How Do We Educate Students Remotely?

 In Administrator Resources, Advocacy, Climate, Districts, Leadership Development

Written by Kara Heichelbech, Innovation and Learning Manager, Indiana Online/CIESC

There are always a lot of questions surrounding education. How do we keep students engaged? How do we know that they’re learning? How do we ensure that students are learning at high levels? How do we involve parents in their children’s education? How do we keep students safe? While these are all still great questions, this year there seems to be one question that is at the top of everyone’s mind. How do we educate students remotely?

As I have talked with educators across the state, one theme keeps popping up – a mixup in vocabulary. Therefore, I want to make sure the right vocabulary is being used:

  • eLearning/Online Learning: Broad range of programs that use the internet for instruction
  • Digital Learning: Uses technology to strengthen the learning experience
  • Distance/Remote Learning: Student and instructor in different locations
  • Blended Learning: Leverages both online learning and face-to-face instruction
  • Continuous Learning: Indiana DOE definition to think holistically and progressively on how to meet needs of all learners
  • Hybrid Learning Environment: Students alternate between remote learning and face-to-face instruction
  • Virtual School: A public school that only offers virtual courses 


I stumbled upon remote learning in a very indirect way. In fact, it was for a personal matter. When I began my teaching career in 2011, after a successful, but not fulfilling career in corporate America, I had three very small children. I started my first teaching job with a four-year-old, two-year-old and four-month-old. I was also taking a graduate level class at night. At times I wondered how I survived that year!

Fast forward two years, and my oldest son was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that kept me away from the classroom for eight days. I taught digital communications at a middle school, and since it was a computer classroom, it was even harder to come by subs. I knew the lessons and content that I wanted to share with my students, but I wasn’t sure how to pass that digital information along to a sub for an extended period of time. In a moment of pure panic (or genius, maybe?), I decided to screen record my lesson. I videotaped my instructions, a demo, and answers to questions from the previous day. I posted all of my lessons and helpful hints to my website for students to easily access. Since this had been our classroom practice since we started school that year, my students knew the expectations, the norms, and the procedures to follow. What I did out of necessity to keep the learning continuing in my absence turned out to be my introduction to remote learning.

As we finished that unit, I began to look at my data and recognized a trend. My students were more successful on this particular lesson than they were any other lesson I taught them to date. When I asked my students their thoughts as to why, they responded they were able to pause the video and process the information, and they referred back to the video when they had questions. They could play a part over and over again until it clicked. For me, it was a light bulb moment. We were not in the same space for an extended period of time, and their learning was still able to continue. And the added bonus was they were very successful with the content.

While I realize my lessons learned many years ago were due to a personal situation, it led me on the path I am on today helping educators across the state integrate and navigate technology in the classroom. Who would have predicted that in 2020 everyone would be forced to rely on remote learning?

Remember, by definition, remote learning is when the student and teacher are in different locations for learning. The learning can be synchronous (at the same time) or asynchronous (at different times). One aspect of remote learning, though, that has to occur is digital citizenship integration.

My middle school curriculum dictated that I teach digital citizenship, but what I found out throughout my time in the classroom was that digital citizenship should be a part of everyone’s standards. It is up to all of us to ensure  our students are becoming great citizens in a digital world. And in a remote learning environment, digital citizenship is more of a necessity than any time before.

Recent research from Common Sense Media shows a staggering increase in kids owning a smartphone from just 5 years ago and an alarming amount of screen time for tweens and teens.

And this research came out in 2019, pre-COVID. I am very interested to see what the data looks like now, one year later. Students are spending more and more time online and while the reaction is to view it as a negative, I challenge us to embrace the wonderful, positive outcomes technology brings to the table, including remote learning.

As you embark on a path of remote learning, here are 10 tips to keep in mind:

  1. Whether synchronous or asynchronous, directions have to be clear and concise. In fact, I often suggest to educators to have a non-educator friend or family member read through the directions. My husband or one of my kids was always my guinea pig, and if they understood my directions, I knew my students would too.
  2. Create clear procedures for students asking for help or clarification. You might have a Google Form where students post questions or use Padlet as a parking lot for students or parents to ask questions. Take time when you meet with students to review and answer the questions.
  3. Just as in the classroom, students work at different paces, so expect some students to finish quicker and some to take longer. Provide options for extension learning or next steps.
  4. Ensure students understand the technology. Provide an orientation or overview for any technology expected to be used. Start them off for success from Day 1 and don’t assume students know how to use the technology.
  5. While still possible, it is harder to read body language/facial cues over the camera. Find creative ways to check in with your students, which can help build relationships. I loved email, blogs and journals. It also allowed me to practice communication skills with my students.
  6. Assume that students and parents will have a learning curve and be sure to provide ample ways to offer support. 
  7. Initial instruction should come from you, their teacher. However, if a student is needing an intervention, you might try to find an online resource that could help teach the material in a different way. This not only gives a different voice to the learning, but also helps with time management for you.
  8. Incorporate digital citizenship at every opportunity. Model how to search for free-to-use images, do not use watermarked pictures in your materials, provide proper attribution for images, and credit your sources.
  9. Model great communication. Read your emails, newsletters, feedback out loud and listen for mistakes.
  10. Remember, as Brené Brown so beautifully says, “Clear is Kind.” Be prepared for misunderstandings, misconceptions, and wayward perceptions. At the end of the day, try your best to be clear to be kind.

No matter what environment(s) you find yourself in this year, you will rock it – I have no doubt – because we are educators and that is what we do.

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