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Teaching College in the "New Normal"


After a global COVID-19 pandemic, instructors must shed what feels “normal” and be flexible in how we teach.

Let’s address the “normal.” That there has long been an evolution from teaching in a classroom to teaching online, with institutions adopting the hybrid model to reach students and bolster enrollment, instructors adapt to new technology, a physical or digital classroom, asynchronous and synchronous course formats.

Let’s address the “new normal.” Teaching college is complex after the pandemic. The pandemic resulted in colleges getting creative in how to safely teach students not allowed to be at school, could only attend class from another location, or could attend a course in person but with smaller class size.

These circumstances provide opportunities to leverage what you know to achieve student engagement and set them up for success. Below are strategies instructors can use.

Get to Know Your Students

Students have a rich, complex and unique life like anyone else. Instructors can do more and get to know students. Foster responsibility and accountability by practicing empathy with students.

Consider:

  • Be a guide, build relationships. Get to know their interests outside of academia. Reach out to students and ask them open-ended questions about how they’re perceiving the course and how you can assist—listen more than talk! Ask them to contact you about keeping course work up if they’re going through a rough patch, dealing with adversities, etc. Factoring the context of a student’s life to their academic work, and helping them to manage the course, can have positive outcomes.
  • Intervene promptly and proactively. Identify the first signs of struggle in the course to help students find and address the root cause. Look for signs by watching grades, class interaction, comments made, whether students seek assistance, and absences.
  • Encourage class dialogue. Send an email update at the beginning of the week with your summarized thoughts about what you want students to be thinking, feeling, and doing for that week’s class. Ask students to respond with questions, comments, or concerns.
  • Share your personal life too. Share pieces of your personal life. Discuss favorite shows to binge, books to read, podcasts, snacks, or the people in your family. It gives students a fuller picture to who you are and can add fun layers to instruction with pop culture references and inside jokes.

Technology is Your Friend

Use all the technology at your disposal to build relationships with students. Consider trying:

  • Increase class engagement with fun. Ask students to take an online poll (ungraded) with fun questions. Use SurveyMonkey to create and send a free poll.
  • Use a digital teaching aid for student self-directed learning. These aids or tools can be tailored to your unique course, allow students to work at their own pace, will adjust to their level of learning, and lets you provide support.
  • Post a blog, video, or create a discussion board in the learning management system. Discuss your hopes for the course and their learning. Encourage students to do the same and share how they’re feeling about the course and college life. Respond to posts in a thoughtful, compassionate way and address concerns; let them know you want their feedback, however raw.

Teach Like an Acrobat

These days the need to use varying combinations of in-person and online teaching requires instructors to be acrobats and show skillful academic dexterity. Some tips include:

  • Overcommunicate when teaching asynchronously. Try checking-in with those students that you haven’t heard from. Send an introduction email and a farewell email. Or, post a weekly reminder about deliverables.
  • In a physical classroom, take the stage and wisely use time. Move away from the podium and get out among the students. Review assignments in detail, chat with students over breaks, ask for feedback and listen. Strike-up conversations with quiet students and see what’s on their minds. Keep visual aids just that – you’re the main entertainment.
  • Show academic acrobatics with the hybrid model. Maximize in-person time and schedule group work or team activities or try a flipped classroom. When online, create assignments and activities that leverage that environment. For example, plan online time to lecture less and encourage discussion. Use chat areas and polling to encourage engagement. Ask students to turn on their camera and participate on video.

We must teach to the times. By using a few simple techniques and ideas, college instructors can be effective both online and in the classroom in our “new normal."

About the Author

Christopher G. Bona is adjunct faculty at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication and the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He teaches a mix of business and communications courses.

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