This week:

  • I share strategies on adjusting to another semester in which Covid could alter teaching plans.
  • I ask you for your best tips on staying nimble this term.
  • I point you to stories and advice about teaching you may have missed.

Staying Nimble

After more than a year in which many students attended college online, they’re embracing campus life. But what does the classroom experience look like now? And what did instructors learn teaching remotely that could serve them well into the future?

Those were just some of the questions I put to an expert panel last week during a virtual forum on enhancing the student experience.

The conversation was lively and spanned a range of issues around what it feels like to be teaching on campus this fall. You can watch the video on demand, but if you’re short on time, here are a few takeaways from the experts: Jenae Cohn, director of academic technology at California State University at Sacramento; Flower Darby, an online educator at Northern Arizona University and co-author of Small Teaching Online; Josh Eyler, director of faculty development at the University of Mississippi; and Mike Truong, executive director of the Office of Innovative Teaching and Technology at Azusa Pacific University.

Keep it simple. The continuing pandemic ensures that a portion of students will spend part of this semester quarantining. So how do you adapt your teaching without burning yourself out? In short, said the panelists: Keep it simple. Don’t add more readings or assignments than you need. Focus on basic learning goals.

Darby talked about self-compassion and not holding yourself to too high of a standard. Cohn suggested creating enough buffer room in your syllabus so that you can have some unstructured and open-ended assignments, which would make it easier to adjust.

Cohn also described her mantra: “all classes are online classes to some extent.” By that she meant that the more of your material and activities that you can put online, the more robust shared space you’ll create for your students — because inevitably someone will be unable to make it to class.

Online tools continue to be useful. During the session I asked audience members if they were still using some of the techniques and tools they had used with online or hybrid teaching last year. Nearly everyone (96 percent) said yes. That included recording lectures or using Zoom in live classes, and using online discussion boards, quizzes, and assignments, as well as backchannel discussion tools and in-class polls.

That admittedly unscientific finding suggests that many professors have found that online tools continue to work well even with in-person teaching, adding flexibility and creating supplementary forms of communication in and outside of class.

Connection is foundational to learning. As people return to the classroom, old hierarchies may reassert themselves: professors in the front of the room talking to students in the back, Eyler noted. But if there’s one thing the pandemic made apparent it’s that when students feel disconnected they are also unmotivated.

“Much of what we know about the science of learning,” Eyler said, “is that social interaction and emotional engagement are not just great ideas, they’re necessary for learning.”

To that end, the panelists advised instructors to continue to pay attention to how students are feeling, even when teaching in person or in a hybrid environment. That could mean checking for signs of wellness among your students, encouraging Zoom study sessions to foster deeper connections within the class, or building a more fluid syllabus to adapt to students’ circumstances.

Rethink the classroom. Has the classroom become more or less important since the pandemic hit? The answer likely depends on how you’re using it, the panelists suggested. While students may crave the connections they missed when they were isolating, that doesn’t mean they’re enthusiastic about sitting in a giant lecture hall, taking notes for 90 minutes. As Truong noted, a lot of students are likely thinking: Prove to me it’s worth coming back to the physical classroom — otherwise I’d rather be online.

What you do with that space is critically important, speakers said, and probably needs to be rethought on a broader scale. The power of shared space has been heightened by the pandemic, says Eyler, but so has scrutiny of what happens there. All the panelists agreed that it’s pointless to argue whether in-person teaching or online teaching is more effective. It’s what you do with that time together that counts.

Share Your Pandemic Teaching Tips

Our panel discussion got me wondering: How have you adjusted your teaching this semester? Have you created more of a hybrid class, for example, because you liked some of what online learning has to offer? Have you rethought how you spend class time together? Are you making more of an effort to foster connections with and among your students? Are you giving your students more choices on their assignments?

Whatever it is, I’d like to hear it. Write to me at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com and your story may appear in a future newsletter.

ICYMI

  • It’s time to recognize “rigor” for the exclusionary concept that it is, write Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy in this Chronicle advice piece. They offer tips on how to counter that outdated idea.
  • Jeffrey R. Young talks to three Purdue University students to capture what college teaching is like this fall in this EdSurge podcast.

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.

—Beth

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