In last week’s essay, I discussed ways to begin thinking about pandemic instruction for the upcoming semester. I stressed the importance of setting both personal and professional boundaries with students, resisting requests for additional labor and using last semester’s student evaluations as one source of feedback on what worked and did not work in terms of pedagogy. This week, I offer three final tips to help you prepare for the spring semester.
Revisit and revise. Be sure to revisit your understanding of the difference between remote, online and face-to-face course delivery. How does your institution make the distinction and what does it require? Did you meet those requirements last semester, and in what areas did you fall short?
Determine what you want your online/remote delivery to look like. Center your pedagogy on the learning experience you want to create for your students as you consider some of the following questions.
First consider content: What must be included to satisfy the requirements set out by your institution, department and discipline? Choose a handful of important concepts, then scaffold around those.
Second, think about classroom community. What do you want your online classroom to look like, feel like and communicate about you and the course to students?
In terms of assessment, think about what needs to be assessed and included to meet your institution’s standards and requirements for the course. Where can you afford to be generous? How can you assign and assess these assignments in a manner that is fair and consistent to both you and the students?
Consider course accessibility and different learning styles as you prepare your course in the spring — especially with hybrid course modalities, as online learning can provide different challenges for students with disabilities. More students will be working and/or taking care of family as they complete their coursework and will need flexible means and timelines to complete the work. In addition, make sure that the pedagogical tools that you use (such as videos and films, websites, and assignments) are available and not behind a paywall that precludes students from accessing them.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. (Use available resources). Rely on your institution’s teaching and learning center for pedagogical resources that address questions such as how to set up your online course presence/platform, how to assess and grade assignments online, and numerous others. Many of those centers offer workshops, online tutorials and roundtables on pedagogical challenges that are inimical to online course delivery and hybrid models. Most will offer real-time answers and help with technical issues. Some offer resources to facilitate virtual classroom management and participation, encouraging group work and interaction. At my institution, we have the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, which offers excellent resources for thinking inclusively about syllabi and course materials.
If your institution does not have a teaching/learning center, you can seek out several online blogs and teaching resources that other institutions and professional/discipline-specific organizations offer. Also, talk to colleagues and friends, many of whom are being pedagogically innovative under these circumstances, as well.
At the time of this writing, many BIPOC faculty in the United States are still reeling from the insurrection last week when a mob of angry mostly white Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow election results. For many the challenge of incorporating that into our classes weighs heavily upon us. Will this subject come up? If so, how should we manage the challenging — more than likely confrontational and contentious — classroom discussion?
In the nation’s hyperpolarized and politicized society, discussions around race, gender and social justice often rely heavily on and burden our BIPOC students. These contentious discussions may also be taxing for us as BIPOC faculty, challenging us to master, mask or mediate our own emotions. Anticipate this, and to the best of your ability, look for resources to help navigate this classroom experience before it happens. Once again, rely on community and colleagues, both senior and junior, to help you identify strategies, tips and safe places to land.
Keep it simple but engaged. Like many other faculty members, I teach because I crave the engagement and the lightbulb moments we get in the classroom. How can we achieve some semblance of this virtually? If your thing is fostering student participation, consider different ways to solicit student engagement, such as online discussion boards or small group assignments. If students need to demonstrate mastery of certain skills, think of creative ways to allow them to demonstrate that mastery. Again, you can ask colleagues how they have used such tools during pandemic instruction, as well as consult discipline-specific pedagogy sites.
Stay flexible, even going so far as to build a flex week into your syllabus that allows you to catch up if you fall behind in content or just lets you and your students breathe in the middle of the semester. If nothing else, the last 10 months of 2020 demonstrated that conditions can change on a dime, and that the willingness to be flexible is, in fact, probably the best tool we have.
This is a brave new world for all of us, one that demands that we do things differently and temper our expectations. For many of us, this new reality includes additional caretaking, homeschooling and nurturing duties within our own households, and our bandwidth, time and emotional reserves are already stretched thin. As BIPOC scholars at primarily white institutions, we occupy spaces that are often structured to exclude us and, at the very least, fail to take into consideration our lived experiences. It is OK to step away, to find ways to stoke your own fire and recharge. Queer Black feminist Audre Lorde reminds us that caring for oneself is not an act of indulgence but one of “political warfare.” Be kind and extend to yourself the same grace that you are being asked to extend to your students.