8 Ways to Reflect on the First Month of Fall Remote Delivery

By John Nychka

By John Nychka

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Now that we are nearing the end of the first month of mostly remote Fall instruction, it's a great time to reflect on our own learning as instructors in this largely online world.

Getting here has taken heroic efforts - so to all U of A instructors: thank you so much for the work that you're doing. While we continue to adapt, change, and learn to connect with students in new ways, please know that you and your efforts are appreciated.

In response to the challenges of this moment we have seen creativity, flexibility, a willingness to rethink what higher education entails, and continued dedication to high quality teaching. We've also experienced struggles, stress, confusion, and frustration - and we don't always have an immediate fix or solution handy because so much is still new and evolving.

High quality teaching and learning requires attention and nourishment - for both students and instructors. We need a bit of a pause to reflect and rest.

To support this moment of reflection, I write to offer eight prompts to help maintain your teaching and learning momentum:

1. Start with why.

You'll see the prompt - explain why - throughout this document, but why? "Why" connects whatever we are doing as instructors to purpose; purpose connects students to effective learning. When the "why" is missing there is uncertainty, and we often search for purpose, create our own purpose, or we become distracted or disengaged. Explaining why won't solve all our problems, but it can free up some much needed cognitive bandwidth.

2. Check-in with your students.

Connect with your students and ask them how they are doing. For many students, this experience is a major adjustment too. To make it easier for students to share, consider using polling tools, quizzes, or forums (including Q&A forums). Our Centre for Teaching and Learning has some great teaching support resources. If you request feedback about how the course is going, be sure to address it by closing the loop; explain what you can and will change, and clarify what you cannot (or should not) change and why.

3. Ponder your pedagogy and plan.

What are you doing, and most importantly, why are you doing it that way? No doubt you will have had to adjust as you've learned about, and adapted to, the remote environment - what has changed, and why? What might seem obvious to you may not be to others; your students will benefit from an explanation of why you've organized the course as you have.

4. Reaffirm expectations through clear and explicit communication.

You have a plan for the semester, and you've likely updated it over the past month whilst you learned what was working, and what wasn't. Is the current plancurrent plan as clear to students as it is to you? How do you know? Reaffirm expectations for attendance, assessments, office hours, out-of-class effort and work, and preferred method of communication in multiple places. Reaffirm how you will manage time zones, exams, and student requests for accommodations or adaptations. Quantify and communicate expectations for out-of-class effort and work (e.g., how many hours of reading per week, video watching, homework).

5. Timing is everything - value and respect it (yours and your students').

Timing and time are sensitive and complex topics right now, with many instructors spending more time preparing and teaching than in the past. However, we need to watch out for trickle down:

  • Please keep to the scheduled time of your courses to avoid causing issues for students and other instructors.
  • To prevent frustration and confusion, if you are teaching asynchronously, double check that your students understand why.
  • If you are teaching synchronously, you must teach at the time listed in BearTracks - remember that you need unanimous consent to adjust course times.
  • Watch for overload: if your lecture was traditionally 50 minutes long, replacing it with 120 minutes of video is too much - too much to create, too much to edit, and too much to watch!

6. Identify seeds, weeds, and stones.

I was at a strategic planning retreat once and I heard this nature-based framework for reflecting and determining focus:

Seeds: what things do you want to plant that will grow for the remainder of the semester?

Weeds: what things will you pull, and stop doing?

Stones: what barriers exist that you are not quite sure what to do about? What could you do with them? Are the stones small enough for you to move out of the way, or do you need some assistance?

7. Adapt and Accommodate.

Remote delivery creates a whole new set of accommodation needs, and new assessment needs as well. We're all learning about this together. If you have any questions, start with your Associate Chair or Associate Dean, the Dean of Students (Academic Success Centre - Accessibility Resources), or the Office of Safe Disclosure and Human Rights.

8. Share your experiences with your colleagues.

We all learn from each other, but only when we know what each of us is doing. Discuss teaching with your colleagues, share with them what's been working for you (and what hasn't) and ask for tips they might offer. We should share all the successes that we can, especially in these ever changing times - we all need a little (or a lot) of help sometimes, and working together can help us all.

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John is currently the Vice Provost (Learning Initiatives) where he leads the advancement of many of the university's initiatives related to the learning environment in areas that include experiential learning, awards for faculty excellence, blended and digital learning, and the assessment and evaluation of teaching. John's main teaching interest is the design of authentic learning opportunities, favouring the use of messy and open-ended problems to promote synthesis of existing knowledge and the development of judgement and metacognition. John is an alumnus of the University of Alberta (Metallurgical Engineering, co-op 1997) and his hobbies include photography, bicycling, and playing guitar.