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How has remote teaching strengthened your teaching practice?

While the move to remote instruction was challenging, many UW instructors found that the experience helped them grow and refine their teaching practice.

We asked UW instructors Ching-In Chen, Kristin Gustafson, LeAnne Laux-Bachand, Jason Naranjo, and Richard Watts to reflect on how remote teaching strengthened their teaching.

Ching-In Chen Assistant Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences University of Washington BothellChing-In Chen

Assistant Professor
Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
UW Bothell

I have been cultivating my practice of flexibility and improvisation throughout this stretch of remote teaching – and working on extending that same spirit of compassion to myself as a teacher.

I emphasize in my teaching that we are working towards practice, not perfectionism, and allowing grace for students and myself. I started implementing a four-day grace period for all assignments; no questions asked, no doctor’s note or anything needed. I think of this as creating more breathing space for the students and myself.

Every time we meet synchronously, I’ve learned to work towards centering us into the time we spend together. Many of these practices I’ve learned from remote community gatherings I’ve been to (BIPOC-led) which have been full of joy, music and connection despite being virtual. I welcome students into our class with music and ask them to share with me music they want to share with the class, offer various ways to check in and get to know each other, create space to sit together for a minute to settle in, and then free-write in response.

Kristin Gustafson Associate Teaching Professor School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences UW BothellKristin Gustafson

Associate Teaching Professor
School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
UW Bothell

The pandemic and heightened attention to racial injustice rocked the country and our local community. As we faced the uncertainties, dislocations, and fears of this historic moment, I worked to create spaces to help students feel safe, recognized, included and inspired to learn.

Most of the changes I made to my remote teaching built on my experience with high-impact practices and Universal Design Learning, as well as recent fellowships that focused on online teaching. I disassembled old learning structures and redesigned my teaching materials to increase flexibility and consistency for students learning remotely. Three changes I made:

  • I offered a variety of ways for students to engage with materials, such as audio and written text.
  • I gave students more choice in how they expressed their learning, such as showing their understanding of a concept visually or via a dialogue.
  • I assigned the same days of the weeks for similar assignments so that students could see a rhythm in the schedule and plan accordingly.

These small changes made a big difference in student learning and will strengthen my teaching practice in years to come.

LeAnne Laux-Bachand Associate Teaching Professor and Coordinator First-Year Writing UW TacomaLeAnne Laux-Bachand

Associate Teaching Professor and Coordinator
First-Year Writing
UW Tacoma

Remote teaching has strengthened my teaching practice by helping me let go of trying to control as much as I used to. When we went to remote teaching in 2020-21, I worked to accommodate students while looking for new ways to build a now virtual classroom community.

I’m still remote this quarter because of my hearing, and I’ve continued and expanded practices from last year. I’m not evaluating participation, generating key terms for them, or having as much say in grading contracts. I’m more open to student decisions in more areas of my courses.

Jason Naranjo, Associate Teaching Professor, School of Educational Studies, Special Education, UW Bothell; Core Faculty, Disability Studies Program
, UW SeattleJason Naranjo

Associate Teaching Professor
School of Educational Studies, Special Education
UW Bothell
Core faculty, Disability Studies Program, UW Seattle

Remote teaching has strengthened my practice in a few significant ways. First, it has made me focus on the curricular elements of my courses that are the most important to student learning. I’ve done this by further centering student voice and lived experiences in learning activities. In addition, I’ve blended more media elements (e.g., podcasts, film) into my courses. Pedagogically these types of media amplify and contextualize the concepts covered in the readings, thereby creating a more nuanced and accessible learning experience. Remote teaching has also helped me further refine my approach to universal design so that the courses I teach are maximally accessible to the broadest possible range of learning needs and preferences.

Richard Watts, Associate Professor of French; Director, Canadian Studies, UW SeattleRichard Watts

Associate Professor of French
Director, Canadian Studies Center
Co-Director, Translation Studies Hub
UW Seattle

I was not thinking of strengthening my teaching practice when we were asked in the 9th week of winter quarter 2020 to “pivot” from in-person to remote teaching (as my colleague Louisa Mackenzie has pointed out, that verb does not begin to capture the transformation).

I was, like everyone else, simply trying to survive. But even as early as spring quarter 2020, I began to notice a surprising and remarkable uptick in student engagement. Students rarely missed synchronous sessions. They would keep their screens on and were prepared to discuss the course material. The commitment to asynchronous work was also there, especially if it had a social component (e.g., reading responses using the collaborative annotation tool Hypothesis). How, against all odds, did this happen? Because I was so concerned that students would disengage—many were thrust into impossible learning environments (one student was logged in all quarter long from a closet, another from their family’s restaurant)—I made a concerted effort to create community in the class, ditching my previous assumption that such community would develop organically in a discussion-based course. This meant, for instance, devoting time in every class to our responses to what was happening around us, which I would then try to tie to the day’s topic. This created a culture of care among peers that I had never experienced in a classroom. This affective labor is difficult and sometimes perilous, but there is no reason that it should cease simply because we now find ourselves in the same physical space. Au contraire…