Instructor encourages creative virtual teaching techniques

Senior lecturer Richard Myers is turning to tools like Blackboard, Zoom, Swivl, and Google Docs to keep students engaged in discussions, organized with document submission, and actively collaborating with each other.
By Kelly Montoya

Senior lecturer Richard Myers is turning to tools like Blackboard, Zoom, Swivl, and Google Docs to keep students engaged in discussions, organized with document submission, and actively collaborating with each other.

Instructor encourages creative virtual teaching techniques

By Kelly Montoya
Richard Myers, a senior lecturer in the Miller School of Medicine, offers tips and best practices on shifting to remote instruction for the duration of the semester.

When Hurricane Irma threatened the fall 2017 semester, Richard Myers, a senior lecturer of biochemistry and molecular biology in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, knew it was time to prioritize the development of effective distance-learning strategies in case a disruption of that magnitude ever happened again. 

“Fortunately, I had the means to engage students in some of my classes during Hurricane Irma, but it put me on notice that I needed to expand these efforts to all my courses,” he said.

This week, in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic that has forced faculty members and students to finish the semester remotely, Myers is on the frontlines of this institutional shift and offers his expertise on how to successfully adapt to the new reality.

“The forced adoption of remote learning strategies provides an excellent platform to help students and faculty adapt to new approaches to education and to help our students become better self-directed learners,” he said. 

His experience with hybrid teaching and blending in-person with remote instruction makes Myers a vital member of the Academic Computing Advisory Committee (ACAC), the group in charge of developing and implementing the campus-wide academic continuity plan.

The senior lecturer is turning to tools like Blackboard, Zoom, Swivl, and Google Docs to keep students engaged in discussions, organized with document submission, and actively collaborating with each other. 

“My courses will now be supplemented through Zoom conferencing in real time and the discussion board in Blackboard out of real time. I intend to record Zoom conferences and invite students to participate out of real time on the discussion board to accommodate students in vastly different time zones,” he explained.

He has even found a way to digitally replicate the classroom setting.

“I have set up break out ‘rooms’ in Zoom to allow students in each group to interact as they collectively solve problems,” he said. “I’m migrating between rooms, the way I normally walk around the classroom, so I can eavesdrop on the students, ask them questions and make suggestions as they research their topic and write about their findings.” 

Myers is impressed by how supportive and appreciative the student reaction has been so far, and he will continue to offer students one-on-one mentorships during this transitional period.

“In live settings, I typically meet with students who wish to discuss the material provided or just want mentoring and professional development advice. I will reconstitute this by having virtual café meetings via Zoom,” he acknowledged.

Although laboratory research has come to a “screeching halt,” resulting in the loss of “hands-on experiences that are important for budding experimentalists,” Myers said he sees a silver lining in this experience and believes that remote learning offers greater opportunities for reflection, analysis, associative learning, and integration.

“Students will get important practice with self-directed learning, which will support lifelong learning. This is an essential skill in the rapidly evolving labor market and in adult life in general,” he remarked.

Myers encourages other faculty members to take advantage of the resources provided by the ACAC. They should also reach out to other instructors who already employ remote learning platforms and continuously seek feedback from students throughout the process. 

“We’re all going to get through this together,” Myers said. “This is the time to reimagine the syllabus and think creatively about how to achieve the main objectives. Consider increasing formative assessment via papers, quizzes, presentations, and projects in place of summative assessments via exams.”