The initial pivot, translation or whatever you want to call the quick move to digital learning formats is now into its third semester for many instructors around the world. We are not living or working in a world we are familiar with or know to expect. What once was our constant and certainty is gone. We are still uncovering new experiences and unfamiliar territory as we progress with many focusing on taking one day at a time. Students and instructors are grappling with new digital competencies and literacies, rethinking how we teach and learn with new challenges and barriers and others are looking for ways to leverage technology and digital platforms to fill in the missing gaps from on-campus experiences. It is an uncertain world.
Both for instructors and students, teaching and learning often was more private or only happened within the walls of a classroom – and now these experiences are exposed, more public, open to greater interpretations and social comment. New considerations are arising around privacy, responsibilities and conduct in the digital world, participation and engagement of learners, academic dishonesty, rigor and integrity of the learning experience etc. We can get swept away by all of this. Both instructors and students are experiencing hours vapourizing in front of their screens as they tackle large quantities of digital communications, technology challenges, glitches and new learning while trying to figure out what to do next amongst the ever growing body of content, due dates, assignments, etc.
Institutions and individuals are trying to get a handle on what is happening through doing surveys, focus groups and feedback sessions:
–> Kate Lister’s Mental Health in Distance Learning infographic summary of her doctorate (Image)
–> University of Victoria’s Online Learning and Teaching Survey and recommendations for mental health and well-being (#5)
Teaching and learning support centres and staff are trying to share ways to make the teaching and learning more humane and attentive to supporting every learner:
–> Michelle Brocansky-Brock’s How and Why to Humanize Your Online Class document and infographic
–> UBC’s Transition to Remote Teaching and Students’ General Well-Being Survey Results
–> UBC’s Teaching Practices that Promote Well-Being site
–> University of Calgary’s Teaching and Learning Centre page on Mental Health and Wellness strategies
–> University of Waterloo’s Supporting Students’ Mental Wellbeing: Instructional Strategies website
The resources listed in the preceding paragraphs and those listed below are just a sampling of ideas that may help instructors focus on their mental health and well being – as well as their students’. We can’t let the technology or the new learning or the challenges take over the most important part of staying healthy and balanced in this uncertain world.
• Take time out of each day for you. Whatever it might be, give yourself a treat of time, food, sleep, a good book chapter, listening to some music, a walk around the block. Encourage your students to do the same.
• Take screen breaks. Encourage your students to do the same.
• Don’t create assignments that will be time-consuming to mark. Strive for simplicity in your assessments by using tools such as single-point rubrics, student self-assessments, simple checklists, etc. that will still give students the feedback they require but won’t tax your time.
• Provide timing suggestions to students as to how long an assessment or assignment should take. If you can help students manage their time and know what you are expecting, they can start building their schedules accordingly. This will also help students build their metacognition and awareness of their learning.
• Provide more time than normal to do digital tests, exams and mid-terms. This might mean leaving an assessment open for a day or two for students to choose when they want to start it. Limiting a student’s time on task for any low or high stakes assessment adds additional stress and concern around performance with uncertain technologies or connectivity.
• Create clear options for how to request extensions, additional time etc. Students need to know this up front so they can exercise them if they need to.
• Provide a ‘late bank’ option for students (e.g., up to 3 or 4 days they can use for extensions or additional time)
• Allow students the ability to adjust their due dates and parameters around handing in assignments if you can (such as providing a timeframe for an assignment to be due – not a specific due date)
• Give students flexibility in how they access content so that they can choose which formats work best for them (such as provide a video summary of the week along with a slidedeck summary of the core concepts and/or a set of links for reading) – so that students with various technology competencies or learning abilities can access content in a variety of ways
• Give students flexibility in how they engage with course content so that they can have varied experiences, possible choices for how best they want to engage etc (such as group vs. individual, immediate vs. gradual, digital vs. non-digital, instructor-led vs. student-led etc.)
• Give students flexibility in how they demonstrate course learning outcomes (such as provide choice in assignment format and topics, give students options within an assignment, allow students to work together or on their own, traditional research paper or mid-term vs. developing a teaching resource for the class etc.)
• Add more flexibility into your own schedule such as not taking on as many tasks, reducing expectations and giving yourself more time to adjust to situations.
• Be flexible regarding how students engage in your live video-conferencing classes (e.g., making cameras optional, able to post in the chat during class discussions, recording the lessons for reviewing later on etc.)
• Keep your communications, content and engagements consistent so students know what to expect each week (such as a weekly welcome video to the week’s activities, or all assessments are found in the same location in your Blackboard Learn course, or the look and feel of each week’s expectations are the same)
• Build templates, formats and outlines for you and your students. Will help keep things on track.
Feedback and Reflection
• Give students opportunities for providing anonymous feedback mid-way through the course and share any relevant results with the whole class
• Provide frequent feedback to students about how they are doing in the course particularly in the first few weeks
• As your peers to provide feedback to you on your course design and possibly sit in on a live class to provide peer feedback
• Leep your communications, explanations and instructions as clear as you can (e.g., clear language, step-by-step instructions, a sample or two of previous assignments, video explanations of an assignment in addition to a written version etc.)
• The clearer instructors can be with their students, the fewer emails and inquiries will come from students thus reducing some additional support time
• Create a weekly checklist for students so they are very clear on what is due, when and how
• Provide clear and explicit criteria for all assessments along with providing opportunities for students to give feedback and seek clarity
• Anytime you can involve students as partners in the learning experience you engage them, build their confidence and make the whole teaching and learning experience more fun (such as have them help you build the course schedule, or develop an assessment tool or provide suggestions for topics for projects etc.)
• Provide opportunities during your course for students to work with other students in non-graded experiences but experiences with an accountable piece for sharing and/or presenting to you and the class as this builds collaborative skills (this will help build community and connections between students)
• Synch your assignments and projects with other courses students may be taking so that students have enough time to complete them without overlap. This collaboration between instructors will help students and ensure they have enough time for completing the work.
• Work with your students to establish clear norms and expectations around their engagement in the class learning community, how they interact with you and each other etc.
Access Resources and Supports
• Student Supports: Campus Services for Students 2020/2021 PDF, NIC Student Services website, share resources, supports, slidedeck summaries from Student Services with students to ensure they know there are free and available resources for them like NIC Counselling, Early Assist,
• Faculty Supports: Available through Employee and Faculty Assistance Program (EFAB) provided by Homewood Health (info found on MyNIC Employee Resources > Human Resources)
• Direct students to the NIC Learn Anywhere website to self-help resources on digital learning