Pandemic Pedagogy: Online Learning and Suggestions for Minimizing Student Storms in a Teacup
This poster outlines approximately 20 suggestions to help students navigate online courses more successfully. Even with careful planning and development, the normalization of remote learning has not been without challenges for the students enrolled in our courses. Besides worrying about a stable internet connection, students must confront a steep learning curve and considerable frustration when it comes to completing even the most basic coursework each week. Participation in the ASPIRE and SOIREE programs notwithstanding, and despite our carefully worded syllabi, weekly course modules, project packets, assignment prompts, and the like, students nevertheless experience significant confusion and anxiety when faced with the prospect of leaving the physical classroom behind for the brave new world of the virtual. The reduction of course material by instructors to bite-sized chunks and the opportunity for online collaboration with their classmates do not necessarily mean students greet online learning with open arms. Already entrenched attitudes and habits among many young adults do little to help them as they make the shift to online learning. But there are a number of fairly simple ways that instructors can smooth this rocky road over which students must now travel. The tips I share have emerged and been developed further as part of my own ongoing process to minimize confusion, frustration, and improve levels of engagement, while simultaneously imparting more agency to the students enrolled in my IAH courses here at Michigan State University.To access a PDF of the "Pandemic Pedagogy: Online Learning and Suggestions for Minimizing Student Storms in a Teacup" poster, click here.
Description of the Poster
Pandemic Pedagogy: Online Learning and Suggestions for Minimizing Student Storms in a Teacup
Stokes Schwartz, Center for Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities
College of Arts and Letters, Michigan State University
The normalization of remote learning during 2020-2021 has not been without challenges for the students enrolled in our courses. Besides worrying about stable internet connections, they must also confront a steep learning curve and considerable frustration when it comes to completing even the most basic coursework each week. Even with instructor participation in the ASPIRE and SOIREE programs, carefully worded syllabi, weekly course modules, project packets, assignment prompts, and etc., students nevertheless experience significant confusion and anxiety when faced with the prospect of leaving the physical classroom behind for the virtual. Our reduction of course material to bite-sized chunks and the opportunity for online collaboration with their classmates via Zoom or Teams do not necessarily mean students greet online learning with open arms. Already entrenched attitudes and habits among many young adults do little to help them either in the shift to online learning. But there are a few fairly simple ways that instructors can smooth the rocky road over which students must travel. The tips and suggestions I share in this poster presentation have emerged as part of my own ongoing process to minimize student confusion, frustration, and improve engagement, while simultaneously impart greater agency and opportunity for success to the young adults populating my asynchronous online IAH courses here at MSU during the 2020-2021 academic year.
In mid-March 2020, school pupils, university students, and educators everywhere were thrown into disarray by the mass onset of the Covid-19 virus, related lockdowns, and interruptions to normal student-instructor interactions.
At Michigan State University, we scrambled throughout the summer to prepare for the 2020-2021AY and reconfigure existing courses for online delivery.
Yet reasonably well developed and presented online courses alone have not enough for students to succeed. Even in the face of MSU’s push for empathy and understanding, students have demonstrated that they require additional help making the leap from traditional face-to-face to online learning.
Instructors are well-placed to assist students in an ongoing way as they make this challenging transition.
Without much additional work, we can support and encourage our students with weekly reminders that exhibit kind words, cues, prompts, signposts pointing the way forward, and calls to action.
We can foster improved student engagement, learning, and success despite the challenging, new environment in which we operate.
We can guide students through their many weekly activities with roadmaps to help them navigate course intricacies more easily
We can provide students with ample opportunity for new ways of learning, thinking, knowing, and the acquisition of 21st century skills.
In short, faculty teaching online courses occupy an ideal position to prepare students to operate more efficiently and productively in the real world after graduation since remote work and collaboration online is expected to increase markedly as society speeds further along into the 21st century.
Develop Supporting Communications
Beside online syllabi, course modules with seem to be clear directions, etc. students need reminders to keep an asynchronous online general education course in mind, on the rails, and moving forward.
Routine, consistent supporting communications to students from the instructor help to minimize student confusion.
Send reminders on the same day each week for the coming week.
Include headers in all course documents, and email signatures, listing a few ‘how to succeed in this course’ tips.
Share same supporting communication to weekly modules in LMS.
Students benefit from supporting communication that guide them through the activities for a given week during the semester.
When students see supporting communications routinely and predictably, they are more likely to remember and act on it.
Provide Weekly Guidelines
Through supporting communication, provide additional prompts, directions, clarifications, and reminders to students. Let’s call these weekly reminders “guidelines.”.
Emphasize steps students can take to achieve success in the course.
Keep guidelines fairly short and to the point to avoid information overload.
Include the week, your name, course name, and number at top of guidelines as both an advance organizer and to help guidelines standout in students’ email inboxes.
Provide students with concise ‘roadmaps’ in these guidelines making it easy to plan and carry out their coursework each week.
Conclude guidelines with a call to action for students to complete course-related activities, much like a TV or online commercial, or an old fashioned print ad.
Think of weekly guidelines as marketing communications that have a higher purpose than just promotion however.
Share same guidelines at top of weekly online modules in LMS, so students can access them in more than one place.
Include Key Course Policy Reminders
Students will not remember all course policies, and expectations outlined in our syllabi. Some might conveniently “forget.”
Provide gentle reminders from week to week.
Assist students by including important course information as part of the guidelines sent each week.
Remind students of key course policies, expectations, and their responsibilities as members of the course.
One possible segue way might be, “For students who have chosen to remain in this course, the expectation is. . .”
Remind students that we are in a university setting, they are adults, and to avoid letting themselves fall through the cracks.
Invite students to seek help or clarification from the instructor if they or their student learning team need it.
Foster Civil Interaction
We have asked students to make a huge leap into uncharted waters. They are frustrated and possibly fearful.
Many are not used to online learning, self-reflection, thinking on their feet, problem solving, or working cohesively with others.
Many already exhibit an entitled, customer service mindset.
Make expectations for civil interaction clear with a concise statement in online syllabi, modules, and weekly guidelines.
Model civility with polite decorum and kindness to reduce potential problems with disgruntled students.
Be respectful and civil in your synchronous, asynchronous, or email interaction with students. Listen without interrupting.
Avoid terse replies, even to naïve questions!
Use the student’s name in verbal or email replies.
Reduce the potential for unpleasant episodes by opening all email replies with “Thank you for your email,” and conclude them with “Best/Kind Regards. . .”
Be the adult in the room and show patience, patience, patience!
Here are vital teachable moments that allow us to help shape students for collegial and productive working lives following graduation.
Civil interaction is challenging given the various pressures and constraints under which all of us, faculty and students, must operate, but it is an important part of facilitating continued student engagement and success in our online courses.
Remind Students of the Skills They Cultivate
Besides the specific subject matter of the course, remind students in weekly guidelines that they are also cultivating real world expertise.
‘21st century skills, ’ a term used by Christopher J. Dede, John Richards and others in The 60-Year Curriculum: New Models for Lifelong Learning in the Digital Economy (2020), enable a smooth transition into the globalized digital economy after graduation.
Remind students that they are refining relevant skills in:
Deeper (critical) thinking
Collaboration and collegiality
Personal and agency and proactive engagement.
Effective planning and organization
Intellectually openness and mental agility.
Learning from mistakes.
Accountability and ownership
Attention to detail
Timely and Frequent Communication with Your Team
Development of high quality work
On-time delivery of assignments and projects.
Frequent practice of skills like these during weekly course-related activities better prepares students for long term employability through an anticipated six decades of working life in a rapidly changing world.
Establish Consistent Guideline Format
Below is a possible format for the weekly guidelines I propose:
A recurring header in your weekly that lists easy steps students can take to ensure their own success in course.
Begin with an advance organizer that identifies right away the week, semester, and dates the guidelines are for.
Follow with a friendly greeting and focusing statement in a brief paragraph.
Highlight any due dates in yellow below the greeting below greeting and focusing statement.
Include two-three concise paragraphs that enumerate and outline individual assignments or team projects for the week.
Provide brief directions for how (and when) to ask questions or seek clarification.
Furnish technical assistance contact information for students who experience challenges uploading assignments or team projects.
Remind students gently about the collaborative course design and expectations for students enrolled in the course.
Mention to students of the need to keep course policies and expectations in mind as they complete their work.
Highlight the big picture skills students practice each week besides the specific subject matter of the course, and how those skills are relevant to their lives after graduation.
Finish with a closing salutation that is a bit less formal and includes good wishes for students’ continued safety and well-being.
The approach outlined here has emerged, crystalized, and evolved over two semesters in the interest of ensuring student success in asynchronous online IAH courses.
While these observations are preliminary at this point, most students in the six courses taught during 2020-2021 have met the challenges facing them, completed their individual and collaborative coursework, and met or exceeded rubric expectations.
Anticipated student problems and drama either have not materialized, or have been minimal.
Early impressions suggest that supporting communications like these are helpful to students when it comes to navigating online courses more easily and completing related tasks.
Weekly supporting communications, presented as brief guidelines, might also be useful in the context in synchronous online, hybrid, and hy-flex as well as traditional face-to-face courses when it comes to helping students navigate and complete coursework in less confused, more systematic way.
Future plans include refining the weekly guidelines further and possibly assessing their effectiveness through a small study.