Supporting Student Learning

The SMART Approach to Remote Learning

More than ever, students in a remote environment will need to be intentional about their learning, and there are things you can do to help.

Virtual environments require much more forethought on the part of both instructors and students.

The SMART acronym is a useful way to remember the most important dimensions of student learning, both in and out of the remote environment: self-advocacy, metacognition, adaptability, resilience, and time management.

In what follows, we define each of these terms and then offer practical suggestions for how you can use this concept in your course design and delivery.


This refers to developing help-seeking behavior in students. Students need to know about available resources and where to go for additional help. They also need to take the initiative to seek out help whenever they need it, without fearing that seeking help will reflect poorly on them. As an instructor, you can support student learning by pointing your students to the most appropriate resources and encouraging their use whenever and wherever a student might want a little extra support.

  • Create a learner-centered syllabus. Clear and regular communication is important in any teaching context, but in remote and online teaching contexts it is crucial. A well-organized, complete, and learner-centered syllabus is a critical tool for communicating with your students about the course and supporting their learning. Use this template to get started but feel free to modify it to fit your needs. Be sure to include the links to the student services suggested in the template.

  • Add this Week 0 Module to your course in Canvas. The module provides students with information on how to use Canvas and how to access the library remotely, as well as information on the Student Code of Conduct, accessibility, and critical campus resources to ensure that students are supported to be successful in your course. The module can be imported into your course using the instructions linked above, or if you prefer you can email to ask that it be added to your course (be sure to include your course name).

  • Direct your students to the Keep Learning site, where they will find resources and support. Explore the site yourself so that you’re aware of, and can direct students to, the available student learning support and resources. Multiple units on campus put effort into consistently updating this site to meet students’ needs and answer their questions. You can save time for yourself by making sure your students know about this resource created just for them.

  • Direct your students to some of the outstanding resources available online to support remote learning. We think these resources for remote student success from Oregon State are some of the best around.


Students need to have an awareness of themselves as thinkers and learners in order to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks. As an instructor, you can engage your students in metacognitive practices that help students become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners, writers, readers, test-takers, group members, etc. This will not only help them learn more in your course, but will also help them be better learners in general. Below are some ideas for putting metacognition into practice.

  • Use reflection activities to get students thinking about their learning. Examples include the following.

    • Pre-Assessments of prior understanding: Ask students to tell you everything they already know about a topic.

    • Muddiest-Point reflections allow students to practice identifying opportunities to keep learning. "What remains unclear about what we covered in class today?"

    • Learning reflections help students identify what they learned and how their ideas about things changed.

    • Exam wrappers are short activities (usually in the form of a short reflective handout) that allow students to reflect on the learning opportunities of a graded exam. Students consider their areas of strength and weakness to guide further study, the adequacy of their preparation, and the nature of their errors to find any recurring patterns to address. Some examples of exam wrappers used in STEM courses can be found here.

  • Give students many low-stakes opportunities to explore the course content and reflect on their learning, and provide opportunities to correct or revise their work. Here are some ideas in addition to the ones listed in the assessment area of this webpage.

  • Create opportunities for active learning, which is when students DO something meaningful related to the course content and then reflect on their learning, such as creating mind maps, diagrams, or infographics, writing summaries, and leading discussions. See the "Remote Learning Activities" section of this webpage to learn more strategies.


Successfully adapting to the remote environment is crucial for student learning, yet not all students have the material resources or existing experience to respond quickly to a change in their situation. As a result, equity needs to be at the fore when considering how to support students in changing circumstances. Not all students have ready access to adequate equipment and learning-conducive spaces to work without access to campus. UCSC has resources for students to help with access to technology, and it is important that you know about those and direct your students to them. Some students may not have experience with the Learning Management System or other tools that they will need to succeed in remote learning. Below are things you can do as an instructor to help students better adapt to the remote learning space.

  • Spend time in your first days of class orienting students to your online environment and how to navigate it. This can be done through group activities exploring the syllabus and the class "spaces" and tools to be used in the class. Don’t assume that all of your students are familiar with learning technologies or have the experience to work with them.

  • Have students reflect on the strategies they will use to adapt to the remote environment for your class.

  • Check in with your students often about how they are doing and whether they have the resources they need to keep learning. This can be done through moderated discussion boards, Zoom polls, Google forms, or Canvas surveys and quizzes.


Resilience can be thought of as a fluid characteristic that students already practice in their daily lives to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations (from small things like not doing well on an assignment or exam to large things like navigating daily microaggressions in unjust institutions). Resilience is also an important strength or asset for learning. Below are some things you can do to promote student resilience and encourage deep learning.

  • Let students know you are flexible and understanding and ask for their understanding as well. Tell students that you will work with them to solve challenges they may face, and include a message about this in your syllabus.

  • Help students connect with each other by building peer support and engagement into the course, in the form of discussion forums, peer review activities for writing assignments and projects, study groups, and paired classwork.

  • Provide opportunities for student choice in their learning. See the sections on "Remote Learning Activities" and "Assessment" on this webpage for ideas.

  • Familiarize yourself with some of the basics of trauma-informed teaching.

  • To learn more, take the CITL workshop on "Supporting Student Resilience During Remote Instruction".

time management

Effective time management is a key skill for deep learning, but it is a challenge for college students under normal circumstances, and it is especially crucial for succeeding in the remote environment. There are things you can do to help your students become better at managing their time and improve learning in your classes.

  • This is another place where a good learner-centered syllabus and a well-organized Canvas course are really important to support student learning. When expectations around assignments, exams, and deadlines are clear, it is easier for students to plan and set aside adequate time to get the work done.

  • Provide estimated task times for all learning activities for each module posted in your Canvas course. Not only will this help students to plan for the time it will take to complete the activities and manage their time better, but it will also help their metacognition and self-advocacy. If things are taking them longer than the expected time, then they will be better able to recognize that perhaps they need help and seek that help from you, their peers, or from a support service.

  • Help students complete projects on time and prepare effectively for exams by breaking things down into smaller assignments. For example, if you have a term paper due at the end of the quarter, create due dates for identifying a topic, drafting an outline, completing an annotated bibliography, writing a first draft, etc. These smaller assignments are great opportunities to incorporate peer feedback and encourage self-reflection. For test preparation, instructors can have students write test questions, make a study guide, work in groups to discuss study strategies for a particular group, etc.