faculty features

Tara Holland: What I’m learning about remote teaching

January 25, 2021

In this series we share the reflections of faculty members who are gaining new teaching insights from and about remote teaching. Here’s what Tara Holland, a lecturer in the School of Environmental Science and the Department of Geography, had to say.

What she’s learning

“With thoughtful planning, it’s possible to connect with students (and have them connect with each other) in a remote teaching environment.”

On getting back to what’s most important

“Regardless of the medium, teaching still needs to be rooted in best practices to facilitate student learning. Whether in person or online, my priority is helping students be critical thinkers and motivated to take ownership over their learning in the course. I’m exchanging lots of advice and great ideas through collaboration with colleagues in my department; since we’re all remote teaching ‘rookies,’ navigating this new environment together has been helpful.”

What she’s learned about students and instructors

“From the first weeks of the online pivot in Spring 2020 to the last two terms running completely remote classes, students have continually demonstrated how resilient they are. I’m constantly impressed by their drive to succeed and have learned that if we as instructors are thoughtful and organized in the way we present material and opportunities for learning, are communicative, supportive, and flexible, and are clear in our expectations, our students will continue to meet and often exceed expectations.”

What she’s learned that she will keep doing after the pandemic

“Feedback from my students has made me realize how busy they truly are, both in terms of schoolwork and other aspects of their lives. In my remote classes, I open materials on Canvas from week to week to help students stay organized and have started releasing modules a full week early to cater to students’ different schedules. The students appreciate and take advantage of this. I’m also using small weekly assignments that I call Class Engagement Activities to encourage students to stay on top of the material by completing low-stakes assessments and receiving formative feedback. This has been a good tool for me to gauge their understanding of important concepts. In a pragmatic discovery born of necessity, I’ve also learned it’s entirely possible to conduct a course without printing a single sheet of paper!”

Her biggest mistake in remote teaching and what she learned from that

“Not giving students enough time for online quizzes/tests. The online nature of these assessments increases anxiety, and many students need a little more time than you’d expect to complete them to the best of their ability.”

What her students are learning about remote teaching

“This is my first semester of university and though it’s challenging to make this transition to all online classes, there’s also benefits such as being able to replay parts of the video lectures to make sure I’m understanding the concepts. I’m really enjoying the Q&A sessions that Ms. Holland is doing in Environmental Sciences each week. They are very informative and do a great job to help us connect, keep us on track, and answer any questions we have. The tutorials in this class are also working very well to deepen our understanding of the material.” – Greyson Tiemstra-Kuhn, Faculty of Environment student

“Now that I’ve adjusted to online learning, I’ve found that in many ways it works better for me than in-person classes. I don’t have to take transit each day, so I have much more time to really focus in on class material. I feel a lot more engaged and on track than I did last semester. For me, the on-campus atmosphere was always a bit overwhelming. I think the frenzy of university life can be a lot to contend with for many introverts.” – Hannah Zemp, School of Environment Science student”

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