How do you shift pedagogy that is based on in-person discussions, the pin-up, and the group critique? Being trained in creative processes, specifically in the histories and methods of encountering publics, the built environment, and spatial transformations, the distance learning format can propose some unique challenges. Additionally, as we lead professional projects with remote participants, how can we learn from remote collaborations and bring these methods into a remote learning environment?
In understanding what this new breed of instructor needs to succeed in an ever-evolving higher education system, we are challenged to reimagine how we organize into teams, identify efficient and effective processes and work together in a more open and transparent way. To do this, we must embrace:
- What made us successful in the past will not necessarily be what drives success in the future.
- To enable others to lead, we must provide direction.
How can we navigate this new way of working and educating? We need to strike a balance between learning from the past to inform the present and preparing for the future while leading with vision.
We take a ‘CALM’ approach and use digital skills and activities to heighten the value of our professional and personal interactions and create a suitable environment for useful and usable connections, collaboration and communication to thrive. Along the way, we strive to build digital confidence and skills across our institutions.
How might we challenge and develop a digital-first work and teaching environment that is:
- C — Collaborative: engaging openly and transparently with others to plan and develop (internal or external) work products.
- A — Anticipatory: planning effectively using agile methods, being aware of relevant data (through analysis and reporting) and building in a process for feedback.
- L — Letting go of Command and Control Leadership and Embracing Collective Leadership: locating and enabling leaders at all levels whilst developing a shared sense of decision-making and accountability.
- M — Mindful: making time and space to reflect on information and decisions.
In the digital age, this new way of working and educating may be just the edge our institutions need to thrive in a post-COVID-19, time-poor and cash-strapped environment.
Here are some tips to cultivate a ‘CALM’ remote teaching environment:
Deliberately practice collaboration
- This is the time to over communicate. Do not be afraid of chat and instant messaging. Establish when and how students may use chat to get your attention, ask qualifying questions of you and each other, and extend the discussion with links to relevant resources. Chat is a great way to keep a pulse on who is paying attention and provides instant feedback about what concepts may be or not be resonating. This knowledge-generation can then be turned back outward to the community in the form of a shared bibliography.
- Be prepared to address tech issues. You or another person may have connectivity or other issues. Have a clear back-up plan. Ensure your students know where to read messages about a change in schedule due to a tech or scheduling issue. Also, have a one pager ready to attach or link to in Chat that includes troubleshooting information for all relevant systems. You do not want to spend valuable lecture and discussion time troubleshooting audio or connection problems for individual students. Remind them that you wouldn’t stop in an in-person lecture to help them with their computer setup, but that perhaps their tech inquiry can wait until a scheduled break.
Anticipate the digital confidence and skills needs of yourself and students
- Become familiar with your learning management system (if your institution has one such as Blackboard or Canvas). Understand the features and functionality available to you as the instructor, but most importantly, understand the student experience. What can they view and access? Is this content well organized? Are students able to access these learning systems via mobile devices?
- Meet your student where they are. If your institution does not have a learning management system, consider using Trello or another free and accessible tool to organize course resources, links, and assignments. Also consider recording all lectures (live included), so students are able to access and review and reflect at a later time.
- Make your content accessible. It is in a time of crisis that we are more aware of accessibility issues and actively try to alleviate barriers so as not to add to the burden of an already stressful period for all. If your institution offers transcription services, consider transcribing key lectures. If your institution does not support transcription, look into using a service like Trint.
Let go of traditional lecturing
- Get creative with your class design. Record your lecture before class and ask students to watch before class begins and use class time to facilitate discussion, debate, and an opportunity for students to showcase their work. This approach alleviates the instructor from having to give a live lecture and instead can record it when you have more control over your setting.
- Emphasize the importance of asynchronous communication. Your peers and students are grappling with ways to establish and prioritize ever-changing personal and professional schedules. Offer students ways to engage with you, course content, and each other when and where they can.
Establish a mindful rhythm of lecture and conversation
- Establish a human connection with your students. Know where your students are calling in or completing coursework from. We have to work harder at being human behind a monitor and keyboard. Take the first 5–10 minutes of class to check-in with students. How are they coping? What can be improved or done differently to ensure a better class experience? It is also important we not forget there is a digital divide and our peers and students may not have the means to digitally communicate and collaborate.
- Establish virtual office hours. Cut down on email or asynchronous communication by offering multiple times during the week (to cover all relevant time zones of students) where you will make yourself available via video conference. Ask students to either drop-in or register for a specific 10–15 minute time slot.
Ultimately, we need to remember to cut ourselves, peers, and students some slack. For most, remote working and learning is new. We will have to be flexible with how we evoke virtual classroom participation and negotiate assignment deadlines. As we navigate a new world of communication and collaboration, let’s treat people with an extra dose of patience and grace.
For more information about how to put these practices into action, please contact the authors of this post and request more information about scheduling a peer mentoring session or ‘CALM’ Remote Teaching or ‘CALM’ Remote Working workshop.
About the Authors:
Dan Borelli is an independent artist, and the Director of Exhibitions at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design where he is also a Lecturer, co-teaching a course with Dr. Rebecca Uchill titled ‘Make/Believe’. He is currently a New England Fix Network Member and will be participating in their upcoming session “Imagine 2200.”
By day, Dr. Lauren ‘L’ Vargas is a digital dragon wrangler assisting organizations with their community and communication strategies as an independent researcher and consultant of Your Digital Tattoo.