Melinda Doty is a full-time Faculty Member at East Carolina University.
A new decade. A new beginning. The “new” twenties were set to be great. The spring 2020 semester started like any other; syllabi were prepared, students registered, and classes began. The first few weeks were like all other semesters and then the world as we knew it changed drastically. Rumors of this new virus, Covid-19, had been circulating since late 2019, but the U.S. never thought it would affect us the way it has here. We were wrong.
March 2020 and the spring 2020 semester is likely one we will never forget. My university was on spring break, and I was attending a regional conference. Ironically, I was presenting on the benefits of using Microsoft Teams in the classroom. Colleagues and I joked about possibly using this relatively new program more if we were to shift online. Little did we know we could be teaching via this medium for years to come.
Fast forward two years and we still have not returned to pre-Covid times. This “new normal” has taught us many valuable lessons regarding how to teach during a pandemic. I have listed a few things that have assisted me and my students as we navigate this new way of teaching and learning.
Balance Structure with Flexibility
One of the most important things I’ve learned from teaching through a pandemic is that flexibility is key! The perfect plan can be set and within moments it can be completely changed for unanticipated circumstances. Develop your syllabus, set your schedule and build in a backup plan for unexpected changes.
Not only should you be flexible in course design, but you must also be flexible with your students. All of us have endured extreme changes since Covid-19 hit the scene and our students are no different. Students are dealing with personal schedule adjustments, in addition to being thrown into online classes that they did not sign up for. I am not suggesting you change or omit your normal course policies, but I’ve learned that a bit of understanding and flexibility with class attendance and assignment submissions, within reason, goes a long way in assisting a student to succeed in class. Allowing students the opportunity to meet with you virtually can also prove beneficial; it certainly has for me.
Humanize Your Class
In my almost 20 years of teaching college students, I have strived to create an emotional connection by personalizing each class. Sharing how the pandemic has affected you personally helps the students know that you understand how they are feeling. Creating an atmosphere where students feel they can share their positive and negative feelings leads to a deeper connection and a place where they are motivated and ready to learn. Checking in with your students, not only regarding coursework, but to see how they are feeling about life in general can enrich the overall classroom atmosphere. Students who feel connected to you, as an instructor are more likely to do well in your course. I have found by implementing this strategy it has improved my students’ overall course performance.
Encourage Interaction – Use Engagement Tools
One thing we have lost during this pandemic is connection. Most of us have been stuck in our houses with limited contact for two years. Encouraging interaction between the students themselves, and with you, is a vital part of a successful class. I found by incorporating some engagement tools, I could interact with the students on a new level. Adding these tools to my “toolbox” helps to encourage an interactive and dynamic classroom collaboration in remote, HyFlex and in-person classrooms. Video conference breakout rooms, Kahoot and Flipgrid are just a few options you can use to boost interaction with your students. Upon implementing these tools, I received so much positive feedback from my students, that I now incorporate at least one of the tools in all of my classes, despite the delivery method.
Planning & Preparation Are Crucial
As with most things in my life, I prefer a plan, and that’s not any different with my course design; however, teaching through a pandemic has shown me that even more preparation and planning help tremendously. I call it “pre-loading.” I set up as much as possible within my learning management system (LMS) prior to the start of the semester. Since the pandemic changed everything, I have found this to be even more important. Schedule your lessons, assignments and course announcements in advance based on your syllabus schedule. This preparation is not limited to only asynchronous courses. I also complete this process for my in-person classes using the LMS to organize course materials and student grades. This prep work saves much needed time to accommodate other issues that tend to arise more frequently since the pandemic. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it is the more organized you are ahead of time the better!
Provide Options & Record the Class
I have learned it is important to provide options. Students appreciate having alternative ways to view and submit their course materials. I began offering my in-person class live, remote, as well as in the classroom. This was enacted more from necessity than by choice due to the spike in illnesses. Unfortunately, Covid-19 is still here. As instructors, we must prepare to accommodate our students’ needs as they arise.
I utilize Microsoft Teams to allow quarantined students to actively participate in the live class meeting. Students can interact with me, as well as hear the lecture and complete the assignments during the live class period. Many programs are now available to allow this teaching strategy.
Another option is to record your class for future viewing. Students who attend class live and in-person have stated they appreciate the recordings as it allows them to review the lecture or clarify a question they may have after the class has ended.
Fill My Cup
As instructors, we strive to ensure our students’ needs are met and many times neglect our own. As much as I have changed the way I teach in the last two years, I also found to remain the best possible instructor for my students, I must pour into myself, as well. Take a break. Take the trip. Find some time to relax yourself. Constantly pouring from an empty cup is not a successful practice for anyone, especially not for your students.
We are living in challenging times. As hard as it may be, creating a positive classroom atmosphere helps keep students motivated and ready to learn. Our attitudes affect students and can influence whether they complete their coursework poorly or do it well.
No one knows when Covid-19 will be just a distant memory. I feel we will be learning to accommodate and adjust our teaching methods for several years to come. I am proud of all the new approaches I incorporated into my classes, but I am most proud of listening to my students. By paying attention to their needs, they became more attentive and engaged in my class. My hope is by implementing some of the strategies I learned while teaching through a pandemic, you will find the required adjustments are not as challenging as they once were.
Read the rest of the posts in our series to see what other faculty members are most proud of after teaching through a pandemic.