Start Strong this Semester with Six Easy Tips

  • Speak positively about the semester. When we speak about this semester as terrible, bad, difficult, etc., we encourage students to focus on loss and foster an attitude of resentment. We can both recognize the difficulties of this moment and not consider this time to be a waste, a loss, or a thing to grieve. It is more important that we are optimistic about this year being successful, no matter how students are learning, than that we are optimistic that online learning will be over soon. The fact is, the pandemic is not over and may not be over for for some time.. Some students may spend the majority of their college career in pandemic-mode. They deserve to be able to see this period of their life in positive terms. 
  • Speak positively about online education. Students taking online classes are not receiving an inferior education, nor are they without opportunities for connection and community. Stress that this is an opportunity to learn skills needed for our world today. Speaking negatively about online education denigrates the work of excellent educators, builds a case for tuition reduction or refunds (if students see their credits as less valuable than those earned in in-person classes), and devalues the work that some students, because of illness or travel restrictions, do even during non-pandemic times. 
  • Let students see and hear you. Record lectures that include your voice and face or include synchronous activities that students can schedule into their new work-from-home arrangement. 
  • Check on students frequently. If a student fails to turn in an assignment, contact them. Plan on checking on grade trajectories frequently. Consider using your college’s early alert system to raise a flag if students miss work.
  • Ask kind questions.  “What is going well?” “Tell me about something you are succeeding at.” “What has been hard this week?” These are specific questions that allow students to disclose struggles if they want to and are more effective than “How are things going?”
  • Use the announcements function to remind them of due dates. Sent out a reminder 24 hours in advance and then again a few hours in advance. 

Remember that students are often less adept at learning from home than you are at teaching from home. They are likely to be facing competing demands, including care for other family members, limited space, shifts in their available time, and limited technology. Allow videos to stay off, use asynchronous rather than synchronous methods of teaching when you can, and recognize that students aren’t practiced at doing this yet.

Above, Monet’s The Magpie (1868) shows a bird sitting on a wooden gate in a low wall, a barn in the background, the scene covered in snow. Winter is a great time to learn online–but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

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