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Published October 22, 2020 | Multidisciplinary

Dealing with the Challenges of Remote Teaching: Interview with 3 Teachers – Part 1

As many teachers’ professional universe is being turned on its head, I became curious to hear a teacher’s perspective on teaching at a distance. Three teachers from Champlain St. Lawrence College were kind enough to sit down for an interview to discuss how they go about giving their classes remotely. Here is a series of 2 articles.

  • In the first article, the 3 teachers provide a valuable point of view on how they use synchronous and asynchronous methods.
  • In the second article, they discuss evaluation and provide some tips.

Without further ado, let me introduce the teachers:

  • Anna Dera has been teaching biology in the Science Department for 27 years.

Anna Dera

  • Marc-André Frenette is a career businessman with international experience in entrepreneurship, accounting, and finance who is relatively new to the teaching business. He was hired in January 2018 to teach in the Business Program.

Marc-André Frenette

  • Carol-Anne Gauthier teaches Psychology in the Social Science Department. She has been at the college for 5 years and before that, she gave distance learning courses at University Laval for 8 years.

Carol-Anne Gauthier

Synchronous or asynchronous approach?

Are you trying to decide between a synchronous or asynchronous delivery for your course? Here is what the teachers said.

Anna Dera

Formerly, in one of her face-to-face biology classrooms, she presented the content using PowerPoint. Things are very different this year. She records the presentations so the students can watch them again and again and she uses Perusall. This social learning e-reader platform provides students with the opportunity to interact with each other online while annotating a reading assignment. The students are required to complete the assignment before class begins. The comments from the students who are fully using the platform are really positive.

They love Perusall. They interact with the other students much more than they would have in a classroom. So even though they never meet, they actually learn more from each other much more than they would have if they were sitting in a classroom just a few feet apart.

Anna Dera

Three times a week she meets students on Zoom to go over the misconceptions and the student questions that she saw in the comments on Perusall. She then uses Learning Catalytics, an interactive student response tool, to monitor the students’ learning and to assess common problems that she knows students are going to have. Using Learning Catalytics, she sends a question that all of the students have to answer (so they are all participating). She receives the data on the student’s responses and determines if the students should meet in breakout rooms to discuss the question further. After the discussion, the students receive the same question that was sent out initially. Once again, they must answer individually. With real-time analytics, Anna Dera can determine if the group-based learning was successful and thus adapt her instructional strategy accordingly. These online classes last about 20 minutes.

Anna Dera says that using Learning Catalytics and the peer instruction method “is very much like I was doing in the classroom. Students again tell me they like it because they're talking with the other students and one student said it doesn't feel much different from what they were doing so that's reassuring.”

For the biology labs, the groups were split in half, so only one half comes into the building at a time. Thus, one lab will take 2 weeks to finish. She and her colleagues cut out some labs. They went back to the ministerial objectives for the course and looked at the next course. They asked themselves, “What do the students absolutely have to do? What would be the most rewarding?” They also developed take-home lab kits so the students can do some of the labs at home. When the students come into the school to do a lab, they leave with a kit for a lab that they can do at home. The teachers are working together to make explainer videos on how to do the steps in the take-home labs. Presentations that would otherwise have been done in class are also put into video. They use the Learning Catalytics tool to assess the students’ understanding. For example in the Bio 1 lab, they teach students to write a scientific paper and they created explainer videos for each section of the paper.

Carol-Anne Gauthier

Some colleges ask teachers not to talk to students online for 2 hours, “Please limit the time when you are interacting with them on Zoom.” Other colleges actually say the opposite, “If it’s a 3-hour class, make sure you’re online with them 3 hours a week.”

She believes that, for online courses, less is better. She gives the example that, towards the end of a professional meeting that is 2 hours long, teachers can find it hard to remain focused, even though they are motivated to be there.

When creating online courses for distance learning in her former job, she learned that if a class is 3 hours a week, it is better to have 2 or 3 capsules that are 20 minutes each and other various activities for the rest of the time. That’s why the online psychology classes she developed at St. Lawrence focus on the use of breakout rooms. After a summary review of the chapter the students had to read for homework, the students are split into small groups to answer a question. After some time in the breakout rooms, they return to the main session to discuss before being sent back to a breakout room with another activity.

The students go from a passive observer role to active mode which does not mean that the students do not need a breather from time to time. If teachers do not want to spend their time policing the activity in the breakout rooms, it is important to integrate breaks. If there is no downtime during the online class, the students will simply shut off their camera when they are split into breakout sessions and go make breakfast or use the washroom.

Teachers cannot expect to recreate their classroom…but online. That is just not how it works.

Carol-Anne Gauthier

Marc-André Frenette

As a new business teacher, he feels most comfortable working synchronously.

When he taught in person 2 of the 3-hour class were devoted to lectures and interacting with students, asking or answering questions. Now that classes are online, he has reduced his speaking time.

Both in-person and online, Marc-André Frenette uses PowerPoint presentations to get the content across and then uses an enjoyable learning activity for the students to practice using the concepts. His challenge now is to find learning activities online to replace some of the hands-on activities that the students did in class. For example, how to replace the learning activity for the concepts of “operations management” and “key performance indicators” where a group of students worked for a fictional aeronautics company with a fictitious budget and had to make paper airplanes?

After presenting the concepts to the students, he uses Kahoot! and Socrative to check the students’ understanding.

He borrows videos and Screencast-o-Matic software from the web and fellow teachers to complement his classes. He also gives students plenty of exercises to practice the theory seen in class. He posts the exercises and videos to Léa each week so that the students always know where to find the material. This also gives him the opportunity to keep track of student activity over a given period and send feedback if he feels a student is falling behind.

Anything else?

These teachers have presented different ways to use synchronous and asynchronous teaching. I am sure they would want to say that it is difficult to shift to distance learning without lots of trial and error. So, while you are trying to provide meaningful online activities for your students, remember to give yourself the time and permission to figure this out. And, take a look at the second part of the article.

Please share any ideas you might have in the comment box below.

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