Effective Remote Teaching Retains Students

Students like the flexibility of well-designed hybrid or blended courses. Years ago, Arthur E. Levine said, "Major forces have the power to transform the nation's colleges and universities." Levine suggested that there would be a convergence of publishing, broadcast, telecommunications, and education. Welcome to the classroom of the 21st century – combinations of two-way engaging learning content, simulation, and remote instruction.

Last March, due to a surge in the number of COVID-19 infections, college and university administrators across the country asked students to prepare themselves for a new online learning environment. By the end of August, many school administrators had decided to continue to use virtual classrooms. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was acceptable to ad-lib a remote teaching strategy. While schools may eventually return to their pre-COVID learning models, students and faculty have experienced the benefits of blended learning and virtual classrooms. Simply put, schools are in the process of transforming an initial emergency response into sustainable remote learning and teaching models. That said, faculty struggled and continue to struggle to pivot their teaching from brick-and-mortar courses to virtual learning modalities.

Staying motivated, the lack of a regular class structure, and distractions are often cited as barriers to learning in virtual classrooms. Students suggest that it is not the same as getting up, getting ready, driving to class, and then sitting in class to learn. They miss the presence of the instructor and peers, and an opportunity to get immediate feedback from their instructor concerning their understanding. A Tyton Partners survey specifically asked students “What diminished their experience with the remote courses? ” Students cited the lack of interactivity, with 65 percent saying that "opportunities to collaborate with other students on coursework.”

Student retention, achievement, and satisfaction depend upon faculty who thoughtfully and intentionally design their learning plans by deploying best practice learning principles and technologies, and use assessments (intelligence) to provide prompt, confidence-building feedback to students. In other words, LO=(LP+LT) LI (LO=learning outcomes; LP=learning principles; LT=learning technologies, and LI=learning intelligence).

Using this formula, Bryan University, improved retention rates from 45% to 74% and it is still climbing. Bryan University’s learning model has always been hybrid. The institution uses Zoom for weekly live (synchronous) lectures by instructors, combined with asynchronous, online course work. Eric Evans, Bryan University CEO said, “There is power in analyzing learner data from a learning science lens to actively inform learning delivery and interventions. Outcome optimization is finally here.”

Years ago, I conducted a survey of online, in-person, and blended students enrolled in the same economics course. If faculty were engaged and provided prompt quality feedback, students were satisfied no matter the course delivery modality. My hypothesis was blended learning is a superior learning model. It turned out, students’ experience and learning depend upon engaged faculty and quality confidence-building feedback. Faculty are the secret sauce no matter the learning model.

Four Tips for Remote Teaching

The loss of authentic, hands-on experiences that help students to develop an understanding of subjects is frustrating to learners. The challenge is to design a blended learning model that incorporates realistic, interactive, collaborative learning experiences that develops an understanding of the concepts being taught. Effective remote teachers intentionally use real-world examples, apply concepts to the workplace, use videos from external sources, invite guest speakers, and have students express what they learned.

While developing lesson plans faculty should thoughtfully consider how best students can learn the course content by carefully selecting learning principles, technology, and intelligence. Moreover, instructors need to establish virtual class rules. Student achievement and retention rates will be similar if not the same as in-person classes when faculty incorporate best practice online teaching techniques.

1. Learning Principles: Excellent instruction includes “inspirational” lectures. Lectures that follow a “learn it, practice it, and demonstrate it” model. Remember, virtual classrooms are two-way. Avoid being a sage on the stage. Just like an in-person class, faculty should encourage dialog and collaboration. Instructors should practice the Pareto principle (80/20 rule). That is, “20% of the content faculty present, equals 80% of what students need to know.” By presenting micro lessons, faculty are more likely to keep students engaged in the class.

To increase engagement, decrease in-class screen time. Although teaching online presents several problems, it also provides opportunities not otherwise available. For example, faculty can have a “Show-and-Tell Time” activity as one means of minimizing screen time and giving students a reason to temporarily disengage. A Show-and-Tell Time activity works like this:

● Spend 10-12 minutes looking for an object that holds a high emotional value but has a low monetary worth

● Write a 175-word paragraph describing why this object means so much to you

● Draw at least one connection between your object and a reading assignment for this course

● At the end of 30 minutes, please be ready to show your object and tell us why it means so much to you

A remote show-and-tell exercise has three benefits:

● It forces students to move away from their computer screens

● It challenges them to intertwine their lives with a piece of fiction

● It gives their peers a glimpse into what they value

To enhance engagement , have students collaborate in breakout rooms. As instructors assign students to breakout rooms, consider pairings like the top-performing students with the lowest or intentionally assign students with varying interests. Breakout-rooms have benefits:

● The activity challenges them to set aside their differences and look for an answer

● These types of pairings make the full-class discussions much more enlightening

● Disparate views produce illuminating results

Bridging the digital gap between instructors and remote- learning students requires thoughtful decision making about how to combine learning principles with select learning technologies.

2. Learning Technology: In addition to technologies like Zoom and intentional use of applications within the school’s learning management system, many schools use simulation to provide excellent remote learning experiences. Student pilots learn to fly airplanes by demonstrating knowledge long before flying an airplane, and nursing students learn skills and competencies by practicing on mannequins. Several Healthcare schools teach and apply didactic course content in virtual classrooms (via Zoom), provide learning resources and lectures asynchronously online (via learning management system), and develop student skills by requiring students to attend in-person or simulated labs and clinics.

Simulation systems enable students to complete lab assignments virtually. To acquire certain skills, students will need to be physically present. But in most cases, they can acquire critical and clinical thinking skills in a virtual setting. Organizations are innovating ways to offer learning experiences that help address the challenges that make social distancing a necessity. Schools can practice social distancing by carefully scheduling in-person lab sections.

3. Learning Intelligence: The other side of building student confidence is that of assessing or polling students to test how well students are learning course objectives. To gain insight, instructors could ask the student to:

● Write a “one-minute paper:” A one-minute paper or the minute response is a quick and effective way to oral or written feedback from the students. It is simple to use, opens communications with students, and provide active learning activity. The instructor merely stops the class two or three minutes early and asks the student to respond to two questions. What is the most important thing you learned in today’s class? And what is the most important thing that remains unanswered in or leaves a question in your mind? Students write their responses on small sheets of paper or on a card and turn them into the instructor as they leave class. These help students develop the ability to think and reveals learning gaps in understanding. Armed with learning gap knowledge, faculty could adjust lectures and pinpoint topics with the learning resources to reinforce concepts. One-minute papers should be anonymous and not marked. Instructors can quickly skim papers to identify learning gaps.

● Write a one-sentence summary: The one-sentence summary requires students to provide additional information, reaching the student. The one-sentence summary asks students to answer the question “who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why? These techniques should be used with important topics and principles and works well in chronologically organized classes where students need to have command of elementary principles processes before moving on to more advanced topics.

4. Virtual Classroom Rules: At the start and middle of the term, by clearly explaining and consistently enforcing a series of post-traditional classroom rules, you can create more of a safe, and productive remote learning environment. Virtual classroom rules could include:

● Log on early and stay logged on.

● No multitasking.

● No eating.

● No unauthorized guests. Only those officially enrolled in the course may be present.

● No pets. Unless it is an officially registered service animal, our simulated classroom is a pet-free zone.

● Situate yourself in a location that gives you the best chance to learn.

● When posting to our chat forum, be cognizant of grammar, spelling, diction, and tone.

● Attendance.

In Summary

As John Cone, former head of learning at Dell Computer, said, "Online learning is like the microwave oven: It is not a complete replacement for the traditional model, but it does some things better." When the pandemic passes, the new normal for secondary education will most likely be combinations of in-person class sessions combined with synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences.

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