Supporting K-12 and Higher Education Students in Remote Learning
By Hank Bohanon, Loyola University of Chicago
How many of you keep hearing about students who are overwhelmed during remote learning? I know I have seen, heard, and experienced how this can happen. How many of you are overwhelmed by the number of resources you have to sort through to provide effective instruction? It’s no one’s fault. I think it is wonderful that so many organizations have created tools for educators to use. Sometimes though, I just don’t have time to open every email.
Every time I review new resources on effective online teaching, or I need to design my instruction; there seem to be a few ideas I return to over and over again.
While there is much I can still learn about remote teaching, I have found a baseline approach that seems most helpful.
Concerns Around Remote Learning
Some of the concerns (but certainly not all) around remote learning in terms of instruction have included:
- Students not engaging in online learning
- Lack of non-verbal cues to guide instruction
- Lack of communication between instructors (Bohanon, Guo, & Dickmam, In Submission)
- Too many assignments due at the same time
- Co-teaching is problematic
- Assigning non-relevant assignments in an attempt to increase rigor
- The amount of information shared with educators
Brief Recommendations for Remote Learning
In his article for Edutopia, Stephen Merrill did a nice job of summarizing some of the big ideas about what works for improving teachers’ and students’ remote learning experience during the pandemic. His suggestions below are from educators from around the globe:
- Take a trial-and-error approach
- Remember we are in an extraordinary experience
- Connect with colleagues virtually
- Support students who are most at-risk
- Reduce the workload for students and teachers
Taking an Understanding by Design (UBD) approach can help you identify evidence and experiences essential for your students and what you can let go of for now. For example, you can consider:
- What are the specific Enduring Understandings that your students must know about the content? – Not what’s good for them to know.
- What are the Essential Questions you think your students should address?
- What evidence or evaluation will you use to check student understanding?
- What experiences will you provide to help students to be ready for the evaluation? Cut out every experience that does not fit into this framework.
The UbD approach can help you to select the essential content and pair down non-essential activities. For more information, check out these guides. There is also a wonderful book on UbD in the culturally and linguistically diverse classroom. I realize there is more to UbD than what I presented, but I wanted to focus on some of the big ideas for this blog.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a useful process for reducing barriers to student learning. These obstacles usually come when you present information, when students engage the content, or they express what they know. The UDL approach includes ramps to circumvent these barriers. Several UDL related strategies are very useful during remote instruction. Here are a few suggestions for you.
Presenting Content to Students (e.g., lectures, explicit instruction)
- Provide both written and verbal instruction
- Highlight and select the most relevant information for students for assigning readings and when presenting content
- Limiting the amount of reading or assigning specific reading page numbers or sites (e.g., read pages 3-5, 10-12)
Engaging the Content
- Include audio transcriptions
- Reducing the number of required reference material
- Have a family member send the student an email to correct grammar
- Offer a choice between traditional workbooks and online activities
- Allow choice of partners and projects
- Shortening the response requirements for writing prompts
- Use online platforms such as Khan Academy for math, Kahoot, or Quizlet to check student understanding
- Write a story and share it with a family member
- Create a Google Slides presentation
- Use Flipgrid to create a video report
For more information on specific strategies for UDL, please check the UDL guidelines from CAST. Also, check out this great book on UDL by Loui Lord Nelson called Design and Deliver (Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning.
Providing structure and organization is another useful way to support students during remote learning. For example, strategies for improving organization can include:
- Provide checklists of activities
- Share common calendars with due dates (particularly between instructors)
- Using a learning management system (e.g., Google Classroom, Moodle)
- Instructors can coordinate due dates and meetings
- Allowing students to work in groups on assignments
- Providing time for students to meet in groups to work on projects
Connecting with other educators can also provide good support. For example, the Facebook site Pandemic Pedagogy is a great place for educators to connect about frustrations and successes during remote learning. We also created a site using Mighty Networks called the Special Needs Network for Educators. Our site’s mission is to connect in-service and pre-service special educators to support each other on effective practices and avoid professional isolation. We based our model on the great work from the School Social Work Network.
The Mighty Networks platform is useful for creating networks around your teaching or professional development. For example, high school special educator Steve Rish shared his thoughts about online teaching’s successes and challenges with our community.
I know that this list of supports for remote learning is not exhaustive. But I was trying not to exhaust the reader. I would love to hear your thoughts about what is working for remote teaching in your work. Please leave a comment!
Hank is Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research, and professor in Teaching and Learning in the School of Education at Loyola University of Chicago.