With the shift to remote instruction, teaching strategies and interactions with students has changed dramatically. Faculty accustomed to building community in a face-to-face environment need to find alternative strategies to connect with students. One of the simplest strategies to connect with students in the current context of remote instruction is to simply check in with students and ask how they are doing.
Both faculty and students must adjust to the new learning environment in many ways. Jobs and income may be disrupted for many students. In addition to working on classwork at home, faculty and students may be supervising children and their learning activities or tending to the needs of older relatives or neighbors who must limit their social activities. Some might be experiencing symptoms.
Create a mechanism for students to tell you how they are doing and what is and is not helping them learn. Acknowledge that this is no longer “business as usual” and discuss the steps we can take as a community to make this work as best we can.
Whenever we try something new in a course (and we are all trying lots of new things now), it is always a good idea to ask students how the new learning experience worked for them. This is not a “customer satisfaction” survey: Don’t ask whether students liked the experience (few of us like what is happening these days). Instead, ask whether the changes helped them learn. Ask what modification would help them learn better. When possible, make adjustments that make sense and promise to improve the learning experience.
Other strategies to build community and promote learning
- Write explicit and clear instructions for your expectations for assignments. For example, what should students write for an initial post in a discussion thread and what should they do differently when they post a follow up post? Explain what you expect in a thread that is a discussion (and exchange of ideas) rather than a series of independent posts.
- Communicate the why for an assignment. For example, what is the purpose of posts to a discussion thread? What should students learn from the exchange of ideas in the discussion thread? What skills will they practice? Must they learn to support assertions with scholarly evidence (versus posting expressions of opinions or feelings)?
- Create variety in the prompts you create for discussion posts. Avoid using the same-old-same-old “comment and respond to a question” format for every discussion thread.
Consider alternative assignments to engage students:
- Keep “lectures” short. Divide an hour-long lecture on three big ideas into three short videos, one devoted to each big idea. Shorter recorded material is kinder to internet bandwidth, which may be limited in students’ homes. Create short demonstrations. For example, record a screen capture of yourself searching for articles in a library database, solving a problem and showing step-by-step work on a tablet or white board.
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– by Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director, Center for University Teaching, Learning and Assessment, University of West Florida