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Remote Teaching: Challenges & Opportunities

by Jen

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With a forced shift to the remote classroom, teachers have had to confront challenges and grab opportunities in the remote learning space.

The remote classroom enables the continuation of education in the remote environment and it is there in service of students pursuing an education. That said, it is the teacher in this environment who is primarily responsible for the success of the remote classroom, a fact that comes with new challenges and opportunities than otherwise associated with the traditional classroom.

What is Remote Teaching?

Remote teaching defines the remote classroom from the perspective of the teacher. The recent shift to the remote classroom environment has required that teachers deliver lessons, conduct assessments, and communicate with their students through software and technology.

What Are Some Challenges That Come With Remote Teaching?


Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels.

Teachers faced many challenges in the traditional classroom environment. While some of these challenges have fallen away in the remote classroom, others are exacerbated by this new environment, which has brought with it other new challenges specific to the remote learning experience.

Limitations on Human Connection

The traditional classroom has long been a place for real human connection between the teacher and their students. These bonds can form between teacher and students as a group as they engage with subject matter, or even one-to-one as a teacher walks a student through challenging learning material or even personal issues taking place at home. In the traditional environment, proximity gave teachers and students an opportunity to connect, share, and bond.

Even though the remote environment is not devoid of similar opportunities, this environment does challenge the space for spontaneous one-on-one time, or addressing challenges or issues with students in a more private and personal way. However, this doesn't mean that teachers cannot connect with their students; it simply means that teachers must be more attentive and receptive to their students’ needs, and make a point of scheduling one-on-one time with them.

Muted Body Language

Remote communication between teachers and their students can be effective, but some finer points of communication, like body language, facial expressions, and micro expressions can easily be filtered out over video. Even though these elements of body language are not essential, they add a richness to the learning experience by conveying tone, emotion, warmth, and caring.

Presence & Authority

Many teachers have felt challenged when it comes to asserting their authority in the remote classroom, citing that their physical presence and proximity to students alone helped convey gravitas, assert authority, and capture the attention of their students.

In the remote classroom environment, which can act as a great equalizer in many instances, it's common for the role of the teacher to get lost in the fray of all the other attendees and lose a sense of control. It's therefore important for the remote teacher to set clear rules for the online classroom and take the necessary steps to keep their students’ focus for the duration of the lesson.

Getting To Grips With Classroom Management Software

It takes years to become a teacher and, even though most teachers were using some kind of technology or software in the traditional classroom, the leap to a digital-only environment in a very short space of time, and under suboptimal conditions, has proven challenging to most.

Added to the urgency of the recent move to digital, teachers have had to not only educate themselves and their students on the classroom management software available to them, but ensure their students have all the other hardware and software they need for a smooth transition to the digital classroom.

Isolation From Peers

One of the teacher's most precious resources is other teachers. Teachers live their work in a way that no other profession does, and it's this lived experience that can provide a wealth of information and guidance to other teachers as they navigate the same challenges.

Working or teaching from home can be a serious impediment to teacher connectedness, as it's most often in the unplanned moments of a teacher's day that they can learn from a fellow teacher or take a nugget of wisdom with them along the way.

While this isolation can be overcome with video calls and conferencing, planned communication can take the spontaneity out of teacher-to-teacher communication and support.

Students Getting Left Behind

One of the most challenging things about being a teacher is knowing or finding out that a student is falling behind in class, doesn't have access to basic resources, or has little to no support at home. This can be deeply challenging on an emotional level, but with close daily proximity to the student, a teacher can be a lifeline for a student when they need it most.

The remote classroom, however, eliminates the physical proximity and daily in-person routine that can be a comfort and a critical support system for vulnerable students. More than the challenges facing students in the traditional classroom environment, the remote classroom offers up other challenges to vulnerable students:

  • Inadequate or no access to hardware, like a computer or laptop
  • Inadequate or no access to an internet connection
  • Exposure to a loud or uncomfortable environment not conducive to learning
  • Inadequate access to good nutrition
  • Sustained exposure to abusive family members
  • Pressure to become economically active

Managing & Organizing Digital Teaching Resources

Teachers are often provided with large PDF documents containing all the educational resources they'll need for a year's worth of teaching. Printing the materials, photocopying them if needed, and distributing them among students was a regular and feasible process in the traditional classroom, but the remote classroom has rendered this process moot.

Having to deliver digital learning materials to students should be easy, but when large PDFs need to be split, merged, reoriented, and pages moved, deleted, or numbered, managing documents can become a proverbial nightmare for any teacher.

Unlike some of the other challenges associated with the remote classroom, this challenge is really a gift in disguise. Thanks to some useful and intuitive PDF and document management software out there, teachers can leverage online tools to organize their teaching materials and reproduce them in an appropriate and palatable way for their students. It's even likely that this type of digital document management won't just be a feature of the remote classroom, but will continue to be of value when the world returns to in-person instruction.

What Opportunities Come With Remote Teaching?


Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels.

Even though the move to a digital classroom has been daunting for most teachers, some surprising benefits and opportunities have come out of the remote teaching experience.

Improved Collaboration Among Students

Contrary to expectations, the remote classroom has offered new opportunities for deeper collaboration among students. While the success of collaboration in the traditional classroom hinged on student participation, group dynamics, and individual contribution, the remote classroom has helped to equalize the collaborative environment with a host of tools and platforms that engage students more readily and encourage their individual contributions.

Facilitation of Virtual Tutoring

After-school tutoring for students who need closer engagement with the teacher and material is far less logistically challenging in the virtual environment. In-person tutoring requires both the teacher and the student to be at a certain place at a certain time, which would involve more detailed time management, planning, and, in some cases, alternative transportation.

Virtual tutoring gives both the teacher and the student the freedom to connect without having to navigate the logistics of being in the same place at the same time.

Higher Participation from Quieter Students

Quieter or more introverted students have valuable insights to contribute to the classroom environment, but in the traditional classroom, they often feel compelled to stay quiet. This means that the most vocal or extroverted students are the ones that stand out and steer classroom discussions.

The work of Susan Cain, writer, lecturer, and author of Quiet, highlights the value of introverts, how uniquely effective introvert leaders can be, how extroversion has historically been seen as the more desirable, dominant, and successful trait over introversion, and how we need to do more to create learning environments that give the introverts as much of a voice as the extroverts.

If you're interested, check out Susan Cain's popular TED Talk on the power of introverts.

Far from perfect, the remote classroom has created an environment where quieter, more introverted students feel they can speak up and contribute to class discussions. Even though this may be attributed to a sense of distance created by the screen, introverts' voices are invaluable to any class discussion, and feeling heard could inspire any introverted or quieter student to contribute more.

Lower Levels of Disruption

Individuals make up a class, but every teacher knows that when a class becomes rowdy, or disruptive, it's as if the class takes on a life of its own, making it a distinct challenge to restore peace and quiet.

Remote learning offers a learning environment that is far less prone to disruption than the traditional classroom, where students no longer occupy a single area in commune, but rather connect remotely from their own personal spaces. This split in interpersonal dynamic is a key contributor to a less disruptive—and disrupted—classroom. However, other factors, like body language, and smaller group dynamics, which are otherwise possible in the traditional environment, have no way to manifest organically in a remote setting.

A More Equitable Learning Environment?

In many ways, the remote classroom provides a more equitable learning environment for vulnerable students, with a host of benefits like cut travel expenses and minimal stationery requirements, but the jury's out on whether the remote classroom really gives vulnerable students fairer access to education. Most times, the teacher and the traditional school environment can be a lifeline to vulnerable students, who rely on the community offered by the school to survive and progress through the education system.

For teachers and schools wanting to source easy-to-use PDF software, feel free to sign up for a free trial of Smallpdf for Teams today, or contact us for a custom plan, and try over 20 PDF tools that'll make the move from traditional to remote learning so much easier.

Jennifer Rees
UX Writer