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Supporting Students in the Time of COVID

By Jaime Longo,

Supporting Students in the Time of COVID

In his pivoted syllabi, Brandon Bayne of UNC Chapel Hill shared five fundamental principles for this interrupted semester. Bayne’s principles resonate deeply with Lasallian pedagogy and serve as a useful guide for how we can best support our students in a time of upheaval. La Salle’s Spring 2020 student survey echoes the same anxieties about tech access, ability to focus, and potential for familial disruption that Bayne found when he polled his students. In the midst of a disrupted learning experience, communicating these principles to our students regularly and compassionately can serve as a reminder — to them and to us – of the importance of getting through this together and by association.

 

Here’s how Bayne’s five principles might look in our Lasallian context:

  • Nobody signed up for this.
    You’re freaking out. They’re freaking out. Our collective sense of control has just been blown to smithereens in every aspect of our daily lives.

      • Let them know that you know this. Let them know that you are also experiencing it and that they aren’t alone. Remind them that we are making Student Counseling Services available during this time if they are feeling overwhelmed and apprehensive. (Feel free to borrow Bayne’s language; that’s why he made his principles public. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.)

     

    • Whenever possible, name and alleviate student fears. Our students have expressed concerns that faculty will implement remote teaching poorly and then grade them harshly. When necessary, acknowledge that you are in the midst of your own remote teaching learning curve, but assure them that they will not be penalized for that learning curve.

 

    • The humane option is the best option.
      La Salle is renowned for its teacher-student relationships. Connection with and authentic care for our students have always been at the heart of what we do, and we need to find ways to incorporate those components in our remote teaching.

      • Whenever possible, let them see your face and hear your voice. That might mean regular mini-lecture videos, video or audio feedback on their assignment at least some of the time, and regular online office hours.

 

    • Students’ ability to maintain connections with each other is also important. Required synchronous class sessions are a problem for students in different time zones and/or students who have family obligations during this time, but optional synchronous class sessions (especially if limited to once a week or so) can be a good way to foster those connections.

 

    • Offer explicit support and flexibility to students who need. There is sample language for how to do that in this thread, started by Jesse Stommel (a regular Chronicle contributor). It doesn’t have to be a treatise. Just a simple statement that you know this is hard and will work with students to get through it can make a big difference.

 

 

  • We cannot just do the same thing online.
    You put an enormous amount of work into planning syllabi, so it feels especially painful to face the reality that your syllabi may need to be compressed or otherwise modified.

    • Don’t try to shoehorn every last piece of your original syllabus into your online version. Faulkner allegedly said about writing, “You must kill all your darlings.” In this context, you might need to let go of some of your favorite assignments, readings, or activities.

 

  • Be honest with yourself about the amount of scaffolding and accessibility required for your syllabus. Aim for the realistic.

 

    • If your final project normally requires days of in-class guidance, it’s not a good fit for this format.

 

    • Do you usually show a film that isn’t freely accessible online? Could a clip or two stand in instead?

 

  • Recognize that asynchronous work is harder and more time-intensive than synchronous work. With synchronous work, you are present to answer questions, provide guidance and context, and re-direct on the fly when necessary. When students are working asynchronously, they need to work out those pieces on their own. Make accommodations accordingly. One discussion post a week represents more work than you realize, especially if you’re requiring students to respond to their classmates.

 

  • We will foster intellectual nourishment, social connection, and personal accommodation.

 

    • In this context, aim for intellectual nourishment through quality, not quantity. Ask students to engage deeply and authentically, but accept that they will do so with fewer concepts or works than you would ordinarily cover during this time.

 

    • Try not to pin individual student grades to collective work. Our student survey is consistent with those done nationally: Students are very concerned that they will be penalized for group work, including not being able to respond to discussion posts because their classmates have not posted. Think through workarounds or alternatives for collective responsibility.

 

      • Beth Rene Roepnac suggests one option for discussion posts here, in which you respond to clusters of posts, and students have a chance to respond to you.

 

 

      • These alternatives offer the added benefit of reinforcing students’ relationships with you.

 

  • Social interaction is vital. Set up Open Office Hours for students to check in with you. Try to stagger those sessions on multiple days and at varied time slots, to make sure that students juggling unexpected responsibilities have a chance to reach you. Offer individual conferences when feasible and necessary; even an occasional five-minute check-in will reinforce that relational element of your pedagogy. Offer optional synchronous sessions – during your scheduled class time only, unless you’ve polled students and found a mutually agreeable alternative time – as opportunities for social connection, even if you wind up covering very little course-related material during that time.

 

  • We will remain flexible and adjust to the situation.
    • Be as accommodating as possible, even in situations when you might ordinarily take a harder line. We often justify our decisions about deadlines and attendance as “preparing students for the realities of the work world,” but this is not a situation that logic makes sense.

 

Lasallian pedagogy calls us to find practical ways to meet the needs of students in difficult and challenging circumstances. , to offer “a bold and innovative response to the actual needs of real concrete people” (Br. Leon Lauraire, as cited by La Salle trustee Br. William Mann). St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle surely never envisioned difficult and challenging circumstances like these, but our Lasallian heritage is full of creative, practical solutions. We have always excelled at authentic relationships with our students; if we keep that commitment at the heart of our response right now, the practical solutions will follow.

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