/or presenting their work.