Advice from Dartmouth Faculty on Teaching Remotely

This spring, Dartmouth faculty have had two short weeks to transition their thoughtfully planned classes into an entirely new format — remote learning. We spoke to Dartmouth faculty who have taught online or remotely to get their advice and suggestions for their colleagues on how to handle this upcoming term.

This is Not "Online Education"

"One important thing to know is that this is a very unusual circumstance. It's remote learning during a crisis or pandemic," says Matthew Delmont, Professor of History. He taught online at Arizona State University where he says online courses had months or even a year to plan — and they don't have to plan under such duress. As faculty move their classes online, they should accept the limitations imposed on them and not try to emulate "online classes."

Steve Swayne, Professor of Music, has taught two MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on DartmouthX. For both of these courses, he worked closely with an instructional designer, a video producer, a visual storyteller, and two librarians to bring his courses to life. These types of classes cannot be replicated in short amount of time, but Swayne says this spring he can still use some of the same concepts and tools that he learned while creating his courses including 
"using backwards design, articulating clear learning objectives, making sure that assessments reflect those objectives, enabling asynchronous learning, scripting and recording talks, [and] finding useful visual and audio materials." 


Go Easy on Yourself

Associate Professor Mark Spaller began teaching at Duke Kunshan University in Suzhou, China in January. When the health crisis there became pronounced, faculty at DKU had to quickly transition their courses online. Spaller says the instructional resource team provided training and support to get faculty up to speed with the technology. He recalled that it was a bit of a messy process, but the "tough part" was learning how to use that technology to properly format content.

Spaller says that he had to plan well, but to also let himself learn along the way. "Accept the fact that you're going to adjust. You have to be willing to let things fumble and fail a little bit. After a few days, you begin to understand what works and doesn't for you, your class and your temperament. Go in with a plan, but be prepared to revise the plan."

Getting feedback from students helps to revise courses in motion. Swayne says that there are two great times to get feedback about a course -- two years after the fact when students have had a chance to digest the material and in the middle of the class. He recommends using a midcourse evaluation to find out how things are going in class and to be prepared to make changes. 

Professor of Business Administration Lindsey Leininger echoes her colleagues, "Be gentle with yourself. Stuff will go wrong. Students will be forgiving." She teaches online in The Tuck School's Master of Health Care Delivery Science. "My high level message is that it can be super joyful and super interactive," she says. "If you're having fun, the students will like it."


Go Easy on Your Students

Spaller recommends trying to see the experience through the eyes of your students. "Even though [remote learning] is new to faculty and students alike, it's disruptive especially to students." Faculty are new to the form, but still have the content knowledge, whereas students are both encountering an unknown form and course. Swayne encourages faculty to be even more clear on the progression of the course over time.

It's important to remember that there are real individuals behind each person online. Swayne recommends ensuring that each student uploads a photo to their Canvas site that faculty can put a face to a name. He also recommends faculty posting a short video introduction on Canvas to greet students and tells them who they are and what the course is going to be about.

View Swayne's video introduction on TechSmith Relay. You'll note the option to watch with captions. These can be automatically generated in TechSmith Relay and then edited for accuracy.


Accept Limitations

In a remote setting, with students strewn across different time zones and some without reliable internet access, it can be difficult or near impossible to conduct class synchronously. "We don't need to replicate the classroom experience. We don't need to replicate face to face," says Delmont. He plans for the class to meet synchronously just four times during the term (every other Friday) and in virtual office hours. 

Theresa Gildner, a Post-Doc in Anthropology, taught online summer courses when she was a graduate student at the University of Oregon and says asynchronous teaching adds to the equitability of the course. She plans to upload her content every weekend so that students can download the week's content at one time. Gildner says it's important to be sensitive to students with low internet bandwidth. She uses TechSmith Relay for video, because it allows viewers to adjust the streaming quality of the video.

The rhythms of communication will be different as well. Leininger says, "There's a delay in communicating online, but when you get to understand the cadence, you understand it quite quickly and learn to navigate the delays."


Embrace Difference

In this remote learning situation, there is opportunity for trying new things. Delmont notes that online discussion can flow more organically over a couple days. In an in-person discussion over a 90 minute class, not everyone can be heard and students might walk back to their dorm thinking about what they wished they had said. In an online format, some students may be able to engage differently with the material and their classmates. 

Swayne recommends delivering lecture content up in smaller pieces, or "lecturettes," which is something many lecturers naturally do during an hour long lecture. He teaches a residential opera course that uses some of the content he created for the MOOCs. His students enjoyed having access to the lecturers and transcripts whenever they wanted. Students were able to engage with the material at convenient times and review when needed. 


Teaching and learning at Dartmouth will undoubtedly be different this term and DCAL and the Learning Design & Technology team are supporting faculty with the transition. If you are looking for resources and support with teaching remotely, visit our website Teach Remotely.