Tips for providing support and creating structure when it comes to distance learning
The following tips have been developed following an analysis of the survey that went out to all students at the university at the end of the spring term 2020, an investigation of how the students experienced distance learning during the spring.
Clear information and communication are important for creating a good structure and a sense of security. Changed teaching methods can pose major challenges for both students and staff. Informal contact points and information are lost when much of the teaching takes place at a distance; we must try to compensate for that. The student survey shows that students may need more help in understanding instructions and directions when it comes to distance learning.
- Clear information at the beginning of the course helps, preferably both orally and in writing.
- Create a clear structure and organisation when it comes to the course material.
- Materials belonging to the same course module are appropriately named with the same file name and with additional information, e.g. "course module X - lecture", "course module X - PowerPoint".
- Clear reading instructions as well as study questions facilitate individual studies.
- Clarify how and through which channels students are to contact teachers.
- Let students know about how long it will take for them to receive a response.
- Clarify whom students should turn to in regards to specific issues – course coordinator, teacher, programme coordinator, study planner, etc.
- If you receive questions that you can't answer, or that aren't within your area of responsibility, let the student know where to turn instead. Alternatively, let them know that you are forwarding the query to the person responsible.
Remember to inform students about other services and supports at the university, such as:
- Special pedagogical support - support for students with disabilities
- Language support - e.g. academic writing
- Study and Career Counselling- e.g. study techniques
- Student Health Care
- Education Administrator — e.g. study planning
Try to find methods for good communication during the course. It facilitates both students’ motivation and contributes to structure. For some students, contact via email and recorded teaching tasks works well enough. Others experience difficulties when they are not given the opportunity to communicate more directly with the teacher. The student survey shows that students who have a good understanding of the course's structure and content also perceive their study performance as good.
- Schedule and regularly offer times to discuss questions orally.
- Gather frequently asked questions in one place so that all students can partake of them.
- Stay on Zoom for a while after the lecture so students can ask questions and have contact with you.
- After you have published a task, it can be helpful to be available via Zoom later in the day or on the following day to help explain/clarify instructions.
- It is a good idea to complement live lectures with notes or PowerPoint presentations on the platform for students to review.
The student survey shows that many students find that knowledge sharing with other students and group work is more difficult during distance learning. For many students, contact with others is also important for the feeling of belonging and can contribute to motivation as well as help with structure. For many, it makes it easier if some course elements are conducted in real time with groups and the teacher. Such elements conducted “live” also help with structure and providing context.
- Create ways to increase interaction such as discussion forums, collaboration spaces, and chats, — both real-time and asynchronous communication.
- Create forums for various questions. Often, students can help each other with questions about the course.
- One approach may be to have meetings in Zoom with some regularity and structure in which students can just check in without special requirements and "hang out" with other students and the teacher.
- Divide students into smaller groups. This provides a social context and an opportunity for collaboration, feedback, and an opportunity to ask questions in a smaller context.
- More help and support may be needed than usual to get group work started. In group work, it can be valuable if the teacher checks in with the group from time to time and sees how things are going.
- For some students, alternatives to group work are valuable in these special circumstances.
Good structure and clear communication help students understand what to do and make their studies more manageable. The student survey shows that many students report a decrease in their study motivation, study performance, and commitment to the course when it comes to the recent change to distance learning. Receiving answers to questions and concerns about e.g. the course or programme from the group, teachers, or the university in general creates security and clarity. These are all things that promote motivation and a good work and learning environment.
- A study guide that clarifies what to do and when to do it can help.
- Structure and regularity in feedback on questions and tasks are important for motivation. These can be from teachers or fellow students.
- Having a social context is important for both motivation and well-being for many students. We can contribute to this by creating forums for questions as well as settings for socialising.
- Vary the activities/learning situations – lectures, seminars, group work, individual work.
- Offering certain teaching elements in real time can help with structure and to reduce any feelings of isolation.
- Long meetings online can be as energy-intensive as physical meetings. Remember to plan for breaks.