Tips on Remote Instruction

Main Principles

  1. ​​Structure
  2. Communication
  3. Engagement
  4. Assessment

In person

In person you communicate a lot more to students than you may realize.  Things like deadlines, expectations, areas to emphasize, what's important, what's not so important, etc. You may plan to communicate these, but some of it comes when students ask questions, your tone, and so on.

On line

Students only know what you tell them.  If you don't tell them what's key information, they won't know it.  They won't be reminded about deadlines unless you do it. They won't know where to focus their attention unless you tell them.  And...20% of your students won't read your emails.  

What's the difference?

Briefly, on technology

  • Normally, in online classes you can say that access to a good internet connection and meeting tech. requirements of platforms is student responsibility.  When they sign up for online class, but don't meet req's that is not an excuse.
  • Not the case when all classes are online.
  • Mostly an issue for students abroad (China) and low income students.  Campus is addressing latter. 
  • You need to be aware that students in China may face firewalls and poor/slow internet connections.  Encourage them to use UCI's VPN, but even that can get blocked.  You will need to be flexible with deadlines.  
  • In my experience, mostly an issue with live proctoring of exams.

Synchronous v. Asynchronous

  • You may want to just live broadcast stream your lectures, as if everything is the same.
  • Won't work for our students (57% are international students, many have returned home).
  • Need to post videos for those students.

Lecture Videos: Best Practices

  • Chop them up.
  • Lots of editing software available at UCI, including Yuja.
  • Usual lecture format: intro/motivation, model environment/assumptions, model mechanics, applications/examples.
  • Make each one of these things a 10-12 minute video. 
  • Students have short attention spans. Some material is not key to well-prepared students.

Discussion sections/office hours

  • Conferences one of few good features in Canvas.
  • You and TA's can share your screen for slides and white board apps.
  • A good whiteboard app I recommend, especially for TA's who may not have tablet is
  • Be sure to stagger the times (ignore registrar's schedule). Some early in the morning (8-10am) and evening (5-7pm) captures most of the world's waking hours.
  • I also have TA's hold Chat Room office hours.  Students like the option of real time help.
  • Students also usually video and voice mute. More comfortable asking questions via chat option.

Principle 1: Structure

  • Students need a rigid structure.
  • I do this through a "Weekly Roadmap": read chapter, watch lecture videos, attend webinar discussion sections, complete homework.
  • Make deadlines easy to remember, e.g. Sunday at 11:45 p.m.
  • I do both online h.w.'s (e.g. Aplia) and written problem solving.  I usually make the latter not for credit to simplify, but I'm also doing this at scale. To incentivize I call them Exam Prep Problems. 
  • The online h.w.'s I find are best as a mechanism to force them to "open" book.
  • You want a structure, though, so students clearly understand what is expected of them.  Should be laid out clearly on syllabus.

Orientation Week

  • Summer session automatically builds in a zero week for online classes.  The idea is that it gives students a week to familiarize themselves with the course structure and whatever online tools they need.
  • I strongly encourage you to think of the first week of Spring Quarter as an Orientation Week.
  • It will be best for you and the students to ease into this.

2. Communication

  • I was told there's no such thing as over communication.  I don't coddle students, but learned this lesson the hard way.
  • You have to over-communicate, and 20% will still miss it. You can't do anything about that 20%.  Use Announcements in Canvas frequently. At the beginning of the week, middle of the week, and "weekend reminders." For deadlines, send multiple emails. Remind, remind, remind.  You literally can't do this enough.
  • Canvas Announcements can be scheduled for release. I highly recommend this so you don't forget.
  • I also recommend structuring Canvas with a separate page for each week.  So students just log on and click the link for that particular week.  Then everything they need to know is right there.

Don't email unless you have to

  • In class, a student asks a question that most other students also have but are too shy to ask.
  • In online classes, every single student will email you that question.  You. Will. Go. Insane.
  • Do not let your inbox blow up with repetitive questions.
  • I suggest a different discussion forum for each week.  Send all questions/comments there.  Do not break this rule.
  • This way, a question is asked and answered only once.

3. Engagement

  • Students will engage if it is important to them and important to you.
  • Lecture videos will have low engagement: shorter and topical will increase viewership.
  • Using discussion forums to get students interacting and discussing topics will only work if (1.) it's a part of their grade and (2.) you and the TA's occasionally interact with them.  Also, be sure to set the forum settings to "Only see replies after posting." Else, they will just paraphrase other students.

4. Assessment

  • Grading burdens of written answers uploaded to Canvas is higher than on paper.  Keep your TA's in mind when designing exams and assignments.
  • Make use of the online homeworks.
  • Most of the online platforms will also let you create custom multiple choice exams.  Canvas does. Canvas has a lot of flexibility in these.
  • Some of the major publisher platforms will work with you on creating graphing and math problems.  Graphing uses their slider and plotting points features that they have in their assignments.
  • I usually do one open book midterm exam and a final that is proctored by a proctoring service, e.g. Examity or ProctorU. UCI is covering student fees for these platforms.

Questions for me

  • I'm happy to help
  • These slides represent the things that come to mind when I think about my own experience.
  • It took me 3 years to get things set up well.  You don't have that time.  So pick through the tips for what is useful to you given your time constraints.
  • BUT...absolutely follow my advice on communication.  Otherwise, I promise that this will be a terrible experience.


By Bill Branch