#remotework: Supporting students

Beyond setting up remote learning and working routines, how can departments ensure students are given the best chance at coping with this unprecedented challenge?

The world of disability support has been grappling with this question for the past few weeks, and has been quick to produce and share useful resources. The ‘Maintaining Access to Opportunity’ document circulated on the AHEAD forum is a compilation of all current best-practice advice, and is a vital resource for departments looking to resolve specific access questions.

We recommend you download this document, but we also want to distil some of its key points into a quick checklist for you to follow to help you get your students set up and learning.

Orienting students

Making contact

This is a hugely stressful time for students. But for students with specific disabilities and mental health issues, it’s also a crisis that could threaten vital routines and increase isolation. So making initial contact with students that need your support is crucial.

What video conferencing tools are you using? Zoom? Hangouts? As much as possible, schedule calls with your students to go over the following…

Task Management

The truth is, we don’t really know what effect remote learning will have on students academically. So you should encourage your students to break their work into manageable chunks, prioritizing those courses which they find most challenging.

Sketch out some kind of plan for your students to work with, particularly those students most at risk of falling behind.

Another tip is to ask students to create folders in their email accounts for each specific course. They can filter emails into the relevant folders, making inbox organization a bit easier. 

Encourage daily work

Students will be entering an unfamiliar world. Many will be accustomed to and dependent on face-to-face instruction. So learning through this crisis will be even more challenging if students don’t take time each day to get to grips with new information, especially as it’s being delivered in unfamiliar formats.

Encourage students to work on their studies every day. This should help them identify potential gaps sooner


Pragmatism is key

The reality is that staff, students and faculty are all navigating this unfamiliar terrain together. That means that you should anticipate some communication problems with educators. The advice given is to instruct students to ask questions that can be answered easily (via email or whichever channel is appropriate). This way, faculty are more likely to respond in a timely fashion.


Keep in touch with friends and family

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are likely to affect us all. But these feelings will be especially marked for those who have underlying issues with anxiety and depression. We must always stress the importance of regular check-ins with friends and family. Their emotional support is one of the best resources we have.


Get to grips with online testing

This is probably the most challenging practical element of remote learning for students with disabilities. It’s important to know what’s being asked of them, and to figure out what support they need to carry this through.

Do faculty know how to program extra time in for students with this accommodation? Students may need to self-advocate here to get exactly what they’re entitled to in good time.


Academic coaching carries on

Students should still be able to access academic coaching and tutoring remotely. Help your students to get these recurring appointments set up now that campus is closed. Coaches may be able to offer specific support for online learning, an invaluable boost to many students daunted by the challenge ahead.


This advice is adapted from a contribution made to ‘Maintaining Access to Opportunity’ by Alexa Taylor, Southern Methodist University


What you’ve told us

We asked our Community to share with us how they’re setting up for remote working with students. Here are a few responses:

‘Our students were on Spring Break when all this hit and now the campus is all but working remotely, with all classes online. I’m leveraging Zoom to meet with students, so we can see each other and share screens. I’m also working to develop a workflow for Glean to support students’ note taking and studying. The idea being that these students didn’t choose online, but now find themselves thrust in the midst of a new learning environment (along with faculty and staff) and many may need some ‘tech support’ to adapt and succeed.’

Patrice Wheeler, CSUN


‘We have only been shut down for a week so far. With Zoom, we can remotely support students by screen sharing and even remote controlling their computers to demonstrate tools. This week has been quite a bit of logistics, setting up the staff who are not quite as tech-savvy and developing plans and procedures to support students (and faculty)’

Chris McMahon

‘The number one concern right now is how to provide reading services in a testing environment. We use CANVAS, which does have an immersive reader component, but it not available for tests or quizzes. We have been in contact with our reading software vendor to convert standalone licenses to web-based licenses, that will work with Canvas, but have not heard back yet. We feel fortunate to be part of the Glean pilot, because it can be helpful for students who are listening to lectures remotely.’

Kim Mezger

3 thoughts on “#remotework: Supporting students

  1. I think the reminders about how to support students are helpful. Right now I am looking for more information on students effectively working from home when their home is a less-than-ideal learning environment, and maintaining motivation to learn remotely. I particularly like research-based strategies. Thanks for all you’re doing!

    1. Hi Tina – thanks for your feedback, it’s much appreciated! We’ll be posting more articles and content about remote learning over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

  2. Thank you for the information. It is certainly a challenge to serve our students when we cannot meet face to face. Another question that I am getting from our professors is – What is the best way to proctor tests and ensure test security. We do not have a program designed for monitoring tests at our small college. Most professors use the Blackboard, which is great for regulating time, but does little to show what the student is actually doing or looking at during the test. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Any thoughts on what you just read?