Preparing for Remote Teaching

I don’t believe anyone actually planned to teach remotely this winter semester but in the middle of March that’s where we found ourselves – within just a few days, shifting unexpectedly from face-to-face to remote instruction. This sudden shift required many of us to quickly learn new tools and processes in order to continue providing students with continuity of instruction and support.

We have not been alone in this sudden migration from the physical to the virtual classroom. Educational institutions from across the country (in fact, across the planet)  have also made this shift. Much of what we have delivered outside the physical classroom this past semester has become known as “emergency remote teaching”

In contrast to experiences that are planned from the beginning and designed to be online, emergency remote teaching (ERT) is a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances. It involves the use of fully remote teaching solutions for instruction or education that would otherwise be delivered face-to-face or as blended or hybrid courses and that will return to that format once the crisis or emergency has abated.  EDUCAUSE Review

To efficiently shift from face-to-face to remote instruction and back again as needed requires a good deal of planning and preparation.

A man working from home on his laptop.
Home Office by David Martyn Hunt on Flickr CC-BY

Remote instruction may leverage synchronous technologies such as Zoom or Google Meet, permitting classes to continue meeting virtually – oftentimes during their regularly scheduled meeting times.  ERT also makes use of recorded lectures to a greater extent than the typical online course.

Preparing for such a sudden shift is necessary to reduce the anxiety level that both faculty and students may experience during unplanned campus closures. A well thought out plan with clearly defined steps can help both instructors and learner know what to expect in the event of a sudden campus closure.

1) Make use of the LMS (Blackboard) for announcements, course materials and grades. Encourage students to install the Blackboard App on their phones. This will help to ensure they receive timely notifications. Use responsive and accessible content that can be viewed on their smartphones. Your students didn’t sign up for an online class and may not have access to all of the technology that supports online learning. Chances are good, however, that they do own a smartphone.

2) Use web-conferencing software such as Zoom or Google Meet for short instructional lessons, small group discussion, and faculty office hours. Even when teaching an on-campus course, it is a good idea to help students become accustomed to the virtual meeting environment. Many students sign up for on-campus courses because they prefer the face-to-face interaction; real-time remote sessions can offer some of the same advantages as as in-person meetings.

3) Use video content. Streaming video and / or audio works well for students whose main internet connection is their smartphone. There is a great deal of professionally developed licensed content (e.g. Khan Academy, NBC Learn, Films on Demand, etc.) available that can be shared in Blackboard via your TechSmith Relay library.

4) Consider using Google Apps (docs/slides/sheets/forms/jamboard) for student group projects and collaboration outside of the classroom. These apps work well with smartphones and can be linked from within your Blackboard course pages and assignments. Google Apps will permit students to collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously, whether in-person or remotely.

5) Consider limiting the number of proctored exams. Quizzes that might normally be delivered in the testing center can be converted to formative assessments and delivered in Blackboard. Students who didn’t sign up for an online class may feel especially anxious about taking their exams online. By permitting them to take their quizzes multiple times, students may test their own knowledge of the material before taking higher-stakes mid-term or final exams. Consider contacting the tutoring center about embedding tutors into your Blackboard course to help students improve weak areas.

6) Look at alternatives ways of assessing learning. Student presentations, research projects, essays, and other types of assessment can be used in place of exams as evidence of student understanding and application of knowledge. For writing projects such as research papers, consider asking your library liaison about embedded librarians in your Blackboard course. Librarians can help to provide assistance with information literacy and related student support for writing and research.

Other resources:

Online Education and Authentic Assessment – IHE

Good questions for Better Essay Prompts (and Papers) – Faculty Focus

Student Centered Remote Teaching: Lessons Learned from Online Education – EDUCAUSE Review

Synchronous learning and the asynchronous online course

The new GRCC strategic plan includes a college action project (CAP) focusing on expanding and improving outcomes in online learning. CAP members include faculty, staff, and administrators from various disciplines and departments across campus. This year we will be piloting a web-conferencing solution – Zoom- in tandem with Techsmith Relay SaaS – a cloud-based media management tool. Our goal is to improve access to student support services and increase instructor immediacy and teaching presence in the virtual classroom.

Skype video conference
Skype – CC-BY-NC-SA by M. Fawcett on Flickr

Departments that will be exploring how to use these technologies to support distance learners include: advising, enrollment services, the Library, academic tutoring and student success. Students will be able to consult with support professionals in real-time using audio / video or through the instant messaging / chat feature. Other features include a “waiting room” offering privacy when serving students one at a time, a whiteboard, screen sharing, remote control, and a recording feature for students to review help sessions later.

In a 2010 study, C. Baker from Tarleton State University, found that synchronous online learning resulted in significantly higher levels of instructor immediacy and presence. Teacher presence is the degree to which a student feels their instructor is accessible and responsive in the virtual classroom. Immediacy refers to the degree to which students feel their instructor is a “real person”.

The use of synchronous technologies such as web-conferencing in the online course can help to mitigate feelings of isolation which often result in lower student satisfaction levels and higher attrition rates. However, there are certain constraints in regards to flexibility when adding synchronous activities to an asynchronous online course .

Using a design-based research approach, P. Lowenthal and others (2017) were intentional in their efforts to leverage synchronous technologies in the  redesign of virtual office hours. Although few students historically attended office hours – whether virtual or face-to-face – by including the synchronous sessions in the syllabus, using the LMS calendar to remind students of the sessions, adding a brief instructional lesson and recording the session, they saw increased student attendance, participation, and satisfaction.


Baker, C. (2010) The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation. The Journal of Educators Online. 7(1), 1-30.

Lowenthal, P. R.; Dunlap, J. C. & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning 21(4), 177-194. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285

Nearly all undergrads now own a smartphone

According to the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) smartphone ownership amongst college undergrads is nearly ubiquitous. The ECAR 2017 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology found that 97 percent of college students now own a smartphone. The vast majority of students are connected virtually anytime / anywhere. As far as using their devices for school: 78 percent said their smartphones are “moderately important to their academic success”.

How do they use their smartphones for academics?

According to a recent article in Campus Technology 67 percent of fully-online students use their smartphones for completing at lease some of their coursework, including accessing reading content, communicating with their professors and classmates, accessing video and slide presentations, etc.


Brooks, D. Christopher & Pomerantz, Jeffrey. (2017) ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2017. Educause Center for Analysis and Research.

Schaffhauser, Dian. (2018). Two-thirds of online students do some coursework on a mobile device. Campus Technology.

Additional resources:

Anderson, Monica & Jiang, Jingjing. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center.