October 10, 2021

By: Bryan Blakeley

Remote teaching and online teaching aren't created equally

Recent experiences with lockdowns and quarantines have pushed more faculty members than ever before into online teaching. Faculty members who had already prepared online courses praised their good fortune, while others who were primarily classroom-based rapidly adapted to unfamiliar practices.

We used a host of new technologies and invented a variety of new phrases (e.g., Zoom fatigue, HyFlex instruction, etc.) to make sense of these experiences, which required us to spend far more time than usual thinking about how to remain effective as instructors.

One thing is for sure: the past 18 months or more were not a typical online teaching experience. What most faculty experienced was a lightning-fast attempt to re-create some aspects of classroom-based instruction in a digital format, also known as “emergency remote instruction.”

Under normal circumstances, online course design and development occur over several months, involving instructional designers and media producers and intentionally playing to the online modality’s strengths. Amid a crisis, however, we had neither the time nor the resources to implement this approach.

Thus, it is important to remember that remote teaching and well-designed online learning are not the same. There is a real risk that these recent remote teaching experiences will dissuade faculty members from engaging with online learning. Hopefully, the distinctions between remote teaching and online teaching will be helpful as you think about future engagement in online teaching.

More Time for Interaction

Ramping up remote instruction was incredibly stressful for many folks. Seemingly endless hours on Zoom felt draining. Connecting with students often felt more difficult. Zoom classes sometimes lacked the spark of an in-person classroom environment.

Faculty members who teach courses intentionally designed for an online environment have a very different experience, however. They report having rich interactions with students — sometimes even richer than in the physical classroom — because online engagement is designed to give students time to think through their responses and purposefully engage with one another. Because these discussions are not limited to a particular block of time in physical space, conversations can develop over several days and explore a broader range of ideas than would be possible in a time-constrained modality.

Online discussions are often more inclusive than those in the physical classroom as well. Faculty members get to hear from all their students and can amplify different voices in the conversation.

A Curated Learning Experience for Students

Zoom-based classes often forced faculty members into lecturing to blank screens in real-time, contributing to Zoom fatigue for both faculty members and students. It also made learning more difficult for students who didn’t have a quiet place to attend classes.

In intentionally designed online courses, faculty members typically use a wide variety of content as part of their instructional strategy. This content often includes pre-scripted and pre-recorded visually enhanced lectures to make classes more engaging. 

Having pre-recorded lectures also allows students to watch videos more than once for particularly tricky topics or easily use them to review for exams or other assignments. If instructors use Zoom, it’s usually to offer additional engagement opportunities between students and themselves, such as remote office hours.

A Wider Range of Learning Opportunities

Due to the quick pivot to remote instruction, most faculty members didn’t have the time to craft additional resources to complement Zoom-based learning. In comparison, intentionally designed online courses feature a range of pre-built asynchronous learning opportunities to deepen student engagement with the material. These elements might include ungraded interactive quizzes that students use to check their understanding, interactive case studies that guide students in applying their knowledge to new types of situations or collaborative annotations on a text.

The design of robust online experiences takes a substantial amount of time and effort that simply wasn’t available during this crisis, so we shouldn’t equate it with emergency remote instruction. Online teaching and learning can be amazingly robust and fulfilling for faculty and students, provided we invest the requisite time and attention.

To learn more about working with Continuum College to develop online courses and how they might benefit your academic programs, contact your Partner Success Lead (PSL).

Meet the Author

Bryan Blakeley

Bryan Blakeley leads the Learning Experience and Learning Engineering teams to build best-in-class digital and online learning experiences at UWC². He earned his Ph.D. in higher education administration and master’s in history from Boston College and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Wheaton College in Illinois.