General Online and Remote Teaching Advice
For online testing or submissions that are worth marks, consider having a trial version worth zero marks so that students can familiarize themselves with the system. This helps alleviate student stress around the technology and it also gives you the opportunity to test your settings to make sure they are correct in a zero-stakes environment.
It can be challenging for students to stay motivated and on pace in an online environment. Making a "week in the life of a student" map and having it in your syllabus can help students set their expectations and to know what to do and when to do it. For example, students can then see that they should watch videos on Monday, engage in forum discussions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Thursday through Sunday do the assigned readings and an online quiz. It's also helpful to create one for the instructor and teaching assistants so that all members of your course know the pacing and expectations.
There are so many ed-tech options and platforms for teaching out there that it's easy to get overwhelmed. Students want quality content, but that does not mean that everyone needs to make high production value videos! The best option is to pick things that you are comfortable with and can get the most success out of. Adding fancy technology to your course is not going to make it better if you don't have the time or ability to leverage all the features of that tech. In general, it's best to keep things simple relative to your own constraints. The quality of content is about the ideas and information first, and production value second.
The most important piece of hardware to have is a good microphone. Students don't mind if videos are simple and low frills, but having poor audio quality is game breaking.
-Alexander Koo, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Philosophy
Make your online classes shorter than regular classes. If you promise it’ll be one hour, keep your promise. Keeping your promise will keep students coming to class.
-John Currie, Lecturer, Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT)
I quickly realized that you cannot teach online the same way you do in person. Once I realized this it was liberating. I realized I did not have to do a 2 hour live lecture of even record myself speaking for this length of time. Instead, I could create a dynamic and engaging class in different ways I hadn’t before. Finally, I realized that it’s ok to respond to my emails in a bi-weekly video instead of responding all week long one at a time. In essence, I flipped the classroom and everything was ok.
-Jerry Flores, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
I worked with online education from 2007 to 2015 non-stop. What worked for me? Having a student-centered course design (thinking about the student journey), backed up by detailed instructions, and constant interactions and discussions with students via forums.
-Rafael Chiuzi, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Management
Students should be able to access course information and content easily, even more so when learning remotely. The landing page for my Quercus container usually has big graphical icons that link to specific pages (e.g., one for the syllabus, one for test information, and so on), as well as a “next four weeks at a glance” calendar that is updated weekly. A course schedule for the whole term lives on a separate page and has links to all information a student could possibly be looking for about the course. It is important to me that we remove as many barriers to access as we can especially since the Quercus container will be the main avenue for students to interact with my course.
-Timothy (TJ) Yusun, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences
During the summer term I taught an online course on public relations and marketing in U.S. history. In addition to weekly readings, short writing assignments, and discussion, I encouraged students to treat Quercus as a conversation space. I invited them to share any and all contemporary examples of PR that they encountered in their daily lives. Soon enough, our “example” board was thriving. One student would post an example or PR, and another would contextualize it with course readings and their own insights. By leading with student interest and inquiry, our class soon turned on collaborative comprehension, analysis, and synthesis, generating exciting new discussions of materials ranging from Tim Hortons advertisements to fiery political speeches.
-Daniel Guadagnolo, Sessional Lecturer, Department of Historical Studies
Find a good way to actually write out the math. Since we don’t have a chalkboard anymore, having a tablet to draw out the equations is probably the best option. But if that’s not an option, then using either LaTeX or Google Docs you would still be able to write things out the way you would on a board.
-Jacob Atzori, Teaching Assistant, Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences
One of the key aspects of remote teaching is to keep students engaged and provide them the same learning benefits as in person. In my intro computer science course, holding live lectures online via Blackboard Collaborate seemed to work well for student engagement, as they transitioned from in-person lectures. The breakout groups feature was essential in doing active learning problem-solving activities in groups during lectures, in a similar manner to how lectures were conducted in person prior to the campus closure. Transferring the active learning model in an online context provided the students with similar opportunities to exchange ideas, compare solution alternatives, and clarify misconceptions in a supervised learning environment.
Another important aspect is that students are as well supported in the learning process as they would be in person. Having a variety of online contact hours (lectures, labs, online discussion board, etc.), enables students to not just develop their problem-solving skills gradually and receive formative feedback, but also to ensure that help is available in a timely manner.
-Bogdan Simion, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences
In face-to-face lectures, I use slides to present core material and use worksheets for think-pair-share activities. When teaching moved online in March 2020, I posted a few short videos (from two to ten minutes long) for each chapter, as a substitute for the less interactive aspects of the face-to-face lectures. Students were asked to watch the videos and review the material for one hour, and then attend a one hour synchronous lecture on Zoom for problem-solving using worksheets. While the transition was far from perfect, I plan on continuing with this approach for online teaching for the following reasons:
Mini-lectures followed by instructor-led Q&A sessions and weekly graded assessments provide good grounds for regular self-paced learning. The break between the pure lecture and the worksheet portions prepared some students better for active learning. This is especially important for large first-year courses where there is a wide range of student preparedness when we meet as a class.
Meeting as at a scheduled time provided structure and a continued sense of community. In future purely online courses, I think the live sessions will go a long way in establishing my presence as a real person. I also expect that framing the synchronous sessions as ‘lectures’ instead of office hours will lead to higher attendance and encourage review of the recordings.
Given my relative inexperience with online teaching, doing a little bit of both made the task less daunting. I was able to keep the pre-recorded videos concise and scripted, knowing that I can clarify further in live lectures. It made the synchronous lessons more efficient; I didn’t have to engage in pure knowledge transmission live in front of students, repeatedly for the three sections I taught.
Tenzin Yindok, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Economics
Overall, the transition [online] was not that bad, as Quercus is fairly user-friendly. The FAQ that Quercus provides was also helpful. Having prior experience working with Quercus as a TA greatly helped in this regard. My main piece of advice regarding teaching online is that the course instructor needs to create a more relaxed environment than one would find in the classroom in order to maintain normal learning outcomes. I tried to do this through use of the online chat board, which directly addressed students’ questions, rather than simply slogging through lecture content.
Some other comments:
- In order to effectively host each lecture you’ll need a fast internet connection. However, your students’ connections may not be as strong, and so I try to record the lectures with captions so each can be viewed asynchronously later. If your connection is fast, you can use live captions. If it’s slower, then you might need to have a TA typing captions which can then be inserted into later recorded versions of the lecture. Consider allotting these hours in your TA DDAH forms.
- Connectivity issues also necessitated the repetition of core concepts at various points throughout each lecture.
- In my experience, the educator needs to use synchronous lectures with active use of chat room discussion board in order to maintain a sense of community. The instructor should also actively monitor the discussion board to address the questions and concerns of students who are unable to attend the lectures. Still, a combination of synchronous and asynchronous elements are effective, and students should be expected to attend at least some live lectures.
- I included asynchronous mini-lectures which covered particular topics. These acted as a summary or review of particular points which would be relevant for later assignments and tests/midterms/exams.
- Even if students were present for lectures, students appreciated when lectures/labs were posted online and recorded. They also were more likely to ask for office hours to clarify concepts. Be open to scheduling office hours by appointment.
- One thing I will need insure for future classes is that all deadlines that appear in Quercus sync up with the syllabus. It was pretty clear that students rarely referenced the syllabus, and this caused some issues due to autoformatting through Quercus. I think next time I will have an activity to get them to more actively engage with the syllabus, and emphasize that the information found there is the correct information.
- It is important in discussions to give time for students to respond. At times I would give students a couple of minutes for any specific question, which would allow for students to critically evaluate what was being asked of them. This can be especially difficult because you lose the ability to “read the room” when teaching online.
-Steven Dorland, Sessional Lecturer, Department of Anthropology
Looking back over the last four months, I question some of my more precipitous decisions while I feel relieved to have made other choices. I see now that most of my winning strategies were rooted in the “human” component of second language pedagogy, French in my case. Although my new remote courses will be displayed in a very different style, I will not stray from the essence of what I learned from my students who marched through with me the Emergency Remote Teaching situation.
On March 13th after the campus closure, I started making an imaginary list of situations that my students might be facing: being 19 years old, away from home and/or caring for a family, taking 4 other courses, sharing one internet with 3 housemates, no latest tech devices, graduating in 3 months… As my list grew longer, my anxiety level got higher and my shoulders sunk lower. So, I chose to focus on pedagogy based on empathy and transparency.
My first decision was to replace the Monday class with an asynchronous activity. As I was not sure of everyone’s access to appropriate technological tools, a simple narrated PowerPoint presentation and a companion exercise worksheet with links for further activities were posted on the course site. It included suggested timeline and resources for extra help. Class was replaced by an optional synchronous drop-in session on Bb Collaborate for questions and friendly chat. Meanwhile, a mandatory survey on technology access, preference, and wellbeing/anxiety was conducted to inform me about students’ preferred web-conferencing tool, course delivery method, and communication style. The survey result informed my lesson plans. All my decisions were clearly presented and carefully explained. No test was given without beta version trial (even though all my previous tests were given online), no student went without talking to me at least once to check if optimal conditions were in-place. The remainder of the semester, including two final exams moved to online, went very smoothly, largely due to students’ cooperation and patience.
So, what worked for me was simple: putting myself in students’ shoes to spend a day. Not just making good use of “Student View” in the Quercus site, but also trying that “Student View” mode in all of pedagogical choices. And when not sure, asking questions to students. Course design will change, technology will improve. However, I learned again the basics of good teaching; teaching and learning are not just compatible, they are mutually integral.
-Rosa Junghwa Hong, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, French Program, Department of Language Studies
Here are a couple of my personal Online Teaching Tips. Feel free to use or leave out anything you like. I learned most of these the hard way, but it gave my students a good laugh at my expense 😊.
Tips while using Bb Collaborate:
- Make sure you deselect the students’ white board access during lectures (so they can’t draw on your slides!). You can easily give them access when you run an activity in the lecture.
- Write your polling questions in advance and save them as .pdf in Bb Collaborate. This saves time when you are running polls in the lecture.
- Make sure you unplug your ear phones so the students hear the audio when you livestream a video through Bb Collaborate. It is also good to shut off students’ audio and video to reduce the bandwidth.
- Before the lecture, you can detach the chat panel so you can see student comments beside the lecture slides.
- In large courses, have a TA moderate the chatroom during your lectures. It is also good to shut off the chat notification if you are lecturing (so you don’t get the pinging in your ears!) – This also applies to Zoom.
For all Online courses in general:
- It is best practices to have both asynchronous and synchronous components to your course to ensure equity and inclusiveness for all students. Make sure you post video links since synchronous videos can be glitchy.
- Set up a discussion board for students to meet up and discuss the course. This facilitates a student online community in your course.
- DO NOT post your Zoom or Bb Collaborate meeting links publicly – and do not include them on your syllabus (you do not want to be Zoom-bombed).
- It is best practices for student equity to have problem-based assessments that are not reliant on advanced technology and not “google” friendly. Students are forgiving of technological problems as long as you are flexible and remember we were all thrown into this situation together.
-Dr. Sherry Fukuzawa, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Anthropology