Starting Remotely


July 20, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber

As school districts start to decide what the first few weeks of school looks like, we need to be prepared for teaching online. Most K-12 classroom teachers have never been taught how to run an online class. (Teaching how to use tools does not count!) As I’ve said before, the emergency remote learning we did in March 2020 was not online learning. So, how do we get started online?

“Learning doesn’t happen by accident. (p. 4)”

Darby & Lang (2019)

Here are the key things we need to do from the very beginning. Even if you start in person, these things may help you to handle moving back and forth from online.

Introduce Yourself.

Video, audio, or simply typed does not matter. Let people know who you are. Be personable, not personal. Share that you have a dog but don’t tell your children’s life story. Let them know enough to start creating a connection to you. You probably want to include a picture of you, not just a cartoon character (feel free to include both) so that the student can know me and recognize me.

Dr. Barber’s Introduction to Students

Let your students introduce themselves to you (and each other). Even face-to-face classes take time to create a connection. You are trying to do this remote hands. How quickly can you understand your students and their culture without “meeting” them? Give them the space to say hello and tell you something important about themselves. Feel free to ask a question to go in their introduction. AND, have students respond to other students. Now, you’ve started a conversation. Students will make connections with each other much faster.

Don’t worry about the medium. You can use your learning management system’s (LMS) discussion board. Or consider products like Flipgrid that allows students to post and reply. The key is allow and encourage interactions. Learning does not happen in isolation and students will be far more successful if they have relationships with the teacher and each other.

Change the Syllabus.

A class syllabus is the normal structure of our K-12 education world. But, for a world that needs online and blended options, you need to take extra care with the syllabus. Rather than use your traditional syllabus, start a new one to help you redefine the flow of the course with online, in-person, and blended possibilities. Repeat: Throw away your old syllabus and start over! The problem with the old one is that it reinforces they way you’ve done it in the past. Start fresh to help you develop the detailed roadmap students need.

Your syllabus in this online/blended world needs these features:

  • IT Support phone number or email goes right at the top. Do not make it hard for the student to get help with the things you do not teach.
  • Office hours. Set a time you are available for online meeting or email or text. (Do you have a Google Voice number yet?)
  • Class is asynchronous or synchronous or both. This is a major defining structure to your online class. If you decide, or it is required by your district to be synchronous, consider the best time to do it. How do you handle the students who cannot make it due to technical or illness problems? Maybe the solution is to record your online in-person class. How will an asynchronous class run? Will you do a lot of online discussions to help keep a connection with your students? You need to have a plan in place before the first day of school.
  • Contact from your students. How much contact do you expect from students each day? Each week? Be as explicit as possible in your syllabus. If you expect them to do one assignment, one quiz, and one discussion board per week, then tell the students upfront. Do they need to respond to you every single day? Say so. And, you should create a plan that allows some flexibility in that contact. If you are online, you have the ability to take role every day through other means.
  • Layout your course path in much more detail. In a face-to-face class, the syllabus often has some general headings for the material for the school year or semester. It usually lays out the grading structure and what makes an A, etc. Frankly, I never looked at them again after the first day. But in an online world, the syllabus is a roadmap. If the unit is the U.S. Constitution, then tell me how many weeks we will be working on it with dates. What are we doing each week? You can adjust on the fly – even send an updated syllabus if the first nine weeks is not working as planned. But, please give me a detailed “I can check it anytime” plan!

One of the advantages of online work is that a student may end up focusing and working on a week’s worth of assignments for one class in just one day. Even if you need to have a daily assignment, you may want to post the week’s worth at the start of the week and have different due dates to stretch throughout the week. This would allow the students who ‘want to get it over with’ OR are really interested to focus on one subject/ section. Flexibility is a major advantage of an online course and you can use it to improve the learning experiences for your students.

Online learning is not about data dumping and memorizing. This is an opportunity to show students how to connect with each other and you the teacher on a regular basis. Learning is a group activity. Teach students how to work together on an assignment. They can work on a shared document or have an ongoing discussion board. It is an opportunity to show students how to follow a plan (the syllabus) and check off their required action items. No students are motivated by learning every subject, every day. But plan to engage them as much as possible.

“The most important principle for designing lively eLearning is to see eLearning design not as information design but as designing an experience.”

Cathy Moore

Give Frequent, Personal Feedback

According to Dr. Erin Crisp, “Assessment drives curriculum.” The assessments you give during the class are meant to “identify improvements and mark progress” of the student. These assessments let you, the teacher, see where the misunderstandings are occurring. But the assessments should not be the ending of the subject area, but the start of the feedback.

In an online environment, feedback becomes a a multifaceted tool. You can use the feedback to:

  1. Provide examples of the work you want;
  2. Provide specifics to a student on how their performance compares to what you want;
  3. Provide information to help the student improve their work (Price et al., 2010); and most importantly
  4. Keep constant contact with the student.

For example, grading a quiz counts as feedback. What if the student could take the quiz over and over again until they got it right (mastery quiz)? Does that change the student’s learning? There are even online methodologies of automating this process. But feedback is not limited to grades.

Students need to implement feedback they are given (Percell, 2017). And you, the teacher, need to provide the feedback in a personal context. Remember, the introductions you did at the start of the course? Use that information to make a connection with the student to help them use the feedback to their advantage.

The other important facet of feedback is frequency. Providing feedback becomes a way of maintaining a connection with the student. Quick advice is like a when you stop by their desk or call their name aloud. You are touching the student and guiding them in their learning. By maintaining an informal feel to the feedback relationship, you also become the student’s cheerleader encouraging them to greater strides as both a student and a person.


Crisp, E. (2020). Reimagining course design: Leveraging feedback to improve the online learner’s experience (Webinar). D2L Corporation.

Darby, F. & Lang, J.M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Book Review

Garner, Brad. (2020). IWU’s free course Moving Online .Indiana Wesleyan University.

Percell, J. C. (2017). Lessons from alternative grading: Essential qualities of teacher feedback. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 90(4), 111-115. doi:10.1080/0 0098655.2017.1304067

Price, M., Handley, K., Millar, J., & O’Donovan, B. (2010). Feedback: All that effort, but what is the effect? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(3), 277-289. doi:10.1080/02602930903541007

2 thoughts on “Starting Remotely

  1. […] school district is starting remotely. The problem, as always, is engaging students. As a teacher-librarian, it is harder for me because […]


  2. […] Creating a Detailed Roadmap – Rewriting the Traditional Syllabus (see my blog) […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: