Provide a safe working environment for faculty, TAs, LAs, and staff, recognizing the unique pressures on contingent faculty and graduate students.
In addition to all the obvious things sections should do, section leaders also will be a vital resource for checking in with students, monitoring their well-being as well as their level of engagement. TAs and LAs should be given extra support for understanding the available resources for students in distress—CAPS, OVA, Students of Concern Team, and the like.
Design lessons that are not reliant on in-class lecture (flipped classes, online activities) so lessons can quickly and easily be shifted from in-person to digital platforms, as needed, and provide fully-digital options for students.
Provide a sense of community within the class, and a sense of connection to the campus. Create interactive experiences for students through both in-person and online activities.
Tie learning to events outside the classroom and to how students understand their feelings. Allow students a voice and agency to use in the world.
Sections should offer ways for self-isolating students to participate, not as an accommodation if students ask for it, but as a matter of standard practice so that it is clear that everyone has to participate.
Provide clear lesson plans and instructions for TAs and LAs who facilitate section discussion groups. Hold weekly planning meetings and take time to hear and discuss TA or LA feedback on what’s working well and what needs improvement or revision.
Have clear learning goals for each section meeting. Articulate what students should achieve/learn during section meetings, and explain why.
Build in ways for students to express their ideas, questions, challenges. Solicit student input on what they want to focus on to advance their understanding of the course materials.
Provide a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities or assignments as part of section work. For example, break classes into smaller, rotating groups who meet two out of every three weeks. Use section to build project teams, who document and share their work online. Group first-year students together in one or two sections.
Frontload course assignments earlier in semester (e.g., 10% of course assignments due after break). Do not have assignments due the week of Thanksgiving. Plan for totally remote activities after Thanksgiving Break (per CU’s official plan).
Design section activities and assignments that develop specific skills and concepts that directly link to course learning goals. Provide opportunities for formative assessment throughout semester, not only large-stake summative assessments.
Lessons Learned from 2020
Set expectations early on how participation is defined for course, in various modes.
We recommend not offering remote and in-person sections simultaneously because it dilutes the advantages of in-person and online pedagogy. Making sure those who have illness symptoms know they have a way to obtain credit and do NOT come to class.
Live Zoom sessions with 4-student breakout rooms work well. Students can share whiteboard. TAs or LAs circulate to keep students on task. (Writing on the whiteboard can be difficult if students don’t have right equipment. Try sharing a group google doc instead of a whiteboard.)
Discussion sections can build upon video lectures with embedded quiz questions, as part of students’ preparation for synchronous discussion group activities. Note, reusing/retooling classroom capture lectures from previous semesters may be a useful option for some faculty to provide video lecture materials.
When students develop strong relations early and in-person, they stay connected more effectively when they move to remote activities.