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Best Practices for New Beginnings: Advice From Your Colleagues at the Center for Faculty Development


  • Stress: COVID-19 has created a stressful environment. Acknowledge that. Students may well have many new problems that they didn't before. Some may become ill or others might return to home environments that are not conducive to learning. If their parents, spouses, partners, siblings, children or guardians become ill, their personal responsibilities may increase. Some students may not have homes to go to, and the COVID-19 event may lead to homelessness or food scarcity issues that were not problematic in the dormitory. Some students may be panicked and scared. Others may come from groups who feel ostracized because of the epidemic. Be sensitive to students' fears and feelings.
  • Some students may not fully understand why social distancing is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While most of us are not in the medical field, we still may need to explain some basics of disease prevention to students. Such explanations can be reassuring for them. Define social distancing for them and explain why it is important.
  • Acknowledge that you are stressed as well. You now may have to devise a new way of teaching when you thought you'd be relaxing or getting other kinds of work done over spring break.
  • Consider this online experience as an opportunity to learn more about online instruction, especially if you don't know much about it.
  • If you need to alter your grading scheme for the semester or your grading rubrics, do so as soon as possible and communicate those changes to your students with an explanation of the changes.
  • Be clear with students about how you want them to submit work, take exams and quizzes. No in-class instruction can occur during the period students have been asked to stay away from campus.
  • Take time to think about the students in your courses. Do you have graduating seniors? What might their needs be that could be quite different from the rest of the class? How might you meet those needs? What about accessibility needs? Check with students about any kind of access needs they might have. The online environment may well create accessibility needs that were not necessary in the in-class setting. You'll have to think about captions or transcripts for video and PDFs for students who need screen readers. Check with the Office of Educational Accessibility if you have questions.
  • Check with students about their access to technology. Not everyone will have fast Internet or even access to the Internet at home. Some students may not have a working laptop and may have no way to rent or borrow one. Make sure you understand student needs.
  • Do not create assignments or work options that disadvantage some students over others. (Please reference technology and accessibility needs above.)
  • As faculty members restructure traditional classes, reflect on what you do during class and how it can be tailored for the online environment. You may have to upload pictures — for example, of samples, substances, and structures — that you regularly have students use in class. You might need to prioritize in terms of learning objectives. Perhaps at first it might seem difficult to keep the course as ambitious as it was, but the Center for Learning and Teaching offers excellent support and various options. Contact CLT at clt@odu.edu.
  • Offer online office hours so that students can reach out to you for a conference call. Keep in contact with students and explain why you are taking a certain direction. The online course may be a very challenging space for many students, and your instruction and reassurance will be vital to their success. Open communication with students is more essential than ever before because of the disease-environment created by COVID-19.
  • Create and post short videos/messages to clarify content.
  • Commit to being flexible. Perhaps your class involved presentations or performances. Consider how students can record themselves and upload this material for you to view. Perhaps you've never worked this way, but it might be necessary now. Most students have phones, and they can use those phones in a variety of ways to engage course material.
  • If you meet your class online in a Zoom or Blackboard format or if students watch a video, consider providing an outline of the discussion or video that can be emailed in advance. Students can then be instructed to follow the outline and fill it in as they watch or listen to the lesson. Empty outlines are an excellent tool to help students focus. An outline they fill in helps guide students through the major themes of the unit. This can be essential since they will not have a way to read body language as readily and they may have less opportunity to follow vocal cues. In the in-class environment students also make friends, and those friendships often lead to the dissemination of information about a course. In the online environment that reduced personal interaction may affect struggling students in significant ways, so it is important to be creative with instruction.
  • Take full advantage of the online formats like Zoom that allow you to see your students, watch them raise their hands, and engage them one-on-one. It's possible to better experience and understand a student's question in the Zoom or Blackboard online setting than in the large classroom. There are great opportunities here to engage students.
  • Create checkpoints within the online learning environment — this will provide students with a better understanding of where they should be within the course, and it will provide you with feedback on student learning and understanding.
  • It's best to create knowledge distribution units in 10- to 15-minute chunks and then facilitate online discussions or mini-assignments in order to keep students engaged with material.
  • Follow up an online session with reflective work that gives students the opportunity to reconsider what has been presented in the online unit.
  • Consider asking students to keep a journal that they turn in at the end of the semester. The journal can substitute for some assignments that you might have used in the in-class environment. Use reflection as a pedagogical strategy. For example, ask students to assess where they were in the class before moving to online and where they are at the end of the semester. Ask them to consider the two forms of learning spaces. What did they like about both means of instruction? You may find that you learn a great deal about your teaching because of the online experience.
  • Have students reflect on the current state of COVID-19 and how it affected them. Students must engage with current events as they move forward after graduation. How did this experience with a pandemic make them rethink course material, their discipline, and their future directions? Take advantage of the teaching moment; what can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to your discipline?
  • Show students how flexible you can be. We face a global pandemic — the world is more interconnected now than ever and COVID-19 may be the first in a series of global events that will require adaptation and ingenuity.
  • Perhaps you have never used Blackboard or never used many of the tools Blackboard offers. Perhaps you are overwhelmed by thinking about the online process. Contact the Center for Faculty Development to talk about pedagogy and the Center for Learning and Teaching to discuss use of Blackboard and other technological tools.
  • No one wants to be in the situation we face. However, it also offers opportunities for growth as an instructor as we confront and develop more diverse pedagogical tools and strategies for instruction.

Annette Finley-Croswhite, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Faculty Development