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Can you engage with your remote students?

distance learner

Can you engage with your remote students?

We all know how difficult it can be to work with colleagues who sit in a different office to us, or perhaps in a different part of the world. Or if we spend most of our time working from home, what a challenge it can be to stay close to the things we need to back in the office. So imagine you’re a lecturer at a university and you have students located on different campuses scattered across the county or state – how do you engage with them and bring them together successfully despite the physical distance?

A few weeks ago, I was at the Online Learning Consortium’s conference in Florida where Amy Roche and Julie Lang of Penn State University addressed this topic. They spoke about how to use innovative technology to promote student collaboration and engagement for cross-campus blended courses. Penn State University has around 24 different campuses across the state of Pennsylvania and technology is the enabler to bring students together online regardless of their location. There is a plethora of online tools to help with that end goal. However there are some considerations that education institutions like Penn State University must consider.

Accessibility is the most important factor to consider when engaging with remote students. An online document or tool is only accessible when everyone, regardless of what browser or device they use, can easily understand it. We must also take into consideration   the needs of different students. Some may have visual impairments or learning disorders, and have differing requirements from their online tools. For example, where videos are used in the tutorial process, they must be captioned and other documents optimised for use by everyone. Training must also be provided so that resources can be understood and put to good use by both students and lecturers.

If these and other points around online service agreements (they can not be used if the student must accept the agreement) are adhered to, then there is simply a plethora of great tools to help students and their teachers work more closely together in the learning process. From video creation tools like iMovie to online polling apps like Slid.o. Group working tools like Slack and Yammer are widely used in the corporate world too and are now being used in education – and finally the really hi-tech beam telepresence robots that allow users to interact with remote locations by coupling high-end video and audio with the freedom of motion to move around the lecture theatre or classroom. The list goes on.

The underlying point is that physical geography is becoming less and less a boundary to teaching and learning. It’s possible to engage with remote students to the same degree as face to face – and in the case of the robots, it almost is face to face.

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