By Megan King |
As many universities are still working to develop a clear picture of what exactly the upcoming academic year will look like, if you happen to be an instructor, then it’s likely that you’ve been advised to adapt your lessons to account for a combination of online and face-to-face teaching. Undoubtedly, students will be experiencing frustration and anxiety over the fact that they won’t have the social university experience they’d envisioned, that they’re having to navigate unfamiliar technologies, that their learning experience could be dulled by weird backgrounds and unflattering camera angles, or all of the above (me, even as member of staff). So, perhaps more than ever, we as staff, need to make sure that we’re there for our students.
While this year will absolutely be a learning experience for all levels of university communities, as a lecturer or seminar leader, it’s critical that we do what we can to create a sense of engagement across our online learning platforms. So, essentially, we need to mix it up! By creating a well-rounded coursework program and including a variety of prompts and participatory opportunities, we can reassure students that they’re not as alone as social distancing guidelines may make them feel and perhaps more importantly that although this year might not meet their expectations of life at university, the quality of their will not be compromised.
Just be aware that a.) not all students will have the appropriate #WFH gear at the ready, so you’ll need to be flexible when assigning work that requires the use of certain working conditions, software, etc. b.) not all Wi-Fi is created equal, so expect students to experience occasional connectivity issues and try to have a backup assignment or activity prepared ahead of time c.) extensive furloughs mean that some students with ILPs will have limited or no access to support staff during term time, so be sure that you have a plan in place to support those that may be vulnerable.
Consult your university library. Librarians and tech experts alike can provide guidance on tools for remote teaching, from creating reading lists to helping you figure out Panopto. It’s also a great way to determine which platforms are preferred and permitted by your institution, so start here!
Look at the big picture. If you’re like me, you may be inclined to fixate on the finer details and let the overall aims fall by the wayside. When it comes to remote teaching, though, steer clear of my neuroses. Instead, think about how each session connects to the next. Maybe even create a checklist with your course objectives in mind to ensure that you’re providing a variety of teaching methods to help your students unlock the main takeaways from your module.
Encourage independent learning. This may seem like a lazy approach to teaching online; However, when independent learning is managed alongside opportunities for engagement, the benefits are undeniable. After all, when students are able to work at their pace, we can better account for working environments that are less than ideal, allowing students to take breaks as needed and avoiding the all-too-relatable Zoom fatigue.
Make an office hour calendar. By maintaining regular office hours with organized time slots for each student, either over chat or video conferencing, we can endeavor to still be present with our students. Given the current climate, it’s important for instructors to be able to remind students that they are supported. So, even if we can only provide a ten-minute session to guide a student through essay preparation, our student can be reassured that those ten minutes are theirs and that their wellbeing matters.
Create a class blog. At the beginning of the semester, ask students to sign up for a primary source that corresponds with the weekly theme(s) in the course handbook. Then, prior to the seminar regarding the assigned source, ask them to create a blog post to be shared with the rest of the class. Each week, students then have a message-board style platform through which they can engage in primary source discussion alongside their tutor! Plus, you’ll get a gold star for incorporating a low-bandwidth method into your remote teaching plans!
Provide transcriptions. If you’ve recorded a lecture or developed a PowerPoint for students to work their way through, it can easily feel like a job done; However, these types of delivery methods aren’t necessarily effective for all students. By providing a script of sorts, however, students can still study the material without having to worry about any ever-infuriating buffering.
Give collaborative annotation a go. Discussion boards and Google Docs are a great way have students share and discuss, but if you want to kick things up a notch, try using a social annotation tool like Hypothes.is or Padlet to allow engage in embedded collaborative work and boost their digital skills. That way, instead of just assigning a reading, you can ask students to insert questions or highlight key points before discussing the piece as a class.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Teaching wasn’t an easy job prior to the pandemic, but when you add in the anxiety, the health concerns, the financial strain, and the divisiveness of the COVID-19 era, the difficulties associated with being a dedicated and effective instructor increase exponentially. So, as you work to adapt your lessons and make your modules as inclusive as possible, make sure you’re not excluding your own wellbeing from the equation. Make time to take that bubble bath, go for that hike, watch that serial killer documentary, crack open that new book, or practice whatever form of self-case you’ll likely find yourself meaning to get around to doing. As everyone’s emails have stated over the past several months, these are ‘unprecedented’ times, so forgive yourself when you feel like you’re missing the mark and reward yourself when you manage knock your seminar out of the park!
Megan King is a PhD candidate at the University of Kent, studying the process of radicalization in pre-Revolutionary America, and she serves as the Pubs and Publications social media coordinator. You can find further ramblings from her on Twitter.
Image 1: https://blog.ualberta.ca/going-remote-8cd95bc23cfe
Image 2: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/ebook-library-concept-laptop-computer-books-299222171
Image 3: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teacher-mental-health-school-wellbeing-staff-shortages-recruitment-ucl-a9304471.html
Image 4: http://www.pr.uni-freiburg.de/pm-en/online-magazine/teaching-and-learning/from-classroom-instruction-to-remote-instruction
Image 5: https://wp.stolaf.edu/hybrid-instruction/for-students/