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Best Practices for Remote/Distance Instruction

Teaching online - or using remote delivery methods - involves a lot more than use of spiffy technology (even if we eLearning folks think the tools are half the fun). In order to help encourage excellency in remote/distance learning, we have collected many guides and resources related to remote instruction.

Click on the topic you are interested in learning about to expand more details!

  • Getting Started - Recommendations for beginners and first-time remote teachers

    If you've never taught in an online or remote environment before, we understand it might feel intimidating! Before you dive in here, we would recommend you review the preparation timeline. This matrix was developed specifically to help orient faculty and students for the exceptional circumstances surrounding the 2020 Spring term.

    1. 'Getting Started'

    Creating a new content area with the express purpose of collecting the most important details for how to get started working in your class is hugely helpful for students. Things to include would be: contact info, your syllabus, course objectives, a short course navigation guide, and a self-introduction. Remember, your students won't get to see you in-person in the way they do in a face-to-face class, so it is important to be intentional with how you connect with students. 


    2. Define Expectations

    Think about what you would typically outline in your first week of a class meeting. Where will you be meeting? Will lectures be help synchronously, asynchronously, or both? Do you students know when assignments are typically due, and where to turn in their work? 

    3. Organize Content Intuitively

    Online course materials require more up-front context. If you add something to your class, explain what it is and why you've chosen to include it, preferably in the context of your module objectives. This doesn't need to be extensive - even a sentence will do! When using Canvas, it can be very helpful to organize things by weeks, so that students know where to look for content at the start of each week. 


    4. Be Present

    Basically, show up to class! Instructor presence is a huge factor in student satisfaction and success in online courses. Some examples of how to 'show up' when your class is remote include: 

    • Posting a weekly announcement introducing new topics and recapping the previous week
    • Answering questions quickly and publicly, if appropriate (ie: clarifying an assignment question)
    • Return graded work in the timeline you set, with feedback
    • Interact with students periodically in online discussions, and invite them to respond back to you- spontaneous conversations can be hard to come by in remote classes, but you can be intentional with how you encourage students to share with you. 


    5. Provide Support

    COCC support services for students have moved largely to remote delivery. Do your students know where and how to contact those services? You do not have to be an expert in these services yourself. But including links to essential services and making them visible and available is important. Many of these links are in your Canvas course already by default, so be sure to familiarize yourself with them. 

  • Effective Online Teaching - Essential Skills

    Here you can find several articles and documents which contain step-by-step guides for building and interacting in an online or remote environment. We recognize that the course building process is, by its nature neither simple or quick, but we hope that these can help structure your thinking when it comes to potentially altering content for remote delivery. You'll find a lot of similarity in these guides. If we were to distill these articles down to five bullet points, we'd choose:

    • Communicate, communicate, communicate!
    • Establish a consistent structure that supports your objectives
    • Be clear in your expectations for assessment
    • Be present in the course and the material
    • Provide multiple opportunities for student interaction

    Remote Teaching Plan - A worksheet for assessing your curriculum with Backwards Design

    A guide to Regular and Substantive Interaction (PDF)

    Simple essentials to include in your online course (PDF)

    Designing an Online Course Step-by-Step (article)

    How to be a Better Online Teacher (article)

    Communication Checklist - Use this checklist to assess your readiness and planning for alternative delivery options. Missing something? See the list of resources below!

  • Incorporating principles of Universal Design for Learning

    UDL is "a set of principles that provide a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs."

    Applying UDL principles into your classroom allows students to learn and demonstrate that learning in a variety of methods which promotes greater engagement and success in the class as a whole. It's also a hugely important element in creating accessible classrooms!

    COCC Guide to Universal Design for Learning

    An introduction to Universal Design for Learning (PPT)

  • Do This, Not That! - Pedagogical Recommendations for Remote Instruction

    thumbs up Do This:

    thumbs down Not That!

    Communicate regularly and substantively

    Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is an essential part of online/remote learning and a federal guideline for the College to maintain federal student aid eligibility.

    • Start with a welcome message at the beginning of term.
    • Weekly “check-in” or “what’s happening this week” emails sent to the class.
    • All instructions are clearly communicating with students by COCC Email or Canvas.
    • Meaningful feedback provided in a timely manner with clear guidance on how students can enhance their learning.
    • Post grades in Canvas for each assignment promptly for students to track their own progress.

    No communication or inconsistent/meaningless feedback

    Instructors provide very little or no communication to students.

    • Design a course to be self-paced learning with NO instructions between the instructor and students.
    • Students only see grades but no feedback.
    • Only comment students see is “Good Job!”
    • Instructors do not grade assignments in timely manner.
    • Instructors do not respond to student’s questions.
    • Students do not have a way to monitor their own grades

    Have clear alignment between lesson objectives, assessments, and activities

    Be intentional and identify clear alignment of learning objectives and assessment outcomes (formative and summative).

    • Use the “Backward” design method to plan for appropriate learning activities with the desired learning outcomes in mind.
    • Have strategies to achieve the same course outcomes with a face-to-face class in a remote instruction environment. (it may not be possible for some disciplines)

    Give random activities

    Keep students busy doing outline activities and do not think about the lesson objectives and assessments.

    • There is no alignment in desired course outcomes, assessments and learning activities.
    • Provide course work that makes students wonder, “why are we doing this?”

    Asynchronous access to learning materials

    Instructors create learning experiences for students to work at their own pace and take time to absorb content. The essential learning materials are available for students to access at any time.

    • Post essential materials in Canvas or send it by email in advance.
    • Provide recording link after a synchronous session (if applicable) for those who could not attend or who will benefit from having review material.

    Synchronous learning as the only option

    Students are only given opportunities to access learning materials during the synchronous videoconferencing or live chatting.

    • No lecture notes or recoding available
    • Penalize students for not attending the synchronous class meeting

    Less is more

    Assignments likely take twice as long to complete at home because of different factors; prioritize and be realistic.

    • Think about what it takes students to complete the assignment with limited resources (do your students have access to technology and support functions?)
    • Keep the video lecture recording shorter. Divide into segments if possible.
    • Keep course outcomes in mind when giving assignments. 

    Being unrealistic

    Instructors expect students to be “free” at home because of the social distancing.

    • Assign “class work” and “homework” every day and request students to complete according to short timelines.
    • Require watching a long video of NON- ESSENTIAL information that does not align to lesson/course outcomes.

    Give explicit instructions and specify expectations

    Outline deliberate instructions and specify the length of time to complete the session of learning.

    • Post clear instructions on how to access the publisher content account and specific technical phone number of the publisher.
    • Provide enough time and a distinct place (discussion board, class time, etc.)  for students to ask questions before the due dates.
    • Specify task requirements and length clearly (e.g. 2 pages of reflection paper with single space)

    Being unclear and vague and too open-ended

    Communicate in lengthy paragraphs with instructions that may be difficult to follow or tasks that are overly vague.

    • Does not respond to students asking for clarification.
    • Blame technology for lack of student understanding regarding content.

    Be empathetic

    Instructors are well aware of the challenges students are experiencing. Encourage and provide support to overcome the obstacles.

    • Have a “self-introduction” assignment to get to know students during the first week. Any sensitive conversation should be held in a“private” setting NOT in a group discussion board.
    • Assign a reasonable workload; encourage students to balance online with offline and connect with one another.

    Be overly task-oriented

    Instructors too focused on checking off what assignments have been submitted instead of whether students are demonstrating their learning.

    • Assign online classwork followed by extra homework without a clear focus on student wellbeing.
    • Consider difficulties students are facing with technology, childcare, illness, etc.

    Be available for ‘office' hours

    Be available during remote office hours to provide support, answer questions, or clarify confusion.

    • Communicate to your students how to reach you during the office hours (e.g. Email, Zoom, and/or phone)
    • Set clear expectations on respond time for Email communication.

    Stand by at all times

    Instructors try to be available to students 24/7 and lose work/life balance.

    • Respond to every email right away and leave no break for yourself (unless it’s urgent, it can wait until office hours or follow your respond time rule)
    • Invite students to your house for personal tutoring

    Seek student feedback

    Seek student feedback about their workload, emotional state, learning preferences, and learning pace.

    • Send clarification to the entire class when some students ask the same questions about the assignment.
    • Send occasional “check-in” emails to solicit students’ feedback.
    • When the technology/tools are not working (or not available) for some students, be flexible and provide alternative way to complete the assignment.

    Always use the same approach

    Teach in a way that does not give students voice and/or choice, leaving them feeling overwhelmed.

    • Penalize students for unreasonable expectations (e.g. not having an enough internet bandwidth at home to access synchronous session.)
    • Instead of focusing on the issue and the desired outcome, tell students that “this is the way it is.”

    Boost learning retention

    Provide course materials that serve different learning styles in addition to providing accommodations to those who need.

    • Add closed caption to your video recordings.
    • Select supplemental video (e.g. YouTube) that already has closed captioning – look for “CC”.
    • Provide multiple methods for students to submit their work when possible
    • Create accessible resources for students to use in multiple formats. 

    Try unused/unsupported tools

    Try “cool” online tools you are not familiar with and cause technological difficulties/increased challenges for student learning.

    • Requires students to use materials or technology not provided and/or supported by the college.
    • Use tools that are not ADA compliant.

    Comply with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

    Design your communication method and learning activities to protect student’s privacy.

    • Post grades throughout the term in Canvas.
    • Use COCC Email to communicate with students
    • Send group email for the class via Canvas, Bobcat account or DLX list (dlx + 5-digit of CRN) for COCC Outlook. When sending to personal email addresses use BCC (blind carbon copy) to protect the privacy of recipients/email addresses.


    More info on FERPA and Academic Media is available here.

    Not respectful to students’ privacy

    • Send everyone’s grades on a list by Email.
    • Require students to exchange their personal phone numbers (and/or personal Email addresses) to communicate with each other.
    • Proctor remote group exam via Zoom and ask everyone to show ID on the screen
    Source: Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania | Printable

Technology Resources and Links

Using Canvas

Canvas is the learning management system used at Central Oregon Community College. Course content is published within Canvas by instructors for student access. Please take the time to read through our Canvas Training For Faculty Course linked below: 

Using Kaltura

Kaltura CaptureSpace and Media are internal tools for creating and hosting multimedia. If you want to try recording and posting a video lecture, this is how we recommend you do it.

Using Zoom

Zoom offers one alternative for synchronous delivery. While Zoom is a free resource for anyone with mobile devices or computer access, please note that the level of participation available to your students may vary. We recommend reviewing your planned activities and considering how they will work for students with potentially limited access (ie: no available microphone).

Library Resources

Other Resources and Info

  1. Quality Matters Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist (YouTube Video)
  2. Toolkit for Online Instructors (PDF)

Support for Canvas External Tools

Some tools are only accessible from within the Canvas LMS. Here is a list of our the tools currently installed in Canvas. Please note that these external tools are generally NOT supported by eLearning - support resources for these products can be found on their own webpages. If you use any of these products in your class, it is recommended to also include a link to the relevant student support resources. A quick access list is provided below.

Installed Products and Services Support Links
  • Cengage Learning
  • Chem101
  • Gradescope
  • Harmonize
  • JB Learning
  • MacMillan Learning
  • McGrawHill Connect
  • myBusinessCourse
  • Panorama
  • Pearson MyLab &Mastering
  • Pearson Revel
  • ReadSpeaker
  • RedShelf Digital Learning Tools
  • Softchalk Cloud
  • TestOut EduApp
  • TurnItIn
  • W.W. Norton
  • Zoom