Remote Teaching: How Different Is It?

Yesterday I reached a milestone: my 20th virtual class session. I offer the following reflection on quickly transitioning to teaching online.

It is Not So Different as You Think

My basic approach to teaching remains the same. I introduce a new concept, demonstrate its application, and give students time to attack a problem on their own. After a few minutes, I demonstrate a solution. In some ways, this approach works better online than in the classroom, because I record my sessions, and students can review afterwards.

At first, I hesitated to give students quiet time to do problems. I felt pressure to talk constantly during virtual sessions, just as I had when I first started teaching in person. But I surveyed students over spring break, and the approach proved popular: “more practice” was a common refrain.

Writing assignments have worked well during remote learning. As a result of the Writing in the Disciplines (WID) seminar I took at our college’s Center for Teaching and Learning, I infuse short writing assignments into my courses, whether online or in-person. In fact, I recently published an article on the benefits of writing in technical disciplines. Although my paper appears in a journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, the approach works in non-honors courses too.

It is Very Different

A significant number of students lack computer equipment and adequate Wi-Fi (or are struggling with more basic needs). Students did not sign up for remote learning, and in many cases, are understandably ill-prepared. We need to be compassionate and flexible in accommodating such students. On the faculty side, learning to use Zoom, a writing tablet and video editing software has required an investment of time and energy.

Not everything has gone smoothly, but I am grateful to have been absorbed in teaching during a difficult 2020 and in delivering as much of the college experience as possible for my students.