Published on 2020/04/02

The EvoLLLution | Remote Learning: Peer Resources for Higher Education
As students and faculty transition to online classes and working from home, it’s important to foster community, especially now in a time of total isolation.

This marks a new week in ever-changing times as New York State mandated 100 percent of work be done remotely for non -essential businesses. Over a one-week period, Excelsior College went from approximately 375 on- site, in-person employees to 50 percent remote, to 90 percent remote, to 100 percent of employees working from home. Our IT department has been working quickly to address technological concerns as managers reach out with resources and adapted schedules.

The changes have been sudden and daunting; however, we feel lucky. Excelsior is a distance learning institution. Our faculty and students have been teaching and learning remotely for years, and that which has helped our staff navigate these changesis shift. We realize the impact of rapidly adopting remote, digital environments that hasve affected colleges and universities across the country. If your institution is moving to digital classrooms, we understand it can be overwhelming to make the transition under time constraints. We also understand that many students are not accustomed to learning online and may find it challenging to adjust to an onlinethis format. To help faculty and students achieve a frictionless experience, we have put together some peer resources to provide best practices during this crisis.

Online learning is different than traditional face-to-face teaching. Each instructional method offers a unique combination of benefits. Your faculty and students may be anxious about using unfamiliar  technology or struggling with self-discipline. They are not alone. Rather, they are now joining our larger digital community, and we offer our support and encouragement.

We are hearing repeatedly from our faculty experts that flexibility is crucial now. As your staff and faculty find office space in their homes, students are also adjusting. They have lost their favorite study desk at the library, tables for group projects in the coffee shop, and a dorm room get away. Additionally, tThe technology platforms may benew and even frustrating to everyone. Navigating all of this sudden change will take flexibility from everyone.

To establish the new digital classroom, faculty can promote engagement through a visible online presence. A video platform such as Zoom Meetings allows students to see you and you them. Resist the urge to record a long video lecture, and instead provide mini video lectures in  to clarify difficult content. Hold virtual office hours to give students the opportunity to ask questions one-on-one. Post weekly announcements and summaries of the content taught. Ask questions that stimulate further conversation and deeper thought. Make sure to respondto all students’ questions and to reach out to any students who are not participating.

Connecting with the students will help them to be successful in this new environment. If you are moving from a traditional classroom to a digital classroom, you have the benefit of already knowing your students. Keeping that connection alive will keep the class interesting. Connect the content to stories from your professional life and share struggles that you had as a student and/ or in your career. When students hear their instructor talk about how they surmounted an obstacle, they believe they can too. Now is the time to let your personality show to encourage students to do the same. Get to know your students, ask questions about their career goals and educational backgrounds.

Lecturing should give way to flipped classroom activities. Create learning activities wherein students can discuss responses to case studies, scenarios, share experiences and work on a project together. While the visual classroom experience is important, a visual student experience for study groups and team projects is also a priority so students can continue to have a sense of community and support each other in their learning.

As you are connecting, show empathy to students. They may be juggling new responsibilities or stress. Take extra care to assume positive intent in all interactions. Encourage diverse opinions and collegial conversation when these diverse opinions are presented to promote a safe place for the generation of ideas and scholarly dialogue. Provide clear, realistic expectations and work with students to help them meet them by communicating transparently and often in the course.

If you are teaching a multicultural classroom online, keep in mind that it takes longer for ESL students to read and write by nature of English being in their second language. Also, we know that informal learning takesplace outside of the classroom. Many Learning Management Systems support social collaboration tools, such as web conferencing software and project management online platforms. These tools make it easy for students to work remotely with their peers and share feedback.

They can send instant messages, upload documents, and address common concerns to form a supportive online learning community. Better still, all of these interactions are facilitated and track ed through the LMS platform. Thus, you’re able to monitor their progress and assign supplemental online coursework when necessary. To get the ball rolling, encourage students to split into groups and work on a collaborative online project, such as creating a subject matter blog. After this initial assignment, social and informal learning are going to happen more spontaneously.

Other best practices for building online courses and delivering remote teaching and learning are available on Excelsior College’s new peer resource pages. These resources are available freely to anyone who needs them. We will continue to add articles and resources throughout these next weeks or months, and we hope this will ease your transition into digital classrooms.

The past few months have unfolded in a way and at a pace that many of us have planned for but hoped would never happen. COVID-19 is impacting colleges and communities in new ways almost daily. As we are all working fervently to protect the health and safety our students, faculty, and staff, we are faced with additional new challenges. Remote work and social distancing procedures are put into place throughout the United States and across campuses worldwide. While we may need to keep physical distance, it is important that we come together as a community in any way we can.

We hope that these resources will help equip your faculty to tackle the coming weeks and months, and better serve your students as they finish this semester online.

Editor’s note: This interview was submitted on March 23, 2020. 

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