Guidelines for Remote Teaching

 

Introduction

The following guidelines are offered in response to requests from staff for more guidance with regard to effective remote teaching and student support. The guidelines are based in part on research and practice from the broader fields of e-learning and online distance education but also on a growing collection of lists, guides and frameworks written with a specific focus on the unique challenges of emergency remote teaching. For an annotated list of some of these sources please see www.tel.cit.ie/sources

Our eight guidelines are offered to provide some initial help and direction in moving to emergency remote teaching.  They do not solve every problem or answer every question, but together they should help you to identify some of themore important factors while also serving as a series of touchpoints, if needed, for a much larger body of research and practice.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Plan what you want students to do
  2. Figure out what tools and technologies you’re going to use
  3. Consider what you already have, what’s already out there and what already works
  4. Tell students how it’s going to work and what you expect of them
  5. See things from the student’s point of view
  6. Try to create a sense of online community
  7. Pay attention to what students are doing
  8. Use the available supports

 

1. Plan what you want students to do

It might seem like an obvious step, but sometimes in the move to online – and especially the move towards emergency remote teaching -- there can be a tendency to start first with the technology or the search for reusable resources but it can save a lot of time and make for a more effective course or module to come up with a plan first. A plan in this context could be something as simple as just deciding week by week or even month by month what you would like to get covered. A plan alternatively could revolve around the timing of the assessment points of the module, as a way to ensure students will have learned what they need to by the time the assessment comes around. Either way, two key principles to keep in mind would be:

  • Alignment. Try to keep everything aligned (cf. “constructive alignment”), from individual “bits” of content and individual student activities all the way up to your formal assessments, your learning outcomes and your overall teaching goals
  • Time and skills. Make sure you have time to “fit everything in” in the sense both of the duration of the semester but also the time you might personally have to devote to, e.g., developing new content, learning to use new software or developing a new work process.  

There exist a wide range of methods and models from the world of instructional design to help with the planning process, but one well-known approach that’s intuitive and quick to get up and running with is something called Backward Design. Backward Design suggests you start with the overall goal of where you want the students to get to by the end of your module and then work backwards to think first about the right assessment and learning evidence and then the kinds of learning experience you want to design for your students. One starting point here might be just to challenge yourself to come up with a one-sentence goal or “mission statement” for your module and planning back from there. Other instructional design approaches in wide use in the field of e-learning include:

  • ARCS Model
  • ADDIE process
  • Dick and Carey Instructional Model
  • Successive Approximation Model (SAM)

 

2. Figure out what tools and technologies you’re going to use

There is a vast array of online learning tools and technologies available with more be added all the time. The choice can seem overwhelming ever for those of us working in the field and clearly a strategic selection is need. One key online learning system which sits at the heart of CIT’s e-learning infrastructure is a Learning Management System (also called a Virtual Learning Environment) known as Canvas. While you might decide to use multiple other tools to support your individual remote teaching approach (for a diagram that offers an overview of many of the systems currently in use in CIT please see http://tel.cit.ie/TELcircle), Canvas remains the best please to start. It’s easy to use, well-supported and provides a wide range of features to support important online teaching and learning functions with respect to assessment, content sharing, communication and collaboration and class management. Moreover, Canvas is the technical hub for many of the other systems currently in use in CIT meaning you can launch those other systems from inside Canvas and easily transition from them and back to Canvas again. There also tend to be a number of integration features often relating to the way Canvas and these other systems share information. Such integrated systems include the plagiarism detection system Turnitin, a student attendance tool called Qwickly, and a new interactive media creation tool called H5P.

One really important system which the TEL Department have now integrated into Canvas is the live communication platform, Zoom. While Canvas, as indicated, provides a wealth of features within it, Canvas remain a largely asynchronous system, meaning that users typically don’t interact with it or with each other at the same time as they might with, say, a video conference or a realtime multiplayer video game. Zoom adds live or realtime interaction possibilities, giving users the chance to participate in a live online class or a live discussion and to use voice and video as they do so.

The line between synchronous and asynchronous activities often gets blurred. Synchronous classes and other live engagements like those supported through the Zoom system can be recorded and shared, meaning those who cannot attend a timetabled live event can still view the recording at a later time, i.e., asynchronously. Depending on the purpose of the live sessions, however, the lack of direct interaction possibilities may mean the recording is a poor substitute for “being there”.

Striking the right balance between the use of synchronous and asynchronous tools can be difficult and needs thought and planning. The latter can provide more flexibility for students including those with poor internet connectivity while the latter can offer the benefits of direct interaction and may be easier to get started with in terms of adopting face-to-face materials and teaching approaches for the online environment (see below).


3. Consider what you already have, what’s already out there and what already works

One issue a lot of people focus in on when moving online is how to make or find course materials and course content. You can, however, continue to use a lot of what you have already been using. PowerPoint slides can readily be uploaded to Canvas or form the basis for more media-rich content like narrated slides (using screencasting software like Screencastomatic). Handouts or key readings may exist online already and can be linked to from inside Canvas. Textbooks often come in digital or ebook format and some publishers also provide additional digital content including test banks.

CIT Library currently provides remote access to almost 200,000 ebooks. To find out more please visit https://library.cit.ie/ebooks Staff and students continue also to have access to CIT’s collection of subscription online journals throughout the remote teaching period and links to these journals and other sources can easily be added inside your Canvas module.

Copyright legislation still applies during the remote teaching period, however. Remember, for example, you can only copy/share up to 10% or one chapter from a copyrighted book or up to one whole article from any issue of a serial publication. Do note also that some important changes in copyright legislation and a new copying and scanning licence for HEIs comes into operation from 25th September 2020. For more on these upcoming changes please see https://www.icla.ie/he/

One way to get beyond the restrictions of traditionally-copyrighted material is to make use of Open Educational Resources (OERs). OERs are essentially teaching content and learning materials that have been explicitly released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution. The obvious benefit in using OERs is the time saved in developing your own content while also building on work of others. Some key initial place to search for OERs include:

http://www.merlot.org/merlot A collection of rated and reviewed OERs from tue California State University System.
http://www.oercommons.org A public OER library from the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME)
https://ocw.mit.edu  Effectively all the digital content from programmes in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), openly-licensed.

For more please see http://www.tel.cit.ie/OER  

 

 

Aside from learning materials, there are likely to be a whole range of things you do in class already that work well and that you can find ways to do online. In most cases Canvas or Zoom will provide you with at least one way to support your face-to-face practice and activities online. Some examples are provided in the graphic below.


4. Tell students how it’s going to work and what you expect of them

Whatever your approach, be sure to tell your students all about it. Find ways – multiple ways ideally -- to communicate how it’s all going to work. Consider covering this as part of a live induction session, as a week one Canvas announcement and/or as some kind of summary or cheat sheet students can refer back to. In a context where practices and expectations will likely differ from one module to another, it’s really important to be explicit about what applies in the case of your module or modules especially as students won’t be on campus to pick it up in the usual way from their peers.  Telling students how it’s going to work might include general points such as:

  • The range of things you’ll be asking students to do in terms of planned online activity.
  • The kinds of teaching strategies or techniques you think you’ll be making use of. 
  • The key e-learning tools and platforms you’ll be making use of (see point 3 above).
  • Whether you’ll be making use of synchronous or live platforms and, if so, what the balance might be between the live and asynchronous elements of your module.
  • How activities such as lectures, labs and tutorials are going to be delivered or supported online.
  • Any important changes from the original module descriptor.

Communication is a particularly important element of effective remote teaching and learning. It emerges from CIT’s remote teaching and learning survey as the number one challenge for both lecturing staff and students alike. Be sure in this context to explain to students how they should contact you (e-mail, Canvas Mail, Canvas Discussion etc), how long it might take you to get back to them and provide them with any guidelines you would like them to follow when communicating with you and each other online (cf. “Netiquette”). As with other elements of your plan, remember that students may not automatically translate classroom communication conventions or expectations to the online environment. Setting expectations right at the start will help students engage in the online communication in a more confident and effective way.

In addition to telling your students about your general plan for the module, consider also offering more specific detail on what you specifically expect students to be doing on an ongoing basis during the remote teaching period. This could potentially take the form of some kind of weekly “checklist” or series of bullet points or tips. Some illustrative examples:

 

5. Look at it from the student’s point of view

Looking at it from the student’s point of view works on a number of levels. On a basic level it just means trying to see your remotely delivered module as an average student might. If, for example, your Canvas module is the launching point for everything to do with your module then ask yourself if a student will immediately understand how to interact with it. Will they know where to go first? What will jump out at them? Is there anything that might distract them from what’s really important? Does anything need to be explained? Have you anticipated mistakes they might make and have you designed around them?

Remember also that in the face-to-face teaching environment students rely on you to introduce and contextualise learning materials like handouts and readings and other content. It’s important to carry over this practice and to “scaffold” (cf. instructional scaffolding) the online or remote learning by providing, for example, a short explanation of any content or links you share with students. Doing so helps students understand how you are helping them achieve the expectations you have set for them (see point 4 above). Similarly, if there are activities or formative assessment tasks you have set for your students try to put it across to them how their engagement or participation will help them to succeed in the module.

Some of the principles being touched on above are the same as those someone designing new software or a new website might concern themselves with. Often in those contexts designers will talk about the need for good usability or, more commonly nowadays, a good user experience (UX). Definitions vary but, in essence, good UX is about being user-centred and trying to design solutions and products that are useful, easy to use and can be interacted with without any unnecessary effort or frustration. Some general principles that can be carried over to the challenge of remote teaching and learning design might include the following:

  • Staying consistent. Consistency is key to ensuring good UX. Try to be consistent within and between your modules in terms of choice of tools and technologies, content layout and other structural and navigational elements.
  • Doing Less. The adage “less is more” applies in this context in the sense that learners can get overloaded with too much information or by an obligation to think about too many things at any one time. Try not to lose your users in, for example, overly-elaborate hierarchical structures, or distract them with overly-cluttered design. Be on the lookout for ways in which to reduce, minimise and declutter for the good of your learners and your learning goals.
    • A similar point exists with respect to the inclusion of “interesting-but-not-very-relevant” content or links – cf. RE Mayer’s Redundancy Principle and his well-known Principles of Multimedia Learning, many of which come back to an injunction not to use up learners’ scarce cognitive resources unnecessarily. 
  • Using simple language. Use clear and consistent words throughout your module to reduce any possible sources of ambiguity. Avoid using overly technical terms that you haven’t yet introduced your students or consider adding a definition or glossary. Keeping the language simple and plain ensures things can be quickly and effectively scanned and understood.

A once-overlooked but now central rule of good UX is to design with accessibility in mind, i.e. to make sure that what you design is usable for as many people as possible, including people with disabilities. Systems like Canvas have been developed and tested to ensure compliance with the latest digital and web accessibility standards and guidelines. Individual lecturing staff, however, should still try to familiarise themselves with the ways in which the needs of students with disability can be taken into consideration in designing and developing approaches to remote teaching and learning.

For more details and direction please make contact with CIT’s Disability Support Service – ruth.murphy@cit.ie or see their website at http://www.mycit.ie/dss and http://www.mycit.ie/staff-faqs

 

Some staff may also find it useful to review or implement the framework of Universal Design for Learning which involves planning flexibility into curricular design from the outset and recognising that learners are varied in their learning preferences and capabilities.

For more please see https://www.ahead.ie/udl

 

 

6. Try to create a sense of community

Many educationalists and educational theorists argue for the critical importance of community and community building for learning. Community can give students a sense of belonging, a feeling that they are part of a group of other individuals they can collaboratively engage with and who will support them. Without community students can be left feeling frustrated, isolated or disengaged. Lack of community in the online environment in particular can lead to a greater sense of both physical and psychological distance (cf. transactional distance) and students can end up adopting what’s sometimes known as a “deficit model” of online or remote learning, i.e. they may begin to focus on what they are missing out on by comparison a traditional on-campus experience which can itself sometimes itself become idealised (cf. ‘campus imaginary’).

Students, however, who are unfamiliar with learning at a distance might not naturally know how to establish their own social presence online or know how to reach out to their fellow students. Building in activities to get the ball rolling can help. Synchronous session through the likes of Zoom can provide a way for students to introduce themselves and directly interact with each other but asynchronous tools can be just as effective and tend to be more widely referenced in the literature also. There are numerous asynchronous ice-breakers in general use, many revolving around students sharing some kind of biographical information or some kind of media. The example below – used successfully across a number of CIT’s online programmes – combines both:

“Please share an image to this discussion thread that says something about you, the image might relate to the job you have, a hobby you enjoy, a favourite film, a photo you yourself took, a place you'd like to visit, an important time in your life, whatever. Don't overthink it (but please do it). When you’ve done this please add a few lines about yourself and the image and then (very important) look at everyone else’s entries and reply to at least another four or five. Be sure to check back and reply to any replies you have received.”

Other icebreaker activities include getting student to play a quick online game, take on a group challenge or develop a group output such as a story or a collaborative CV.

Any way of getting students talking to each other is good from a community-building perspective, including any collaborative or team-based exercises. The trick is to make sure early on that students learn about each other and find things in common while learning about a way – most commonly an LMS discussion list – they can use to talk to each other. Other steps that could help establish this aspect of community (cf. social presence) and help to link it to critical thinking and higher order learning (cf cognitive presence) include:

  • Having a “meet your classmates” section of your module
  • Encouraging students to share experiences and beliefs during general or curriculum-based class discussions
  • Requiring discussion participants to respond to other student comments or postings
  • Designing multiple small collaborative activities like breakout discussions or other small group discussions
  • Making group discussion part of an assessment or otherwise requiring students to incorporate discussion outputs into their assessments.
  • Using other media and encouraging students to, e.g., post video and audio responses using screencasting or other software.
  • Explaining to students the importance of student-to-student interaction and communication so that they place value on these community facilitating, and community facilitated activities

A lot has been written about building community in online environments. A key refence is what’s known as the Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework, aspects of which have been woven through the above account.

To learn more about CoI and its practical applications please see our annotated list of sources, frameworks and guidelines at http://www.tel.cit.ie/sources

 

7. Watch what your students do

Ideally, you don’t just tell your students about your plans and expectations (see point 4 above), you keep a watchful eye on them also. In the face-to-face environment we use a number of ways to tell how well students are engaging or progressing including their class attendance, their participation in in-class discussions and activities, their nonverbal cues and interaction with their classmates and, of course, their performance in formative or summative assessments. Much of this can be done online also. In fact you may discover the online environment tends to provide you with more data for a lot less effort and can support a more systematic approach to tracking and monitoring student activity:  the trick is knowing where to look.

The Canvas Learning Management System is again a good place to start here, especially if you have made it the hub for your remote teaching. Canvas provides a number of out-of-the-box tools to check in on your students with the two key ones being “People” and “New Analytics”.

To find out more about the analytics tools available, please look out for upcoming Canvas analytics training as well as our help articles at  https://telhelp.eu.helpdocs.com

 

In addition to the above, you can also try building in your own comprehension and engagement checks by designing in Canvas online polls and formative tests which may add more richness to the kind of  summary data provided by using Canvas’s in-built analytics and reporting tools.  Zoom, if you are making using it, may also be a good way to replace the kind of feedback lost though the reduction in the kind of non-verbal cues and clues associated with direct face-to-face interaction.  Zoom, if required, can also provide basic attendance data for each Zoom session.

The use of student and other data to help understand and improve the teaching and learning process is broadly referred to as Learning Analytics. More formally, Learning Analytics is about exploring, modelling and aggregating all kind of data – including but not limited to that available from LMS or live e-learning and communication tools – to provide actionable insight about teaching and learning. It’s a big trend at the moment and raises a number of complex ethical, pedagogical and technical issues which are beyond the scope of this document.

To read more please see some of the relevant sources featured in our annotated list at http://www.tel.cit.ie/sources

8. Use the available supports

There are a wide range of supports available to help you with your remote teaching practice. One key resource is the Department of Technology Enhanced Learning website at www.tel.cit.ie, which provides access to:

The TEL Department is also providing ongoing training throughout the first six weeks of term. Latest details available from staff-training

You can also email the TEL helpdesk system at this address: tel.team@cit.ie

CIT finally has contracted Instructure, the company behind Canvas, to provide 24/7 tier 1 support to staff and student alike by phone, webchat or email (for Canvas-related queries please contact Instructure rather than our own helpdesk in the first instance).

Live webchat is available by clicking on the help link inside Canvas.

The current Instructure telephone number is 1800 817 304 and the email address is support@instructure.com

 

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