Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and pupils in Australia and around the world have been forced to switch from face-to-face to remote content delivery. Remote teaching can have both online and offline components, with teachers providing both print and onscreen activities and resources.

Students are returning to physical classrooms across Australia. It’s a great time to reflect on what makes an effective remote learning teacher. Consider what is best practice online.

Skills and Qualities Remote Educators Need

Subject Expertise:  Subject experts are best placed to respond efficiently and effectively to student questions.

Tech know-how: Remote teaching frequently involves using computers and online platforms, so teachers require a high degree of digital literacy. They must be familiar with their school’s Learning Management System (LMS) . They should understand tools that  collect, organise, and analyse data about different learning styles and needs. Effective educators draw upon such information to provide tailored support and guidance for individual pupils.

They are able to interact with students via phone, web conferencing, and various online platforms, and identify which best suits different student needs and capabilities, contexts, and purposes.

Patience and Adaptability: Technical issues are par for the course in online learning environments. Effective instructors arm themselves with patience, adaptability, and knowledge so they can troubleshoot problems which they or their students encounter. The ability to break complex concepts down in different ways to help first-time remote learners feel comfortable is crucial.

Accessibility and Encouragement: Students need teachers who connect with them at frequent, regular intervals. The type, quality, and frequency of teacher-student interactions significantly impacts student learning experiences.  Creating frequent opportunities for interaction in which you give personalised support, feedback, and encouragement sets learners up for success.

Experience as a remote/online learner: An asset which helps you better understand the nature of the learning environment and anticipate the issues which students encounter. It also gives you an appreciation of what content and teaching methods work  in that environment.

Practical Tips for Teaching Online

Be organised: Before starting the course, set expectations with students in regard to:

  • Office hours. Keep predictable, regular office hours at least three times a week, and clarify preferred methods of contact.
  • Turnaround times for responses to e-mail and forum questions or messages.
  • The dates and times of classroom sessions, exams, and assessments. Record classroom sessions so students who miss them can catch up.
  • Assessments and how to submit them.
  • Online conduct and behavioural expectations.
  • Expected study hours, so learners can organise study around existing commitments.
  • How often they must post online or participate in class discussions.
  • Where they can find important resources and information.

Create a FAQS section which includes these details on the course homepage so students can find them quickly and easily.

Connect and collaborate

The quality and frequency of interactions are important to effective program development and delivery. Development and delivery must enhance the following relationships and interactions:

  • Student-content
  • Student-student
  • Student-teacher

Consider how students can get the most out of their learning resources within their study hours. 

  • Consider whether resources and activities are suitable for remote study. Some don’t work well in virtual environments. You may need to modify them or look at other options.
  • Foster student connection by setting up small peer support groups and  group discussions.
  • Support independent learning by getting students to solve problems together or ask questions in these groups.
  • If you monitor and contribute to conversations, learners will follow your lead.
  • Research demonstrates that in the online environment, students learn more effectively with collaborative tasks Include these in the program.

Check in regularly with  pupils to ask for feedback about how they’re going, what works and what doesn’t. Identify and follow-up with those who need extra support.

Encourage students to see you as a learner and contributor, and not the only authority. Use technology and platforms that most learners are comfortable with. If a student or colleague is tech-savvy, ask them for troubleshooting advice.

Develop critical thinking and metacognitive skills

Make sure learners are actively engaged. 

  • Check for understanding by asking precise questions about content.
  • Activate prior knowledge by brainstorming what they already know about a topic.
  • How will new information develop their understanding and how can they apply it?
  • How reliable or accurate is a resource and what perspective(s) does it present?
  • Discuss how students can meet task requirements and learning objectives.
  • Do their strategies help them gain deeper understanding and/or achieve them? If not, do they need to try different strategies?

Following this planning and monitoring phase, ask them to evaluate what they did well and how they can improve. Students with these capacities thrive in online environments.

 Show your face, keeping videos short and sweet

Research indicates that recorded content which includes instructors’ faces is more effective than a series of slides. According to some experts, non-verbal cues account for up to 60 percent of communication.

Keep your videos 15 minutes or under however. Attention spans are limited and long videos are difficult to load.

  • Save time by specifying which video segments or other resources are crucial, and which are optional.
  • Break down key concepts in six minute videos for maximum retention and engagement.
  • Make sure content can be accessed on a range of mobile devices.

Less is more:

Don’t expect students to complete the same amount of work as they would in face-to-face classes. Studying at home comes at a price. Statistics show that most students achieve lower marks when switching from face-to-face to online learning even under favourable conditions. Other factors can increase difficulties.

 Mix it up

Present content in a range of different mediums to accommodate different learning styles and needs.

  • Students can print worksheets prior to online sessions so they aren’t looking at the screen for the entire lesson.
  • Getting them to type “Q” or “me” when they have questions or comments in class sessions ensures everyone can contribute.
  • Take attendance with short, automatically marked quizzes.

Social breaks

Online learners often feel isolated. Schedule five minutes of social break time per class when you allow students to chat with friends.. Ask them to post a short greeting or introduction to break the ice and share something personal. Don’t forget to join in.

Closing activity

At the end of the course, ask students to get into groups and summarise a few takeaway points or concepts. This helps consolidate knowledge. It is an opportunity to reflect on what has been learnt. These can be shared online and commented upon.

Teaching remotely takes time, practice, and patience. Give yourself and your students time to get things right and don’t expect perfection. Creating authentic connections and high impact learning experiences is the secret to success in both online and face-to-face teaching and learning.

Bibliography

Spotlight: What Works in Online/Distance Teaching and Learning?” Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). Last updated in 2020.

Barnholt, Peggy. “What Makes a Great Online Teacher?” Connections Academy. 15 January 2013.

Bates, Tony. “Advice to those about to teach online because of the corona-virus.” Online Learning and Distance Education Resources Blog. 9 March 2020.

Cooper, Scott. “10 Best Practices To Be An Effective Online Teacher.” eLearning Industry. 24 September 2016.

Cooper, Scott. “How To Build A Thriving Online Learning Community.” eLearning Industry. 16 June 2016.

Cooper, Scott. “5 Strategies To Improve Your Online Teaching.” eLearning Industry. 22 December 2016.

Fink, Kimmie. “The Dos and Don’ts of Teaching Online.” We Are Teachers.com. 25 March 2020.

Fraillon, Julian. “Working from home and digital literacy – what can we assume?” Teacher Magazine. 2 April 2020.

Gewin, Virginia. “Five Tips for moving teaching online as COVID-19 takes hold.” Natureresearch journals. Nature.com. Nature Issue 580, pgs. 295-296. 4 March 2020.

Lee, Kyungmee. “Coronavirus: 14 simple tips for better online teaching.” The Conversation. 17 March 2020.

Moro, Christian, and Kathy Mills. “Technology and learning in the classroom: six tips to get the balance right.” The Conversation. 19 February 2019.

Phillips, Tim. “Five tips for teachers who have taken their classes online.” Voices Magazine. The British Council. 6 April 2020.

Russell, Dominique. “Teacher Staffroom Episode 14: Delivering remote learning.” Teacher Magazine. 30 April 2020.

Scanlon, Christopher. “Online vs. face-to-face learning: why can’t we have both?” The Conversation. 20 November 2014.

Schoeffel, Susannah, and Tanya Vaughan. “Home-supported learning: Using what works in schools.” Teacher Magazine. 21 April 2020.

Thomson, Sue. “What PISA tells us about our preparedness for remote learning.” Teacher Magazine. 20 April 2020.

About the Author

PhD in European Languages and Cultures

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