Transforming Remote Learning to High Quality Online

Dawn Fortin MattoonExecutive ConsultantAugust 26, 2021

As I listened to my colleagues present on “transforming remote learning to world-class online” at our national conference this summer, a thought occurred to me: it may not have to be quite as complicated as we all thought—and it may be more “doable” than we thought for institutions that are really strapped for resources.

This is not to say that the development of the highest quality online programs doesn’t take unique expertise and capacity—and that there is likely a need for the infusion of seasoned instructional design expertise that knows how to transform content for online delivery—but for institutions that are struggling with limited budgets and limited options, there is a great deal that can be done to advance from those early days of the “jerry-rigged” remote learning that was forced on us to much higher quality online experiences.

The experts we spoke with represent faculty who were in trenches “making it happen” throughout the pandemic semesters. Kelly Kirk is the director of the university honors program and instructor of history at Black Hills State University; Dave Louis is the associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Houston (and recently served at Texas Tech University at the time of our discussion); and, Leslie Martin is the professor of psychology at La Sierra University.

Watch this session from the RNL National Conference

As you listen to this session, what becomes clear is that each of these long-time educators was on a quest for engagement, for interaction, and for ensuring that their students had an experience as close as possible to their former classroom experiences. On their journey to making that happen, they found that some of their own preconceptions of online learning (e.g.: that is wasn’t as sound as classroom) were challenged and that some of the things that they developed in their remote/online courses are worth transferring back to the classroom (e.g.: online office hours, online Q&A and chat, etc.)

10 takeaways from this session on transforming remote learning

The session is well worth watching. As you do, look for these things they learned along the way:

  1. I found that my connection with students was just as great and in some cases greater than it is in-person. Office hours can be intimidating for some students. Many never come in person, but online I had a lot more students “show up”—making appointments, staying after class to chat in a way that doesn’t always happen in person.
  2. We developed not only a repository of resources and training videos and that kind of stuff, but also a list of people on campus who felt that they had expertise with a particular technology or with a particular thing that really worked. I found that incredibly helpful.
  3. In terms of flexibility, one thing I did that was really cool was to bring in more external speakers, because they could just Zoom in. I guess that always could have happened, but it had never occurred to me. So that’s something I definitely want to keep doing.
  4. I recognized that students had a lot of competing demands during the pandemic. So I developed a three-tier system for deadlines. For the most important things, I set very clear deadlines that had to be done at that time. Then there were some deadlines where, with a deduction, students could turn in assignments late, and finally I set what I called flexible deadlines, where for a couple of weeks, there was no penalty for late submission.
  5. Just recording the lectures was a great help to my students. So many students told me how useful that was to be able to go back and re-listen to a section five times, I’m doing that going forward—even when we return to the classroom.
  6. Being on Zoom instead of being in the classroom did something interesting: it really made a lot of my colleagues stop and think about what we do in the classroom, how we do it and why, and how do we keep the students connected to each other and the class.
  7. We invested in Snowball microphones that can be placed in the classroom and are designed to pick up all the voices. This allowed the students on Zoom to be able to listen far better to what is going on the classroom. So everyone—in person and online—can hear each other speak and discuss.
  8. We ended up creating an environment where students knew that they could pop into the Zoom chat to ask a question during lecture, regardless whether they were in class or on Zoom. This is the way young people communicate today and it is something that really worked as an engagement tool.
  9. I merged “old tech” and “new tech” using PowerPoint and Zoom in combination. I would share my screen in Zoom and use PowerPoint to record what students were saying in real time. It was a virtual version of the white board in my classroom. It got students engaged and interact as they did in a classroom, not just in the chat box. I also used this in my virtual advising. It seemed to make the student sure I was listening as we worked through problems.
  10. The breakout rooms in Zoom also became a place where had intimate, meaningful interactions with students. You could actually connect – the instructor and a small number of students, groups of students themselves… it all worked well to facilitate interaction.

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About the Author

Dawn Fortin Mattoon

Dr. Dawn Fortin Mattoon is an executive consultant specializing in strategic enrollment planning and institutional strategic planning. She offers three decades of higher education experience with consistent enrollment and revenue growth. Her experience spans the...

Read more about Dawn's experience and expertise

Reach Dawn by e-mail at Dawn.FortinMattoon@Ruffalonl.com.

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