Teaching Remotely Post-Thanksgiving
IUB instructors and students face unique circumstances as we approach the end of fall 2020 semester. Based on an IU study in spring 2020, students identified key concerns about remote instruction: they felt disconnected from their instructors, disconnected from their peers, and they felt resistant to busywork and wanted clear connections between assignments and learning outcomes. While students have had practice this fall in remote learning, some of these same issues may re-emerge as students leave campus after the Thanksgiving holiday. In a recent survey administered by the CITL, instructors asked for ways to address these anxieties as well as for strategies to engage students in online environments. Below are some trusted strategies for responding to these concerns in the post-Thanksgiving online session.
Be Present as the Course Instructor and Stay in Touch
- Maintain instructor presence. Let students know you are there by using short videos to keep in touch with them—making announcements, offering encouragement, or addressing frequently asked questions and common comprehension problems.
- Survey your students to understand their post-Thanksgiving work environment. Find out what access students have to technology, to a quiet space to work, to a schedule that supports school work, and to reliable internet. Adjust your instruction in response to their answers. Use Canvas Quizzes for a graded and/or ungraded anonymous survey.
- Ask students about their needs. Students may be experiencing new challenges after leaving campus—including housing insecurity, technology problems, health issues, or renewed family responsibilities. And they may hesitate to reach out for help, so take the initiative to ask. Consider creating an anonymous Canvas survey asking students how/if they’re struggling and how you can help. If you think a student may be in need, contact them personally. Don’t just assume a student who is not completing work, or who is dropping out of communication, is being lazy. There are likely are reasons they are disengaged, and you may be able to help them find solutions and keep on track academically.
- Reach out to all your students, not just those who are struggling. Often instructors check in with students who are performing poorly. Don’t forget to contact those who are doing well! Tell them you’ve noticed and encourage them to keep up the great work. Whether you want to contact students who are struggling or those who are doing well, you can message multiple students with one message by using the Canvas Gradebook “Message Students Who...” Use Inbox to reach one or more students, or continue using the Student Engagement Roster if you have used it previously in the semester.
Support All Students as They Work on End-of-Term Assignments and Assessments
- Implement office hours. Take time to explain what office hours are—what to expect and what kind of questions students could ask. Use a sign-up system (such as the Canvas scheduler or an class-only Google doc). Consider renaming office hours to “free help sessions” or “coffee talks,” to seem less intimidating, or consider requiring a check-in meeting to make sure everyone attends.
- Create a project checklist for students. If the final assignment has multiple steps, put together a checklist to help students stay on track to completion. Provide extra resources to help students negotiate portions of the assignment that you know are often difficult.
- If you are introducing new tools, such as Piazza, have students practice now. Do not make students grapple with the difficulties of using new technology without practice, particularly while everything else around them is changing, too. Find in-class time or utilize a low-stakes assignment so students practice with a new tool before using it in end-of-term coursework.
- Assess learning, not short-term memory. Look for alternative ways to assess learning. A multiple-choice exam often assesses only short-term memory, and the format lends itself to various forms of academic misconduct. What other ways could provide your students with the means to demonstrate comprehension and achievement of course objectives?
- Eliminate busywork. Review remaining assignments to make sure that they are directly related to course outcomes. Keep in mind that students have responsibilities in other equally demanding courses.
- Organize Content and Activities. Canvas Modules are a way to organize access to course activities and resources. With Modules, students can easily find what they need to do without the frustration of clicking all over a course site to find a due date or a resource. When you use Modules, remove other tools from the navigation so students access your course through Modules only.
- Encourage the use of Writing Tutorial Services (WTS). WTS tutors can help students with any writing background on any type of academic writing, including brainstorming, outlining, identifying patterns of error, content, formatting, and revising. Consider inviting WTS to a class meeting to further explain their services.
- Extend flexiblity. Your students are facing unique life circumstances, they have varied access to technologies, and they are working far outside the consistency of a classroom. Don’t hesitate to offer some flexibility in due dates to help all students reach learning outcomes.
Encourage Student Connection and Peer Support
- Create networks of support for students. Set up a shared Google doc, or even a Canvas discussion to make it easy for all students to connect. Have students practice these tools and build these support networks before the break.
- Activate Piazza in Canvas. Piazza allows for peer problem solving, so students respond to course and/or assignment FAQs instead of the instructor.
- Connect students via Canvas Groups. Use Canvas Groups in the People tool to create student groups. These groups can be used for collaborative assignments or informally to create and maintain the course community so students can support and stay in touch with each other.
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