Teach in a Time of Corona(virus)

Please see the advice of Prof. Laura Mitchell (Director of Pedagogical Development in the School of Humanities) as we transition to remote teaching and learning.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Transitioning to all online teaching, basically overnight, is a stressful experience for instructors. We should remember though, that this is even more anxiety provoking for our students, many of whose material lives, social support networks, and routines were abruptly disrupted. They’ve been working hard at learning one set of skills and adopting mindsets that serve them in on-campus classes. Now they’ve got to do something different, a challenge many of them will have to face on their own with limited resources (and literally limited bandwidth).

As faculty grapple with how to adapt existing classes to online formats, it helps to remember that all of us—students, faculty, and staff-—are going to have to make big adjustments together. As we go through this process, I offer some touchstones to help keep us sane and connected.

We’re not alone. Although our in-person activities are curtailed, seek out modes of communication that keep us directly connected: individual emails, texts, phone calls, video chats. Connect with your teaching peers, as teaching teams of faculty and TAs, and across cohorts—especially with our students. Encourage—even assign—students to be in touch with each other outside of class time.

Practice compassion. Our students are more stressed out—and more vulnerable—than we are. Our first priority in this emergency is to provide a sense of educational continuity. The whole situation is sub-optimal. The educational context is less than desirable. But it is not a disaster, and the learning opportunities are significantly better than zero. So let students know that you see them as people (even if they’re teeny-tiny on a screen). Acknowledge that they might be scared, angry, or confused (aren’t you?).

Build community. Many of our students will have more experience than us interacting in on-line spaces. Encourage them to work collaboratively in the class to solve problems. Ask them for help. They know that most of us haven’t taught classes online before, so you don’t have to pretend to be an expert on the format. You bring teaching and subject matter expertise. What might it look like to create partnerships with your students about modes of interaction and content delivery?

Abandon perfection. This is your first time teaching online. Spring 2020 might not be your best teaching quarter. That’s okay. Whatever you put together will provide learning opportunities for students and for you. This is not the quarter to be a gatekeeper for your discipline or enforce intellectual boundaries.

Take time for reflection.This dramatic change in teaching and learning along with limited training in new modalities is an opportunity to streamline a course or refine your teaching philosophy. As you abandon perfection in your course, accept that you won’t be able to accomplish everything you might in a face-to-face class. What is one core principle or skill you most want students to take away from this quarter? Clearer writing. Intellectual self-confidence? Academic resilience? A foundational concept in your discipline? Getting clear on your goal for each course will help immeasurably in the transition from in person to online teaching.

Adjust our perspective on the prospect of teaching online. This intentional move helps with our sanity. But we still need actual support to make the transition. Here’s an article length primer and basic how-to list for planning to teach on-line. This Twitter thread from UCI’s Career Development for Historians curates a range of resources and how-to tips. DTEI’s resources for pedagogical continuity is a one-stop-shop for links you’ll need if you’re not already using Canvas, Zoom, and Yuja: three UCI supported platforms that will make your online teaching life manageable.

Laura Mitchell
Director of Pedagogical Development in the School of Humanities