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Taco Niet: What I’m learning about remote teaching

November 17, 2020

In this series we share the reflections of faculty members who are gaining new teaching insights from and about remote teaching. Here’s what Taco Niet, an assistant professor of professional practice in the School of Sustainable Energy Engineering (SEE) in the Faculty of Applied Sciences, had to say.

What his biggest mistake was in remote teaching and what he learned from that

“Not planning enough. The biggest shift for me to remote has been the requirement to plan things out in a lot more detail than before. With over 15 years of teaching experience I can, in many cases, walk into the classroom and teach material without having to spend a lot of time planning out the minutiae of the lesson. However, this doesn’t work as well remotely as I can’t see when the students are missing a concept and then circle back to clarify it. Remotely, I have to anticipate the students’ challenges and try to plan to address them as they come up, which requires more planning.”

The lesson that took him the longest to learn

“Can’t think of a specific one. It’s been six months of learning something new almost every week and adjusting to make things better as much as possible as I go along.”

What has influenced his remote teaching style the most

“Definitely the students. I’ve picked up great ideas and suggestions from colleagues, but focussing on and listening to the students ensures I am helping them learn. And the internet is an amazing place to find ideas for keeping students engaged in their learning during remote lessons.”

What else students have taught him

“Be kind, plan ahead, and be flexible. In face-to-face classes this is also needed, but it’s easier to pivot in person than online. For example, one of my students spilled water on their keyboard and was without a computer for four days. With face-to-face teaching I would have expected them to do their work in the SFU computer lab while getting their computer fixed, but with remote it’s important to be kind and flexible to accommodate these types of life events.”

What he’s learning that he’ll keep doing after the pandemic is over

“There are advantages and disadvantages to remote teaching. Having a ‘waiting for everyone to arrive’ pre-class activity makes things more engaging, and I will likely try to do that in future face-to-face classes. I’ll also continue to use classroom strategies such as think-pair-share and group activities to keep students engaged (as I did before the pandemic). I think one thing I would like to figure out is how to get random breakout groups quickly and efficiently with in-person teaching—this has been really useful for the students online, and it would be great to be able to continue that in person, but [I’m] not sure how to do that with a class of 70 as fast as clicking the breakout-room button.”

What his students are learning

“It is important to recognize that remote learning is challenging. It is harder to focus throughout the day and connect with your peers. However, social interactions and support can help you be successful in classes, and it is worth it to reach out to your peers.” – Erin Flood, SEE student

“Professors can really make or break a course, especially in the way they address the challenges of remote learning. By taking SEE 110 with Dr. Taco Niet, I've experienced the importance of connecting with other students and learning together by using the opportunities provided by the professor, and the tools provided by the school.” – Elena Sobolev, SEE student

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