5 Tips to Overcome Uncertainties in Teaching
by K. Sata Sathasivan, Ph.D., Co-founder and Chief Academic Officer, on Aug 22, 2021 8:45:31 AM
While everyone was hoping for a mostly normal return to class this fall semester, the impact of the Delta variant of COVID-19 and overall insufficient vaccination rates have caused many uncertainties about in-person instruction.
Many of us were able to develop a successful method of online instruction during the last two years of the pandemic. However, this uncertain transition means that we may need to take a cautious approach to our teaching plan. Here are five tips to have a successful fall semester, no matter what new situation we may be facing.
1. Be Structured
Irrespective of whether the instruction is entirely online, in-person, or a hybrid mode, it is beneficial to the students to have a consistent format of each lecture and a routine for each week that is predictable and actionable. The structure and organization of weekly learning activities establish some normality amidst uncertainties. Students can plan their learning activities and allow some flexibility for other unexpected events, such as any health or family issues that may happen. Having a weekly routine for lectures, labs, and in-class activities makes the expectations clear to students so that they can prepare, participate and learn effectively.
2. Be Flexible, Fair and Consistent
While structure is very important, some level of flexibility also matters to let students—who are already under immense stress—know that we are there to help them learn and not to penalize them for any unexpected delays in submissions. Course calendars should have schedules for homework, quizzes and exams and provide options for make-ups. Enforcing an honor code for any late makeup exams greatly helps reduce the anxiety and stress students may go through. Showing flexibility and fairness to all the students as the need arises will be much appreciated.
3. Keep the Students Engaged in Classroom
Maintaining focus in class during a worldwide pandemic is potentially a challenge for even the best of students. Using Squarecap with my students naturally invites them to refocus during our practice questions, and it also allows them to ask me a question when they don’t understand something. Squarecap allows me to provide feedback on each question to help the students learn from their mistakes and lets them review in-class activities to prepare for their exams. The unique feature of the dynamic seat map facilitates helping students in real-time, and is surprisingly useful for Covid-19 tracing. For additional information on how to use Squarecap, please contact us or schedule a short demo.
4. Keep the Communication Lines Open
Unlike previous semesters, students need rapid communication about the class on health matters. There are many freely available tools such as Slack, or Class Specific Facebook pages, GroupMe etc., that can be used to answer student questions outside the classrooms. These informal communication modes can allow students to help each other, and you can step in only on a needed basis or ask your Teaching Assistants to help answer frequent questions. Squarecap offers a structured in-class communication feature “Ask & Vote” with organized threaded discussions unlike an open chat session in Zoom.
5. Show the Big Picture and Share the Bottomline
When uncertainties loom around them, students will appreciate teaching that focuses on the big picture as well as the bottom line of specific items or concepts they need to learn. While we may detest the standard question “Will this be on the exam?” during a regular semester, it is OK to be explicit with students about which materials they do need to study for their exams and which ones they don’t need to worry about. Showing the big picture helps students organize course content and make appropriate connections to learn easily and effectively.
Above all, each institution offers their own suggestions and guidelines to follow for the personal safety of students and faculty members, while still offering high-quality instruction. We hope these tips will be of some additional help.