Teaching during a global pandemic has certainly been challenging. COVID upended many things we took for granted as commonplace. While most of us are antsy to return to a sense of normalcy, there are some things I started doing in my classes during COVID that I want to keep up next semester. Here are three changes that I plan to continue, even after the pandemic.
1. Enhancing classes with online interactivity
If there’s one thing that COVID showed us, it’s just how much can be done electronically in our everyday lives. This is true for education as well. In many cases, instructors had to quickly adapt to online teaching. As time went by, the comfort level for many students and instructors grew.
I began incorporating more informal live syncs in my online classes, and this is something I plan to continue. While some students may embrace a more self-directed learner role and possess the internal motivation necessary to stay focused on their studies, others crave the interactivity that they were accustomed to in face-to-face classes. By incorporating optional live syncs, I was able to offer students the opportunity to connect with me and others in a similar way as they would in the classroom.
These virtual meetings allowed students to ask questions, see that there are real people on the other side of the computer screen, and feel like they were part of a traditional class interaction. The meetings can also be recorded and posted for those who were unable to attend. I would solicit questions in the days leading up to the meeting and answer the questions live. This allows students and instructor to hear the response like they would in a classroom.
In addition, more reserved students may feel more comfortable sending questions ahead of time as opposed to asking in the live Zoom call. Students are also often juggling a lot of responsibilities, so I did not require attendance at the meetings. If you don’t want to make them all optional, you can consider requiring students to attend a certain number of meetings throughout the semester. However, if you choose this route, you should list the dates of the meetings in your syllabus to ensure students can make proper arrangements ahead of time. Since mine were optional, I took a more relaxed approach and scheduled them randomly throughout the semester based on student feedback and the types of questions I was receiving via email.
2. Offering Zoom office hours
For as long as I have been teaching online courses, I have included a statement in my syllabus that a virtual meeting was available upon request. However, since I wasn’t in my on-campus office during COVID, I started creating a Zoom meeting for the duration of my office hours each day. I then posted the links in my learning management system. This allowed students to pop in without having to request a meeting via email. I saw an increased use of office hours in response to the ability to pop in and ask a question without having to schedule the meeting ahead of time.
To ensure that students had the opportunity to ask questions privately, I utilized the waiting room feature of Zoom. This is similar to waiting in the hall on campus for another student to finish meeting with me. I informed students of this process in our learning management system. Additionally, I changed the waiting room greeting on Zoom to say that I would let them in once my current meeting was done.
3. Prioritizing mental health
A third change that I implemented is a greater emphasis on mental health and sharing campus resources available to students. The pandemic has certainly wreaked havoc on emotional health, and has taken a greater toll on some students than others. During COVID, I began sharing free mental health resources available to students. In the coming semesters, I plan to continue doing this to help support students and remind them of the services available to them as part of their university fees.
Things have certainly been challenging and in a state of flux since March 2020. However, if we look back, we can pick up on some important lessons learned throughout the journey. These three changes I made during COVID will continue to benefit all of my students in the days, months, and years ahead.