IT faculty share tips for effective remote learning

April 01, 2020

A female student takes notes from a laptop.

Students across the country are now learning remotely, and IT faculty say it may shine new light on online education.

Information Technology faculty at Mizzou Engineering spent two years designing and developing coursework in order to start offering a bachelor’s degree entirely online this past fall.

The situation educators are finding themselves in today, in light of COVID-19, is not that.

But IT program experts say there are some best practices instructors at all levels can use as they adjust to remote teaching.

Mainly, students must be first and foremost, and those teaching remotely should view lessons from a student perspective, said Dong Xu, director of the IT Program.

“Student learning is number one,” he said. “What’s the best way students learn?”

His faculty have found the most effective strategies include offering small modules of information that students can easily consume. That might be using surveys and visual elements to break up reading assignments. Dividing students into small groups can encourage peer learning, and frequent short tests are a good way to keep students engaged from a distance, he said.

“Breaking lessons into small modules makes it easier for students to learn,” Xu said. “They can pause at a convenient interval.”

Gillian Maurer, director of undergraduate studies for the program, says he recommends instructors focus on learning objectives. It takes years and lots of support and collaboration to roll out coursework specifically for online classrooms, but educators can make the most of remote environments by prioritizing what it is they want students to take away from their courses.

“The most important thing is what students will get out of the next six weeks,” Maurer said. “We need to get students through and to where they need to be in the most reasonable way possible.”

While there have been some technical challenges, Xu says he believes most tech-savvy students are adjusting well. And faculty and teachers new to remote learning have access to numerous resources, programs and applications that should ease the transition.

Ultimately, Xu hopes the situation shines light on just how effective online education can be.

“I think this crisis has provided our faculty and students a new perspective and experience of online learning,” he said. “Online classes are valuable as a supplemental resource even under normal conditions. They are valuable to students who have other situations where they can’t physically come to class.”

After students and instructors return to schools, more educators may look at adopting innovative teaching methodologies in the future, including online options. Xu stressed that coursework and lessons designed specifically for online delivery, such as the curricula used in the IT program, go through in-depth quality assurance processes.

“Quality matters,” he said. “High-quality online courses are just as rigorous as in-seat classes.”

Information Technology is one of numerous strong academic programs across Mizzou Engineering prepared to meet the needs of all students in coming years, however they prefer to learn.