By the University at Buffalo
Faculty and staff members in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work have created an online resource to guide instructors, across disciplines and across different colleges and universities, who are transitioning their classrooms from a traditional seated environment to remote learning.
The resource proceeds with the understanding for how manners of teaching shifted quickly when the pandemic required moving seated classrooms online. Now, with physical distancing and other health and safety precautions still in place as the new academic year approaches, the innovative guide presents remote instruction as a “unique learning experience,” according to its authors, that when carefully instituted can preserve many of the familiar elements of traditional classroom settings.
Although fully online learning has been growing in popularity for roughly 20 years as an alternative to a place-based environment, that method is not the same as the remote instruction that has been instituted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide highlights the differences among online, remote and seated teaching methods, while addressing how instructors might blend elements specific to each mode.
“Understanding these differentiations allows faculty to better meet the needs of their students,” said Melanie Sage, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Social Work who contributed to creating the guide as part of a team with dean Nancy Smyth, clinical professor Denise Krause, senior assistant dean for enrollment and online programs Kathryn Kendall, as well as Steve Sturman, an instructional support staff specialist.
To casually glance at both remote learning and fully online programs is to see a single method branded in two different ways. But that’s actually not the case. The reality is more nuanced.
“Remote learning lies somewhere between place-based instruction and fully online programs,” Sage says. “The perception of students is different. The learning needs are different. And the overall experience is different.”
The pacing of instruction; whether material is delivered synchronously or on-demand; social presence; preparation, for both students and instructors; and self-management skills vary across all three platforms, and the guide compares and explains these distinctions.
Understanding these contexts is critical. And since most of the literature for remote instruction is focused on fully online programs, this new resource provides guidance about how to prepare a class for a remote model motivated by an emergency situation.
“Students who sign up for seated classrooms are expecting the traditional university experience, mostly guided by the instructor, with few technology requirements. That’s what they were imagining before the pandemic,” Sage says. “But students in fully online programs are well prepared for all the technology considerations. They’re also learners who can self-regulate, set their own schedules and self-motivate.”
Instructors can offer a more campus-like experience by supporting and encouraging the skills fully online learners bring to their programs.
Providing guidance for this kind of shift is a task well suited to social workers in general and the UB School of Social Work in particular, with its emphasis on a trauma-informed perspective.
The shift to remote instruction represents an unexpected disruption for students and teachers.
“Social workers are used to thinking about who is most at risk when a change occurs, and that's why we felt an urgency to prepare this resource,” Sage says. It’s a “how-to” instrument that was previously not out there in the world. “We’re confident people will find it useful.”