Editor’s Note: The following article is the first in a series offering insights from faculty members at the American University in Cairo on how to make online classrooms more effective. The articles are adapted from faculty comments in New Chalk Talk, a newsletter published by the university’s Center for Learning and Teaching.
This year has been an exceptionally challenging one for students and faculty alike, with disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the abrupt pivot to online education worldwide. The New Chalk Talk newsletter has been sharing faculty members’ experiences and tips and inviting their feedback throughout the period of online instruction with the goal of improving the student learning experience as well as supporting faculty in their efforts to enhance the online class experience. (See newsletters from earlier this year: April 29, July 14, July 21 and September 29.)
We continued this conversation in a recent special edition by asking faculty members from across the university for insights on this challenge inspired by student feedback the institution had been soliciting: How might we find simple strategies that work well for faculty and enhance the student learning experience? Nearly 20 faculty members from multiple schools responded to our questions about student stress and anxiety, engagement, and online instruction practices. Key focus areas in their responses included:
- Maintain a social connection with students: Check in on students and provide different paths for them to interact with you (such as WhatsApp groups) and each other (effective use of breakout rooms).
- Offer students different options for participating in your class—orally, via chat, Padlet, Google slides, etc.—and the main room as well as breakout rooms.
- Listen empathetically to students and discuss your plans with them.
- Help students manage their workload by estimating workload, reducing email load, helping them manage their time, and helping reduce their stress and anxiety in ways that reduce your workload as the teacher, too
- Make effective use of pre-recorded lectures, if applicable.
- Consider multiple modes of giving feedback (for example, audio as well as written).
- Create a sense of continuity via using a common “anchor” for students to refer to, in order to reduce cognitive load.
In this article, we will explore a couple of ideas related to student engagement. Later articles will take up issues of student stress and anxiety, and online instruction practices.
Create Social Connection
We know most faculty care about their students, but it can be harder to demonstrate it online. Showing students that we care can go a long way. Several faculty members regularly check in with students at the beginning of class, and occasionally make extra time for “heart to heart” discussions if needed. This may seem like wasted time that could have gone to covering content, but if students are distracted by a major life event, they probably weren’t going to focus anyway, right? The long-term effects of doing these discussions can motivate students and help them perform better.
Magda Mostafa, department of architecture:
“Do mental health check-ins and share your own experiences. I often instruct my students to take a breath.”