Meeting with my students face-to-face without a face covering seems like a distant memory. I miss seeing my students dearly; however, during this time of uncertainty, I have come to terms with three significant factors to help guide my students so that they are successful in my course:
Over the past couple of months, I have noticed a trend where my students would not complete assignments on time. After reaching out and having extensive dialogues, I found that most of the reasons for failing to submit assignments were mental health reasons — depression and anxiety. My students needed to know that I was in the trenches with them, so I created discussion posts requiring students to input their thoughts and feelings, while also having a quick link to our campus counseling center embedded in the instructions. To receive full credit for their posts, I asked that the class respond to their classmates with encouragement.
This assignment brought to my attention that I need to put my best foot forward and advocate for my students by letting them know that they matter and I care about their progress and achievements. However, in higher education, the teacher and student rapport is strained because students are allotted a small timeframe to interact with their professors, or the class is so large that the professor cannot get to get to know each student formally. So, I created an initiative that affirms my students by providing weekly announcements or emails of encouragement and reassurance. I understand that accommodating my students in this manner is not within my job description; however, I found that being an educator extends beyond teaching content. During a time of trauma and loss, I must be a pillar of support for my students.
Teaching has its challenges. Before I became a teacher, I envisioned being like Mr. Feeny from “Boy Meets World,” giving valuable fortune cookie advice to all my students. Here is the truth—instructors must create strategies that spark innovation and change. While teaching online, I have faced many roadblocks. Students often become disengaged, unmoved, and just downright bored.
The assignments that I would typically give my students if we were face-to-face become futile when converted to online learning. To combat this issue, I found myself becoming more animated during class lectures while also using online interactive applications that keep my students focused during our discussions. I would have never thought that I would be watching anime with my students to promote critical thinking and communication skills, but it works.
The world is in a vulnerable state right now, and so are our students. It does not take rocket science to hit the submit button for an assignment; however, it does take vigilance to remain compassionate to those who need your support and guidance as their instructor. Extend the due dates of your assignments and activities, so your students have the chance to be successful. Give your students a light of hope at the end of the academic tunnel. Take time to think through what you may view as “excuses.” Give your students time to work through the obstacles they may be facing at home or within themselves, so that they can reach out to you for discussion or completing the assignment.
Each student is not the same. As an instructor, I have realized that my students have unique qualities and learn differently. Therefore, instead of forcing my students to adjust to my teaching methods, I adjust my teaching methods. For example, during pivotal moments in lectures, an instructor can incorporate online checkpoints to assess clarity and understanding among students. Essentially, an instructor does not have to be Mother Teresa when conducting their online teaching; however, the instructor needs to exhibit a level of concern and compassion when dealing with each student. Attempt to understand the student’s obstacles and ascertain the best option to assist the student.
These factors have helped me evolve as an instructor and enhanced my teaching strategies. Affirmation, innovation, and compassion may look different to each instructor and can manifest beyond the examples that I have provided. However, the result to ensure a level of scholarly conduct within a classroom remains the same.
Recommendations for instructors and institutions
Instructors are tasked with nurturing innovation in an uncharted space. Research covering student and faculty online readiness suggests institutions need more help understanding how to provide effective high-quality online instruction1. Below, I have provided a few recommendations for how institutions can build a healthy online learning environment conducive to students’ needs.
- Adapt to today’s students, who may not match your generation, identity or ideology: Convene faculty multiple times per semester to adjust course content and student learning outcomes, and share best practices for online learning.
- Have staff members establish protocols and processes to reach and assist students who are not on campus.
- In the absence of robust research regarding the experiences of students of color and online learning during the pandemic, institutions should survey their students and become familiar with their students’ diverse spaces while going to school online. They should execute plans tailored to promote a healthy online learning environment for all students, including students of color.
- Scharmer2 tells us to break through the threshold of creativity and innovation through prototyping. Prototype online learning solutions, allowing for quick “failure” and adjustment. Through this process, I believe institutions will be able to perform their plans to fully accommodate students of color and reach new levels of tangible innovation strategies that can be executed, which results in a positive impact on campus climate.
1 O’Keefe, L., Rafferty, J., Gunder, A., Vignare, K., Online Learning Consortium (OLC), & Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. (2020). Delivering High-Quality Instruction Online in Response to COVID-19: Faculty Playbook. Online Learning Consortium.
2 Scharmer, C. O., & Senge, P. (2016). Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler.
Ashlee B. Daniels is a doctoral student at Prairie View A&M University studying to receive her degree in Educational Leadership. Her research focuses on how to best accommodate Black women in higher education through the lens of Edenism, a theoretical framework that she created as a solution for best critical thinking teaching practices and strategies for children of color. Her work is guided by Edenism to provide mentorship and support for Black female students matriculating through college and to prepare them for successful career positions. Ashlee’s research interests include the effects of diversity on college campuses, Black female leadership, the curricular implementation for students of color, and the articulation and manifestation of critical thinking skills by students of color at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and HBCUs. For more about Ashlee, please click the following link to her professional portfolio: https://abdaniels.wixsite.com/ashlee-b-daniels