Adapting to remote teaching

Lecturer at Aston University, Dr Sam Strong, shares her experiences of moving to remote teaching during the coronavirus outbreak

Dr Sam Strong's desk

Many universities across the UK suspended face-to-face teaching in March, amidst the background of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Following the closures, lecturers and students have been adapting to a new way of communicating, with lessons and assessments moving online.

Aston University ceased face-to-face teaching, including seminars, tutorials and lab-based classes as of 17 March.

Dr Sam Strong, a lecturer in the School of Optometry at Aston University, shared the journey so far with OT.

Dr Sam Strong, Aston university lecturer

How was your university impacted by the outbreak?

The COVID-19 outbreak has meant that all my face-to-face teaching and assessments needed to be redesigned and remade in a reasonably short time period. For example, affected lectures were recorded from my dining room and the remaining lab-based experiments were run as ‘virtual’ experiments.

How was the transition to moving lectures online?

Thanks to the combined efforts of members of staff at Aston University and particularly individuals within optometry, the transition has been amazingly straightforward. We’ve all had to learn a lot of new ways to use technology and we’ve had to be creative and innovative, but the resources available to us are more than capable of allowing our ideas to come to fruition.

The support within our team has been excellent as always. We keep in regular contact and we’ve been making help sheets for each other to assist with rapidly learning new pieces of software.

What are some of the ways you adapted your lab-based experiments into virtual classes?

Turning my lab-based physics experiments into virtual alternatives was certainly an interesting experience, but one that I’m really proud of. The first step was to consider the learning outcomes of my module and how the lab-based experiments fit those criteria, I then reverse-engineered the experiments (working backwards from a correct answer) to produce the materials. For example, I have a diffraction experiment that requires the students to measure a couple of distances and do some calculations. So I calculated the appropriate distances, using a known wavelength of laser light, and drew these to scale on my computer, akin to the real thing.

I then created a worksheet that included a scale ruler along with instructions of how to get the zoom level right. Within the worksheet there are also a series of intentionally thought-provoking questions like: “If this was all done with a red laser, how do you think the pattern would differ with a green laser?” This represents the sort of conversations we’d be encouraging in the lab session. So far the feedback and answers have all been very encouraging.

Dr Sam Strong lecture
Dr Sam Strong has been adapting lectures and lab-based experiments into virtual experiments for students to complete remotely during the lockdown

What have been the biggest challenges during this period?

Trying to record my lectures without my cats getting involved in the process proved to be quite an unexpected challenge…But, in general, everything has gone relatively smoothly so far. There have certainly been big steps to take and lots to learn, but everyone at Aston has risen to the occasion. I’m genuinely really proud to be part of such a motivated team.

How are you continuing to offer opportunities for students to engage whilst studying remotely?

Our students have been absolutely incredible throughout this entire process so far; they’ve been patient and understanding and grateful for our efforts – you can’t ask for much more than that really. 

As a department we’re keeping in regular contact with our students to give them updates on new assessment formats and availability of new resources. Personally, I sent out a couple of wellbeing links to my personal tutees along with a message to let them know that we’re all still within reach. I also (bravely) ran a live revision webinar on 1 April, which allowed students to type questions to me as I ran through some exam prep and gave them some top tips. I think providing those ‘scheduled’ opportunities to speak to us and keeping in touch are two of the best ways we can encourage them to remain engaged with the process in these unusual circumstances.

Being forced to adapt doesn’t mean that we’ll fail, and it doesn’t mean that it has to be a painful process


Has anything surprised you about adapting to teaching remotely?

I don’t think anything’s surprised me really, it’s all been a big learning experience, but I would maybe say that I didn’t expect to enjoy the challenge as much as I have. I definitely miss the face-to-face aspect of teaching, but the rewarding, happy feeling I get from teaching has still been very present from my dining room.

What has been your approach to finding the opportunities in this challenging situation?

I think it’s easy to see challenges as negative things because by definition they are experiential tests of our ability to adapt, but I don’t find it helpful to dwell on the ‘challenging’ aspects, if you like. Being forced to adapt doesn’t mean that we’ll fail, and it doesn’t mean that it has to be a painful process.

Instead, I try to look at challenges as opportunities. These could be opportunities to develop myself, for example, an opportunity to be innovative in my teaching practice and become skilful in a whole host of exciting new-fangled technologies, or opportunities to support others or make new connections. Such as becoming best friends with the technology-enhanced learning team. This helps me feel motivated and means I can allow myself to enjoy the experience. Though I have no evidence of this, I think this mindset lends itself to greater chances of success.

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on COVID-19.