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Our teaching-and-learning experts give you insights on what works in the classroom. Delivered on Thursdays. Teaching is written by Beth McMurtrie and Beckie Supiano. We love hearing from readers, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly. You can also read more articles about teaching and learning.

From: Beckie Supiano

Subject: Teaching: Assessment in a Continuing Pandemic

This week:

  • I highlight findings — and a series of recommendations — from a new report on how colleges changed their assessment practices during remote instruction.
  • I share one professor’s observations from her first few days teaching a socially distanced in-person class this fall — and her suggestions for other instructors.
  • I pass along a few resources that might help you prepare for teaching this fall.

Assessment in a Pandemic

The vast majority of colleges changed their assessment practices after courses shifted online this past spring, according to a new report. Among the most common changes: adjusting assignments and assessments, making deadlines flexible, and moving to pass/fail grades. Less often, colleges accepted alternative assessments, adjusted course evaluations, and made courses credit/no credit.

The report, “Assessment During a Crisis: Responding to a Global Pandemic,” is based on a survey of more than 800 college personnel responsible for assessment. It was conducted in June by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

While the report documents changes colleges made in the spring, much of it is forward looking. Professors have worked hard to ensure that their online courses will be better in the fall than they were in the spring, said Natasha A. Jankowski, the report’s author. “Online learning is going to be better,” said Jankowski, the institute’s executive director and a research associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The problem: “The larger context in which that course lives is not great.”

Students may face the same challenges in lining up housing or jobs that they did back in March, Jankowski said, and there are also significant concerns about their mental health. “All of those hindrances to being able to show up ready to learn are still there,” she said.

So how can professors balance meeting students’ needs and helping them continue to learn? The report offers a number of recommendations, in the form of Dos and Don’ts.

Dos:

  • Use learning outcomes as a guide and means to design and focus educational offerings.
  • Listen to students' voices and respond accordingly.
  • Modify assignments and assessments in ways that are flexible, use low bandwidth, and are based on the principles of equitable assessment.
  • Be aware of and address systemic inequities.
  • Engage in trauma-informed and healing-centered pedagogy and assessment.

Don’ts:

  • Do not forget that we are in a pandemic. Still. Do not forget that it is also an inequitable pandemic.
  • Do not cause further harm. Do not support, enable, or endorse policies that perpetuate further inequities or fuel negative perceptions of students.
  • Do not ask students for their approval of a decision that has already been made. Instead, engage with them in advance to help determine a solution.
  • Do not require more proof of learning in an online class than you would normally require in a face-to-face setting.
  • Do not forget that this is not the educational experience students wanted or expected. Nor is it a test of online education. And in case you were wondering, it still will not be “online education” in the fall. It will continue to be a derivative of emergency remote teaching and learning.

How do you plan to support your students this fall? What do you expect will be their most significant challenges? What resources do you have — or need — from your college to help them? Let me know, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and your response may appear in a future newsletter.

What It’s Like Teaching in Person

Professors have worried for months about how in-person instruction during the pandemic would work. So what’s it like? Jessica Coblentz, an assistant professor of theology at Saint Mary’s College, in Indiana, shared a series of thoughtful observations from her first few days of socially distanced in-person teaching in a Twitter thread last week.

Students are “even more overwhelmed than I expected,” Coblentz wrote. “How do I know? Students are already in tears. They are simply overwhelmed — even more advanced students who have been in the college community for years now.”

It’s natural that students feel this way, Coblentz continued. They’re taking courses in a mix of new formats, campus life has changed drastically, and all this is playing out against the backdrop of the global pandemic and social upheaval. As a result, Coblentz wrote, she has been spending a great deal of time going over course logistics with her students.

Given students’ heightened needs, and the “astonishing” amount of work professors face to teach in a hybrid format, Coblentz urged her fellow instructors to “find ways to make things even a little easier on yourself this term.”

As fall instruction begins across the country, we’re interested in hearing what your experience is like, whether you’re teaching in person, online, or in some combination of formats. What has surprised you? What are you worried about — or relieved you have found? What do you think other professors should know? Share your observations with me, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and they may be included in a future newsletter.

Resource Roundup


  • The Great Lakes Colleges Association/Global Liberal Arts Alliance Consortium for Teaching and Learning has a page categorizing information into topics such as inclusive pedagogies and anti-racist pedagogies in an attempt to help professors prepare for the fall “without raising your anxiety level about the 47 articles you haven’t yet managed to get to.”
  • Flip Tanedo, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California at Riverside, offers insights from teaching in a "flipped, asynchronous classroom" here.
  • Want to pose a question to other instructors or follow the conversation about teaching during the pandemic? You may want to check out The Chronicle’s Higher ed and the coronavirus Facebook page.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us: beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beckie

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.

Beckie Supiano writes about teaching, learning, and the human interactions that shape them. Follow her on Twitter @becksup, or drop her a line at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com.