Making a Successful Temporary Shift to Remote Teaching

There are a variety of circumstances (e.g., inclement weather or campus emergencies) that may require instructors to make a temporary shift to remote teaching. While the University will seek to communicate changes in instructional delivery with as much advanced notice as possible, there may be situations where instruction needs to pivot on short notice. It is important to think about how you can approach temporary remote teaching in a way that is effective. This guide offers general strategies to help you prepare for successful remote classes as well as specific pedagogical approaches for successful synchronous remote classes or asynchronous remote classes.

As always, we invite you to schedule a consultation with ITLAL staff for more ideas about effective remote teaching. If you have questions about whether your plans for remote teaching are appropriate for your specific departmental context, contact your chair or dean.

General strategies to ensure successful remote classes

Have a big-picture plan for how you will hold remote classes. It is helpful to know what approach to remote classes will typically work best for you, your students, and your courses. Instructors have the option of determining whether to meet synchronously during the regularly scheduled class time or to give students equivalent work that they can do asynchronously. It is helpful to have a sense of whether synchronous or asynchronous classes will work best given the nature of your course and the type of work that students typically do in a class meeting. Be certain, also, to consider the circumstances in which you will likely be working in the case of a shift to remote teaching (e.g., whether you will be responsible for elder care or child care, what kind of technology you will have access to, whether you will have a quiet space to facilitate a synchronous class meeting, your level of comfort with the technology you’ll need to use, etc.).

Communicate a big-picture plan for remote classes to students. Students will be more likely to engage in any work you ask them to do remotely and be successful in that work if they know what to expect. It is ideal to communicate your big-picture emergency plans in your syllabus (e.g., “In the event of a campus shift to temporary remote instruction, we will hold class synchronously in Zoom at our regularly scheduled time”). In a course that is already underway, you can communicate this to students by posting information on Blackboard or sending a class email. Be sure to call students’ attention to this plan in class as well and give them the opportunity to ask any questions they have.

Communicate your expectations for individual remote classes clearly. When the university has to shift to temporary remote teaching, it’s important that students know exactly what is expected of them including how they will attend class (if you are holding a synchronous meeting); where they will access the resources they need to complete the work they need to do; how, where, and when they will submit required work; and how they should communicate with you if they run into any problems.

Work flexibility into your plan. Situations that require a shift to remote teaching may come with other problems, e.g., loss of power and/or internet in the case of severe weather, child or elder care challenges, travel delays, etc. Students may struggle to attend synchronous classes or may not be able to access asynchronous work at class time. It is important that you hold students to the standards of your course, but keep lines of communications open so that students can tell you if they are struggling to meet the expectations for the class. Be prepared to give students parameters to work within rather than simply holding them to strict deadlines. For example, if you are planning an asynchronous class meeting, don’t make all work due during or at the end of your scheduled class time but instead give a larger window that students can work within.

Use resources you already have. Many instructors have had experience with shifting to remote instruction and/or other teaching modalities in the past two years, and you likely already have strategies that work well for students in your courses. Take some time to reflect on the work you’ve previously done and use those experiences to help you make plans for remote classes.  

Keep remote classes as consistent as possible with the design of the course and previous class meetings. It’s important that remote class meetings don’t feel like an interruption in your course, but instead that they are a similar learning experience that just takes place in a different setting. Consider what a typical class meeting looks like in your in-person class, and aim to replicate those activities as much as possible in a remote class. If your typical class meeting is a mix of lecture and Q&A, replicate that structure as best you can in a remote class. If students frequently do group work in your classes, have them do well-structured work together in a synchronous or asynchronous remote class. Below are examples of reliable pedagogical approaches for synchronous or asynchronous remote classes.

Pedagogical strategies to ensure successful synchronous remote classes

If you are planning to hold synchronous class meetings, there are several reliable strategies for ensuring that these class meetings fit into the larger structure of your course rather than interrupting the flow of your in-person classes.

Synchronous class meetings focused on whole-class discussion

If your in-person class meetings include student discussion, you can use Zoom to replicate that experience. Synchronous remote discussions will be most successful if they are carefully structured and if students know exactly how they are expected to participate and contribute. Below is an example of an effective plan for a synchronous remote class focused on class discussion.

  1. Share a challenging prompt or question that you would have used in your in-person class meeting to drive discussion or debate. It is helpful to make this prompt visible by sharing it on a slide or in a document.
  2. Ask students to respond to the question or prompt on their own, and ask them to commit to an answer by writing it down, along with an explanation of how they used concepts they have been learning in the course to arrive at that answer.
  3. Ask all students to share their response (or some part of their response) in the Zoom Chat. Ask students to read other students’ responses as they come in and consider where they see points of emerging agreement and/or disagreement about the question.
  4. Take some time to read the responses yourself, note the patterns of responses you see, and articulate these patterns for students. Now you are ready to call on students and ask them to share their thinking about each of the options.
  5. After you have heard several answers, offer a recap that helps students trace the trajectory of the discussion, and then offer additional insight about which responses were more on target than others. You may, at this point, want to offer some additional concepts that might shape their thinking in a focused, 10-minute mini-lecture, as you would in an in-person class meeting.
  6. At the end of class, have students write a 1-minute reflection describing what they learned from the discussion. You may ask students to submit this work along with the other writing they have completed during the class meeting.

Synchronous class meetings focused on group work and/or discussion

If your in-person class meetings include group work, you can use Zoom to replicate that experience. Synchronous remote group work will be most successful if it is carefully structured and if students know exactly how they are expected to participate and contribute. Below is an example of an effective plan for a synchronous remote class focused on group work.

  1. Share a challenging prompt or question that you would have used in your in-person class meeting to drive discussion or debate. It is helpful to make this prompt visible by sharing it on a slide or in a document.
  2. Ask students to respond to the question or prompt on their own, and ask them to commit to an answer by writing it down, along with an explanation of how they used concepts they have been learning in the course to arrive at that answer.
  3. Give students instructions to work together in small groups. Make sure you clearly explain that their task is to share and explain their individual answers and then to work together to come to a single answer that they will share and defend when they come back to the whole-class meeting. It is helpful to have each group identify a “spokesperson” share their group’s answer after the small-group work.
  4. Put students into small groups using Breakout Rooms in Zoom.
  5. Bring students out of Breakout Rooms. When you bring students out of Breakout Rooms, have a representative from the team share their choice using the Chat function of Zoom (for a large class with 4 or more groups) or by calling on groups (for a smaller class with 2 or 3 groups).
  6. Note the patterns of responses you see and articulate this for students. Now you are ready to call on the groups and ask them to share their thinking about each of the options.
  7. After you have heard answers, offer a recap that helps students trace the trajectory of the discussion, and then offer additional insight about which responses were more on target than others. You may, at this point, want to offer some additional concepts that might shape their thinking in a focused, 10-minute mini-lecture.
  8. At the end of class, have students write a 1-minute reflection describing what they learned from the discussion. You may ask students to submit this work along with the other writing they have completed during the class meeting.

Synchronous remote class meetings focused on lecture

If your in-person classes include lecture and interaction with students, you can use Zoom to replicate that experience. When you lecture remotely, it’s important to ensure that students are engaging in meaningful work during that lecture. Below is an example of an effective plan for a synchronous remote class focused on lecture.

  1. Before the lecture begins, ask students to write down their response to one of these questions:
    • What is the most important thing I learned from the reading or homework for today’s class?
    • What are the three muddiest (i.e., most confusing) points from the reading or homework you completed for today’s class?
    • What are three questions from the reading or homework that you would like to have answered in today’s class?
  2. You might ask students to share some of their ideas verbally or in a chat.
  3. During the lecture, take at least one or two pauses in which you ask students to re-read their initial responses and make notes about how their thinking about the question they answered has changed at this point in the lecture. You might ask students to share some of their ideas verbally or in a chat.
  4. At the end of the lecture, have students reflect back on all their notes and write down their response to these questions:
    • What is the most important thing I learned in today’s class?
    • How does what I learned in class connect to the important things I learned from the reading?
    • How will I use what I’ve learned to help me on the upcoming class assignment/test/project?
  5. Have students submit their responses (in Blackboard or by email) after class has ended.

We invite you to visit ITLAL’s additional resources for teaching fully online synchronous courses.

Pedagogical strategies to ensure successful asynchronous remote classes

If you are planning to use asynchronous work for your remote class, there are several reliable strategies for ensuring that this work fits into the larger structure of your course rather than interrupting the flow of your in-person classes. For asynchronous work, it is particularly important to provide students with explicit instructions about the steps they will need to take to complete their work, where they will locate all the resources they need to do their work, and where and when they will submit any completed work to you.

Asynchronous class work using recorded lectures

You may still have recordings from past asynchronous classes, or you may have time to record a short lecture that you can post in your Blackboard course. Below is an effective sequence for having students do asynchronous class work with the content of a recorded lecture.

  1. Students complete assigned reading (if applicable).
  2. Students watch the recorded lecture.
  3. Students write short responses to the following questions:
    • What is the most important thing I learned from the assigned reading? (if applicable)
    • What is the most important thing I learned from the lecture I watched?
    • How does what I learned from the lecture connect to the important things I learned from the reading?
    • How will I use what I’ve learned to help me on the upcoming class assignment/test/project?
  4. Students submit this work to you in Blackboard, by email, or by some other means.
  5. You read these written responses and use them to help determine where students may have struggled in working with the content on their own. Address any big questions that emerged in the next class meeting.

Asynchronous class work using detailed lecture notes

If you don’t have access to a recorded lecture, you can share class materials with students by other means. You might, for example, provide students with the lecture notes you would have used in class or give them detailed PowerPoint slides. Below is an effective sequence for having students do asynchronous class work with lecture notes.

  1. Students complete assigned reading. (if applicable)
  2. Students read your lecture notes/slides.
  3. Students write short responses to the following questions:
    • What is the most important thing I learned from the assigned reading?
    • What is the most important thing I learned from the lecture notes/slides I read and reviewed?
    • How does what I learned from the lecture connect to the important things I learned from the reading?
    • How will I use what I’ve learned to help me on the upcoming class assignment/test/project?
  4. Students submit this work to you in Blackboard, by email, or by some other means.
  5. You read these written responses and use them to help determine where students may have struggled in working with the content on their own. Address any big questions that emerged in the next class meeting.

Asynchronous class work using interaction

If you are teaching a course where students have used discussion boards or some other tool for interaction outside of class meetings, you may make the asynchronous work students do on a remote teaching day part of those ongoing interactions. Be aware that you’ll need to provide students with a clear timeline for their participation in these interactions. Below is an effective sequence for having students do asynchronous class work that is part of ongoing interactions with other students.

  1. Students complete assigned reading and/or watch a recorded lecture.
  2. Each student writes two important questions that came up for them in the reading and/or lecture.
  3. Students post their questions to a class or group discussion board or other forum that you use regularly in the class. These initial posts might be due at the end of the day on your regularly scheduled class meeting day.
  4. Students attempt to respond to at least one other student’s question on the discussion board. These replies might be due the day before your next regularly scheduled class meeting.
  5. You read over these questions and responses to look for any big patterns or confusions that emerged. Address these questions in your next in-person class meeting.

We invite you to visit ITLAL’s additional resources for teaching fully online asynchronous courses.