Crisis-Conscious Teaching Toolkit:
Four key things to consider when teaching during a crisis
(Life under COVID is isolating; your class can be a source of support for your students through relationships with you and each other.)
- Rethink class/communication structures to lessen power imbalances (for instance, sharing about how you’ve been affected, using first names, using social media platforms, etc.)
- Situate yourself as a fellow (if more advanced) learner exploring a dynamic, evolving discipline
- Create space for students to share stories and find personal connections
Create productive instructor – student relationships
- Be attentive to indirect, nonverbal communication of stress
- Offer direct pathways for students to communicate stress and anxiety.
- Utilize anonymous multiple-choice “check-ins” (have a process for following up):
- At this time, I am: great, doing ok, struggling, having a really hard-time
- If the latter: ask for name so you can follow-up
- Is there anything I can do to help you succeed in the current unit? Yes. No
- Is there any particular challenge you are facing in this class? Yes. No
- Is there any particular challenge you are facing in college? Yes. No
- Note, for previous three, if yes, then ask “What would that be?
- Foster individual connections via “office hours,” email, etc. I know you were disappointed in your last test, how are you feeling about the next one? How was your soccer game Friday?
- Use Intelligent Agents in Brightspace to send individualized, but “automatic” messages to students who haven’t logged in for a number of days, miss an assignment deadline, etc. (PDF directions here)
- Mind the “gap” - differences between “haves” and “have nots” become more pronounced.
- Refer students to campus support resources at PFW Prepared site: (i.e. student counseling, campus health clinic, technology rental, emergency relief fund, etc.) and provide this info in the syllabus and/or Brightspace
- Complete a CARE form to refer students to the Dean of Students’ office for help
(A defining element of a traumatic experience is loss of control and a sense of powerlessness. Helping students develop a sense of control is important for coping.)
In the class
- Offer choices for assignments and/or ways to “attend” class
- Let students know what is coming so they can plan/prepare
- Establish a consistent routine (i.e., similar assignments due on the same weekday)
- Weave a combination of structure and flexibility throughout your course.
- Provide deadlines and work with students who miss deadlines.
- Be prepared with alternative activities. For example, record synchronous, virtual meetings in case students cannot attend.
- Ask students for and be open to constructive feedback about the course. You could ask about:
- How well did the assignment demonstrate your learning?
- What activity might have worked better?
- Did the grading rubric fit your expectations?
- Was the discussion, activity, unit paced effectively?
In their lives
- Help students create/identify a self-care plan – this might include:
- Who are their supportive people? Are they in touch? If not, how can they be?
- What healthy things do they do to feel in control, happy, content, or less stressed? Are they making time for those activities? If not, how might they?
(Extraneous stimuli created by a crisis can increase the cognitive load imposed on students, making it more difficult for them to process information and learn.)
- Use principles of Cognitive Load Theory to identify strategies that reduce cognitive load.
- Minimize distractions in the learning environment.
- Develop guidelines for virtual meetings (e.g. find a quiet space, mute, “raise hand”).
- Remove non-essential content (e.g. visual clutter, verbosity) from course materials.
- Streamline where possible; focus on the most important objectives
- Break up large assignments into manageable parts.
- Integrate and centralize information.
- Use Brightspace to house and share course materials, assignment information, etc.
- Minimize attention-splitting (e.g. avoid bouncing between PowerPoint, webcam, etc.).
- Provide scaffolding
- Use examples with full solutions for novice learners, and partially worked/unfinished examples for more advanced learners.
- Build up to complex concepts by introducing/reviewing fundamentals.
- Connect content to personal experience and prior knowledge.
- Allow learners to collaborate on learning activities.
- Ensure the course is clear and organized.
- Create easy navigation, i.e., use similar structure for modules and label items clearly.
- Develop a predictable schedule (e.g. consistent start/end times, regularly spaced due dates)
- Share a clear agenda for each class meeting.
- Prepare learning opportunities in advance (e.g. breakout rooms, discussions)
- Use Brightspace Completion Settings to provide a visual guide/reminder of tasks.
Class activities related to the crisis
(Connections to the current crises can increase students’ engagement in learning and help them understand how these events impact themselves and others.)
Information compiled and synthesized by Carl Lawton, Psychology; Elliott Blumenthal, Biology; Isabel Nunez, Education; Marcia Dixson, Academic Affairs; Rachel Ramsey, CELT; and Yvonne Zubovic, Mathematics
Teaching during COVID
University of Michigan's Responding to Difficult Moments
8 ways to be more inclusive in your Zoom Teaching from Chronicle of Higher Education
Supporting students in a crisis