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Distributed Learning

by User Not Found | Mar 16, 2020

How to Keep Teaching from a Distance

Prepared by Dr. Nicki Rehn for the Centre for Learning Transformation – March 15, 2020

10 Tips

1. Communicate with Students

Reassure students that your role as their instructor has not changed, and they can keep learning from a distance. The more information they have about what’s going on the better so keep them informed. Determine the best way to relay messages, content, and questions and stick with it. You can use email, Brightspace, texting, or create an online community for your class with one of the many tools available (e.g. WhatsApp, Yammer, Google Classroom). Send regular updates to make up for not meeting with them face-to-face – at least a couple of times a week.  Be clear about your expectations for them over the coming weeks. What is still required of them to continue in this class and be successful? 

2. Prioritize Content and Inputs (your teaching)

Take a look at your content for the next few weeks and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What information is absolutely essential for students to acquire and understand? 
  • Can you streamline this content into chunks?
  • What are the options for students to engage with these chunks of content? 

Map out the next few weeks/months of your course with a plan. You can hold class at your regular scheduled time – just through electronic means. You can also cancel synchronous class time and replace that with ‘flipped’ approaches that can include textbook readings, online documents, case studies, websites, YouTube videos, online tutorials, images, printed modules, short recorded lectures, live Bluejeans classes, discussion boards and so forth. You can do a combination holding some classes where everyone will come together through some electronic means during some of your scheduled class times and have some class time replaced with alternative learning inputs and outputs. 

3. Adapt Assessments and Outputs (their artifacts of learning)

You may need to rethink your assessments and other outputs from the students. How will students be kept accountable to the assigned tasks and learning? How will you maintain the integrity of the evaluation plan? 

Options include (talk to COLT for more ideas):

  • Create a low stakes online quiz (even a kahoot – ) or test in Brightspace (if you don’t have Brightspace, chat with COLT).  
  • Change your higher stakes exam format to be a take-home exam. This will require changing the questions to be more reflective, more case-study based, and more integrative. 
  • Put the students in groups or teams to work on something via a cloud-based tool, like google docs.
  • Have the students make a 3-5 minute audio or video recording of the answer to a question, or the summary of their learning on a particular topic. 
  • Have the students create a lesson, with a PowerPoint slideshow and voice-over recording or a podcast. 
  • Change the final exam to a portfolio of learning. Have them curate what they learned against the course outcomes. This can be hosted on a variety of platforms online for you to mark. 
  • Set up a discussion forum in Brightspace. 
  • Require weekly submissions of some sort to keep students accountable to the work they are asked to do (reflections, short writing exercises, summaries, digital poster…etc.).

4. Adjust Your Expectations

When you set up the course at the beginning and planned how it would proceed through the end, you did not envision suddenly teaching remotely. There is an art and science to designing great learning experiences for distributed classrooms, but you don’t have the luxury of time for that.  However, it is not impossible to keep the momentum of learning going, you just have to think differently and flexibly. Everyone is in this together, so be transparent about what will be trimmed from the course, what will change, and what students can expect. While your ideas about good teaching might need to adjust, assure students that their goals for success in this course should not change. 

5. Understand your Audience

Many universities across the world are switching to remote learning for the immediate future; however, one size does not fit all. We have a unique context here. Not everyone uses Brightspace, many of our students do not have reliable access to technology and internet at home, and many of our programs require labs, clinical placements, and practical work. Lead a conversation with your students or conduct an online survey about what your students can commit to and access in terms of learning from home. What is their preferred and easiest means of communication? 

6. Innovate your Teaching

This is a great chance to try something new. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to test out a piece of instructional technology, or become a heavier Brightspace-user. Connect with COLT for ideas and support. 

7. Use the Tools

There are many tools to support distance learning: the learning management system (Brightspace), video capture, Bluejeans, Google platforms, online quizzing (e.g. Kahoot), survey tools, website makers, animation making software…etc. Consult instructor blogs and podcasts, or connect with COLT for ideas and support. 

8. Focus on Learning

Remember that learning happens in the minds of individuals. Learning means a change – a student can do something better now than compared to before, understand something differently, gain knowledge they didn’t have before, get faster at something, better recall something, become clearer in their communication of something.  The classroom is not a necessary condition for any of this to happen, it is just one tool among many for facilitating it. 

9. Share Ideas

Use each other as a resource. Everyone has a different level of comfort and experience with teaching remotely so be prepared to ask and share what is working to maximize student learning. COLT is a great resource for support. 

10. Be Patient

If you teach in a program with strict external requirements for practicum, labs or work-based training, stay tuned for information coming from the province about how these requirements will be adjusted or managed in light of the situation. In the meantime, do what you can to have students watch YouTube videos, practice what they can at home, review steps and procedures for practice. 

How COLT Can Support

  • Resources for creating effective instructional videos.
  • Support for prioritizing and chunking content. 
  • Ideas for tools to distribute content.
  • Best practices for building community at a distance.
  • How to use Brightspace for discussion boards, quizzes, communicating instructions, and hosting content.
  • Ideas for tools to communicate with your students
  • Alternative assessments and options for student outputs. 
  • Moral support. 

We are here for you! We are all facing this challenge, however, it is a real opportunity to support one another and our students to keep the learning going by finding new ways of doing so. 

Thanks! The COLT team!


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