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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Capra

Dos & Don'ts for Remote Design

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

Educators were thrust into remote teaching after Covid-19 shut down schools across the nation. The new reality we are all facing is that remote instruction will be here into the Fall, and possibly beyond. We are starting with a clean slate with a chance to make the learning experiences as meaningful as possible for our students. Here's a Dos and Don'ts approach for educators to consider as we navigate these unchartered waters together. #remotelearning#onlinelearning#distancelearning#technology#theresacapra#teachingtips#Covid19


Covid-19 is far from fading into the distance from the rear view mirror. Suffice to say, it’s the driver with the United States riding shotgun. Educators throughout higher education and K-12 are faced with the reality that instruction will be delivered in online and remote formats possibly supplemented with hybrid models for limited physical presence. The emergency thrust to remote at the end of the winter should be a reminder that preparation is key for success and sustainability. There are practices to make the design process easier while mitigating the frustration of trial and error. Here are a few dos and don'ts that can be applied to many learning environments.

Don't overlap activities!

This has plagued fully online courses at all levels for years, especially throughout higher education where distance education has existed for nearly two decades. Instructors begin the design process with the goal of compensating for physical classroom time by layering tedious tasks upon each other during weekly modules. Students read textbook chapters, take quizzes generated by test banks, and answer factual questions on discussion boards. For students, managing the assignments becomes the objective rather than assessing their learning.

Do select fewer, deeper assignments.

We are starting with somewhat of a clean slate so it is possible to avoid this pitfall for remote design. Start by examining the learning objectives and standards. Next, make a substantial list of potential assignments that could meet those objectives and evaluate where they would fit in the unit. Then select only a couple that will give you the best bang for your buck. Be sure to select at least one assignment that engages students on the higher levels of learning theories such as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Don't abuse synchronous sessions!

Remote instruction is poised to sink into the pitfall of an overreliance on synchronous, virtual sessions to substitute classroom time with a purpose of just because. Using technology such as Zoom, Google, or Collaborate can indeed make remote teaching effective and personable, but it shouldn’t be used everyday, and other tools and methods must supplement virtual sessions. Consider identifying the content or topics that absolutely require a face-to-face, virtual forum and map them out across the unit. Also consider arranging brief check-in days without new material that can serve as review or instructional assessment.

Do implement small group instruction!

Although literature on the benefits of smaller classes is conflicted, smaller classes are most certainly more personable, and at least shown to improve achievement for at-risk populations. Remote learning is the perfect format to implement the model with no additional institutional costs. In fact, you would think administrators, especially at community colleges where students are commuters with higher needs, would be jumping up and down for the expansion of remote courses to serve populations that can benefit from small group instruction.

Consider breaking the class into smaller groups when leading synchronous sessions. For example, if you’re teaching 4th grade mathematics, deliver direct instruction to subsets while other teams work in Google Classroom towards reinforcement and application. In secondary and post-secondary survey courses, deliver mini lectures or demonstrations to smaller groups and utilize discussion boards for deeper dives. Breakout rooms are perfect for lecture and direct instruction in a platform such as Zoom. Simply divide your class into a few sections and enter each room to present the lesson while the other groups work on an overarching project or complimentary assignment.

Do assess, assess, and assess!

A universally agreed upon characteristic of highly effective teachers is a commitment to assessment. Formative assessments are daily methods for instructors to evaluate the extent to which students are achieving the lesson and course objectives. Remote instruction does not have to be void of this. Build in formative assessments in the same manner as traditional classrooms--comprehension questions, open-ended prompts during developmental lessons, exit slips after a class has ended can all still be utilized in remote classes. During synchronous sessions, pause, ask students to work independently on a question, problem, or prompt and then ask them to show their work or justify their answers.

During whole group discussions, monitor a virtual chat to gauge comprehension. As the lesson is concluding, ask students to use the chat feature to share their muddiest point--a quick scan of a chat bar beats sorting through a stack of hand-written index cards when the day is over. Consider a virtual tool such as Poll Everywhere that permits anonymous polling during synchronous lessons and lectures. Assessing individual comprehension can be even easier in remote classrooms when appropriate tools are combined, especially for older students who are reluctant to share out in front of their peers in a physical classroom. No mode of teaching is perfect, but educators are always up for a challenge with a deep committment to student success.


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