Tips and Tools for Teaching in a Remote Learning Environment During The New Coronavirus

Remote learning during the coronavirus crisis has teachers both excited and anxious about applying distance learning to traditional classrooms.

Tips and Tools for Teaching in a Remote Learning Environment During The New Coronavirus

In their element running bustling face-to-face classrooms, many U.S. teachers are apprehensive as they enter a period of required remote learning, for which very few have had time to fully prepare. 

Early last week, concerns over the new coronavirus pandemic only had a handful or schools and universities closing their doors to move online. Now, many of the nation’s streets stand still after the National Institute of Health’s warning for Americans to stay home, forcing districts nationwide to make the shift to online education.

Remote Learning During COVID-19

Overview and Facts

As of March 16, “35 states have decided to close public schools. Combined with district closures in other states, at least 69,000 U.S. schools,” have been or continue to be effected by coronavirus-related shutdowns (Ed Week).

There are 12 states that currently permit schools to use e-learning days instead of snow days. Wealthier districts that have 1-to-1 devices across the United States may transition to extended remote learning with more ease. For other districts, where internet is sketchy or income is limited, “remote learning” will likely hit hard all around. Regardless, this massive and unexpected shift to distance learning will require teachers everywhere to get even more creative than usual with planning and design. 

Is your school making the move to remote learning? Keep reading for remote learning tips and tools you can employ to help get you and your students through the next several weeks.

Tips and Tools for Teaching in a Remote Learning Environment

1. Cater to Even Lower Attention Spans

Though many are eager to debunk a recent study claiming the human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish, most adults who have spent time in a classroom will agree: researchers, in this case, may not have been too far off. When it comes to online learning, keeping students’ attention becomes even more challenging.

 Trisha Holyoak, an experienced Blended Learning Administrator with K12 wants to remind teachers shifting to temporary online learning that the idea that “the longer you keep a student in class, the longer they learn,” is even less accurate in an online scenario.

“They need to be engaged at very high levels for shorter amounts of time,” Holyoak stresses. “After 20 minutes, they need to get up and move or take 5-minute brain breaks.”

For those who must teach longer, Holyoak suggests more frequent transitions to new activities. 

2. Get Them Moving With Hands-On Tasks

Online learning doesn’t mean your student’s eyes need to be glued to the computer all day. Don’t be afraid to assign curriculum-related, hands-on activities. These will drive home the lesson and show parents what their children’s experience is like in school. Encourage students to interact with family members, get up and move around, draw, build, chart, cook, and more. With younger students, clear activities with parents beforehand, so materials are readily available and any necessary supervision takes place. Remote learning also lends to a sedentary lifestyle. Activities that get kids up and moving, even a little bit, can help kids remain healthy.

3. Host ‘Live’ Classes During Required Remote Learning 

You may design the most engaging activities or choose to use a well-known expert’s video for a lesson. Nonetheless, part of developing a personal connection with students involves interacting with them in real time. Although it may not be required by your school, the best way to continue building positive relationships with students during remote learning is through hosting live classes. It also provides a sense of normalcy. Keep up interactivity by promoting live discussion through your learning management system (LMS). 

For ‘Live’ Classes, The Mute Button Is Your Friend

While holding a live class via the internet may sound extraordinarily difficult, with the tools available today, it’s easy. Group and full-class discussions are both doable. Most video conferencing software has some form of a “mute” button, so only one person, who the teacher chooses, can be heard at a time. Some systems even have tools to allow students to digitally raise their hands, although the traditional hand raising works as well. 

4. Hold Regular Virtual Office Hours 

Set office hours when students or parents can reach you in real time. While a couple office hours daily is ideal, these should occur three times a week at the very least. Knowing they can reach you for urgent issues or to address more complex issues during this time provides a sense of consistency and comfort for students. During your virtual office hours, plan to be available via video chat, phone, and instant messenger. With messaging systems, be sure to log on and make your presence visible, so students can be sure you are available to talk. If you are meeting with a student via video or phone, update your status to “student meeting.”

Since some parents cannot make contact during regular business hours, consider setting office hours once a week at 7 a.m. or 5 p.m. While this may be a bit inconvenient, many working parents or children who are watching younger siblings much of the day will be grateful. Alternatively, use an online scheduler such as to accommodate these individuals.

5.  Anticipate Technical Remote Learning Issues

Set aside a few hours each day during the first day or two of classes to solve any unexpected issues that arise. Even if most of your students are technology gurus, connecting with or navigating new systems can be challenging. Additionally, certain students will not have the Wi-Fi strength needed to support their learning applications, whether it’s due to low income or location. Some wealthier districts offer these students hotspots. However, not every district has this luxury.

Planning for a few hours helping students grasp how programs work, figuring out nuances of their audio/visual equipment, or determining an alternative course of action due to diminished signal strength will help minimize these type of issues during the remainder of your remote learning and improve your patience when faced with on onslaught of issues in the beginning.  

6. Bring In Digital Guest Speakers

Who doesn’t love guest speakers? Students sure do! And guest speakers provide unique, real-world and often authoritative perspectives. Remote learning, especially remote learning that wasn’t originally on the academic calendar, is the perfect opportunity for guest speakers. Bring people in either live or in a recorded format with an agreement for them to answer student-submitted questions via video (or email) within the next week or so.

Since these meetings are virtual, you have the opportunity to introduce kids to exciting individuals. Use your network to reach out to people you may not know or use innovative tools such as Nepris, which connects industry to classrooms by allowing teachers to virtually invite professionals to their classroom in order to provide real-world context to curriculum, evaluate student-created work, and expose children to a myriad of career paths. Nepris is currently opening “live virtual industry chats to everyone” through April 2020 to help keep students engaged (Nepris, March 2020). For similar tools, check out Edutopia’s 3 Tech Tools to Expand Your Network of Community Partners.

Make sure your guest(s) are comfortable using the videoconferencing or any other software they will need for their presentation, Skype and Zoom are two good choices. Also give them an idea of what you are looking for students to gain from their virtual visit. Ask them if they have any input or creative ideas they want to incorporate in their lesson.

Prepare your class(es) as well. If you’re doing a live meeting, plan to have your guest speaker after the first couple days of inevitable technical issues. Otherwise, simply explain to your students what appropriate questions are, the difference between open- and closed-ended questions, and why they should avoid creating questions for the speaker that they could easily find the answer to on Google themselves. If you have younger students, you can be the gatekeeper for their questions

7. Define a Home Workspace 

If you don’t have a home office already, set one up. No purchases are required in order to do this. You can easily turn a card table into a make-shift desk for a short period. However, items such as a selfie ring, which you can clip to your computer for optimal lighting, might be a smart investment if you believe you will use it for other purposes as well or plan to apply for a regular side hustle or full-time role teaching online.

If you are hosting live classes, or even if you are just filming, find a space you can guarantee will not be interrupted. Whether it’s the embarrassment of your spouse walking through with bedhead and in their pajamas or simply the annoyance of a perpetually yapping dog, distractions diminish the value of a learning environment. Using certain headsets or systems like Zoom that can replace your background with a range of images, can help limit these disruptions. 

Inform anyone you live with of times you will be filming or when you will be live with students. This way, you are far less likely to endure the disruptive incident of a whining child (or spouse) during these timeframes. If you can manage to set up your workspace somewhere with a door, post a sign outside reading “Class in progress. Please be quiet.” or “Filming. Do not disturb.”

Finally, keep any tools you think you may need during your lessons on your desk. 

8. Limit External Links in Remote Learning Materials

As you create material for your remote classroom, minimize your use of links that take students off the primary learning platform. Outside links may be broken, leading to student confusion and scrambling on your part when your resource is inaccessible. Students may also click on one outside link then get distracted and start playing games or engaging in other off-task behavior. Instead of links, save media as PDFs or download videos and audio to your desktop then upload them to your learning management system. This way, students can always access resources they need for remote learning. 

9.Remember Your Special Populations

Needs of special populations, such as students with learning differences and English language learners may need to be addressed somewhat differently when learning remotely. 

For students with learning differences, plan on doing some small group and one-on-one video instruction. For any videos you show, including your own, make sure they have closed captioning or add it yourself. This aids both your ESL students and your deaf/hard of hearing students. Additionally, it helps visual learners with retention.

Another way you can accommodate special populations is by having a clear, disruption-free, and organized video workspace. This will allow Autism Spectrum Disorder students to focus well on your words and limit additional distractions for ADHD students. 

Here are some other resources you can use to help students: Learning Differences, ReadPlease, ESL

10.Virtual Parent Meetings (K-5)

Weekly classroom parent meetings using video platforms such as Zoom are an ideal way to inform parents of daily happenings, make a personal connection, and answer any general questions they may have. More informed parents also translate to a first-line means of help when children have questions. If these work well, you can even continue to implement them once you return to regular classes.

11. Give and Value Feedback 

With e-learning, feedback is just as important, if not more so, than feedback in the classroom. Since students don’t receive those nonverbal recognitions or walk-by corrections, they may struggle with feeling more unsure about remote work. Rubrics and clear directions can certainly help with this issue. However, it’s vital they still hear your feedback, in a variety of ways. Continue to give specific praise and clear up misconceptions. Also, try out the value of emerging technologies. Michelle Pacansky-Brock from the California Community Colleges Online Education initiative, recommends supplementing text commentary with voice. For her, this led to students reporting few hurt feelings.

“Learning out loud helped them sense that I was there for them and they felt more connected to their peers, like in a real class. Pacansky-Brock said in an article published by ‘Inside Higher Ed.'”

Remember to request feedback from students as well. Consider creating a virtual suggestions box in your learning management system. Set some parameters for responses to avoid uncomfortable, irrelevant, or unhelpful commentary. Then let student feedback help you make your remote teaching better.

12. Embrace Digital Learning Tools 

Digital learning tools are expansive in purpose, from teaching and video platforms to student portfolios, interactive activities, and apps students can use for mastery projects.

A few awesome apps and resources we haven’t mentioned yet include: TedEd, Noodle Tools, Khan Academy, Chrome Music Lab, Canva, Flipgrid, Moodle, Seesaw, NoRedInk, Nearpod, Newesla, PBS LearningMedia, and Student Digital Media Choice Grid.

An ever-growing list of online teaching tools currently offering free services or trials, can be found here. 

As the country fights the spread of COVID-19, there will be inevitable challenges with remote learning. Take solace in the fact that teaching remotely will only be new to you once. Use the tips and tools detailed in this article to give your students your best.


Are you or someone you know having to learn to teach remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us. We’d love to hear from you!

iStock Photo Credit: SrdjanPav

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