For many of us, the pandemic drove home the importance of communication. Staying in touch with your students makes it easier for them to keep track of your expectations and their responsibilities; clarity will be particularly important as students readjust to on-campus learning. Communication is also a way to establish a consistent presence for your students. This builds trust and relationships and opens the door for them to reach out to you when they need support or further clarification. Canvas announcements are one easy way to message your students, and email can work, too. Both leave records of your interactions. Making office hours mandatory early in the semester offers another opportunity to communicate.
Students are carrying a lot right now. They’re trying to reclaim a kind of normalcy while in many cases struggling with a lot of emotion generated by the last year and a half. Getting to know your students as individuals, whether in office hours, scheduled appointments or reflective work in the classroom, will help you understand how they’re each doing. Checking in from time to time with a “How is the semester going for you?” is helpful, too. When students feel seen, it will be easier for them to settle into the learning experience with trust and openness.
A course designed with flexibility does not mean a course without standards or structure. Instead, designing with flexibility in mind allows students and faculty to adapt to changing circumstances when needed, while maintaining a commitment to academic excellence, even in difficult times. It’s important to note that flexibility is not synonymous with a lack of structure, expectations, or a commitment to academic excellence. Research has shown that not having structure or expectations can place a burden on our students to provide that structure for themselves. Instead, it’s important to think about flexibility in service of the structure and expectations you’ve established.
To summarize the previous two points, students bring their whole selves, not just their intellects, to our courses. This truth, which undergirds a core Georgetown value and which has only become clearer during the pandemic, demands some readiness and offers some opportunities as well. On the one hand, we need to be aware that, in the midst of trying to learn, students may be carrying a great deal from outside the classroom. There is also an opportunity here: students learn more readily and deeply when course material is connected to their lives and the things they care about. This may include tying the material to the pandemic, or the national conversation on racial justice, or other national/international concerns. Whole-student teaching is about nurturing those connections.
Another way to look at the first two practices here is that good teaching is inclusive teaching. Student experiences have varied widely over the past year and a half, and some of that variation was connected to identities. Students in low-income and majority-BIPOC communities may have seen more negative impacts from COVID, and may be more politically active than other students right now. Students who have been in difficult home environments may not have been able to fully express their full selves in terms of gender or sexuality, among other dimensions of identity. Of course, you shouldn’t assume any particular experiences based on an individual student’s identity; instead, design a course where all students have access to learning regardless of where and what they’re coming from.
A great deal of our engagement with students will happen synchronously, in live class sessions. But attendance may be unusually complicated this year; some students may need to miss sessions when they’re feeling unwell or for mental health reasons. For this reason, it can be helpful to record any in-class lectures and/or record them ahead of time so that students can watch them on their own time. It could also be helpful to provide significant asynchronous opportunities for students to show their engagement with the course whether they’re able to be physically present or not—Canvas discussion boards, VoiceThread discussions, “take-home” Canvas quizzes, small group work in Google Docs, etc.
You can learn more about the lessons we’ve drawn from pandemic teaching by listening to the CNDLS podcast What We Are Learning About Learning. The first episode shares student voices on this period, and the second features reflections by faculty.