Remote Instruction Resource Center

Remote Instruction Resource Center

Critical considerations to support remote instruction in the short, medium and long term

EAB has analyzed and synthesized takeaways and guidance from dozens of remote instruction planning and pedagogical resources to identify critical considerations to support standing up a minimum viable remote course in the short term, while prioritizing investments in improved quality and access in the medium and long term. Here you’ll find resources to support remote instruction across different types and sizes of courses, guidelines for maintaining equity and accessibility, and strategic frameworks to guide the next phases of online course development for summer and fall.

For information on adjusting student evaluation and grading policies, view our insights on:

Resources to support remote instruction by course type

Below we’ve synthesized key guidance and considerations to help you transition lecture and seminar courses of all sizes, lab courses, and performance and theater courses to remote instruction. In each section we also offer numerous links for further reading, templates, and other tools to support you, your colleagues, and your students.

General Guidance for all Remote Instruction

No matter what kind of course you’re teaching, you will likely be navigating unfamiliar software, supporting students with little to no experience in a remote learning environment, and managing students’ (and your own) wellbeing during this unprecedented crisis. Below are considerations to develop minimum viable quality remote courses, regardless of course type or discipline.

  • Orient students to the new remote learning environment (e.g., how to navigate the LMS, how to access course materials, how to access assignments)
  • Clearly address any changes to the syllabus or other course policies since the move to remote instruction
  • Share your contact information, communication preferences (e.g., how students should contact you), and communication expectations (e.g., how long students should expect to wait for a response)
  • Ensure that students know what technology they will need to succeed in the course, and how to troubleshoot any tech issues that may arise
  • Identify which students, if any, do not have reliable access to WiFi and develop customized support plans for them (see next section)
  • Loan a laptop, tablet, and/or WiFi hotspot from the institution to the student, or provide funds to the student to purchase or rent one on the institution’s behalf
  • Help the student identify places to access free community WiFi (e.g., public WiFi hotspots, public library parking lots, open areas at a local college or university)
  • Mail critical course material to student’s homes, and allow them to mail assignments and projects back to you
  • Develop alternative lesson plans using materials and resources the student has access to at home or in their community
  • Share your presentation slides, lecture script or notes, and any other supplementary materials
  • Link to (and cite appropriately) external resources that supplement your course materials and provide students with additional opportunities to engage with concepts on their own time
  • Share a recording of your class if you’ve taught remotely in previous years
  • Develop sample workplans with clear informal deadlines to help students stay on track to complete larger assignments without in-person accountability. Do the same for TAs/GAs.
  • Develop clear guiding questions to help focus students’ attention as they review learning materials
  • Consider including “knowledge check” activities with simple, low-stakes quizzes or simplified online discussions in between larger assignments
  • Set up a peer review of student work, such as homework problem-sets or drafts of writing assignments, with clear and specific instructions for what to consider when reviewing each other’s work. A structured worksheet, provided to students in advance, can allow students to respond to guided questions as they review their peers’ work.
  • Set clear expectations for student discussion, and develop discussion rubrics to guide student behavior
  • Acknowledge and encourage student participation as much as possible
  • Promote civil peer-to-peer discussion and clearly outline what behaviors are unacceptable
  • Prompt and encourage deeper thinking and engagement with the material when students share their thoughts and observations
  • Provide expertise where needed to keep conversation on track and progressing
  • Acknowledge receipt of submitted assignments so students don’t worry that a technical issue has gotten in the way
  • Provide timely feedback on submitted assignments according to the expectations you set at the beginning of the remote instruction period (e.g., email responses within 24 hours).
  • Hold virtual office hours where students can engage directly with you over chat, discussion forum, video, or phone
  • Use your institution’s LMS chat and/or discussion forum functions to allow students to engage with you and with one another on their own time

Considerations for lecture and seminar courses

The majority of your institution’s courses likely use a lecture or seminar format, which means many faculty members will be working to ensure that they can still teach classes of varying sizes effectively while maintaining student-to-student and student-to-faculty engagement. The latter will be particularly challenging for large lecture courses, so we have provided additional guidance for those course types in each of the following sections. The first consideration every faculty member must make is whether to attempt to deliver the course synchronously or asynchronously. It will be tempting to try to replicate every aspect of an in-person class for a remote environment, but that is rarely the right answer. Faculty should be encouraged to simplify their syllabi and course requirements to focus on core concepts.

Asynchronous course delivery is the quickest and easiest way to migrate a lecture or seminar course online and mitigates many of the access issues students without strong internet connections or WiFi-enabled devices at home encounter. This is also a lower tech option for faculty members unfamiliar with videoconferencing software and other tools of synchronous remote instruction and may be the only available option for students sharing a space with others or responsible for unplanned childcare, eldercare, or other commitments. Of course, asynchronous delivery can be augmented by synchronous office hours, study sessions, or discussion groups.

If you choose to structure your lecture or seminar course for asynchronous delivery, use the following diagnostic checklist to ensure that instructors and students are ready to succeed:

  • Distill key teaching points from your lectures into multiple, shorter videos of 6-10 minutes of content—this maintains student attention and allows them to reengage with the content when necessary
  • If possible, improve accessibility by captioning your lectures with captioning assistance from your institution, student workers or graduate assistants, YouTube’s video captioning tools, or other means. Unfortunately, most free tools are fairly low quality, so a standardized approach should be prioritized in of the next phase of remote course development.
  • Provide guiding questions and review frameworks that accompany all lectures and other course materials to help students engage with these materials in a structured way
  • Do not underestimate the benefit of uploading a written lecture or lecture outline that students can read rather than watch
  • Set clear expectations for when and how students should engage with the course materials that you post online. Give extended windows of time (e.g., multiple days) for students to access, review, and respond to materials to accommodate student schedules affected by the crisis.
  • Set up a discussion for students in your LMS or discussion forum, where they can respond to discussion questions related to course content. Participate at predetermined times to help keep the conversation on track and encourage participation from less active students.
  • Consider assigning roles to students so that they understand when and how they might respond to you, TAs, or their peers. For example, students might adopt a particular perspective from which to respond, or you might ask them to perform particular tasks (e.g., be a summarizer, a respondent, a connector with outside resources).

Additional Considerations for Large Lecture Courses:

  • Given bandwidth restraints and caps on number of participants built into some videoconferencing platforms, asynchronous delivery might be the only option for some larger lecture courses
  • Divide your students into smaller groups and subgroups, and host office hours, review sessions, and other activities with smaller groups to ensure that all students receive instructor or TA attention if they want it. Use subgroups for peer review and think-pair-share-type activities.
  • Set up a peer review of student work, such as homework problem-sets or drafts of writing assignments, with clear instructions for what to consider when reviewing each other’s work. Include a structured worksheet that allows students to respond to guided questions as they review their peers’ work.

Synchronous remote courses allow you to more closely replicate the in-person experience of lecture and seminar courses with real-time discussion. It also provides much-needed contact and community during this stressful time, as students can see and hear one another and engage in a shared pursuit. However, it is also a more high tech and internet-reliant option that requires greater technical proficiency on the part of the instructor, and is less accessible to students with limited or no internet connectivity in their homes or communities.

If you choose to structure your lecture or seminar course for synchronous delivery, take the following steps into consideration:

  • Select and familiarize yourself with a presentation tool(s)? Common platforms include:
  • Distill key teaching points from your lessons into multiple, shorter lectures of 6-10 minutes of content broken up with discussion or student-led activities, which maintains and focuses student attention
  • Use breakout rooms to divide students into smaller groups of 20 or fewer to facilitate discussion
    • Option 1: Automatically generate break-out rooms based on the number of “rooms” or groups you want to create
    • Option 2: Manually assign break-out rooms by selecting which participants should be matched within groups
  • Obtain informed consent from students before recording any sessions they’re included in
  • Use videoconferencing tools or discussion forum platforms, to allow students to communicate with one another outside of synchronous class sessions. Limit or eliminate requirements that students meet with one another outside of designated class times.
  • Consider developing a digital “queue” for TA or instructor office hour time, allowing students to sign up on chat or a synchronous word editor such as Google Docs, with the instructor or TA connecting one-on-one or in small groups when they become available
  • Include asynchronous components to the course, such as posting lecture videos, notes, and other materials online, and using discussion forum technology to allow students to connect with you and with one another outside of lectures
  • Consider relaxing in-person participation course requirements to accommodate students with shifting schedules and responsibilities at home, or limited or no internet connectivity (see this Resource Center’s “Accessibility and Equity Considerations in Remote Instruction” section for further guidance)

Additional Considerations for Large Lecture Courses:

  • Divide your students into smaller groups and subgroups, and host office hours, review sessions, and other activities with smaller groups to ensure that all students receive instructor or TA attention if they want it. Use subgroups for peer review and think-pair-share-type activities.
  • Set up a peer review of student work, such as homework problem-sets or drafts of writing assignments, with clear instructions for what to consider when reviewing each other’s work. Include a structured worksheet that allows students to respond to guided questions as they review their peers’ work.

Instructors, staff, and students across higher ed have come together like never before to crowdsource remote instruction strategies and solutions and help ensure that everyone is able to maintain academic continuity in this time of crisis. The robust online resource hubs and discussion communities below can help you migrate your lecture and seminar courses (and beyond) to remote instruction, and to connect with others in this trying time.

Considerations for remote lab courses

Unlike comparatively straightforward lecture and seminar courses, in-person lab courses are immensely complex, and in some cases impossible, to replicate in a remote format. Many of our partners acknowledge that they simply cannot offer an authentic, hands-on experiential lab class remotely. Many instructors and institutions are revising their lab course learning objectives and shifting the focus of their labs to what can be accomplished in a remote or virtual learning environment.

Though you likely can’t replicate the entire lab experience online, virtual lab strategy can be designed to achieve specific learning outcomes/goals depending on the focus of the lab. A lab’s learning outcomes and focus should determine online strategy and design:

  • Use available vendor or open access resources to conduct virtual labs or simulations (e.g., through PhET or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Biointeractive website) hosted online
  • Modify a previously planned lab so that students can perform it at home, or consider developing a new in-home lab from scratch
  • Work with external vendors (e.g., Hands-On Labs, eScience Labs) to deliver ready-made lab kits to students
  • Consider back-loading in-person labs to latter parts of upcoming sessions in case students are able to return to campus by that time
  • Provide data for analysis or extract data from published literature aligned with experiments students would have encountered, and develop problem sets around interpreting the data
  • Combine detailed experimental protocols involved in a given approach with questions that prompt students to explore the reasoning behind taking certain steps
  • In cases where students have been working on a lab-based project before pivoting to remote instruction, consider switching to capstone-like assignments (e.g., grant application) and interpreting the data they managed to collect that would have followed the project
  • For project-based lab courses that begin with remote instruction, ask students to design their experiments, predict their experimental outcomes, collect and analyze sample experimental data online, and design the next experimental steps in detail

Considerations for remote theater, production, music, and other practice-based arts courses

In-person theater, movement, production, and other arts courses will have a particularly difficult time transitioning to remote instruction. This will be particularly acute for students with limited or no internet connectivity, given how important face-to-face instruction and collaboration is to the performing arts in particular. How you choose to migrate and adapt your course will depend on the class, but in almost all cases you’ll have to reevaluate your core learning objectives and student learning outcomes. Below are some considerations for teaching various types of remote arts courses:

  • Students will likely not have the same materials that they would have had available to them in the studio, so you can encourage them to use what they have access to remotely
  • If there are artists in your field who have produced work through distance collaboration, consider discussing them with your students to learn collectively about ways to collaborate across time and space
  • How might these online formats stimulate ways to think about environments, space, and time? What might be ways to “build environments for the screen” or think about the bounded screen as a kind of theatrical space?
  • Consider analyzing sets, scenes, performances, etc. from films or video recordings of theater productions and then discuss or critique them
  • Consider producing artistic assignments or performances digitally to allow for collaboration between students, such as sequentially producing a musical track with each student contributing a new track or edit.
  • Students could record at-home rehearsals/performances/exercises and share with the instructor and other students
  • A crowdsourced document of resources for teaching theater during the COVID-19 pandemic with pedagogy ideas for acting, design, directing, choreography, improv, and more, created by Maria Aldren at Union County College
  • Advice for teaching practice-based and individualized study courses (e.g., design, visual art, performance/dance) remotely from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study
  • Online vocal pedagogy resources compiled and curated by the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University

Accessibility and equity considerations in remote instruction

Accessibility and equity are primary concerns for many administrators and instructors, and the rapid migration to remote instruction risks impacting already vulnerable student populations the most. Fortunately, there are steps and considerations institutions can take to ensure that all of their students are able to access course materials and learn together.

San Diego State University offers clear, actionable guidance for maintaining equity and inclusion in virtual learning environments:

  • Be Accessible: This includes accessibility for students with physical impairments that may create challenges for reading/seeing/hearing digital files and content, accessibility for students with psychological and/or learning differences that require certain accommodations such as extra time to process materials or additional exam time, and accessibility for students with limited access to computers or stable internet service. Steps you can take include:
    • Ensuring all files, images, videos and other posted content are accessible (i.e., visual content can be clearly translated by a screen-reader and audio content has visual captions)
    • Ensuring content that you post online is mobile-friendly
    • Consider variation in students’ access to computers and stable internet service, for example by modifying certain course components to be asynchronous or even by loaning internet hotspots, laptops, or mobile devices to students if your institution has them available.
  • Be Flexible and Open: A key aspect of equitable and inclusive teaching, in general, is recognizing and working with the diversity of students, along multiple dimensions. Instructors migrating to remote instruction must remain open to trying new administrative and pedagogical approaches. For example:
    • Review your syllabus and consider what changes might be needed to your grading weights, late policies, and other course policies in order to accommodate this transition
    • Consider alternative ways that students can engage with you, course materials, and fellow students
    • Consider alternative ways that students can show you what they have learned through different approaches to assessment
  • Be Identity ConsciousA critical feature of equity-minded teaching is acknowledging that students are not all the same, that they come from different experiences, and those experiences are often tied to their social identities (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, first-gen status). In the virtual environment, and at this particular moment, there are numerous ways to support students’ diverse identities:
    • Address microaggressions in discussion boards, chats, and other places where students interact
    • Consider integrating culturally-relevant materials
    • Be aware of variation in students’ capacity to manage remote learning
    • Be aware of how the current situation is impacting different communities
  • Be Proactive and Intrusive: Remote instruction should incorporate a lot of structure and accountability, perhaps even more than your in-person course. In this environment, designing for equity and inclusion means being particularly proactive about supporting students who may need some extra attention. In particular, pay attention to early warning signs that students may be struggling and reach out proactively.
  • Be Relational:While establishing supportive interpersonal relationships with students is one of the most fundamental tenets of effective teaching, it can be particularly important for students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds. In particular, instructors should:
    • Continue to have opportunities for live, synchronous engagement wherever possible
    • Address developments in the crisis in class, with students, and provide opportunities for students to discuss the impact the crisis is having on them, their families, and their communities
    • Foster opportunities for students to build and maintain community with one another
  • Be Transparent: Clearly address how the course, structure, and syllabus have changed, and overcommunicate expectations for participation, assignment completion, and other elements of the course experience. Ensure that you are not making any unnecessary assumptions about what your students know and are able to do.
  • Use a good microphone, as not all laptop or desktop built-in microphones are good quality. Test your microphone before beginning or recording a lecture
  • Speak clearly, enunciate, and don’t turn away from the microphone. You may want to opt for a headset if available.
  • Make sure all PDFs are digitally readable to ensure that screenreader users can access the content. When a document containing text is on the web, you can use the following steps to perform optical character recognition (OCR) to ensure that the computer is recognizing the words in the documents properly.
    • Hit Ctrl+F (PC) or Cmd+F (Mac) to search in document for a word.  Search for a word you know is in the document. If the shortcut can find the word and highlight it for you, that means it is digitally readable.
    • If you click and hold your mouse/trackpad over a chunk of words and it highlights the text as opposed to highlighting the whole page or nothing at all, you know it is digitally readable.
  • Minimize using scans of book pages or handwritten notes or diagrams as these are not necessarily digitally readable. If you must use scans of book pages, use the highest quality (>= 600 PSI) possible when scanning and take the following steps:
    • Check that words near the binding and edges aren’t cut off or distorted.
    • Check if the final product is digitally readable (see above)
  • Avoid using scans of handwritten notes or diagrams wherever possible, as there is no easy way to create accommodations for these.
  • Review UCLA’s online guidelines for further information:

Strategic considerations to guide investment across the summer and fall

As we move towards summer and the “new normal” threatens to affect Fall 2020 terms, institutions should consider making additional investments in remote instruction and online learning infrastructure. EAB best practice in these areas can guide conversations at the leadership level. Below, we’ve synthesized key takeaways from some of our top studies in these areas.

Before investing significant resources in online course development, it is important to conduct a rigorous review of course evaluations and other metrics to measure the overall quality of the remote or online programs you made available to students. Building on what works, and changing what didn’t, will help ensure that your new courses continue to offer value to students and the institution even after the crisis is over.

Developing your instructors’ online learning capabilities

Engaging Faculty in Online Education examines key lessons for structuring ownership and budget models to create a sound foundation for the institution’s online ambitions, and focuses in detail on four aspects of rightsizing faculty incentives and optimizing faculty support: training faculty in online pedagogy and course design, resourcing online course development, structuring faculty compensation, and safeguarding course quality. We’ve shared some particularly relevant insights and best practices below.

Institutions should implement a process for prioritizing access to faculty training, stipends for course creation, and instructional design support from the outset, even if the institution is still struggling to recruit faculty willing to use the resources available. Scarce resources to support online course development should align with your institution’s distance learning strategy, enrollment data, labor trends, and market research. The Prioritized Course Migration Plan should transparently allocate those resources, and will likely follow three general principles for prioritization: general education courses, requirements for popular undergraduate majors, and courses that are building blocks of revenue-generating master’s programs that meet local and regional needs.

An effective and efficient approach to training is tiered courses targeted to different faculty needs, such as integrating technology into traditional courses, teaching an online course designed by another instructor, and designing a new online course. A tiered training model requires a significant institutional investment in instructional design staff and resources as well as significant commitment of time from faculty members participating in the modules. For that reason, a tiered approach may not be feasible for every institution.

  • An introductory course introduces instructors to basic strategies for remote learning, which instructors could complete independently.
  • A more advanced course could include detailed instructions in online pedagogy, as well as best practices in online communication and tech troubleshooting for instructors teaching remote courses or online courses designed by others.
  • A final tier can support instructors developing new online courses, which should include significant instructional design expert support.

Most institutions have at least a handful of instructors with experience in online teaching and willingness to participate in an intensive training program. Incentivizing those instructors to create and deliver a training program for other faculty on campus is an effective and less expensive option for launching the institution’s training efforts. Such programs typically include:

  • Orientation to online learning: Includes an introduction to online learning and pedagogical best practices, instructional design, technology basics, and quality review standards.
  • Mentor meetings: New-to-online instructors meet with experienced peer mentors for multiple one-on-one and small group sessions to design their approach and troubleshoot emergent issues.
  • Group workshops: Multiple training sessions led by instructional design staff that address basic course design, models for interaction, and course facilitation
  • Online learning environment: This typically includes discussion board forums on group workshop topics, and troubleshooting with fellow participants
  • Design support: Access to instructional design staff for pedagogical questions, and support from graphic designers, tech staff, and potentially even student workers

Safeguarding the quality of your institution’s online offerings is critical to creating and sustaining faculty willingness to teach online as well as ensuring that your online courses support student success.

  • Develop or adopt a standard rubric for online course quality
  • Provide instructors with a copy of standards for online course quality to guide online course development
  • Ensure that all new online courses receive a quality screening before launch
  • Conduct a detailed, in-depth review for select courses, such as courses taught by multiple instructors, existing courses with a poor track record, and components of fully online degree or certificate programs competing with other institutions’ offerings
  • Collect and analyze comprehensive data on student success, student satisfaction, and faculty satisfaction for each online, hybrid, and traditional course offered

Prioritizing Online Courses for Further Development

The Online and Hybrid Course Prioritization Guide is designed to help institutional leaders prioritize scarce resources devoted to online and hybrid course development toward the most promising available opportunities.

Prioritize General Education courses, building blocks for full BA/BS degrees, and revenue-generating master’s programs for full online development to ensure that undergraduate students continue to progress towards completing their degrees, and the institution continues to serve its local economy (and seniors graduating into an uncertain labor market) with employer-demanded graduate programs.

The design, structure, pace, and administration of an online orientation course are critical to its success in ensuring student readiness. The following 10 characteristics of successful orientation courses should guide the development process on your campus.

  • Self-paced: Asynchronous modules allow students to start and finish the course at their convenience, maximizing flexibility and minimizing the instructional expense.
  • Built in standard learning management system course shell: The orientation module provides an identical experience to fully online courses at the institution, familiarizing students to the organization and mechanics of its particular LMS.
  • Frequent availability: Modules are offered for at least three weeks prior to the start of each term (when volume will be highest), and remain available for reference until graduation.
  • Linked to course registration: 100% completion of full course is required to begin online coursework; registration lists are checked on the first day of classes. This ensures that the students who need the most assistance (who wouldn’t be likely to find a web tutorial on their own) find and progress through the requisite material.
  • Low intensity, but comprehensive: The ideal orientation requires only a few hours of work by the student, while covering all necessary components of the online learning experience.
  • Tests course activity: The modules require students to perform the same activities they will be required to perform in class—posting on forums, submitting assignments, completing quizzes, etc. This ensures their familiarity with the mechanics, while making the material more engaging through active learning.
  • Tests technical compatibility: Students are required to install, update, and test the various web-based applications and software required in courses, preventing last-minute technical issues and reducing faculty time spent on troubleshooting.
  • Provides accessible solutions for common problems: The orientation should include a frequently asked questions bank and easily located instructions for students struggling with the LMS. Brief video tutorials on common LMS features can also serve as supplements.
  • Faculty monitoring: A point person is assigned to oversee student progress and completion, as well as answer any questions during the orientation.
  • Promoted by advisors: Students new to online learning or in need of a refresher are pointed to the next online orientation module by advisors.

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