What better way to know what works and doesn’t in remote teaching but ask students? Our Complete Curriculum Intern has contributed today’s post for us. Like most of us, she was thrust into remote learning this Spring, and thoughtfully shares her experience to help educators everywhere.
My Remote Learning Experience
by Emeline Tu
Sophomore, UC Santa Barbara
As we all prepare to return to instruction for the fall term, I’d like to share with you my experience with distanced learning and what worked and didn’t work for me as a college freshman this past spring. I do have higher and more optimistic expectations for the preparedness of my classes and instructors and will provide a few general items that can be applied at all education levels and that, in my humble, non-educator opinion, should contribute to remote education running as smoothly as possible.
What to Keep Doing
One of the things I appreciated the most from my professors during spring quarter was the empathy they maintained for us. I was lucky in that my instructors were all quite aware of different circumstances students were facing at home, whether it was international time zones, unreliable internet access, taking care of relatives, other personal family matters, or lack of a quiet space to work. This may seem like a no-brainer for most educators, but I’d still like to maintain it as a gentle reminder. Please be compassionate.
Obviously, educators are dealing with these same issues as they attempt to figure out the best ways to hold their classes, and I do hope my peers and fellow students will recognize this as well. Thus, I think one of the most important ways to ensure the best circumstances possible is to be aware and understanding that each of us has our own personal matters that have intruded on the academic environment, and that these matters may sometimes have to come before school.
An additional example of my professors showing empathy was their flexibility with deadlines. Of course, I don’t reasonably expect teachers to simply not require any deadlines for assignments. One of my classes offered pretty generous extensions for our term and final paper deadlines, while also making it clear that the later the assignments were submitted, the later they would be graded. This, to me, seemed like a fair exchange, and provides a good example of the compromises students and teachers must make with each other during this time.
Balance Online and Offline
When it came to asynchronous versus synchronous lecture formats, this was a bit of a toss up in terms of preference for me. In some situations, having the professor explaining and speaking to the class live simulated the back-and-forth of a classroom environment and helped with answering questions as they arose.
However, many students would be better served by being able to adjust course times to manage internet availability and stability, living in different time zones, working part- or full-time jobs, or just needing to have more flexibility in their schedules. Pre-recorded lecture videos also allow students to go back and hear something they missed or study for exams later in the term. Thus, it is difficult for me as a student to recommend either format separately, because I benefited from both. I will say that a mix of the two is probably the most helpful option for students; for instance, posting lecture material as a recording, but holding optional meeting times or office hours for students to ask questions or get more assistance.
Another major element to consider for remote learning is the importance of communication (as if this weren’t already a super important part of…life). I felt most confident in classes where the professor and/or TA was communicative and available, whether it was through Zoom office hours, email, or even other online messaging mediums.
Unlike the days of in-person lectures, students can no longer easily approach instructors after a lesson for a quick question or clarification. Especially when it comes to asynchronous, or pre-recorded, lecture videos, gaining extra help in the moment isn’t as simple as raising your hand anymore. For classes that were held in real-time video meetings, it was definitely helpful when instructors offered to stick around or stay on the line for a few minutes after lecturing just to answer any follow-up questions.
Keep to Schedules
Amid this ever-changing public health crisis, there are many situations we can’t control in our lives. Having a detailed and logical weekly routine in each of my classes was extremely helpful for my stress levels and sanity. Professors provided certain times and days when they would post lecture content, as well as had regularly scheduled meetings or office hours.
Knowing when my homework was going to be due each week, and even having an outline in the syllabus of what material would be covered allowed me to plan my daily schedule efficiently. Students really do need the flexibility to make these situations work for them, the same way teachers do. Both parties ultimately benefit from knowing when and where they need to submit, post, or meet. At this point, I think we all would really like to have as few surprises as possible.
What to Consider
With all the rapid changes that occurred at the end of winter quarter and the beginning of spring quarter this past school year, instructors suddenly had about a week to shift all curriculum, assignments, tests, lectures, etc. to an online format. I can only imagine that most professors and TAs spent the majority of their spring breaks frantically scrambling to figure out how this was all going to work.
So needless to say, spring quarter itself was a challenge, and I think this lack of prep time was one of the main reasons. Because of the short notice, syllabi were late being updated, professors unfamiliar with streaming and PowerPoint presentations had to make do with holding up pieces of paper to their webcams, pets interrupted lectures (which, honestly, I did not mind), and communication among professors, TAs, and students was immensely stunted.
As much as I appreciate how generous and lenient my professors have been, I would like to touch upon a few things that didn’t work as well during this time (keeping in mind, of course, that all of this was new and involved quite a bit of rushed planning).
First, when it came to video meetings, I wasn’t a huge fan of being required to have my video camera on throughout the class. I understand the desire to ensure that students are paying attention and not just tuned into the call while sleeping in front of their disabled camera.
Believe me, I’ve heard about plenty of students who have done something of the sort. However, I think it shows more compassion to encourage cameras to be on, but also allow students the option not to have to display their living conditions to their peers
I am very fortunate to have my own workspace and didn’t have a big personal issue with keeping my camera on (other than the weird feeling of rolling out of bed and joining a call five minutes later). However, I know that many of my fellow students have different housing or living situations that they may simply not want to broadcast via video camera. Thus, I hope that teachers holding live video meetings with their students will be as flexible as possible on the camera-on policy.
Something that added unnecessary stress to the online learning experience was a lack of transparency when it came to grading or the class syllabus. In several of my classes last term, the grade weighting was unclear for the majority of the quarter, making it difficult to gauge how well I was really doing in the class.
One instructor even eliminated the grading scale entirely, and made the grading much more vague and subjective. For example, “great effort” would earn an A, while “average effort” would earn a C, and so on. The reasoning for this was to alleviate stress of concentrating on grades and numbers. Personally, it caused me to worry more about whether my standard of “average” or “great” was really aligned with that of the professor and TAs.
Of course, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to adapt an entire course to an online format within the span of a week before our spring quarter had started, so I recognize that this could simply have been a product of the lack of sufficient prep time for professors and instructors. Going forward, however, I would ask that teachers make their grading policies as clear as possible from the beginning.
Approaching A New Year
The school year has yet to begin for me, but I am anticipating once again becoming immersed in my academic life very soon. I plan to have as positive an attitude as possible about the conditions that surround all of us, and have touched all of us. I hope that on the other side of the pandemic and disruptions we’ve faced, we will have learned even better ways of communicating, working together, and making the education experience a valuable one for all.