Expert tips: Getting started with distance education

2020-03-31

Felix Ho, Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor, Distinguished University Teacher, has a lot of experience with distance education. Read his best tips. 


Felix Ho, PhD, Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor, Distinguished University Teacher, has a lot of experience with working different tools for distance education. Here he shares some of his best tips. Felix points out that it is now more important than ever for teachers to work together as a team and help each other. Links to various resources can be found at the end of the interview.

As a teacher at home, it could feel rather alone to be suddenly teaching at a distance. Is there anything in particular I should think about? Do you have any tips?

- Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you have to be a lone teacher! Stay in touch with your colleagues via email, Slack, Zoom, social media – whatever works best for you. There are many creative solutions out there among all the teachers! Share your thoughts, ideas and solutions. Be proud and tell others when something has worked well and give others tips about how you did it! It’s more important than ever that we teachers all work together as team and help each other out.

Which tools would you recommend for distance education?

- It’s really easy to get started with Zoom, both for streamed classes and for recordings. For larger courses it could be better to record a number of short videos using so-called screencasting programs. Students can download and watch them from The Student Portal or Box (you can create a link to share files). Remember, people general aren’t able to concentrate on long streamed or recorded lectures. Consider reducing the number of lecture hours and complement them instead with readings and study questions, virtual group work, or question time via Zoom etc.

”Less is more”, given the situation – you don’t need to recreate exactly your lectures and other classes. Leave time and space for both you and students to get used to this new way of teaching and learning, especially in the beginning.

Can I share my screen and show a Powerpoint for students and hide my notes at the same time?

- If you’re connected to an external screen or projector like in a normal lecture hall then it’s fine. The slideshow will be shown on the external screen/projector and your notes on your computer, just like in a live lecture. Then you can choose to share the external screen with students and it’s only you who will see your notes.

Even simpler: just have your notes on paper, since it’s only your slideshow that the students see anyway!

What happens if I get something wrong, where can I get help?

- Take it easy and don’t panic! Everyone understands that this is a special and difficult situation – no one expects perfection! If it’s going to be a streamed class, by all means check your equipment and connection beforehand, of course, and try to have a backup plan and alternatives in case something does go wrong with the technology. Even if it does, just explain that you need a little time to get it sorted. If it is a recording and you say something wrong – you can always edit it at a later stage, or you can just drop your students a line to correct it. Live lectures are probably not always perfect either!

Very often you can find the answers to your problem just by googling. Again, help each other – ask your colleagues and give each other tips about pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Is there some forum where teachers can ask questions or give each other advice?

There are groups popping up in social media like Facebook, with university teachers discussing and sharing their tips about transitioning to distance education. But why not get together with other teachers in your division or department and create a group that suits your needs? Remember also that there are webpages from the Council of Educational Development (TUR) and the Unit for Academic Teaching and Learning (UP) that provide good advice and links to useful resources.

Any final advice?

Clear communication is essential. Give clear and explicit information about how teaching will be adapted and how you plan to carry it out, but be ready to be responsive and flexible to changing needs as well. Don’t try to do everything at once, and don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. Good enough is probably good enough to being with, and then you can work on making it better and better. If you’re are clear in your communication and portray a calm impression to your students, they will also be calmer and be more reassured that it’s all going to be OK – which it will be!


Links

First Aid when switching to digital teaching.

TUR, The Council for Pedagogical Development at the Faculty of Science and Technology.

Activate Zoom for distance teaching.

Information about Box - sharing files


Article originally posted on www.geo.uu.se