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Remote Learner-Centered Teaching: What can I do in my classroom?

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This resource considers Weimer’s (2013) five key changes to practice within the context of the remote classroom. It was co-created by CTL Undergraduate Student Teaching and Learning Consultants: Mae Butler, Donian Chyong, Haya Ghandour, Jennifer Lee, Nicole Lyons, Samatha McAlevy, and Kalisa Ndamage, as part of the Students as Pedagogical Partners initiative in Spring 2020.  

 

What challenges might students face with learner-centered teaching in the remote context?

Students may … 

  • Not understand why content, structure, method, and expectations are different for remote learning. Students may wonder why they are being asked to take more responsibility for their learning in an online course than a face-to-face course. 
  • Feel overwhelmed by the shift to online learning and seek the “business-as-usual” teaching and learning methods they are accustomed to, especially at a time when so many other things in the world are changing quickly and unpredictably. 
  • Feel stressed about taking on new responsibilities or work, especially if they are struggling to adapt to new living and online learning arrangements.
  • Be concerned about meeting remote learning objectives given their potential lack of access to learning resources such as libraries or social study spaces.

How can professors maximize student ownership of learner-centered teaching in the online classroom?

Explanation and clarification: 

  • Explain why certain teaching and learning methods are being used in the online classroom and communicate how they relate back to the course’s specific learning objectives set out at the start of the semester.
  • Clarify what roles and responsibilities students and faculty have in a learner-centered online classroom.

Encouragement and support: 

  • Demonstrate to students that you believe in their ability to take on responsibility for remote learning by sharing (with permission) work that meets the learning objectives. This can be done using the screenshare feature on Zoom or by uploading PDFs to the Courseworks page. Drawing on examples of successful remote learning can encourage students to step out of their comfort zones. 
  • Support students struggling with new learning environments by clarifying learning objectives and offering specific rubrics for assignments. If students are nervous about taking risks in a new learning environment, offer students the opportunity to revise to reduce fear of “failure.”
  • Check in with students regularly about challenges that they are facing in the transition to online and learner-centered classrooms. Whenever possible, collaborate with learners to accommodate their needs.
  • Treat remote learners as whole human beings. Check in with them about how they are doing, where they are, and what they need to learn. This can be during class, on a Google form, or over email. If you cannot respond individually to students, acknowledge that you received and appreciated their reflections during class. Consider sharing (with permission from students) common responses to help students feel supported and motivated during this time.

 

What changes can professors implement to promote learner-centered teaching?

 

Key Change 1: The Role of the Online Teacher

Presence

  • If you opt for live online classes, record lectures and recitations and post the videos on CourseWorks to increase students’ access to class across time zones.
  • Post lecture notes to give students multiple modalities to follow along with live or recorded lectures.
  • Hold office hours at multiple times to allow students in different time zones to attend.
  • Encourage students to use the Gallery View option on Zoom during online classes to see multiple faces at once and increase their sense of community and shared responsibility for learning in virtual classes.
  • Invite students to participate and ask questions through video, voice, or text chat. Click the Zoom chat button at the bottom of the screen to pull up the chat box and move it to the side of your screen for easy access and to monitor student questions as they arise. If you cannot see the chat because you are screensharing, designating a TA to answer questions on the chat or asking a student to let you know when there’s a chat question can help you focus on teaching without multitasking.

Facilitation of Learning

  • Use the Breakout Room tool on Zoom to create small group discussions and help students feel connected as learners during online classes. Make yourself more present by visiting different breakout rooms to see what groups are saying.
  • Encourage students to turn on their cameras and their microphones to promote active participation. If students are uncomfortable and/or unable to use their camera during online classes, invite them to upload a picture of themselves in lieu of live video to decrease the feeling of anonymity. Do not force students to use their cameras,  microphones, or pictures of themselves if they do not feel comfortable doing so.
  • Encourage students to answer each others’ questions through voice chat when possible.
  • Use CourseWorks Discussions or Piazza as a space for students to post responses, reflections, and questions about course content asynchronously
  • Consider using a whiteboard or the Whiteboard feature on Zoom to write notes or share visual content. Similarly, invite students to act as note-takers for the class by using the Whiteboard feature, or other online collaboration tools (e.g., Google Docs or Padlet).
  • It is everybody’s first time doing this, so relax, try to have fun with the new teaching format, and encourage student feedback to improve your online teaching practice.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the technological aspect of online teaching, ask CUIT for support with Zoom meeting set-up so that you can focus on learner-centered teaching practices.

 

Key Change 2: The Balance of Power Online

Fostering trust between faculty and learners

  • Find commonality in the shared uncertainty of the current situation–students see what’s in their professors’ background and wonder how they’ve been doing, too. Lean into that and acknowledge distractions (pets, children, etc) or coping methods (television, books) as ways students may be able to see you as a human being at a time when they only see you on a computer screen.
  • Encourage students to communicate their unique challenges and needs as they arise. Consider beginning seminars with a brief check-in to foster community and make the best class possible If this is not possible due to class size, encourage students to check-in during office hours and/or over email.
  • Establish a trusting relationship with students by continuously soliciting and responding to student feedback on online learning experiences and by implementing suggested changes. 
  • Regularly discuss your availability and willingness to meet with students if needed, and encourage them to take initiative and ask for help over email or during online office hours. 

Encouraging student ownership

  • Give students multiple assignment options to choose from so that they can engage with the material in a way that best suits their current situation and abilities. Encourage students to suggest new ways to demonstrate their learning and work with them to make sure that they can demonstrate required learning objectives through their work.
  • Give students enough time to engage with the material and ask questions, be it through dedicating time during online lectures, taking questions in the chat, breakout rooms, and discussion sections, or outside of class. Don’t be afraid of Zoom silence as you wait for people to respond!
  • Communicate your trust to your students that they are doing their best given their circumstances and remind them that you are available to support them. 

 

Key Change 3: The Function of Content Online

Set the tone early on:

  • Consider what material and skills are most important for students to practice (especially those demanded in future coursework) and what can be de-emphasized in the face of decreased class time and the shared challenges posed by online learning.
  • Reflect on what material and skills are most adaptable to online teaching and what teaching and learning methods can be used to communicate more challenging topics.
  • Focus less on “covering” informational content and more on honing student skills. This will prepare students for skills-based assessments (i.e. quizzes that require applying a method or technique to a problem or the close reading of a text) in which academic integrity is easier to uphold online.

Ownership and responsibility:

  • Consider giving students with the desire and ability to further engage with the course options for supplementary learning (i.e. additional recordings, texts, writing exercises, practice problems) in ways that enable them to meet their goals, without penalizing students who are unable to go above and beyond this semester. Even students who do not have the bandwidth or capacity to take on this additional learning now may benefit from these resources in the future.
  • Motivate students by inviting them to connect material and skills being covered to their future goals, including future coursework, research, or careers. Consider collecting this type of information on a student survey (e.g., using Google Forms) so they feel their hopes and needs are addressed in your suggestions. You can even draw on this information about their priorities when meeting with students (e.g., during virtual office hours). 

 

Key Change 4: The Responsibility for Online Learning

Set the tone early on:

  • Discuss the honor code with students preemptively in an online context where it is more difficult to enforce, instructors can convey that the responsibility for learning and upholding academic integrity lies most importantly with students.
  • Solicit student input on the syllabus, content, and lessons is more important now than ever. Professors can encourage students to keep them updated on their situations and touch base with students through surveys or debriefing after online lectures on which methods/timelines/content they prefer.
  • Ask students how they want to learn, and ask how they want to be assessed! That way, online content is not merely being done unto them and students remain invested in meeting their goals this semester

Ownership and responsibility: 

  • Offer students ownership of their coursework by allowing them more choice such as through flexible deadlines, take-home instead of online-timed exams, or more optionality for final projects/final exams.
  • Use more interactive features that require student participation — such as breakout rooms, taking turns going around the virtual classroom and sharing, asking for a show of hands, or asking students to fill out a survey/shoot you an email after class about one thing they learned — to encourage student accountability and keep students engaged at a time when it is easy to just turn on the lecture and zone out while letting you “teach” and students do something else.
  • Ask students to prepare Powerpoint presentations and share their screens to participate in class more actively. This can be applied to individual or group projects.
  • Continue to ask questions of the class during lecture. Using apps like Poll Everywhere serves the purpose of putting more responsibility on the student to stay engaged even when miles away from the professor

 

Key Change 5: The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation Online

Facilitate student success: 

  • In the face of changing syllabi, it is important to communicate frequently with students about their familiarity with the content and skills presented in the course. Invite students to participate in identifying the learning outcomes that matter to them this semester, and use that information to decide what to focus on in developing assessments.
  • Students may face difficulty in adapting to online learning and assessments. Consider allowing students to revise assessments for partial credit to increase opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning and to motivate mastery of challenging material and skills

Include students in the evaluation process: 

  • Be transparent about the purpose and process of online evaluations. Invite students to discuss academic integrity in the context of an online assessment. Collaborating with students to identify expectations of academic integrity can increase student awareness and ownership of their responsibility as learners.
  • Ask students to contribute ideas for online evaluation activities. Consider opting for open-note assessments and ask students to apply key skills and content to a problem or question instead of recalling factual information.
  • Solicit student input on how grades can serve online learners. Even if a course is P/F, offering students an assignment rubric can clarify learning expectations and provide helpful structure. When possible, encourage students to evaluate their own work before it is evaluated by the instructor. 

 

 

Reference

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

 

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