The fall term is upon us, and if you’re like most other instructors I’ve talked to recently, you may be feeling a bit apprehensive about the upcoming remote teaching experience.
You’re not alone.
Many of your students are also going to be entering your course feeling unsure, uneasy, and uncomfortable with the new online learning landscape.
Here are four things you can provide your students at the beginning of the course to help them start off strong as they take on remote learning this term.
The online learning environment is probably new to most of your students, and figuring out new things can take a lot of cognitive energy, reducing the capacity for learning. The more structure you provide, the easier it will be for students to know what to expect, what’s expected of them, and to meet those expectations.
Here are some ways you can provide structure:
- Ensure that your course Canvas site is well-organized and easy to navigate, and show students how to use the Canvas site, either during class or in a pre-recorded video. Knowing where things are and how to access course materials will free up cognitive energy so that students can focus on learning. The UBC CTLT has created Canvas templates that are designed for online courses (self-enrol here and here). Contact LT.firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance if you’d like to use one of these templates for your course.
- Create weekly Announcements and send them out through Canvas Inbox or Faculty Service Centre (FSC). You can include updates, reminders, and links to let students know what to expect and how to prepare for the upcoming week. This is especially important early on in the term as students are still getting used to the course structure and where to find information.
- Make every task you want students to complete an “assignment” in Canvas so that it will show up on their homepage “To do” or “Coming up” list and Canvas Calendar. If the task is not for marks, you can choose the “Not graded” option when setting up the assignment.
- Work with students to co-create course guidelines. This can include ground rules for how and when to use technology tools (e.g. only use the chat for course-related items), and respectful ways of working and learning with others online (e.g. when working in groups, ensure that everyone gets a chance to talk).
Routine makes things easier, frees up mental space, and helps to ensure that students stay focused and on track. As they juggle many demands in their personal and academic lives, routine will help students feel more in control and will make it less likely that they miss things.
Here are some ways you can provide routine:
- As much as possible, have a consistent weekly course schedule for assignment due dates and posting of course materials (e.g. quiz due every Thursday before class; lecture notes posted at 10pm every Sunday). You can use the different scheduling functions in Canvas to help you with this.
- Incorporate cues and rituals into your course so that students know what to expect and how to behave. For example, you can play music when the students are logging in and when the music stops students will know that the session is starting. You can also use icons, sounds or different colours to indicate when you are switching from one activity to another (e.g. the image of a clicker on a slide indicates that you are now doing a clicker question).
- Provide an opportunity early in the term for students to practice using the different tools and functions you plan to use in the course, such as polls, chat, annotation tools, breakout rooms, and screen sharing. You can also assign a low/no-stakes practice exercise to help students learn how to use exam technology, such as Gradescope or Canvas quizzes. Opportunities to practice will allow students to develop a routine-like ability to navigate the tools so that they can focus their cognitive energy on the task at hand when it counts.
- Help your students develop their own routine for the term by asking them to describe and share the following with you and/or their classmates:
- The dedicated times they will work on the course (what gets scheduled gets done)
- How they will reduce distractions and motivate themselves
- How they will practice self-care and attend to their wellbeing
- What support they might need and how they plan to seek it out
Students will not have the same type of ad hoc opportunities to seek out help from you or their peers before, during, or after class, so the support you offer will need to be more structured, clear, and accessible.
Here are some ways you can provide support:
- Give explicit instructions for how to contact all members of the teaching team (e.g. email, text, phone, office hours, etc.). Include any special instructions, such as when students can expect a reply, and who they should contact with certain questions.
- Offer virtual office hours so students can talk with you one-on-one and get their questions answered in an efficient manner. Poll the class to determine an office hour schedule that works for most, and then offer flexible office hours for the students who cannot make that time due to time zone or other scheduling conflicts.
- Invite students to talk with you about anything that is going on, or if they experience issues, questions, or problems throughout the term. Acknowledge that this is an uncertain time and that you are open to working with students to ensure that they are able to successfully complete the course.
- Let students know about the academic, technology, financial, and wellness support services that are freely available to them as UBC students. You may also want to remind students of these services throughout the term, especially at critical time points, such as during midterms or finals.
In addition to an education and diploma, students also come to university to form connections with their peers and instructors. While connecting with others can be more challenging in a remote environment, there are some things you can do to start building community in your course.
Here are some ways you can provide community:
- Take some time during the first week to introduce yourself. Let students know about your personal and professional background, what you like to do on the weekends, your family members and pets, an anecdote from your own undergraduate experience, and what brought you to teaching. Students are very interested in you and your story, and your openness will set the tone for a strong community environment.
- Let students introduce themselves to you and to their peers. You can give students a “getting to know you” survey, or ask them to introduce themselves in a class discussion board. You can also use breakout groups to allow students to talk to one another and to members of the teaching team in real-time.
- Set aside a few minutes each class period to allow students to “check in”. This could involve having them annotate a slide at the beginning of class around a certain theme (e.g. favourite food), choose an emoji to describe how they’re feeling that day, respond to a non-course content question through a poll or in the chat, etc.
- Offer casual office hours before or after class to make space for the more informal group conversations that usually take place during this time, such as “coffee hours” or “check-in sessions”. If someone requires a more personal conversation, you can talk to them in a breakout room while the other students continue to interact in the main room.
Is there anything else that you think students need this term, or any experiences you’ve had with the items listed above? Please share them in the comments below or send me an email. I’d love to hear them!