5 Tips From Education Experts on Effective Remote Instruction

Screen shot of virtual conference
Image: IEEE

By: Johanna Perez

THE INSTITUTE Professors around the globe hastily turned to distance learning in order to finish the spring semester after schools shut down this year because of COVID-19. The situation was a challenge for the many educators who had little to no experience conducting their courses online.

Many academic institutions are now offering remote and hybrid courses, according to the Harvard Business Review. It is essential for faculty to know how to deliver course material successfully via remote instruction.

To help prepare teachers for the challenge, the IEEE Education Society and IEEE Educational Activities recently held a virtual conference, Effective Remote Instruction: Reimagining the Engineering Student Experience. Taught by leading experts on remote instruction, the five-day event—now available on demand—provides educators with helpful resources and tools.

Thanks to a generous donation from the IEEE Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund, the program was offered free to all attendees.

Here are five takeaways from the conference that educators can use.


A learning objective is a statement of what the students should be able to do if they have learned what was intended. The objectives should be clear, observable, and relevant so that students understand what is expected of them.

“Online learning, as with any type of learning, starts with learning objectives,” says IEEE Fellow Susan Lord, professor and chair of integrated engineering at the University of San Diego.


Scaffolding divides a learning task into parts with distinct learning goals. Great for remote laboratory coursework, scaffolding might include techniques such as content blocking, which divides activities into stand-alone graded parts; task skeletonization, which uses partial solutions to mimic proximity mentorship; and directed reading, which stops lab progression until the reading is completed. Scaffolding also includes active quizzing, which stops lab progression until the assessment is successful; and simulation exercises, which allow data collection using virtual components and equipment.

Scaffolding “can help students achieve the same student learning outcomes seen with in-person classes,” said IEEE Fellow Russell Meier, president of the IEEE Education Society. Meier is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

A great tool for administering a remote lab is a lab kit, which can help ensure that students have the appropriate materials. There are various ways for students to obtain a lab kit, including buying it from the university or the manufacturer. Or they could use a remote laboratory.


Engineering instructors should train their students to be effective team members. In the workplace, team members are mutually accountable for achieving the purpose, processes, goals, and outcomes of a project.

“We cannot assume that every student knows how to work in a healthy, high-functioning team unless we show them how to do it,” says IEEE Member Traci M. Nathans-Kelly, a senior lecturer at Cornell University’s College of Engineering.

Professors must take a managerial role, just like in professional settings, and be willing to intervene and advise teams that have problematic environments.


“Assessments are a form of feedback, and are increasingly important in this online environment,” says IEEE Member Candice Bauer, a lecturer and the director of student affairs and assessments at the University of Nevada in Reno.

Assessments should measure whether learning objectives have been achieved, Bauer says. Students need to understand a course in order to be successful, so instructors should know what they want to focus on to gain insight on student learning.


E-learning platforms can pose security threats to networks. Make sure your institution has adequate security and digital forensic processes in place. Network security can help detect an attack. If a network becomes compromised, digital forensics experts can investigate and help get legal support as soon as possible.

“Digital forensics is mandatory,” said Cihan Varol, associate professor of computer science at Sam Houston State University, in Huntsville, Texas. “While security is focused on protecting you, digital forensics will legally secure you.”

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 18 September 2020.