a person studying in bed surrounded by books
Tips for students and faculty on how to make virtual learning easier
Thursday, May 21 - 2020

One of the things that 2020 will be remembered for is that this is the year that pushed all of us to adapt to all kinds of seismic shifts – and one of the biggest learning curves is the sudden, forced pivot to remote instruction.

Obidimma Ezezika, an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health Studies, is just one of the faculty members who had to pivot quickly. In an upper-year course, he had planned an entrepreneurial pitch in which students in groups worked on a health project and were supposed to present their results to an external panel of judges from the industry, similar to Dragon’s Den.

“We had to switch to using a virtual platform for the student pitches, which included a 45-minute Q&A between the judges and students,” Ezezika sayas. “The virtual platform worked very well and met the intended learning outcomes for this activity.”

Here, U of T Scarborough professors and staff members weigh in with some other experiences, and how to thrive, not just survive, when you can’t meet in person.

Tips for students

Use the tools: Some courses may emphasize lecture content. In an online version, lectures may be available and accessible anytime online. For many of our courses, this is the case even under normal circumstances. Live lectures are recorded and made available for streaming online. Students can access course materials at their own pace, and work around other time commitments that might prevent them from following the timetable for live lectures. – Andrew Mason, Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

Be prepared: To relieve the stress for students during exams, I offered students a sample quiz. It’s an opportunity for them to check whether their device is properly set up and address technical issues. – Iris Au, Academic Director, Economics

Reach out: If a student is struggling with a tech or financial issue, they should reach out to the registrar’s office – they want to make sure that students can continue their education. – Patricia Landolt, Chair, Department of Sociology

Manage your time: Time management and good study habits are key to successful learning, whether in person or remote/online. If all courses are offered remotely/online and most content is asynchronous, then there is a larger onus on the student to develop their own schedule and to follow it. (McCrindle says that a hybrid model, with in-person supplemented by online teaching and activities provides a more robust learning opportunity. However, asynchronous experiences can actually be more inclusive for students who are studying in different time zones or who do not have access to the high-quality Wi-Fi required for synchronous learning.) – Karen McCrindle, Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning

Don’t procrastinate! It used to be that if you missed a class, you missed a class, so that really pushed you to get out of bed and get there. Now you can often procrastinate…and that is going to be difficult for some students. They’re just going to let something slide too long and then they're suddenly going to have five courses that they have to cram in before a final assessment. – Steve Joordens, Professor, Department of Psychology

Communicate: Your instructors want to support you in your learning. Take advantage of online office hours, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need assistance. – Katherine Larson, Chair, Department of English

Tips for faculty

Checking in: Even with online learning, face-to-face time is important. Checking in with students regularly and doing a quick survey at the beginning of class about their capacity to be online, asking what else is going on in the home, as that might limit students’ ability to be fully engage, as well. – Patricia Landolt, Assistant Professor, Department Chair, Department of Sociology

Be accessible: I think students want to be able to ask questions and get answers in a direct manner. Try to be accessible and communicate clearly. I try to make sure that topics get covered in a couple of different ways and I set up pathways for communication (e.g., discussion boards and e-mail) and try to stay on top of those. – Glenn Brauen, Assistant Professor, Department of Human Geography

Use the online tools: For smaller, more interactive tutorial components, our institution uses a Learning Management System (LMS) – a set of online tools for hosting course websites, running online tests and exercises, etc., and these systems include tools for live multiuser interactions. Our instructors are able to run group seminar presentations, hold office hours, and have interactive tutorials. – Andrew Mason, Professor & Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

Watch the timing: One thing I’ve noticed is how timing changes when teaching remotely. A lecture delivered without student questions and discussion takes a lot less time than one where students are present…On the other hand, student groups may need more time if working in a live written chat format rather than in face-to-face conversation. – Katherine Larson, Chair, Department of English

Creating community: The current generation of students tends to be at ease with online discussions. Discussion boards, use of video and audio clips help to engage students and can create community. – Karen McCrindle, Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning

Make it appealing: Keep students engaged with live quizzes, votes, side-chatting, etc. I also think video lectures, if pre-recorded, can be sped up and cut into short segments, for students to easily watch/rewatch/find content at their own pace. – Steven Farber, Assistant Professor, Department of Human Geography