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The effective approach to online teaching

November 17, 2021

The advent of Covid19 created a massive shift to distance education in the spring of 2020. The original intent was to be able to maintain access to education through technology; so-called emergency remote teaching. Although a recent survey conducted in the United States indicates that 75% of students prefer classroom or hybrid instruction, many institutions have observed certain advantages to distance education and are considering maintaining it, at least in part, in their educational offerings.

In this context, it becomes important to reflect on some of the challenges brought about by online teaching, such as the mental health of faculty. Faculty may experience burnout, demotivation, and feelings of inadequacy due to a lack of resources or an overwhelming workload following the transfer to distance education. In order to reduce the risk of burnout, which is even more difficult to identify in a telecommuting environment, we propose a series of strategies aimed at maximizing your results in a distance teaching context while minimizing the amount of effort required.

A little introspection is in order

First, be aware of the state of mind with which you approach distance learning. Are you hoping that everything will go back to “the way it was” or do you think you are bad with technology? Choosing to see distance education as an opportunity to grow and develop your skills will change your perception of the situation. It is no longer about surviving distance education, but thriving in it.

We know that every teaching gig involves a fair amount of prep work. Start by acknowledging your stress, beliefs, and the emotional work that distance learning requires. A greater dose of empathy for yourself may relieve you of negative emotions that make the work heavier to bear.

Less is more!

When preparing educational activities, apply the 3Rs rule: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. First, reduce by questioning the necessity of the task you want to accomplish in order to reach the learning objective. Is this activity that will take an hour to prepare essential? Is this elaborate layout essential? Then, we reuse by checking if we can adapt existing activities. This is a great way to save time on writing instructions, on the layout or on the evaluation grid. Finally, you can recycle by collaborating with colleagues and using material already available on different sharing platforms. Make sure to respect copyright.

Avoid always trying to test and use new applications. The less is more philosophy also has its place in the choice of technological tools. You will save time by making a limited selection of the solutions that will be most effective for your teaching. Each new tool involves training time to familiarize yourself with its components and adds to the time spent coaching students using the tool for the first time. Focusing on a small bank of well-chosen tools will make your planning easier and reduce the stress associated with the newness.

Get to the point about what information is needed and what tasks need to be completed. It can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to give a little more just to cover all the bases and think you are meeting learners’ expectations. Knowing that only 20-30% of students would read the required resources, making an informed choice will avoid overload for both the student and the teacher.

Practical tips

Take advantage of the benefits of distance learning to reduce the load of course preparation. Instead of giving long lectures (which take just as long to prepare and are more or less listened to by the students), use asynchronous training to propose existing readings or videos. In class, you can use this time to discuss and propose practice activities.

Another alternative to reduce preparation time when presenting theoretical content is to bring in a guest lecturer. Bringing a new person into the classroom has the advantage of energizing the course and often keeps students interested for a long time because of the novelty and the potential to develop their professional network.

Receiving regular feedback encourages students to invest more in the preparation required between classes and keeps them more motivated. Take advantage of your training platform to pre-schedule recognition messages to be sent when someone completes a task. They will automatically receive your messages of encouragement throughout the session.

In conclusion…

Just as distance learning requires special skills on the part of the student, distance learning also requires adapting to new ways of doing things. Although the teacher’s objective remains the same, the means available and the working methods differ. The avenues presented in this article are only a brief overview. It is likely that many other good practices will emerge over time.