October 22, 2020

Dealing with the Challenges of Remote Teaching: Interview with 3 Teachers – Part 2

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

The pandemic is forcing many teachers to rewrite their syllabus for the 2020-2021 school year. As teachers have limited time, they are looking towards other teachers who can provide extra insight into the day-to-day nitty-gritty practicalities of being an online teacher.

In a series of 2 articles, 3 teachers from Champlain St-Lawrence College in Quebec City share their experience on how they transitioned from in-person to remote teaching:

Without further ado, let me introduce the teachers:

  • Anna Dera has been teaching biology in the Science Department for 27 years.

Anna Dera

  • Marc-André Frenette is a career businessman with international experience in entrepreneurship, accounting, and finance who is relatively new to the teaching business. He was hired in January 2018 to teach in the Business Program.

Marc-André Frenette

  • Carol-Anne Gauthier teaches Psychology in the Social Science Department. She has been at the college for 5 years and before that, she gave distance learning courses at University Laval for 8 years.

Carol-Anne Gauthier

How have evaluations changed?

Carol-Anne Gauthier

She realized early it is unrealistic to expect the same assessment conditions online as on campus. It is also unrealistic to expect to eliminate cheating.

One strategy that she uses to minimize cheating in online assessments is to create a bank of questions. If she wants to ask a question about one concept, she will actually create 5 questions about that concept so that students are randomly given different versions of the test.
Since there are no instructor resources with the coursebook, she has to create all these questions herself. Of course that adds time but next year when she gives the course again, she will have several different versions of the test.

I kind of look at it in a long-term perspective.

Carol-Ann Gauthier

Another strategy is to limit the time the students have to do the exam. If students have different exams, with questions in a different order and don’t have time to talk to each other, it becomes difficult to share answers. Limiting the time can create an added stress for the students, however. Teachers have to ask themselves if they are really evaluating the students’ learning or their ability to deal with stress. The tests are worth a small percentage of the final grade which helps lower the level of stress and motivates the students to prepare.

There are other assessment activities, for example, 3 assignments and a final essay. She makes these evaluations as interesting as possible by allowing students to make a lot of choices:

  • Choose between a variety of topics
  • Decide to do a traditional research or an application project
  • Write an essay or create a video

Students are required to use Turnitin to prevent plagiarism.

Anna Dera

When she added Perusall, a social learning e-reader platform, she reduced the value of the other tests so that the reading and annotating work that the students do in the web-based tool has the same value as a single exam. Perusall generates an engagement score for each student. She has always given a quiz or a test once a week. The only difference is that now the assessment is on Moodle. It has a feature that randomizes quiz questions, so each student gets a different version of the test.
Like her colleague Carol-Anne Gauthier, she mentions that creating multiple versions of each test is really demanding.

Marc-André Frénette

When he transitioned from in-person to online teaching in the 2020 winter session, he canceled the final exam (turned it into a mini assignment) and focused on ensuring students had the ministerial competencies through a team project. However, he didn’t want a team grade to reflect a student’s individual skills and that’s why he held individual interviews on Zoom. The interview lasted 10-15 minutes and the student had to answer 5 questions about their team’s project.

Tips for other teachers

Marc-André Frenette

He thinks that it would be a good idea to pre-record answers to commonly asked questions and post them on YouTube (putting links on Léa to the videos …) He also suggests giving online quizzes using Google or Microsoft Forms to force students to review material (and save time on corrections). These quizzes should be worth a few marks and take students 15-30 minutes to complete.

Carol-Anne Gauthier

She first identifies her goals or objectives. Teachers always do this for in-person classes but online you always have to think that you need more structure. You need more materials in advance. You need to keep things simple for students because you can’t be there beside them. You need to figure out what is essential because everything takes longer for students online. Students have to become familiar with the platform and create new routines.

She believes that it really helps students if teachers set up a routine for the online class. Whereas in classroom teaching, the students just have to show up and the teacher will guide them through all of the activities, for online teaching, the teacher has to be twice as explicit with the instructions and clearly explain how the class works. For example:

There are 2 classes every week:

  • Every Monday arrive prepared having read the assigned chapters in your book
    • I will not repeat that content, and we will focus on activities in breakout rooms.
  • On Wednesday there will be time to do activities and assignments related to what was discussed on Monday.

The biggest thing for her is to avoid the multiplication of platforms. That’s why she prefers to have a complete environment like Moodle.

It makes your life easier when you can automate things”.]

In psychology, multiple-choice questions are used a lot and Moodle will compile all of the answers which allows her to put her attention on the students’ assignments. Carol-Anne Gauthier hasn’t focused much on a particular platform. Some teachers use Teams and that is fine also. The important thing is that teachers should know the platform they are using so that they can provide detailed instructions. One could hope that the students would learn to use a particular platform or tool on their own, but right now they have so much new information to process as they get used to online learning that it is better to have them focus on the content.

Anna Dera

At the beginning of the session, the number of student emails (MIOs) was overwhelming. She realized that the students were anxious and needed reassurance. She came up with a simple strategy to help the students. There has always been a course outline but now she makes a weekly activity schedule:

  • what will be done in class
  • the reading assignments to be done before class
  • the Learning Catalytics modules associated with the readings.

She continues to update the schedules on a document that the students can link to. The document changes but the link doesn’t.

What has really helped her is collaborating with the other teachers. There are 3 people teaching the biology labs and they meet on Zoom and split up the work. They share a common Google folder and documents and set common deadlines. There is one place where everything is, so they all work on it together. The fact that she can rely on her colleagues is truly reassuring. Having that support makes a huge difference. “It’s hard to be at home and not just go to the next office and ask a colleague for advice.”

I would like to thank Carol-Anne, Anna, and Marc-André for helping other teachers by sharing their best practices. Pooling resources and helping colleagues really make a difference.

About the author

Susan MacNeil

She has had a busy career in education. With a M.Ed she taught all levels from kindergarten to university. However, most of her career was spent at the college level teaching ESL. She gave Performa courses, lead workshops at SPEAQ, RASCALS and l’AQPC. She served at the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur where she contributed to the evaluation of the general education components. She received grants from L’Entente Canada-Québec for various
research projects. Susan is also the recipient of the AQPC Mention d’honneur Award. Having retired from teaching she became a contributor to Real Life Stories of education technology integration at Eductive. Chinese ink painting helps her relax and travel keeps her energized.

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