Teaching Strategies

Remote Instruction

This resource provides an overview of considerations and approaches for instructors teaching a fully remote course. The content reflects what BC instructors learned from teaching remotely in 2020-21, but should be applicable to teaching remotely in any semester. If you would prefer to take a deeper dive into remote teaching, you can self-enroll in our Canvas course.

Remote teaching is different from what is typically described as “online teaching.” Remote teaching, also known as “synchronous online” teaching, refers to courses that are taught fully online with heavy reliance on synchronous class sessions (typically conducted over Zoom or Google Meet), supplementing these class meetings with asynchronous engagement. This is distinct from online teaching, known at BC as “asynchronous online” teaching, in which courses are often designed from scratch, several months in advance, and emphasize asynchronous activities as students’ primary mode of interaction with classmates, the instructor, and course content.

Challenges and Benefits of Remote Courses

Instructors at BC have found that remote courses present some challenges, particularly in areas where a remote synchronous meeting can’t fully replicate the in-class experience:

  • Barriers to spontaneous casual interaction. On Zoom, it’s more difficult to engage in casual conversation with classmates or touch base with the instructor before or after class, which can limit the sense of community and flow.
  • Technology fatigue and barriers to access / presence. The extensive use of technology—especially video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet—can cause cognitive overload or fatigue, hindering students’ and instructors’ abilities to remain present, focused, and energized during a class session.

However, BC instructors have also found that remote teaching had its own benefits: 

  • Equalizing participation. Students who are less comfortable contributing verbally to class discussion can participate more actively through written participation in Zoom chat, Google Doc activities, and collaborative asynchronous assignments.
  • Foregrounding transparency and structure. Many BC instructors have found that the experience of teaching a remote course pushed them to communicate with students and structure course materials in a way that resulted in a better experience for students overall, using strategies that they could transfer to future courses taught in person.

Rather than trying to replicate the physical classroom experience in its entirety, you might find it helpful to leave some flexibility in your approach to teaching or redesigning a course for remote instruction. New technologies might allow you to find alternate ways of meeting your learning goals and engaging with your students – some of which might provide positive and innovative solutions for less-than-ideal aspects of an in-person course.


Course Redesign

Instructors often find that the remote learning environment demands a greater investment of time, for example by necessitating more extensive explanations or more frequent assessment of student learning. So, even if this is a course you have taught before, it’s probably worth taking the time to reassess your learning goals with an eye towards streamlining the course schedule or simplifying course content. For guidance on revisiting your learning goals and other elements of your course, see our guide to backwards design or explore Unit 1 of our Adaptable Remote Instruction Canvas course.

Balancing Synchronous and Asynchronous Engagement

One of the major logistical challenges of a remote course is finding an appropriate balance between synchronous and asynchronous modes of instruction. Limiting the amount of time spent on Zoom or Google Meet can help to mitigate students’ and instructors’ Zoom fatigue and decrease the likelihood that student participation will be negatively impacted by internet connectivity issues. However, too many asynchronous assignments can be overwhelming and add an additional accountability burden to students’ schedules.

The right balance between synchronous and asynchronous will likely depend on the specifics of your course and the students who are enrolled in it. Here are some examples of course and student contexts with suggested synchronous/asynchronous components:

Course Format / Students Considerations and Suggested Asynchronous/Synchronous Balance
A graduate or continuing education course that’s scheduled to meet once a week for 3 hours in the evening, with most students working full-time jobs during the week. Students may be especially sensitive to Zoom fatigue after a long day of work, or they may have blocks during the week during which they work longer hours and can’t complete asynchronous assignments with multiple weekly deadlines.

For this course, the instructor might:

  • Record short lectures for students to watch asynchronously in addition to completing assigned reading, making these materials available at least a week in advance.
  • Ask students to complete an asynchronous assignment, due an hour before the weekly class meeting (for example, a Canvas discussion post or Perusall assignment).
  • Condense the class meeting to 2 hours with a 10-minute break in between, adding a breakout room activity to vary the format.
An undergraduate Core offering that follows a MWF schedule of 50-minute sessions, with mostly students who are not majoring in the subject area. Students may be balancing workloads from other courses that also meet multiple times per week, and might feel overloaded if a course that meets MWF has extra assignments due on the same days as their non-MWF courses.

For this course, the instructor might:

  • Add 1 small weekly asynchronous assignment, due immediately before a class meeting, to help students prepare for class.
  • Make major assignments (essays, take-home tests) due on the same day every week to provide students with a predictable schedule.
A graduate elective or senior seminar/capstone course for undergraduate majors, scheduled to meet one afternoon per week for 3 hours, culminating in a major independent research project for each student. Students may be more comfortable working independently during the week without much additional scaffolding, but could benefit from one additional checkpoint to structure their course engagement during the week.

For this course, the instructor might:

  • Add one mid-week asynchronous assignment that prompts students to complete work on a long-term project, so that the deadline for this project doesn’t fall on top of assigned reading for the weekly class meeting.
  • Add in an element of peer review or some other way for students to collaborate with classmates as a component of their asynchronous work.
  • Condense the class meeting to 2 hours with a 10-minute break in between, adding a breakout room activity to vary the format.

Minimizing Cognitive Load

The remote learning environment can put additional cognitive demands on students, who have to spend more time and attention engaging with technology. In addition, without the physical location of a classroom, students are less likely to have a strong anchor for memory consolidation as they’re learning. As a general principle, you can mitigate some unnecessary demands on cognitive load by keeping things simple – following a consistent schedule of assignments and class meetings from week to week, using a small selection of learning technologies for student engagement, and making pages on the course Canvas site easy to navigate and read. This will ensure that students can preserve as much focus as possible for engaging with course content.