Submitted by Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, English & Interdisciplinary Studies

After many months of working together through the online transition, we have learned a few things that will undoubtedly make us better teachers in all modalities. When asked what stands out the most, the additional ways faculty have found to communicate and connect with students stand out from the endless ways that faculty have adapted and improved online instruction.

Lessons Learned from the Online Teaching Transition

1. Greater emphasis on ways to connect with and offer support to students is critical.

We know that students need to have a sense of being welcomed and valued in their classes, and they also need to get to know their instructors and have some positive interactions to feel social connections. In general, students benefit from intellectual and social engagement in class, but the equity gaps for minoritized students, in particular, are exacerbated in the online environment and can be mitigated with an intentional effort to foster a sense of belonging.

  • Faculty need to provide opportunities for students to get to know them by sharing a bit about themselves and their background. The typical stories, illustrations, and examples that faculty would share in an on-campus course are important to deep learning in any course but are sometimes only shared in a traditional course. Faculty are finding ways to share these narrations throughout their distance learning courses to add the contextual meaning provided when they interact with students in their classrooms.
  • Establishing the tone of a safe and supportive space through early communications will encourage students to engage in the course and take opportunities to interact with their classmates and instructor. New ways of doing this asynchronously can be utilized to supplement in-class activities and enhance connectedness in traditional courses as they create more even participation for those who need more time to generate responses or are more comfortable responding offline.
  • Students will feel that faculty care about them as individuals when they are asked to share aspects of themselves that are part of their identities as well as their orientation to the discipline learners. This can be done through carefully crafted orientation activities in which faculty model the sharing and students are asked to share relevant information about their individual identities, experiences, and needs. Utilizing some of the activities developed for online teaching can be leveraged in traditional and blended instruction as they create more even participation for those who need more time to generate responses or are more comfortable responding without a live audience.

2. Students need multiple, clear explanations of learning activities and assignments.

Students must need to understand the design of the learning experience, explicit instructions on how to engage in the process, and how what they are learning will apply to their learning. In online courses, students benefit when instructors frame the purpose of the learning experience, explain each step clearly, and share their interpretations.

  • A live and/or recorded video to explain learning activities and assignments helps students to understand in more depth, and recordings can be accessed on demand when students are actually doing the assignments. Providing recordings of assignment overviews is something many faculty will want to continue to provide when we are back on campus rather than relying on in-class instructions and coaching.
  • While teaching online, faculty have made efforts to provide additional detail, examples, and coaching for assignments to replace in-class guidance; these explicit instructions and tips can be used in traditional courses to support students who may need additional explanations to fully understand how to complete activities.
  • Faculty have found ways to share interpretations and take-aways from learning experiences that can be valuable for sharing in any modality as students can access and review these materials at any time as opposed to relying on what was provided during an on-campus class.

3. Our expanded use of instructional technology will benefit our teaching in all modalities.

Out of necessity for engaging students, faculty have embraced the use of ed tech for helping students interact with ideas, materials, and classmates, in more interactive ways.  This use of platforms that resemble the ways our students interact with media outside of school offer great possibilities for enhancing student engagement in all modalities.

  • An emphasis on alternate assessments that utilize multiple modalities has helped provide a variety of opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning in ways that suit more diverse ways of making meaning and sharing learning.
  • Increased use of tools has allowed us to identify, learn about, practice, and provide examples and support for the tools that have been most effective for faculty and students.
  • Faculty and Academy staff have learned so much in a short window of time that will make us better able to provide course shells that are more carefully designed, easier to navigate, and full of innovative and effective ways to help students engage with the material and demonstrate their learning. These shells can be adapted for use in any modality, meaning that our advancements in online learning are also our advancements in traditional course design.