Managing an Uncertain Start to Spring 2022

by Eric Royer, Instructional Developer

The Omicron variant surging throughout the United States — leading to a dramatic uptick in positive cases, even among fully-vaccinated individuals — has already disrupted planning for the start of new spring semester. There may be instances where some of your students are attending virtually for the first few weeks. Some students may start out in-person and then shift to completing course activities online to avoid falling behind due to a positive test, being exposed, or needing to stay home for other reasons. You may find yourself needing to isolate and teach virtually, whether that’s due to illness or caring for other personal responsibilities.

As the start of the Spring 2022 semester approaches, reflecting on and developing answers to the following questions will help you plan, prepare, and get your courses started, regardless of where you’re teaching and whether you have students participating in-person, on Zoom, or online.

How can you use Canvas as a support to an in-person class? Viewing your Canvas course site as a “classroom hub,” or central location, to organize content and activities helps keep everyone organized and on-track. You can build lessons through modules, post course documents, share files, links, and videos, and engage students through discussions, formative quizzes, and group-based projects. As you prepare for Spring 2022, consider features or elements you can add to your Canvas course when thinking about where and how some students may be participating. Would a welcome video posted to your Home Page help establish rapport with students and allow you to convey your expectations concerning key course policies and processes, all in one place? Can you set up the first few modules in your course to ensure all students have access to course materials and learning activities as intended? Can you think of ways to get students practicing with course tools or skills? Can you shift some of your first course assignments or projects online to avoid creating two versions of learning activities or assessments?

How can you build community among students who might be participating in your course in-person, through Zoom, and/or online? With some students participating in-person and others online, either synchronously through Zoom or asynchronously through Canvas, how can you get students interacting and comfortable working with each other in collaborative spaces when they’re separated? Community is difficult to establish and maintain in any learning modality, and the catch for Spring 2022 is figuring out how to get all students interacting in shared spaces, regardless of where or how they’re participating. Can you set up an introductory discussion board to give all students the ability to participate early, welcome one another, and share personal information and experiences? Can you facilitate an icebreaker activity that gets students working together on a shared resource or assignment? Can you introduce group-based discussions to get students working collaboratively in a virtual format first in preparation for in-person group projects later? If you have just a few students participating through Zoom, could they pose opening discussion questions or serve as mediators in an in-class debate?

What’s the best use of “time” with your students in the first few weeks of the semester? Students don’t need us for content; they need us to facilitate a learning environment that draws connections between content and prior experiences, one that sparks curiosity and interest in subject matter material, and one that intentionally engages them with course content, each other, and us as instructors. So instead of starting the new semester thinking you need to prepare two separate lectures, one for students attending in-person and another for students attending online, focus on what’s important for students to do to demonstrate and act on their learning in the time you have together. You could create recorded videos posted to your Canvas course site and then have students act on that information in an in-class debate or an online discussion board for those attending virtually. Getting students to act on information, both individually and collaboratively, fosters deeper, more meaningful learning experiences, which can be a wise use of the time we have with them. My colleague Sandy Gambill’s Model for Pandemic Era Course Design is a useful way of visualizing the design of a course that creates meaningful learning experiences for students participating in different learning spaces. Please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a consultation to talk further about your teaching plans or needs for Spring 2022.