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  • Tarragona Associates

Remote Learning: Different Mode Requires Different Instructional Methods

Student in online class

Dr. Andrea Morris, Tarragona Associates, 7/14/20

Student Engagement and Online Learning

It has been stated repeatedly, and not without effect, that COVID-19 has significantly changed how faculty teach and students learn. The move to remote learning was swift yet cumbersome in many respects, erecting a maze that faculty and students had to navigate to reach the intersection of connectivity, Zoom prowess, instruction, and learning. As such, questions about teaching efficacy in spring 2020 and for fall 2020 were and are a concern for college students, faculty, staff, and presidents. Results from three surveys tell the story.

In its latest survey of 97 college and university presidents, Inside Higher Ed reported:

  • Thirty-one percent of respondents believed their school was very or extremely successful at maintaining student engagement in online classes, and,

  • Fifty-three percent believed they were moderately successful.

These findings suggest presidents question how well faculty involved students in learning. Indeed, measuring student engagement is important because it indicates the extent to which students are learning and mastering course material and is also indicative of the effectiveness of the chosen pedagogy.

Tyton Partners, an education growth advisory firm, conducted Time for Class: A National Survey of Faculty During COVID-19, a survey of over 4,000 faculty throughout the U.S. obtaining data on the impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning in higher ed. According to the survey:

  • Sixty percent of instructors who responded said, “keeping my students engaged” was the biggest challenge in remote learning in the spring, while

  • Three-quarters of same cited “increasing student engagement in class” as an instructional priority for the fall.

Clearly, faculty recognize the need to approach and do teaching differently to keep students attentive and active in online learning. (The survey provides a list of instructional practices used that resulted in satisfaction with student learning.)

Further, in Suddenly Online: A National Survey of Undergraduates During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Digital Promise, a non-profit dedicated to improving opportunities to learn, and Langer Research, a public policy research firm, administered a survey on perceptions of remote teaching and learning to over 1,000 students in credit-bearing classes that were in-person at the start of the spring semester and moved to remote teaching in March. While citing overall satisfaction with instructor preparation (76 percent) and quality of instruction (68 percent):

  • Only 57 percent were satisfied with their overall learning. Moreover, 65 percent cited “opportunities to collaborate with other students on course work” as lacking in online courses, owing to their lack of engagement despite high marks for instructor preparation.

Facilitating vs. Lecturing

Academics are in the business of knowledge transfer, imparting years of training, research, and evaluation to students to prepare them for their chosen vocation. COVID-19 has accentuated that the method of transfer is key. With online learning, lecturing can no longer be the primary means of teaching for learning. Facilitating student learning by establishing an environment of exploration and inquiry can set the tone for remote interaction. Presenting the theoretical framework of a topic through real-world examples and related materials while enabling students to fill in the frame by experiencing the topic will engage them directly as they exercise their understanding of the material. Moreover, established and communicated learning outcomes inform the benchmarks and frequency of student evaluation and sets expectations for learning, granting the instructor needed feedback to gauge student progress.

Facilitation as a means of knowledge transfer opens opportunities for students to explore the topic outside the “classroom” through activities they choose to support their learning toward stated expectations. Using this method, Instructors can support learning by:

  • Opening each online session with guiding questions that invite students to examine the topic from different perspectives and to think critically about the effect of those perspectives on the topic.

  • Using the discoveries as the basis for projects, group work, and collaborations between students that will demonstrate their investment and engagement with the topic.

  • Transforming class time into not only a vehicle for instructors to transfer knowledge but also for students to exchange experiences with the topic and its materials, which invites interaction as students consider their colleagues’ views and determinations and offer their insights to one another.

  • Treating the interactions as feedback to measure how well students are mastering the material. When redirection is needed or it’s time to introduce new concepts, present them through the lens of current events and ask how the author(s) of assigned readings would describe or characterize the issue, promoting continued study and examination.

  • Creating chat/meeting rooms for students to interact and collaborate, fulfilling the student-expressed need of connecting with their peers and improving their overall learning.

An Opportunity

Student engagement in “normal” conditions can be a challenge for instructors. Questions about instructor preparedness, relevance of class materials, and quality of instruction are prominent on student evaluations and results are included in faculty records. The challenge multiplied significantly with the move to online teaching and learning, as echoed by students, faculty, and presidents of colleges and universities in survey results mentioned above. Teaching in this new environment requires instructors to employ different methods and approaches to gain and keep students active in learning. Facilitating learning through a mix of practices that invite students to experience and explore topics can lead them to investing themselves in the class, even a remote class.

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Tarragona Associates provides consulting expertise to our higher ed clients. With Tarragona Associates’ help, you will:

  • increase student success and satisfaction

  • improve faculty and staff buy-in and engagement

  • enhance the health of your enrollment and retention pipelines

  • create strong core-mission budgets and build institutional revenue

  • protect the integrity of your academic promise

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About the Author

Andrea Morris has a twenty-five-year history working to create systems for sound policy making in and on-behalf of communities and organizations. She believes that exposing students to real world issues that demonstrate the connectedness of sectors will equip and prepare them as leaders of organizations that will establish policies, plans and programs that are engaging and responsive. As an educator, Andrea trains undergraduate students to recognize and understand the role, responsibility and reality of policy in organizations and communities. She has presented at local, regional, and national meetings and conferences and has been a featured guest on Federal News Radio, WAMU and the Kojo Nnamdi show.

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