Take-Home Messages from Listening to Students

Contributed by Laura Almstead,
Plant Biology; Nutrition & Food Sciences; CTL Faculty Associate

I was prompted to write this blog piece after reading the responses to a mid-semester survey and reflecting on input I’d received through one-on-one conversations with students.

Listening to our students is a powerful way to answer the all-important question: Is what I’m doing working? Seeking student input is even more important as we all make adjustments, or in some cases monumental shifts, in our courses to navigate the new landscape of COVID-19.

Below is a compilation of take-home messages from my students as well as the students in other CTL Faculty Associates’ courses. These messages come from a range of course sizes and formats, yet the underlying themes are the same. As we look towards spring, hopefully these messages can help inform and guide our course development.

Technical glitches freak students out, and they often blame themselves.

One of my great surprises this semester was how frequently students blamed themselves for technical glitches such as not being able to log into Teams, not being able to type in the chat, etc. Choose your technologies carefully and keep the number of different technologies you use to a minimum. Most importantly, be kind, be patient, be lenient, and constantly reassure students that they’re not to blame for these glitches.

Be yourself, be human – it works.

Students want professors who are “real people.” As we strive to garner the respect of our students, it can also help to let them see our vulnerability. Whether that’s by sharing your love for Schitt’s Creek and the Bachelorette, or introducing your pet in a Teams meeting, it all helps to build community. Even in remote or asynchronous online classes where you may never meet your students, sharing who you are outside the classroom builds connections that make you more than just a face on the screen.

Provide structure to support student learning during stressful times.

Structure is essential component of inclusive teaching under normal conditions, and even more important now in these topsy-turvy times. Set patterns and reminders go a long way towards helping students stay on track. Have a clear, consistent pattern to class activities and assignments, and regularly remind students of due dates via class announcements and emails. Take the time to clearly communicate the details of your course, such as how technologies will be used and how to contact you.

Give students ways to interact during class to promote engagement.

It’s easy for students to “zone out” in class, especially if they’re joining remotely. Keep people engaged by providing frequent, simple ways for them to respond to or interact with class content. Ask a question and have people respond verbally or by typing in the chat, or simply have them write the answer in their notes. Assign “chat buddies” and have people message each other to discuss a question. The remote response system iClicker Reef provides a relatively simple way to incorporate participation as a graded component of the class. Whatever methods you choose, students appreciate and want interactive classes.

Create opportunities for students to build connections with each other.

In these times of social distancing, students crave opportunities to connect and interact with their peers. Encourage students to respond to each other’s answers in the chat during class, promote and support formation of study groups, find ways to incorporate group discussions, and include low-stakes group projects. Consider what’s appropriate for your course, and try to find at least one way to increase student-student interaction.

Be flexible with in-person attendance in mixed and in-person classes.

As much as many students want to attend class in person, some may feel safer joining remotely and others may struggle to navigate the logistics of juggling mixed, remote, and in-person classes. We must also be prepared for students to be in quarantine or isolation. Give students the choice of coming in person or joining remotely in mixed classes. For in-person classes, have a clear plan outlined in your syllabus for students that are unable to attend in person due to health concerns. Remember that what’s important is not how your students join class, but rather that they are easily able to join class in the manner that makes them comfortable and keeps everyone safe.

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