Published: Jan. 20, 2021

During the fall 2020 semester, CU instructors navigated a number of challenges related to in-person and hybrid (in-person/remote) teaching, such as social distancing and the muffling effects of face masks. Even with these challenges, many of our students report valuing the experience of in-person class meetings. 

The following are practices that might be utilized in your own teaching this spring. If you have a practice that you have found particularly useful and would like to share, please let us know! Additionally, the Boulder Faculty Assembly has produced a helpful set of suggestions for teaching this spring, based on student interviews conducted toward the end of the fall 2020 semester. 

Think differently about course design

A course that you normally teach face-to-face may not adapt well to a socially-distant or hybrid course. Find assignments and learning activities that work well in online courses and adjust them for your situation. It turns out that hybrid courses often take one and a half times the amount of instructional and learning time as regular face-to-face or fully online courses. Consider the totality of what it will take for a student to fully participate in your hybrid course and scale back where you can. Do not add more work under the assumption that you need to account for lost in-class time; students see this as “busy work” or get quickly overloaded with a multitude of tasks. 

Plan for how you will interact with your students

Face-to-face courses present challenges to usual forms of interaction. Social distancing, the muffling effects of facemasks, HVAC and other ambient noise, can hinder discussions. Faculty have used a variety of strategies to address these challenges. These include asking students to bring mini-whiteboards to class, texting, or using the chat function on Zoom or other online platforms. Students wearing masks may be comfortable to talk in small discussion groups. When conditions permit, breaking out into small, socially-distanced groups outside can be engaging and offer variety. 

For hybrid classrooms, focus on content delivery and assessments for in-person sessions & then plan discussions during remote teaching sessions. When teaching online, try having a co-pilot who manages remote participants so you can stay focused on teaching. CU’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) can help get you started with their Technology Copilot program.

Ask for regular feedback and listen to your students! Ask students to tell you what is and is not working, what they like, and what can be improved. Pick up ideas through your students about what other instructors are doing that is engaging and effective. Get early feedback through anonymous surveys, do a midterm evaluation of your own making, or just ask them directly.

Mostly importantly, build trust with your students. Students are distracted by worries about their loved ones, their finances and living conditions, the safety of their communities, and about their own health. Many of your students are coming to class with the trauma they have experienced from fear and loss. Some faculty have even acknowledged the challenges of this year on their course syllabus. By creating a learning environment in which students feel that their instructor respects them and cares about their learning, students will be more likely to stay motivated and invest their energies into the work. Building trust comes from being consistent, listening to students, and slowing down to focus on their needs as learners. Students may need more interaction with their instructors in remote environments. Having more access to faculty time and attention can help improve the student-instructor relationship, and ultimately help students to feel more motivated in the course.

Assign low-stakes beginning and end-of-class assignments

An in-class writing assignment, iClicker quiz, or Kahoot! interactive quizzes can be effective “warm-ups” to get students’ minds focused on the course content. A one-minute writing assignment at the end of class can help students reflect on what they learned in class or give them time to identify things that were confusing or something they need clarified for the next class. You do not need to grade all of these assignments. You can read their responses for feedback, grant participation points for doing the work, or collect the work randomly for grading throughout the semester.

Be thoughtful about collaborative activities and assignments

Collaborative or team work can be done in hybrid and online course formats and should be designed to be accessible for all students. Assign student groups at the beginning of the semester and use the groups frequently for small group discussions--it is easier to hear each other through masks in small groups, and groups can meet through an online platform or breakout rooms in Zoom. Groups can document their work in a collaborative platform like Google Docs. Design group projects and assignments for flexibility: students should be able to complete the work mostly asynchronously and using digital tools and online collaborative platforms. Canvas allows you to create and grade group assignments as well as host group discussions.

Give early and regular feedback

No matter the context, students need regular feedback on their performance so they know how to focus their studies, when to work harder, and when to ask for help. Early and regular feedback can help students in hybrid and remote classes stay motivated and on track with their work. Feedback can be informal and ungraded, or can track grades on assignments along the way. Formative feedback will give students timely, tangible, and actionable direction to improving their work. 

Canvas offers robust tools for maintaining an updated gradebook. You can import attendance records from Zoom, upload your CUClickers grades, and so much more. OIT can help you any time you get stuck.

Create or adopt online assessment strategies

Thoughtful assessments can be used to help keep students engaged in the course and with each other. Technological options abound for administering online exams, ePortfolios of student work, or digital humanities projects, engineering projects, and even chemistry experiments!

Use a flexible strategy for grading

Students should submit assignments through Canvas rather than in paper form, and deadlines should be flexible within appropriate limits. If you usually impose penalties for late assignments, consider dropping or lessening the practice during this time. 

Looking to discuss an aspect of your teaching, brainstorm new options, or simply check in with another educator? The CTL offers confidential, individualized teaching consultations free of charge to the CU Boulder teaching community.