This week:

  • I ask teaching-center directors what support faculty members most need this fall and what they’re doing to provide it.
  • I share a resource for writing or refining your syllabus.
  • Are you rethinking your course’s coverage of race due to new or potential legislation banning the teaching of critical race theory? I invite you to share your experience.
  • I share some recent reading material on teaching that you may have missed.

What Instructors Need

As the fall semester approaches, big questions remain about how much the pandemic will continue to affect day-to-day life on campus, and about how much it has already impacted student learning and well-being.

With that in mind, I reached out to a handful of directors of teaching centers and other faculty developers to ask what kind of support they think instructors will need most this fall, and how they plan to help.

Several themes surfaced in their responses:

Mixed Modalities Are Here to Stay

It’s common shorthand to talk about teaching in person versus online, but the reality is a lot more complicated. Professors teaching online will have to recalibrate choices about asynchronous versus synchronous formats. Professors teaching in physical classrooms will incorporate some of the online tools, like polls, that they liked having in Zoom. And the need to offer hybrid or blended options will likely remain: Some students still might not be able to make it to campus, while others may need to quarantine. So how can teaching centers help?

“Professors will need to learn how to teach live to both in-person and remote students simultaneously,” wrote Mike Truong, director of digital learning at Azusa Pacific University. “During this summer, I have been working with professors on how to teach live with Zoom in remote and physical classrooms, partnering with our Information and Media Technology team who have upgraded many of our classrooms with video and audio technology.”

E. Shelley Reid, director for teaching excellence at George Mason University, offered a different take. “While it was compassionate during the emergency to provide every student with every possible learning modality all the time (synchronous face to face, synchronous online, and asynchronous online), that’s not just exhausting for teachers, but lowers educational quality,” she wrote. “Learning that is designed for face to face can’t be simply ported to Zoom or Blackboard and stay high quality; the reverse is also true. This is an equity issue, also: students who prefer asynch — often those from underresourced backgrounds — deserve to have courses designed for high-quality asynchronous learning, not hand-me-down hard-to-hear videos of the lively discussion and collaborative activity their face-to-face peers enjoyed. We’ve been working this summer to support faculty through our Mixed Modalities Course Design project, but we need ways to reach more faculty with that kind of learning opportunity.”

Teaching this way is hard work, wrote Flower Darby, an instructional designer and the author, with James M. Lang, of Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes. “What professors need most is time and space to continue developing and refining new methods for teaching hybrid and blended classes,” she wrote. “They need to ‘futureproof’ their in-person classes, too, by adding more online elements that are meaningful for learning goals: prerecorded lectures, quizzes, discussions, etc. These things take time to create, and learning how to do them well, whether through training or self-learning and tinkering, also takes a lot of time.”

Help Professors Help Students

“Perhaps the biggest challenge is for instructors who are teaching college students (even sophomores) who did not have a standard first year of college on a face-to-face campus,” wrote Regan Gurung, associate vice provost and executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University. “Not operating on Zoom for all of them and getting socialized to face-to-face classes is going to be a little tougher than how it was in the past.”

Given everything students have been through, instructors will need a grounding in trauma-informed pedagogy, Truong wrote. “During the pandemic, students experienced many stressors, including uncertainty, isolation, and loss of meaning, impacting their learning and their relational connections within a classroom setting. Over the course of this summer, the provost’s office has been sponsoring a Trauma Informed Pedagogy Series to educate and equip professors on this important topic.”

The support professors need has evolved, wrote Sarah Rose Cavanagh, interim director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption University. “Faculty are going to need a lot of space to have conversations with each other about how they are handling that on their particular campuses with their particular students and whatever particulars their campuses have worked out in terms of Covid safety,” she wrote. “So fewer readings and speakers (bad news for my speaking side gig! :) ) and more just workshops with each other over lunch. I think that a lot of the solutions are going to have to be local and specific.”

Reward Good Work

Professors are exhausted. They’ve poured themselves into their teaching throughout the pandemic. Their colleges, several center directors said, need to reward that effort — even if doing so doesn’t always come naturally.

“In a perfect world,” Darby wrote, “administrators will offer reduced teaching or service loads, compensation, or other recognition of professors’ effort and time. There needs to be a clear tie between better classes/better teaching methods and increased equity in student retention and graduation rates in order for administrators to find the resources to support this kind of teaching development, so a data analysis plan to assess the impact of these efforts is also needed. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, faculty need frequent messaging about the value of taking time to invest in improving or futureproofing their classes, as enhancements can be evergreen when done well. Faculty will also likely find they enjoy teaching more and find it much more fulfilling and satisfying than their experiences of the past year likely were. Messaging at all levels — from presidents and provosts, deans and chairs, teaching committees at the department level — will help faculty willingly engage in their own development as equitable and effective teachers.”

This may be especially challenging at research universities, Reid wrote. “If we’re ‘back to normal’ at a research-intensive university, that means that tenure-line faculty are back to being rewarded primarily for their research and grants, and contingent faculty are back to being expected to teach large groups of students in labor-intensive courses with very little time for professional development,” she wrote. “Mason’s faculty senate last spring approved some changes to our handbook that ask departments to pay more deliberate attention to elements of teaching beyond student evaluations in the evaluation processes for our full-time, non-tenure-track faculty, but we still need to find ways to build in time and recognition for the learning that all faculty will need to do to adapt.”

What kind of help would you like most from your campus teaching and learning center as you prepare for the fall? Share your thoughts with me at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and they may appear in a future newsletter.

First Impressions

Your syllabus isn’t just a collection of classroom policies. Rather, “an effective syllabus is a promise that, as a result of our course, students will be able to do a number of things either for the first time or at least better than they could before,” argues Kevin Gannon, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University, in this Chronicle advice guide, released a few years ago, that’s a useful resource for anyone creating or tweaking a course for the fall.

Teaching Race

More than half of all states have moved to limit the way race and racism can be taught. Does this affect you? We’re collecting stories from those who are adjusting their teaching in the face of this controversy — or planning to teach the controversy itself. Share your thoughts here.

ICYMI

  • Robert Talbert, a professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University, describes how watching one student fail his course changed his approach to grading in a post on the new blog/newsletter Grading for Growth, tied to a book he is co-writing on innovative approaches to grading.
  • Sarah Rose Cavanagh, interim director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption University, announces a new research project that aims to “combat attrition and weed-out culture (and associated inequities) in undergraduate biology education by transforming current methods of assessment, feedback, and grading” in her newsletter, Once More, With Feeling.
  • Lindsay Masland, assistant director for faculty professional development in the Center for Academic Excellence at Appalachian State University, shares the framework for a faculty learning community she’s starting up “to reckon with what we’ve learned, what we’ve lost, and what we hope for as teachers, scholars, and humans” in a Twitter thread.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at 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.