Making a connection, making an impact: UB faculty on teaching remotely

Jason Briner, UB Geology faculty, participates in a Zoom meeting with a potential grad student.

Photo by Douglas Levere

Published July 8, 2021

What does a remote teaching success story look like? Our talented faculty offer approaches that are as innovative as they are diverse, but the common thread is the personal connection they make with their students.

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It’s true that teaching in 2021, whether online, in the classroom or both, requires a certain level of comfort with technology. We provide resources to help our faculty get comfortable with Zoom, the most popular online teaching tool at UB, in the form of plain-language step-by-step instructionscustomized training and working with partners across campus to identify and promote best practices.

But for all the expertise we can share, our faculty are the experts when it comes to effective teaching, and all the creativity, zeal and finesse that requires.

In my many conversations over the past year with faculty teaching remotely, many of them for the first time, they’ve been candid about the obstacles they’ve faced, challenges they’ve overcome… and the successes they’ve had getting through to students under difficult circumstances.

Sometimes it’s as simple as creating an analog to the classroom experience in a digital environment, like the professor who told me she starts her Zoom meetings ten minutes early to chat with students about their weekends or their pets, and stays an extra ten minutes to field their questions.

Another professor explained how he uses Zoom’s breakout rooms along with Top Hat to gauge students’ understanding of a topic. The smaller groups encourage open and honest conversation; students feel more comfortable answering questions and learning from one another in a smaller group setting, and the professor gets a more accurate sense of how well students are connecting with the material.

These simple, human approaches to engaging students would be a no-brainer in the classroom. But the narrow field of a Zoom window makes it all too easy to forget why this approach is so important. That’s a lesson we as technology specialists can take and apply to our work as well.

Input from our teaching faculty has everything to do with our success in supporting them. Right now, based on their feedback, we’re exploring how Zoom can better integrate with Blackboard to cut down on administrative work. We’re also looking for a more consistent way faculty can tell us which apps they’re using in instruction, like Calendly or Piazza, that we aren’t currently supporting. 

The goal in our efforts is reducing friction and making space for people at UB to do what they do best—make connections and make a positive impact. Just as it is rewarding for our instructors to know they’ve made an impact on their students, it’s rewarding for us to know that our work and the services we offer enable them to do the inspiring work they do every day.

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