Spring 2021 Remote Teaching Strategies

The four course characteristics highlighted in the table below represent strategies that UNC students reported were most beneficial to their online learning experiences during the Fall 2020 semester. They are based on the results of student survey data collected by the Office of Undergraduate Education. Also see Key Themes from Spring 2020 Student Evaluations of Teaching, Open-Ended Responses.

Instructional Strategies That Benefit Students

What strategies enhanced student learning and engagement?How do I do this inclusively for my course?How do I learn more?
1. Course materials were easy to access and navigate.Ideas for effectively structuring your course experience include:

  • Use a “Start Here” approach: Use the Overview page or create a “Start Here” page using the Lessons Tool to make it clear how students should begin working in the course. It’s also helpful to explain how the course is structured, where students will be accessing materials, and any information you can provide about how to navigate your course. Consider recording a video that shows students how to navigate your course. Show them the types of activities they’ll be completing and any important information that will set your learners up for success. You could also have this as a kick-off synchronous session to allow for any clarifying questions.

  • Use the Syllabus Tab: Be sure you upload your syllabus using the “Syllabus” tool. You can turn this on via “Manage Tools” within “Site Info” in Sakai.

  • Provide a schedule: Organize your course into a schedule that includes dates, topics of study, readings, and any assignments. Think of this as a to-do list for your students and what you’d like them to complete at different dates/times as they navigate your course. If you have synchronous Zoom sessions, be sure to post the link(s) to those sessions here in addition to sending them to students ahead of time.

  • Create a routine: Where possible, create a consistent routine that students can follow week-to-week to provide structure to your course. This could include when you hold synchronous class sessions, how you will honor the 5 University-designated “wellness days” and build in appropriate student breaks, when assignments or activities are due, and where/how learners will access course materials like videos, readings, etc.

Trainings and Resources:
2. Students had regular opportunities to get to know one another.Techniques for building community among students include:

  • Launch Zoom course meetings 15 minutes early and stay 15 minutes beyond class. This can foster informal social time for communication among students and between students and instructor(s) as you welcome them to the class session.

  • Use low-stakes, get-to-know-you questions to build community as students become acquainted with one another. Choose from several tools such as Poll Everywhere, Sakai quizzes, or tools within Zoom such as polls, chat features, the annotation tool, or whiteboards in breakout rooms. Be cautious of student privacy concerns.

  • Select short-term or long-term group work to build community alongside one or more assignments. You can pre-assign students to recurring groups using Zoom breakouts, Microsoft Teams, Groups in Sakai, or other tools like Google groups. Students can share documents, communicate, or give presentations via screen share, emails, comments, or discussion threads. Note that UNC students have access to many of the same tools and features in Zoom as instructors, so they can form and schedule small group meetings to work during or outside of class time.

  • Schedule 1-on-1 or group office hours for undergraduate or graduate students to build relationships. These can promote dialogue not only on course goals but also in relation to career, personal, and professional development. In small courses, early 1:1 meetings with each student often results in more regular office hour participation and student willingness to seek additional help from the instructor.

  • Develop and negotiate ‘ground rules’ for communications to promote respectful, equitable, and inclusive dialogue or discussions that align with the Honor Code and Carolina values. Also, it is helpful to clarify issues of privacy in relation to communication channels (encourage students to use virtual backgrounds).

Resources and Guides:
3. Zoom-based synchronous lectures and recorded videos were interspersed with other learning activities.

Techniques for interspersing learning activities into manageable segments and connecting pauses with deeper learning include:

  • Intersperse activities in lectures every 5-10 minutes. Activities are best when they engage and gather responses from all students, not just a few. See ideas below.

  • Pose a question for all students to simultaneously respond through Zoom chat. Ask students to type their answer but not hit “enter” until prompted. Instructor and students can then take a moment to review the diversity of ideas. (Notes: This is not an anonymous way to collect ideas and it will be most useful for questions without one correct answer.)

  • Poll all students using PollEverywhere or Zoom polling. For meaningful learning, avoid fact-based recall questions and ask students to apply their knowledge, such as through problem solving or comparing two ideas. (Notes: Polling is anonymous, making some students feel safer in responding. Zoom polling is limited to multiple choice but PollEverywhere has a myriad of question types.)

  • Play a game. Games and competitions are often highly engaging and can be useful in solidifying concepts and disciplinary jargon. PollEverywhere has a “competition” activity and Kahoot is another free platform beloved by students.

  • Send students to a breakout room to complete a shared document.

  • Pause a lecture to ask students if there are any questions or to gather reaction to the material presented (Zoom emojis/reactions include “thumbs up” or “go slower”).

  • Record lecture videos that align to one or two objectives at a time and are short (under 10 minutes). It is ok to assign a few of these at a time, as the modular nature helps students feel like the tasks are less overwhelming.

  • Talk to your audience in recorded videos. Consider keeping your language casual so students feel like they are getting to know you as person. Make eye contact with the camera if the camera is on.

  • Intersperse questions in a recorded video, asking the student to pause the video to answer. (Notes: During the pause, students could be prompted to write an answer in their notes or a discussion board, answer through a self-paced PollEverywhere survey, or questions can be embedded directly via Panopto)

Making Videos:
4. Breakout rooms and forum assignments were designed to support meaningful interaction. Techniques for making small group and forum interactions more effective include:

  • Provide clear directions, parameters, and expectations for breakout room discussions. Consider creating a document that gives group instructions, assigns roles, and offers a venue for presenting group deliverables. You can then build-in accountability for the breakout work by requiring groups to complete the document, poll, etc. and/or by calling on groups to share their discussions. Also, it can help to take some time early in the term to discuss the characteristics of effective breakout rooms & encourage students to generate group norms for discussion.

  • Create discussion groups. Many students have report that they prefer when groups are consistent throughout the semester, and group break out room activities encourage effective collaboration and offering opportunities for multiple groups to work together to foster class community. Sakai Groups also allows instructors to create small group discussion forums that allow students to collaborate more closely together on the same or complimentary forum topics.

  • Design discussion activities that encourage students to engage substantively and thoughtfully with each other’s work and ideas. To encourage more conversation, aim to keep Forum prompts open-ended and avoid prompts with “correct” answers. Providing specific prompts for initial posts as well as replies can help student think more critically. Experimenting with varying prompt types—including case studies, scenarios, and/or examples from student work—can increase student interest and reduce discussion board fatigue. Similarly, combine forum activities with other media and activities, such as VoiceThread posts, to help students see connections among their ideas and across course assignments.

  • Ask students to take the lead. Assigning student discussion leaders can create opportunities for collaboration and accountability. Leaders can help create prompts, facilitate discussions in forums and/or breakout room, and encourage peer participation.

Interaction with Zoom: