This blog post is authored by Derek Prate, Instructor in the Fowler School of Engineering.
Hi reader! I’m Derek Prate, an Instructor for the Fowler School of Engineering, and current
preschool teacher for my 4 and 5 year old kids. I’ve divided my blog up into some key points I’ve
taken away from teaching remotely this semester. Some of the below will apply directly to your
classes and finding more ways to engage your students, while the tidbit about workspace has
been helpful while dealing with the stress of teaching at home and being able to move between
the roles I need to fill each day.
I’ve spent a lot more time talking since we’ve switched to remote instruction. To adjust, I’ve
adapted more of my content to facilitate in-class discussions and canvas discussions. I’ve found
this allows me to lead a more collaborative class and provides an opportunity for my expertise to
shine since more class time is geared towards conversation. I’ve tried to focus on creating
questions that will give students an opportunity to apply existing knowledge to the concept for
that day. If I am worried about engagement, or a topic being too broad, I can also let them know
prior to class I will be discussing a specific topic so they can bring questions or examples.
For the first week of remote instruction only a few students would talk on mic. More students
used (and still use) the text chat option, but it was easy to miss these comments while I was
having a discussion on-mic. I’ve made an effort to work the chat comments into the live
discussion as I am moderating. This is a noticeable shift from in-person teaching and focusing
on it has helped me engage more students.
Discussion boards are another tool I’ve integrated and found more success with as of late.
Given the lack of in person conversations that would normally happen on campus, the
discussion board provides an opportunity for students to interact. I’ve used them for teams of
students to post individual stand-up meetings and as a digital showcase for students to post and
tour their classmates’ game concepts. In some cases, this also saves me time I’d normally give
students during class – win, win.
Discord is a messaging service many students already use and have installed on their phones. I
have used it this semester to expand my classroom and provide structure for teams and classes
by creating private channels for each group, and help channels that will notify me if a group
needs my assistance. This streamlines access to me outside of class time if the students
message one of these private “prate help” channels. There are other benefits to using this
structure – it makes pairing up students for activities easier since groups and channels already
When remote instruction began I was using a fold-out table in the closet of my bedroom for my
workspace. This worked okay at first, but it made it difficult to work efficiently as my stuff would
move every other day because my wife and I were sharing a workspace. We recently converted
our guest room into an office and the difference is night and day. My notes are where I left them,
the space is private and I can “go-to” work again. This helps with my own mentality and shifting
between the different personas I need to be every day- dad, preschool teacher, husband and
In conclusion, I’ve tried to keep my approach simple and complementary to the process that has
unfolded since moving instruction online. I’ve tried to worry about what I can control and
optimize it to fit remote instruction. Although I’m not sure what the future holds, I feel better
prepared to work and engage my students regardless of the environment we are in next
semester, and I am confident my students will gain the experience they need regardless of the
format the instruction is provided in.