While many colleges and universities are making a push back to in-person learning for the fall, recent studies suggest that online options for courses will likely become a staple feature of higher education in a post-pandemic world (McKenzie, 2021). Therefore, graduate students will likely continue (or start) teaching and assisting with courses in an online or hybrid setting. So, what lessons from the past year or so of online learning can educators take with them into this new normal?
Unique challenges and recommendations to consider
Gauging student understanding
Last August, SPSP organized an #SPSPchat on online teaching. One of the panelists, Dr. Andy Luttrell highlighted that in an online learning environment, it’s harder to “read the room” and gauge students’ understanding when compared to a traditional setting. Accordingly, it can be easy to move too quickly (or too slowly) through course material. Instead, instructors could consider “flipping” lectures meaning pre-recording mini lessons for students to watch asynchronously before class and then use class time for active learning exercises like the ones recommended here. This may help educators better identify students’ gaps in understanding so that they can adjust the pace of the course accordingly.
Student engagement is more challenging in an online environment. For example, another panelist from the #SPSPchat, Dr. Dina Gohar, mentioned that asking students open-ended questions often results in blank stares and general disengagement. Students may also face more distractions from their surroundings during class time. In addition to the active learning exercises mentioned above, instructors could also increase student engagement by taking advantage of breakout rooms during synchronous sessions. In order for students to make the most of their breakout room experiences, fellow panelist Dr. Catherine Rawn recommends providing students with specific tasks, timelines, and roles for their sessions as well as asking for feedback from students about what could be better next time.
Lack of community
Another key challenge of online teaching is the struggle for students to build community with one another and the instructor. In a completely remote setting, students and instructors may feel socially isolated especially if they are dealing with poor internet connection, family or scheduling conflicts, or health issues. This can prevent students from getting to know one another and from reaching out and connecting with instructors when they need help. To create community in an online setting, educators can set up more opportunities for students to connect with one another and the instructor outside of class time and asynchronously with online discussion boards, peer reviews, and blog posts.
Lessons from online teaching to take back into in-person classrooms
For those students who will be teaching or assisting with in-person learning, there are still lessons to embrace from this time of online learning.
A recent study suggests that after the pandemic, students and faculty members alike feel more optimistic about the use of technology in the classroom moving forward (McKenzie, 2021). Incorporating more videos and online games or other resources helps students and educators take a break from traditional lecture. Additionally, this can help students reflect on the course material in a new way. Graduate students who are teaching or assisting with classes may want to focus on how they can incorporate interactive elements into their in-person environments.
Finally, one of the most important lessons online teaching can give to current and future instructors is the importance of flexibility. Educators were forced to be flexible during the pandemic, but this emphasis on adaptability is relevant whether instructors are remaining in an online setting or transitioning back into the classroom. Being able to adapt and make changes through trial and error can help instructors from feeling stuck if they’ve tried an activity that is not working for their students.
For more ideas, check out SPSP’s teaching resource page.
McKenzie, L. (2021). Survey reveals positive outlook on online instruction post-pandemic. Retrieved June 13, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/04/27/survey-reveals-positive-outlook-online-instruction-post-pandemic