UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Online and upward

Prof makes inroads toward digital education delivery, advises balance between on-campus/distance learning

Fred Remer
UND Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Fred Remer recently expanded his teaching from on-campus to online in order to keep serving the next generation of pilots and weather experts. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Fred Remer’s focus as an educator has been helping his students succeed however he can.

He teaches Atmospheric Sciences at UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. His classes range from the large and introductory to the small and theoretical, covering the whole spectrum of undergraduate progression.

Remer, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences, also has a wealth of real-world experience, both as a pilot who owns a plane and flies regularly, and a media broadcaster in meteorology.

More recently, he’s expanded his teaching from on-campus to online in order to keep serving the next generation of pilots and weather experts.

Oh, and he also has his own YouTube channel.

Last-minute scramble

Remer’s initiative to teach online came after years of struggling to fill his summer class, Aviation Meteorology, a sophomore class that Remer considers his specialty, given his combined experience as a pilot and all-around weatherman.

During the spring it draws around 100 or so students, and it’s an important class for all aspiring pilots.

“It’s always been up to the day or week we start the class that I figure out if we’re having it or not,” Remer said of his summertime endeavor. “We’ve cancelled the class maybe six or seven times, which is a disservice both to me and the students scrambling at the last minute.”

Last summer, he was able to get 15 students enrolled online. His prior web experience helped ease the burden of conducting a four-credit course in just nine weeks.

Weather-resistant solutions

Though Remer’s first foray into distance education came only recently, he’s already started to “flip” the way he teaches students on campus based on the web tools he’s utilized.

“In 2014, it seemed like every Monday had school cancelled because of snow,” Remer recalled. “I started falling behind on my classes, because back then I was strictly relying on lectures.”

He started recording lectures and posting them on “eZ Learning Management System” (eZ LMS), the department’s online hub. This way, students could still attend lectures while snowed in.

This initial idea began a process of feedback and refinement that’s led to what Remer has today: a YouTube channel with over 250 videos and a curriculum that’s fundamentally shifted how he teaches.

“I’m trying to flip my classroom to where they watch the lectures outside and then we practice things in class,” Remer told UND Today. “So far it’s worked really well. One of the major complaints I’ve had over the years from my students was that we didn’t do enough exercises and examples in class.”

Learning on the fly

Being on campus, Remer never had a shortage of feedback and interaction from students that helped shape the lecturing structure he enjoys today. When he first moved to online, having that same engagement turned into a challenge.

“When I taught the online class, half the class was engaged,” he said about his 50/50 mix of in-and-out-of-state students.

By the end of the course, he noticed a difference: the students that engaged did better overall.

“I know that students in my classes set up groups where they’re all connected to each other, whether over social media or text,” Remer said of his on-campus courses. “I don’t facilitate that. I’m thinking next summer I’ll try to foster more interaction and encourage students to create similar groups.”

Fred Remer
For someone who started teaching “the old fashioned way,” Remer admires how students can work at their own pace from anywhere. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Impending shift

Adjusting to the online format also presented some advantages when it came to testing.

Allowing students to take an exam within a certain window of days, rather than a specific date, relieved the pressures of deadline and access. Also, given the small class size, he had everyone film weather briefings as a different form of evaluation.

“That worked out well,” he remarked. “I could see right away who knew the material and who didn’t. I just had them upload to YouTube and I could watch their work.”

For someone who started teaching “the old fashioned way,” Remer admires how students can work at their own pace from anywhere.

In the back of his mind, he’s bracing for a time when everything goes online.

Paul Lindseth, dean of  UND Aerospace, said, as a pioneer in the development of online education, the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences will continue to seek ways to provide the highest quality education at a reasonable cost for students.

“This certainly will include the expansion of our online programs,” Lindseth said.

Sensing an impending shift, Remer sees the need for balance.

“Things have changed. It’s really scary,” he laughed. “You can’t give everything online, but you can give quite a bit. Just like a course on campus, every instructor is different in how they teach. It’s really important for faculty to have feedback from students just as much online as in the classroom.”