My First Time Teaching Remotely: My Learning Curve

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By Laura Stoutenburg

15 years ago, having never taught online before, I got the brilliant idea that I could move one of my TESL courses online.  How hard could it be? It was a good thing I got so much help from the folks in the Curriculum and Educational Technology office, because I truly learned as I went along.  Even with help, I made some poor choices at the beginning which had to be adjusted the next time, but there were other elements I actually got right! And I learned.   

Banner of a remote TESL course
In the first TESL course Laura ever taught remotely, she learned as much as her students–and more!

Manageable Chunks 

Thanks to counsel from the online learning experts at Conestoga, I didn’t try to replicate a three-hour lesson in one long recording. Instead, I chunked the week’s learning into short videos and readings accompanied by asynchronous tasks.  I used a weekly module template similar to the one currently recommended in the eConestoga Remote Delivery Toolkit.  That way, students could see in one page the outcomes, the readings, video links, and learning tasks for the week. 

A laptop on a table with a chair and a cup
In the remote classroom, less can be more.

Remote Can’t be Exactly Like Face to Face 

I had to learn this one the hard way. Every learning task I had been using in class found its way online the first time, and I quickly discovered that what can be done easily in real time with a group of learners becomes tedious and time-consuming for a student alone with their screen.  The next time the course ran, I cut out several of the tasks and reconceptualized others to take advantage of discussion forums, shared documents, links to internet resources, and online apps such as padlet.  In a remote environment, less can definitely be more! 

Students Need Feedback 

The other thing I discovered by trial and error is that small self-grading quizzes were one of many ways to take advantage of technology to provide immediate feedback.  Some of the higher-stake assessments were easily translated into online assignments; others needed to be reconceptualized.  One tool I discovered along the way was the application-oriented open-book test – it can reduce cheating and enhance learning at the same time. 

Laura Stoutenburg sits at a table typing on a laptop
Building community is everything while teaching and learning remotely.

Students Need Community 

Online chats and synchronous sessions became precious to students in the remote version of the course, as it helped them build a sense of community. I learned that I needed to be “present” through announcements, efficient turn-around with feedback, and a supportive presence during remote discussions if I wanted students to maintain their enthusiasm for learning. 

It Takes a Village 

Looking back, I’m thankful for the guidance I received from what is now the OLC. I’m also glad for the willingness of my students to work with me as I learned and made the course better. It was a joy to finally meet some of my remote students face-to-face and realize that we already had a bond which was in many ways just as strong. The best pay-off, of course, was that they learned. 

15 years later, I have the joy of working with colleagues in Teaching and Learning to help support faculty in adapting to the changing educational environment.  

You can learn more about fostering student success in a remote environment through our series of workshops.  And why not check out alternative assessment practices, another series to explore options for successfully moving assessment to the online environment?

To find out more about the Teaching and Learning Summer 2020 Workshop Series, visit the Teaching and Learning workshop home page, view the workshop documents for details, then choose a time from the drop-down menu and register. 

Laura Stoutenburg

A college professor and accredited TESL trainer for more than 20 years, Laura Stoutenburg, holding an M.A., has taught and developed curricula for a variety of topics, with her work including language assessment in China and Canada. Before joining Teaching and Learning as a consultant, Laura coordinated Conestoga’s TESL Certificate and English Language Studies programs. She specializes in matters related to Intercultural Teaching and language acquisition, and is available at the Kitchener Downtown Campus.

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