Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
We at MSU Denver have always had community-building on our collective mind. As a commuter campus, we must strive to bring our students together in ways that are not as simple as offering pizza and programming in a residence hall. Our efforts in this area set us apart from so many other institutions. The care, compassion, concern and opportunity for engagement that our student-service programs and faculty provide have consistently been amazing.
But since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to sustain our Roadrunner community in emotional and practical arenas. Emotionally, we can continue to support students and offer them meaning and motivation during this difficult time. Practically, we need students to remember their connection to the University so they re-engage and register for summer and fall classes and keep moving toward earning their degree.
It seems like maintaining community in our new virtual reality would be a tough challenge. But one of the great ironies of the coronavirus crisis is that social isolation has brought us together in local, national and global society – each person in their own home but clearly and markedly together. How do we create and maintain community, though, when we are all dispersed throughout the city and never come together in person?
Take a SIP of this: maintaining community during a pandemic
However, as we have all learned through the quick pivot from face-to-face to online teaching, you can’t just snap a finger and re-create your work in a virtual environment. Don’t try to “replicate” online; instead, look for new ways to bring your students together. We are already making strides toward doing this in the classroom by showing students we are learning new things and trying new platforms, ideas and methods (even if our efforts meet with varying degrees of success). We can certainly go out on the same limb when it comes to creating and maintaining community.
Think of the ways in which we organically create community and categorize your efforts instead of trying to do the same things we did in person. Normally, we find community in family and home, neighborhood, school/work, interest groups such as religious affiliations or clubs, and also at the state and even national levels. Consider your sphere of influence with students and go from there.
Here are some thoughts on how to maintain community with your students:
- Regardless of the levels of professionalism you may have maintained in your classroom before, the coronavirus may have you teaching in your pajamas with a cat on your desk, a kid in your lap and a full window into your dirty kitchen. Embrace it! Instead of glossing over the chaotic view, ask your students to share scenes from their isolation workspace and work conditions. This intimacy can build trust and bring the students in your class together as a “family.” If you don’t feel comfortable letting students into your own home, consider using a virtual background with MSU Denver images that evoke our Roadrunner family. Check out this Early Bird storyto learn how.
- At the end of a semester, you may be tempted to close the chapter on each class and break off communication with that particular group. But in a few weeks, consider the impact of sending a quick email with a humorous video clip, a funny GIF that reminds you of the experience of that class or even just a few words that let your students know you are thinking of them and hoping their summer is going well. You could even sneak in a crafty question about their fall registration or ask if they need to connect with University support services. This little check-in will help prevent “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome and will remind students that they have a caring community on campus.
- If you do send an email, pop in a big Roadrunner at the top. It is like virtually wearing swag. This will remind students that they belong at MSU Denver, wherever MSU Denver is and however we are learning together. You can find MSU Denver logos at Brand Centralon our website. Similarly, pop on your favorite MSU Denver T-shirt or sweat shirt. Every day is now Roadrunner Red Friday and jeans!
- Communities are often defined by common goals and activities. When you engage with your students, remind them that we all share the goal of seeing them walk across the stage to receive their diploma. Knowing you have this “eye on the prize” mentality can motivate students to lean on you for what they need to keep progressing.
- Welcome new members to your community. Work with your department chair to get a list of newly admitted majors and minors and reach out to let them know you are glad they are with us – whether you meet in a virtual visual setting or even via email or phone.
- Don’t forget to fill your own community bucket. Reach out to co-workers and friends from school when they cross your mind. Use social media to keep in touch if that is comfortable for you. Your continued presence in the community is vital.
- Ask students for their ideas on what they need and how to maintain community. As we know, we have many tech-savvy, digital-native and virtually connected students who often come up with the most creative ideas. Lean on them and their creativity and expertise to keep us together through this rough time.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of This: Here are some resources you can use to keep supporting students virtually:
This Early Bird story links multiple support services in one handy list.
Connect students to the CARE team by submitting a CARE report.
The MSU Denver Alumni Association is a great mechanism for connecting students to members of their community and maintaining Roadrunner community long after graduation.
And finally, a scholarly article that discusses the development of a conceptual framework that encompasses the cognitive, socio-cultural, affective, behavioral, ecological and organizational factors that impact students’ engagement with the University.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
This spring, we quickly moved our classes online and campus was closed down due to COVID-19. Though we have continued to work and teach together, many of us did not get to say goodbye or formally celebrate our time together as part of our larger departmental or Metropolitan State University of Denver community. In addition, we are all experiencing the isolation and stress of sheltering in place, job loss, health fears, housing insecurity and more. Saying goodbye is important and hard under normal conditions, but our current context makes it even more important that we say goodbye intentionally and provide students the opportunity for celebration, closure, connection and purpose.
Take a SIP of this:
The current pandemic can make school and work feel less important, a bother, hopeless and a distraction from what really matters. Students and teachers can lose sight of what they have learned and accomplished during the past semester and potentially over their entire time at MSU Denver. They may even lose sight of how important their field, contributions, expertise and relationships really are. Though difficult to endure, these are normal responses to crisis and stress. However, when we are getting ready to finish a hard semester and/or to graduate, we do not want to feel disappointed, powerless, disconnected or that we do not matter or our time at MSU Denver did not matter.
This is where saying goodbye and intentionally planning the end of your semester is essential this year. Goodbyes, celebrating accomplishments and having closure rituals also support trauma-informed pedagogy. Trauma and chronic stress challenge our sense of purpose, take away our agency and strain relationships. Many of our students, in addition to COVID-19, have survived traumatic situations that have impacted their development and education.
Honor you students through:
- Reinforcing their purpose and larger connection with you and the world.
- Recognizing all that they have overcome and accomplished, reminding them of their strengths.
- Sharing the importance of relationship by providing space for them to connect with you and their peers through saying goodbye and how you will stay connected in the future.
You may think you don’t have time to devote to goodbyes, but please challenge yourself as to whether the final chapter or lecture is really necessary. Instead, make time and space for your students to name and celebrate their hardships, accomplishments and relationships, and say goodbye.
Here are some suggestions to help your students during this traumatic time and to make saying goodbye a little easier:
- Consider making a goodbye video reviewing main takeaways from your course, what you have learned from your students, how they have impacted your life, how you will remember them and your hopes for their future.
- Provide your contact information and encourage students to get in touch with you. Encourage them to get on LinkedIn or join an alumni group on campus.
- Use space in their final-assignment feedback to include a personal statement and goodbye to each student, and make sure to use their name.
- If possible, have students invite family and/or friends to their final virtual presentation/capstones to honor all the student has accomplished.
- Create a meme or GIF making fun of yourself or sharing an inside class joke and distribute it to your students in the final week. Or have them create something in a final discussion post.
- Share what they have learned, accomplished and created, and acknowledge them getting through despite the pandemic.
- Hold space for students to share their appreciation and feelings with one another and the instructor through a video chat such as Flipgrid.
- Express how their chosen field and accomplishments prepare them to make a difference in their world.
- Recognize your own successes in teaching during a pandemic and celebrate with your colleagues all you have accomplished.
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this:
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
The transition to online teaching has been challenging for faculty members. I noticed that with this change, the focus of my classes shifted from learning together or engaging students to simply “delivering the content.” I teach four classes this semester, like several of you, and one of my biggest challenges with online classes is limited engagement from students.
I use a hybrid approach – part of my classes are taught asynchronously, and I meet with students once a week for synchronous online time. For the asynchronous portion, I post notes ahead of time (at least a week ahead) along with recordings of myself explaining concepts or terminologies based on the notes. Students read the notes on their device and watch the recordings before they meet with me synchronously online. I avoid lecturing during the synchronous time and use several activities to clarify questions and confusions, provide feedback and create discussion opportunities. I feel as if we, as educators, must build a relationship with our students online even if we have previously established a relationship in face-to-face classrooms. Students, in this process, have been my biggest support system, although they have more at stake (in terms of grades and graduation) and additional concerns with housing, family commitments and jobs. I have noticed that students have been extremely flexible, understanding, forgiving and even sweet and supportive.
Take a SIP of this: Make your synchronous online classes more fun
Here are some ideas or activities I have been choosing from during the past three weeks to make my synchronous online classes more fun. These activities are less grounded in research and more grounded in my experience with engaging students in and out of the classroom. I look forward to reading those student evaluations at the end of this semester more than ever before. J If you are new to online teaching or are a pro at it, I hope at least one of these ideas sparks interest for you.
- We play a “this/that” game. It is really silly, but the students and I have fun with it, or at least I do. J For example, I start the game with the first student who volunteers. “Would you like to be the Broca’s area/Wernicke’s area? Why?” “Would you like to have a conversation with a toddler/a preschooler? How?” Then each student calls out a peer’s name and asks them a similar question. We make sure that everyone gets a turn in all games.
- We play “two truths and a lie.” For example, I start with one student. “Intentional communication emerges around 8-9 months. Joint attention emerges around 6-10 months of age. Inflectional morphemes are mastered by age 3.” The student has to select which one of these statements is a lie. I give the students a checklist that they can use to ask the next person another “two truths and a lie” question.
- We play a “teach your annoying aunt/uncle” game. I post questions ahead of time. Each student picks a question and spends about two minutes preparing an answer. I start with a question, pretending to not know anything about it, and then become the annoying aunt asking several follow-up questions. For example, I say, “What exactly is phonological awareness?” And then I annoy them by saying, “Really? I can’t understand that. Could you tell me what a phoneme is first? Why would a child need phonological awareness? What does it have to do with reading?” etc. So I spend about five minutes with each student doing this.
- Another game is called “emoji slides.” This is a great game to play before exams. I have a set of premade slides. Each slide displays a concept or a word or a question. I share my screen and present one slide at a time. Students have to respond by reacting to the word/concept/question on the slide with an emoji – J happy, L sad or 😐 If students react with a J happy emoji, I move on to presenting the next slide. If I see a few sad or neutral emojis, I stop and explain the concept or give examples until everyone reacts happily.
- Another game we play is “who am I?” For example, I say, “I am a part of the cochlea that separates the scala media and the scala tympani. Who am I?” “I acquired two languages at the same time before the age of 3. Who am I?”
- We do online role plays. For example, one student volunteers and we practice asking questions as part of a case history while I pretend to be the caregiver and the student, a speech-language pathologist. We then reverse roles.
- For review of concepts, we use collaborative worksheets. I post a worksheet with several questions (multiple choice, fill in the blanks, true/false, explain a term, give an example, compare two concepts, etc.). Students can then open this worksheet on their Microsoft Teams browser and start typing answers to these questions. Students can see each other’s responses, and I can see both their names and their responses. They get immediate synchronous feedback.
- Finally, we use short 15-minute quizzes during the synchronous class time. I create quizzes using Microsoft Forms. These quizzes are not part of the course grade; they are merely used for practice. Students can complete the quiz on their individual devices during class time. I can review their responses, and they can get immediate feedback.
After class, I spend about five minutes compiling all information from that class session. I save the key for worksheets we have completed as a group. I usually record all synchronous online classes (with student permission), and I post a link to these recordings so students have the opportunity to review them later.
Please contribute your own fun ideas and activities in the comments section.
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this: Make your synchronous online classes more fun.
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Last month, in the face of a global pandemic, faculty and students from around the country were forced to make a sudden and drastic shift to remote and online learning. Professors who were used to teaching their students in the classroom are now having to conduct their courses on the other side of a computer screen. Students who were used to having regular in-person contact with their professors now must deal with a hodgepodge of methods for accessing course content and in some cases face strictly online instruction devoid of any human element.
Online learning isn’t for everybody, but now everybody is having to learn online. For many students, this has created significant hardships. Some students may not have the skill set to be successful online; others may not have the necessary hardware, software or internet capability. In addition to the basic foundation needed to be successful online, there are personal factors. You have students who have lost their jobs, students who are now homeschooling their children full-time and others who are just trying to cope with a world that has been turned upside down. So what does this mean in terms of grading student work? How can we best support our students during this time of crisis and honor our course-learning objectives and expectations?
Take a SIP of this: compassionate grading
Compassionate grading is a means of supporting our students. It does not mean easier grading. It is not about lowering standards for quality products and learning but reshapes expectations in terms of manageable assignments, innovative delivery and clear communication.
Suggestions for how to implement compassionate grading:
- Clear, simple communication is essential. Students need to have straightforward information about what is due, when is it due and how they should submit their work. Examples of this would be weekly email updates, keeping students up to date on course content and due dates.
- Reduce the number and the complexity of assignments. Think especially about assignments that are far more difficult to accomplish given that libraries and other resources are no longer available.*
- Create alternates for assignments that are no longer possible. Replace those assignments with choices if you can so students have some control and options, and with less taxing tasks. For examples, see SIP 3.2, SIP 3.9, SIP 3.10, SIP 4.11.
- Accept late assignments even if that is not your usual practice. We don’t know (and shouldn’t ask) about personal, family, work, etc., obligations outside of our classes. We don’t know why students’ work is late. Is it because they don’t have reliable technology, for example? Now is not the time to hold a hard line about due dates or to ask for explanations. See SIP 10.9.
- Offer one-on-one help. All of us can create Teams meetings with students to provide tutoring, answer questions, explain directions and support technology challenges. Please make yourself available. Some students will still be reluctant to make appointments or attend office hours, just like under normal circumstances. It’s up to us to ask, again and again: What are your questions? What are your concerns? Do you feel like you understand my expectations? I did this with each one of my students individually, and 100% of them asked questions when prompted and invited.
- Recognize that “less is more.” Let’s ask our students to complete fewer assignments with higher quality when possible. This will also reduce our workload while we are also stressed about time management and worried about our personal situations.
- Provide prompt feedback. Now more than ever, students need to know they are doing OK. Respond as quickly as possible to emails, phone calls and assignments when they are turned in. This will reassure students.
- Focus your feedback on students’ progress toward course objectives, rather than assessing simply to build a grade.
- You have received a FAQ about the new Pass/Fail and Withdraw options that may be appropriate for some students. Reach out to your department chair if you have questions.
In conjunction with compassionate grading, let’s allow ourselves some “compassionate teaching” generosity (see SIP 10.8). Your class may not be as rigorous as it was before. Your students won’t have the same opportunities for rich discussion, reflection about real-life classroom experiences or access to beautiful and enriching resources. Give yourself permission to say that’s OK.
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this: compassionate grading
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
With everything moving online so quickly, many of us might forget that this spring is a time of many religious holidays that our students, and ourselves, will still be trying to celebrate. Supporting students right now means supporting their whole selves, and for many of them, giving a little space to honor their religions is so helpful to their overall mental and physical well-being.
Take a SIP of this: supporting students in their religious practices
One of the biggest things we can do for students is to allow for flexible grading around the time of religious holidays. Technically, we do not have to be flexible for students’ religions unless they let us know about their need ahead of time, but we can take this burden away in several ways.
- Send a reminder email that says: “If your religious holiday is coming up and you need a few extra days to finish X, please just email me and let me know.”
- Look at what is planned over the next few months and plan flexible due dates (SIP 10.9 on flexible due dates) around the major holidays. For example, instead of an assignment being due on a Sunday at midnight, you can have it due between Saturday at 6 a.m. and Monday at midnight. Note that Blackboard will not give you date ranges, but you can choose the latest date you are willing to accept the assignment, change the information in your week-by-week course schedule and send out a reminder of the flexibility through Blackboard as well.
- Think about what you know about some of the major holidays already. For example, Muslim students will be fasting for Ramadan, so if you have something that must be accomplished in a two-hour window, consider whether you can offer it first thing in the morning, right before fasts begin, rather than in late afternoon – as hungry people do not perform as well on academic tasks.
- For now and for future semesters, if you are offering live office hours when you are available, try to vary them in case your live office hours fall when people need to pray or to not use electronics.
- Remind students that there are religious organizations on campus if they need added support from their faith communities: the Muslim Student Association, the Auraria Campus Ministry, Chabad of Auraria Campus; they can find more from Center for Multicultural Engagement and Inclusion.
Here are some major holidays between now and the end of the semester:
- April 10: Good Friday, Christian holiday
- April 12: Easter Sunday, Christian holiday
- April 16: Last Day of Passover, Jewish holiday
- April 17: Orthodox Good Friday, Orthodox holiday
- April 19: Orthodox Easter, Orthodox holiday
- April 22: Ramadan starts, Muslim holiday
- May 24: Eid al-Fitr, Muslim holiday
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this: supporting students in their religious practices
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
The week after spring break can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. Whether you were on a beach, hanging at home or even catching up on work, it can be difficult to recapture the everyday routine of the semester. This year, the task of getting back on track promises to be even more difficult – our entire lives have turned upside down, and there is no real “normal” to return to. So how can we get ourselves and our students in gear so we can finish the term in the best possible manner?
Take a SIP of this: recovering momentum after spring break – COVID-19 edit
In the true spirit of “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others,” the first person who needs to reestablish a routine is you. Self-care must necessarily underpin all attempts to establish a good WFH (work from home) routine. Here are some ideas around formulating a healthy daily routine that will allow you to work at your peak and support your students untiringly:
- Wake up, eat and get dressed every day as if you were leaving the house to go to work. Keeping your circadian rhythm stable (as opposed to watching Hulu until 2 a.m. and waking up at noon) will help to boost mood and energy.
- Eat healthy meals on a regular schedule. Perhaps this is even an opportunity to eschew the eat-on-the-go packaged meals that have been fueling your busy days for years.
- Work exercise into your day. Set a timer and take a break every 20 minutes or so to go up and down your stairs, do some squats or pushups, or lift your screaming toddler into the air 20 times. You are no longer running around campus or standing up for hours in front of a class, so you need to compensate for that lack of daily movement.
- Sleep!! In addition to getting a healthy amount of sleep each night, consider taking a brief nap during the day. Naps have been proven to “increase alertness, boost creativity and reduce stress,” all of which we could use right now.
- Connect with friends and colleagues via FaceTime, Zoom or just a regular old phone call. Maintaining personal and professional relationships will help you feel less isolated. Try a virtual happy hour with real glasses of wine!
You may also need to reconfigure your workday to maintain productivity (and sanity). Especially if you are now working surrounded by toddlers or petulant teenagers home from school and off their own routine, it will help to create a new sense of normal for your job. Try a few of these practices:
- Clear out a space in your home that you can dedicate to work. Even if you don’t have a truly defined “office” area, being able to set up and work from a consistent zone can make it feel less like home and more like business.
- Create a work schedule and stick to it. Nine-to-5 might not do it for you, depending on your circumstances at home (kids, parents, spouses, pets, etc.). But set aside some time to work.
- Keep the schedule realistic. Shoot for four to six hours of solid work per day, then engage in community-building and self-care.
- Set a goal for each day and celebrate when you accomplish it. Keep the goal manageable: “email my class” is more reasonable than “write an article for publication.”
- Try to take weekends off. When home is all-consistent, you need to differentiate between the workweek and your off time.
Finally, communicate openly about setting up this new routine to your students. As awful as it is, this pandemic can provide us with the opportunity to connect with students in truly meaningful ways, and talking about the struggle to get on task might be one of them. Here are some ideas to spark conversation:
- Show your students this great, short “for students, by a student” video on students working from home (shared by a colleague at Texas A&M).
- Create an assignment around sharing daily schedules. Using Blackboard discussions or any other platform (even a massive email thread), ask students to share what they are doing each day to keep on track. This will have the added benefit of boosting community in our new virtual reality.
- Encourage students to privately share their struggles with this new reality with you. Connect them to the appropriate campus resources (which are all still serving students) to support them through this. You can also file a CARE report on their behalf – this is a service to get students the support they need.
Tips from the SIPsquad
Finally, check out what some members of the SIPsquad are doing to institute new and meaningful routines in their lives:
* I’m reading a poem every day, beginning with Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum’s amazing new book, “Visiting Hours.”
* I have started a gratitude journal with my kids. Every morning, we each write down one thing that we are grateful for. It helps to remind us of what we have and to keep our minds off the friends, events and milestones we are missing.
* We “go to school” every day by going for a walk or a bike ride around the block and back again – it gets us out of the house and dressed and a tiny bit of exercise.
* I have made a commitment to finally use all the workout equipment that has been collecting dust for the past several years and work out at least 30 minutes every day.
* I’ve been using what used to be my commute time to sleep later each day and waking up refreshed.
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this: recovering momentum after spring break – COVID-19 edit
The New York Times Daily Briefing on March 23 had some great tips on “what to do when you are isolated” to maintain physical and mental health and a productive daily routine.
The Let Me Learn Bulletin on March 23 has similarly focused suggestions for productivity and well-being.
This article from the Chronicle provides some great realistic insights and comforts: “Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure.”
Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
This week, the SIPsquad would like to focus on supporting faculty members as they move into perhaps the most challenging moment in our institution’s history: fully implementing remote teaching and learning, mid-semester. This unprecedented precautionary measure, intended to combat the spread and impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on our campus community, has the faculty working around the clock to move everything online. So many of us have never taught online, so we would like to point you toward some resources to get you up and running.
Take a SIP of this: emergency transitioning to remote teaching and learning
Here are a few thoughts to get you off on the right foot:
- Don’t panic. Our current use of technology in everyday life (social media, email, video chat, ubiquitous smartphone use, etc.) has us well positioned to use tools we are familiar with to alter our instructional-delivery mode with relative ease.
- The vast majority of our students are digital natives and will likely adapt to this transition much easier than our seasoned faculty. The primary roadblock they will face, though, is a shift in class organization. Do your best to maintain any structure you can from your face-to-face class and organize a solid plan for remote completion of the semester.
- Your best bet is to break the plan into chunks. If you focus on the next two weeks instead of trying to create eight weeks of online learning in one fell swoop, it will minimize stress on you and your students.
- Ask for help. Take advantage of the resources listed below but also reach out to your peers in your department and across campus. There are so many seasoned online faculty members at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and they can be an invaluable resource as you consider this shift.
- Once you have your plan developed, communicate it in its entirety to your students, if possible. Prepare to communicate with your students much more frequently for the rest of the semester, too – you may have emailed your class only once or twice before, but now set up a schedule of Sunday-evening or Monday-morning emails that announce the plan for the week, and check in by email a few times between classes as well.
Take advantage of the following MSU Denver resources that are designed to support you during this transition:
- Self-directed training for online teaching is available at MSU Denver Ready. This training will provide you with the minimum tools needed to continue instruction online.
- Participate in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design’s virtual drop-in hours.
- ITS will offer support to faculty and students by using the Helpdesk number (303-352-7548). There will be a special help desk set up soon to support students who are struggling with technology.
- Faculty can also seek support from the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design by calling 303-615-0800. There are also online tutorials available from the CTLD.
- Microsoft Teams is a tool that all faculty have in the Outlook suite, and it can help you livestream your classes with relatively little learning curve and high accessibility. Here is an instructional video (two minutes long) to help you get started.
And finally, here are some SIPs on online learning. You may have skimmed over them before when you were just teaching face-to-face, but a reread may come in handy now.
SIP 4.14 Ensuring Online Accessibility: Three Best Practices
SIP 10.13 Using Active Learning Strategies in Online Courses
SIP 9.11 Creating a Human Component in Online Learning
SIP 10.2 Establish a Strong Teaching Presence Online
SIP 10.10 Establish a Strong Social Presence Online
Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:
This blog post from the Scholarly Teacher: Completing a Face-to-Face Course Online Following a Campus Mandate.
Coronavirus and the Great Online Learning Experiment. Chronicle of Higher Ed, March 11, 2020.
Going Online in a Hurry: What to Do and Where to Start. Chronicle of Higher Ed. March 9, 2020.