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Reflecting On Your Experiences with Remote Teaching: Making Meaning of Pandemic Teaching

Whether you are seeking to recover the joy of teaching after an online pivot during the pandemic, be a better online teacher, be more responsive to student needs, prevent teaching burnout, or plan ahead to teach an in-person, hybrid, or fully online course, it can be important to hit pause. Taking an intentional moment of pause affords you an opportunity to reflect back on your teaching experiences, evaluate your approaches, and consider how your course design decisions impacted your students’ learning. This meaning-making process allows us to use what we have learned from past experiences and data interpretation to inform future practices (see Dewey, 1910; Schön,1983; and Kolb, 1984 – works that define the reflective process). 

This resource provides suggestions, tips, and questions to guide your self-reflective process. Interwoven are Columbia faculty insights shared during the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning, which can offer context and community for processing the last year. 

Reflecting Back to Reflect Forward: On Becoming a Remote Instructor

Looking back on the transition to remote teaching and your pandemic pedagogy, consider:

  • what you discovered about yourself as an instructor and your teaching strategies; 
  • how you managed your time and the teaching workload; 
  • what you learned about your students and their learning; and 
  • what affordances of instructional technologies supported your teaching and your students’ learning.

“…one of the main benefits of the pandemic was that it gave me a time to stop and think about why I was doing what I was doing. Was it because I was in the habit of doing it or was it actually valuable?” Dr. Yevgeniy Yesilevskiy, Lecturer in Discipline of Innovation and Design in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Watch Dr. Yesilevskiy talk about his teaching at the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

Raise your self-awareness

Teaching and learning during the pandemic shed light on access and equity issues, as well as  the need to rethink teaching norms and pedagogical practices that better meet the needs of diverse learners. Principle 5 in the Columbia Guide for Inclusive Teaching reminds us that reflecting on personal beliefs about teaching can help to maximize self-awareness and commitment to inclusion. Think about the identities you brought to your remote teaching, and how your students perceived you.

What implicit or explicit biases were present in your remote teaching? If challenging moments arose, how did you handle them? To what extent did the activities used via Zoom and in CourseWorks foster inclusion or disinclusion?

When asked, students were open about the challenges of being in front of a screen for extended periods of time, and how much they appreciated opportunities to connect with peers, instructors, guest speakers when possible; flexible course policies, and accessible course materials and activities.

What did you learn about your students, their needs, and from their experiences as remote learners? How did your course structure impact students’ ability to take responsibility for their learning and complete asynchronous work?

 

Examine your practices and online course design 

With the pivot to remote teaching, consider the changes you made to your practices (e.g., updated communication approach, made course policies more flexible, experimented with new engagement strategies, reimagined assessments, made expectations and learning outcomes more explicit, integrated instructional technologies, etc.).

Which of the changes you made were most effective? How do you know? What sources of information can inform your evaluation of these practices? (e.g., self-assessment, student feedback, student performance).

Evaluate the design of your course using the Quality Matters Course Design Rubric Standards (Higher Ed. Standards; accessible version).

How well did the course components – learning objectives, assessments, instructional materials, learning activities, and instructional technology – align and help students achieve the desired learning outcomes?

“… being forced to be creative because of teaching remotely has led me to develop these assignments [referring to the “sandbox” assignment in her Core Literature Humanities course] that I think are going to be portable beyond the age of Zoom. I feel like I wouldn’t have leaned in so much into these creative assignments in another time, and yet I’ve seen so clearly how they have both intellectual and affective benefits for the students. And I can’t see myself giving that up.” Dr. Hannah Weaver, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature. 

 

Watch Dr. Weaver talk about her teaching at the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

Additionally, reflect on the asynchronous components of your course: 

How well did your use of CourseWorks promote student engagement with content and peers, and student learning? Which CourseWorks tools were particularly effective? To what extent were the organizational structure and modules clear and effective?

Beth Barron headshot

“… we were able to adapt some of our prior lessons to the virtual environment, and create new virtual learning tools that were more engaging and efficient for our learners. My main takeaway from this experience is that more isn’t better, better is better. We all likely have materials that are not as efficient in teaching as they could be, and ways we could maximize the learning in our sessions that do occur.” – Dr. Beth Barron, Associate Professor of Medicine, Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons, CUIMC. 

 

Watch Dr. Barron talk about her teaching at the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

Other elements you may want to reflect on include: course planning, communication practices, community-building strategies, course climate, student engagement / interactions, organization of course material and its accessibility to students, and inclusive teaching practices.

 

Watch yourself on video

Reflect on your synchronous class sessions–look for what worked and the impact of your teaching on your students’ learning. With hours of Zoom class recordings (stored in Panopto) to choose from, watch class sessions in which you tried something new, or ones that you suspect did not go as well as you had hoped. Consider strengths and areas for development. Use the following questions to guide your viewing.

Before viewing:

  • What did you hope to accomplish in this class? What did you want students to learn, do, and/or value?
  • To what degree were the goals met? / Did students learn what was intended? How do you know?
  • To what extent were students engaged in learning activities? 

While viewing:

  • What are your observations? 
  • What specific teaching practices are you doing effectively that are helping your students meet the learning goals of the class session?  
  • What practices were not as effective as they could have been? What do you see on the recording that makes you think this is the case?
  • What segments of the class do students seem to be most engaged? Least engaged? What might be the cause(s)?

After viewing:

  • If you could teach this class session again, what would you do differently? Why? 
  • Should the session goals and strategies be revised for the next iteration?  
  • What is the key thing that you would like to improve for next time?  
  • What are your action steps to making this change? (e.g., schedule a consultation, revise class session plan)

 

Explore other data

Interpret student feedback 

Consider all the feedback that you collected from students whether through early and mid-semester student feedback or end-of-semester course evaluations. 

How did your students perceive the course? What was the students’ experience? Were the course learning objectives and expectations clear to the students? Does your interpretation of the course align with that of your students? 

As you explore and interpret the data, consider taking these actions: 

  • Identify patterns or common themes in the comments.
  • Note what students found most useful in supporting their learning. Based on what students thought worked well, what practices will you continue doing? 
  • Reflect on the insights gained, and decide on the areas for improvement that would enhance the student learning experience. What changes to the course design and/or teaching practices might be needed?

 

Amanda Sarafian headshot

“…I would really continue to work on and develop my asynchronous lectures. (…) the response from the students was that the asynchronous lecture was really beneficial in preparing for the course. And it also allows for a richer discussion and collaboration within the classroom. (…) I want to continue to keep up on current technology, being prepared with the technologies for this was very beneficial.” 

Dr. Amanda Sarafian, Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine, Occupational Therapy. 

Watch Dr. Sarafian talk about her teaching at the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

Discussing your evaluations with a trusted colleague or CTL consultant can help make sense of the data and put it in perspective (especially any negative comments, outlier or contradictory feedback). Schedule a CTL consultation by contacting CTLfaculty@columbia.edu

Explore course analytics and student performance

CourseWorks Course Statistics, Course Analytics, and Panopto Analytics (see How to View User Statistics), provide a glimpse into student performance and engagement with assignments, discussions, quizzes, or course videos. For components that lacked student engagement, consider what improvements might be needed in the future (e.g., improved communication, clearer instructions, guidance or expectations). 

How did students perform on assessments? Did students achieve the desired learning outcomes? To what extent did students actively engage with asynchronous content and learning activities outside of class? 

 

Plan Forward

Looking ahead to the next time you teach this course or material, consider the lessons learned from remote teaching and what changes are needed to maximize student learning. 

What might you carry forward from your online teaching experience into other modes of course delivery (e.g., in-person, hybrid) or future online iterations of the course? 

As you reflect forward, consider taking these actions: 

  • Develop an action plan in which you outline what changes you will make, how you will make them, and by when. 
  • Identify the new approaches to course design, community building, engagement, and/or assessment that you will use, and the instructional technologies and tools you will carry forward from your remote teaching experiences.

“I found that audio recordings were an example of something that completely shocked me in terms of how much students were accessing the material. And because I have the data to address that.” (…)  “…real attention to how to craft community in different ways in a large lecture… before I really relied on the idea that just by virtue of the crowd itself that that was a community. And now I think I’ll be more thoughtful about it, especially to students who are shyer or introverted or not so comfortable in a crowd. So creating an element like the success pods is absolutely something that I will be taking forward from now on.” Dr. Denise Cruz, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature. 

Watch Dr. Cruz talk about her teaching at the 2021 Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

Incorporate Reflection Into Your Practice

This resource has focused on your personal reflection and the interpretation of your students’ perceptions to inform your practice. However Brookfield (2017) suggests the use of four lenses of critical reflection – colleagues’ perceptions, theory, students’ eyes, and personal experience – to see your teaching practices from different angles (p. 61-77). 

To make critical reflection part of your ongoing practice, consider the following:

  • Think about your personal experiences (e.g., how your experiences as a learner shaped your teaching practices). Build in time for metacognitive work (see CTL’s resource on metacognition). Set aside time before, during, and after a course to reflect. Keep track of things to keep or modify for next time. For instance, after every synchronous class session, annotate class session plans or briefly engage in reflective writing (in a journal or digital space). Ask yourself: what worked well? What could be improved? What would I do differently the next time I teach this class session? And document what changes you plan to make.
  • Check in with your students, and ask them how they are experiencing the learning. Collect feedback from students early in the semester (see the CTL’s resource on Early and Mid-Semester Student Feedback). This can be done via an anonymous survey (e.g., using Google Form, Qualtrics, or other survey tool). Reflect on the data and share back with students the changes that you will make based on their feedback.
  • Ask your TAs (if applicable) to provide feedback. They provide valuable insights into how students may be experiencing the course and common questions or issues that students bring to the course.  
  • Open up your classroom to peer feedback. Invite colleagues to observe your class (live or a recording), review your CourseWorks site, or review course materials (e.g., syllabi, assignments, activities). Prior to the peer review, discuss the goals and the desired feedback. 

Explore the teaching and learning literature to discover evidence-based approaches to incorporate into your practice. Various journals publish the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and Discipline Based Education Research (DBER); access e-journals through Columbia Libraries. (To learn more about SoTL and DBER, see the SOLER faculty guide).

The CTL is here to help!

For assistance as you reflect on your teaching, interpret student feedback, and plan forward, please request a Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) consultation by emailing ctlfaculty@columbia.edu.   

CTL Resources

  • Request a CTL Teaching Observation. A CTL consultant will provide individualized feedback on your teaching. This service can help you think through your course goals, and plan your future teaching.
  • Engage with our on-demand resources including: Early and Mid-Semester Student Feedback; Metacognition; the Guide for Inclusive Teaching; and Transition to In-Person Teaching (CTL resource), among others available on our website
  • For the undergraduate student perspective on teaching and learning, explore the resources developed by our student consultants or ask a student!  Submit a question and one of the CTL’s Students as Pedagogical Partners will share their thoughts and experiences. 

References

Blumberg, P. (2014). Assessing and Improving Your Teaching: Strategies and Rubrics for Faculty Growth and Student Learning. Jossey-Bass. 

Brookfield, S.D. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass.

Darby, F. (2021). 8 Strategies to Prevent Teaching Burnout. The Chronicle of Higher Education. January 13, 2021. 

Darby, F. (2020). How to Recover the Joy of Teaching After an Online Pivot. The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 24, 2020. 

Darby, F. (2019). How to Be a Better Online Teacher. Advice Guide. The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 17, 2019. 

Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. D. C. Heath & Co. https://doi-org.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/10.1037/10903-000

Fink, L. D. (2012). Getting Better as Teachers. Thriving in Academe. NEA Higher Education Advocate. 

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall. 

Schön, D.A. (2016). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Routledge.

The CTL researches and experiments.

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning provides an array of resources and tools for instructional activities.