Students from across campus have expressed gratitude for the kindness and humanity they have received from instructors during the recent shift to remote teaching. They appreciate the flexibility, resourcefulness and calm sense of purpose that instructors have demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the structure and sense of community that their classes provide.
Many students, understandably, continue to face many challenges and are expressing concerns and worries. Common concerns include financial stress, lack of motivation, feelings of isolation, anxieties about course grades, disappointment about canceled summer jobs and internships, and uncertainty about what the fall semester will hold.
As this spring semester draws to a close, we want to help our students complete their courses with confidence and clarity, and position them for future successes. To provide the resources to achieve these goals, the Center for Teaching and Learning recently launched a resource hub—a collaboration with Continuing Education, the Learning Design Group, the Office of Academic Innovation and the Office of Information Technology (OIT)—with pedagogical and technical support for remote teaching.
Communication in a remote environment is essential for student learning. This has many facets, such as being clear about assignment expectations and behavioral norms in online environments, actively soliciting feedback to gauge student progress, using multiple modes of communication to stay connected and actively reaching out to determine students’ general well-being. Not only does regular, clear and consistent communication foster community—and thereby work against student feelings of isolation—it also provides a road map for what lies ahead, allowing students to focus with confidence on what is expected of them to be successful in a course.
With disruption to the spring semester and myriad uncertainties surrounding the future, many students struggle to remain motivated. Research suggests that within college classes, two factors play a key role in student motivation: a feeling of agency and identifiable value. Clear assignment expectations and goals help promote a sense of student agency, as do choices within and for assignments. Articulating how your class links to future classes your students might take, how it might relate to their career plans, or how it provides insight into current events can help students find value. An extremely helpful overview of evidence-based practices that promote student motivation can be found in chapter three of Susan A. Ambrose et al., How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco: John Wiley, 2010). An electronic version of this book is available through Norlin Library.
Remain flexible in assessments
Faculty have demonstrated great flexibility, accommodating and acknowledging that many of our students have issues with accessibility of technology, live in different time zones and face any number of other challenges. If possible, present students with options for completing final assignments and taking exams to promote a sense of agency and boost motivation. Offering choices further allows students to select the options that make sense under their current living conditions. Consider what learning goals you would like students to demonstrate in their final assignment(s). Might it be possible for students to demonstrate competencies in multiple modes or formats? Some students might prefer to prepare a report, while others might opt for a synchronously delivered exam.
With all the demands on their time and attention, as well as the loss of structure that campus life provides, many students are having difficulty finding the ability to focus on their studies. Encourage students to develop daily schedules, making time for all activities, such as study, meals and self-care. Suggest the use of checklists to help them stay on track for completing coursework and for ensuring that all expectations for assignments or exams are met. In general, provide articulated, manageable steps for remote coursework to help students feel that they are making steady progress toward course completion.
Many of our students express fatigue from spending so much time on Zoom. In synchronous classes, consider offering breaks or shortening class times by delivering some content asynchronously. For asynchronous delivery, consider breaking videos into chunks of five or ten minutes to allow students to better pace their studies.
Students have demonstrated great resiliency during the past weeks. Encourage them to reflect on what they have learned about themselves as learners and how this understanding not only might help them in their final projects and exams, but also succeed in the future. This article by Kimberly Tanner offers suggestions for reflection questions which you could adapt to remote learning and your course content.
Provide clarity around grading
If you have not already done so, inform students of their current grades in your course to ease their anxiety and to help them develop a working plan for completing the final weeks of the semester. Additionally, many students remain confused about the implications of the pass/fail option available to them this semester, such as the distinction between the grades of “P” and “P+.” The Office of Undergraduate Education has developed a helpful FAQ resource. For those using Canvas for grading, OIT has published tips for the end of the semester. Whenever possible at semester’s end, reach out individually to acknowledge accomplishments and provide tailored feedback to encourage persistence and help students feel valued.
Computer labs, which are regularly sanitized, are open for all students in the Engineering Building: ECCE 141 and ECCR 252. More information is available via this link.
Instructors who choose to use the recently adopted proctoring service Examity must inform OIT. Recognize that this platform requires a computer with a camera, speakers and microphones. Other options will need to be extended to students who are without this equipment or have other connectivity and technology issues. If you decide to use this service, do a trial test with your students before an actual exam to reduce their stress and work out any potential kinks. Instructors can register for OIT training sessions on Examity to be held later this week.
Signal that there is a community of support
Students are experiencing food and housing insecurity, domestic violence, mental health issues and a host of other challenges. Promote the broad array of campus support services for students, staff and faculty and the availability of emergency financial support through Buffs Together for faculty and staff.
Kirk Ambrose, is the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at CU Boulder.