Pedagogy in times of disruption

Teaching during times of potential disruption requires creative and flexible thinking about how instructors can support students in achieving essential core course learning objectives. This guide offers suggestions for instructors looking to continue offering a student-centered learning experience online.

While the process may feel unfamiliar and at times frustrating, try as much as possible to be patient. In times of disruption, everyone expects some pedagogical and technological hiccups. Be willing to switch tactics if something isn’t working. 

Focus on maintaining a growth mindset for both yourself and your students. Under normal circumstances, we make a point of conveying to our students how much we believe they can grow as learners in our courses and disciplines. Similarly, approach the pandemic disruption knowing that you and your students can and will succeed in this unfamiliar learning environment. 

Remember, while you might not be able to teach something exactly the way you imagined, as long as you’re still meeting the learning goals of the course, you’re doing fine.

Guiding principles when bringing your course online

Good pedagogy is more important than which digital tools you use.

Instead of letting unfamiliar technology drive the design of the lessons you’re bringing online, remember the backwards course design process:

1. Focus on your course learning outcomes, those things you expect students to be able to do by the end of the semester. For the vast majority of courses, the learning outcomes likely will remain unchanged from the face-to-face version of your course.

2. Determine how students will demonstrate they have met the learning outcomes. Online, these assessments might include assignments turned in as text, images, slide decks, audio, spreadsheets, short videos, and more. You might also give low-stakes quizzes in Canvas so that students can get immediate feedback as they navigate and adapt to learning online.

3. Design the learning experiences and instruction students will need to succeed with the assessments. These might include asking students to listen to brief live lectures (via Zoom) or pre-recorded screencasts (via Kaltura); read ebooks or articles from the university Library’s catalog, as well as articles and reports on the open web; and podcasts and videos.

Students’ needs vary online, too.

You already know that students show up in our courses with a huge range of educational preparation for university-level work; diverse and sometimes divergent cultural habits, beliefs, and values; and disabilities that can affect their learning or how they access course materials.

You may find that some students’ engagement with course materials and other students may shift when they’re online. For example, you may find that a student who was comfortable and talkative in the face-to-face classroom struggles to connect with other students in Canvas’ discussion forum because his dyslexia requires him to spend extra time on his written communication. Meanwhile, a previously quiet student participates enthusiastically in a discussion on Flipgrid because she has more time to prepare her remarks. 

Make it a priority to maintain an inclusive, equitable online learning experience for all students. This includes being mindful of the accessibility of your course content.  

Reduce your own stress and workload.

Bringing your face-to-face course online mid-semester—and during a pandemic—is not an ideal time to implement learning technologies that are unfamiliar to you and your students. Accordingly, limit your adoption to one or two new-to-you digital tools; for many faculty, that means getting to know Canvas better and learning how to host meetings in Zoom.

Recording lectures and creating new multimedia for your course can quickly become exhausting. Consider using existing resources from the Library or the open web, or repurposing other learning resources you already have available. For example, instead of lecturing, you might ask students to read an article and then listen to a podcast episode that provides a complementary viewpoint on the same topic. You could then take questions on that topic from a previous semester’s exam and modify them for use in a discussion forum.

Finally, remember to be gentle with yourself during this disruptive shift at mid-semester. Dr. Amy Young of Pacific Lutheran University wrote on Facebook after attending a workshop on moving her course online, “You will not recreate your classroom, and you cannot hold yourself to that standard. Moving a class to a distance learning model in a day’s time excludes the possibility of excellence. Give yourself a break.” Her entire post offers sound advice.

Adapted from Boise State University.