Instructional Continuity, Tips on Teaching

Planning for Uncertainty: Tips to help establish a sense of consistency, care, and community

by Christopher Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

As we look ahead to the next semester, there may be an air of confusion as to how best to plan for the next term.  While we cannot predict the future impact of the pandemic on our community, there are several ways instructors can offset uncertainty associated with teaching during a pandemic. Below are just a few brief tips we have found to help you plan for the semester ahead.  While many of these items are beneficial for any teaching situation, they prioritize consistency, community, and connection.  

If you would like to discuss specific questions about your teaching situation, please consider meeting with someone from the Reinert Center for a confidential teaching consultation [LINK].  

Creating a sense of consistency: 

  • Consider ways to deliver course materials consistently for all students.  One option is to design your course using a “satellite model.”  More information about the model can be found here [LINK]
  • Review our Instructional Continuity Checklist for recommendations on supporting technologies that may minimize confusion.
  • Develop a communication strategy that includes information on how and when students may reach you, when you will be sending out information, and the method you will be delivering course communication.  Include this information in your syllabus but also in all beginning correspondence related to your course.  

Establishing connection with your students:

  • Acknowledge uncertainty.  Let students know you are aware that changes both in the learning environment and in their personal lives may impact the semester.  Offer assurance that, as a learning community, we can remain flexible yet academically present.  
  • Practice active listening.  Active listening is an important skill in every teaching situation; however, it is a critical tool to helping reach remote students.  Consider using active listening questions such as the ones found in this article [LINK].  Also, consider how posture, camera angle, audio quality, eye-contact and facial expressions are important ingredients to making connections with students in a remote learning environment [LINK]
  • Offer options for how students communicate.  There are more options than being on camera and using Zoom’s chat feature.  In fact, several educators have noted why students may not be using their camera during online learning [LINK].   Consider learning how to incorporate Zoom’s non-verbal feedback tools or utilize other tools like Google Drive or Blackboard as an alternative communication tool for online classroom discussions.  

Tips to create a sense of community

  • Care first, content next.  At the start of each class offer ways to connect with students on a more personable level.  Consider polling students before class on how they are feeling.  Try contacting students who appear to be struggling.  Also familiarize yourself with University resources that can help address the well-being and safety of our students. [LINK]
  • Incorporate active learning strategies.  Become familiar with ways you can create active learning in your online/remote classroom.  Derek Bruff at Vanderbilt offers a number of excellent resources on active learning in an online/hybrid classroom environment.  [LINK