Teaching In-Person during Pandemic

Teaching traditional, in-person courses during a pandemic brings with it several additional considerations. We are all hoping for the best -- not only hoping but doing our part to control the disruptions of COVID-19 through sanitation, social distancing and facemasks. Being smarter now about how we set up our courses can pay dividends if we are called upon to pivot under new conditions.

  • You are very likely to face at least one period of time during which students in your class are unable to attend because of isolation or first-degree-contact quarantine.
  • Instructors should prepare continuity plans for the sake of our students in case we, unfortunately, contract COVID-19.
  • It could become necessary for the health and safety of our people to transition all courses online like we did in the Spring.

The following items suggest ways you can increase flexibility, prepare for a rapidly changing situation, and perhaps improve your teaching overall.

  • Capture, capture, capture - Even when things are running according to plan regarding in-person course delivery, try to capture all your class meetings via technology available in the classroom or with a webcam or built in laptop camera. If you can't capture with video, try making an audio recording. These resources may become crucial for review and for providing a repository for students of the earliest work in the class should we be required to pivot to online instruction later in the semester.
  • Use Canvas - Maybe you are brand new to learning management systems (LMS) like Canvas. Maybe "new" to LMS was quite some time ago and you just never went very deep. Maybe when we migrated from Blackboard to Canvas you got busy and never got past just learning to "get by." It does not matter. The integration of technology with all aspects of their lives is "native" to your students. They expect instructors to use the technological tools that are now ubiquitous. We do a disservice to our students if we don't use the tools that facilitate their learning and our course delivery. They deserve instructors that are life-long learners, too, and who will figure out how to use the tools that promote excellence in teaching and learning.
    • Assignments - Create assignment items in Canvas for every assignment you have in the course. Don't just stop with the name of the assignment. Use the description box to provide your students the rationale for the assignment. What relation does this assignment have to course objectives? If you struggle to articulate a direct alignment from the assignment to an objective of the course, you may have discovered an activity that can be reworked to better align with the course objectives and be more engaging to the students.
    • Announcements - While you are meeting in-person, establish an online rhythm for the class by creating periodic announcements in Canvas following a  schedule. Maybe you post an announcement every Monday morning that briefly restates what was done or what was learned last week and sets up the upcoming week. This has the added bonus of promoting student reflection on what and how they are learning. Then, if some of the class or all of us end up shifting to online, the pattern is established for students to look to these regularly scheduled announcements to stay abreast of activity in the class. Some of these announcements can be pre-written and scheduled to post at a later date according to the established schedule.
    • Provide Feedback Online - Canvas contains tools for sending assignment-specific messages to students. Even if you are accustomed to grading material that is handed in by the students in an in-person class, build up a practice of providing feedback via Canvas. After you perform your hand grading, turn to your computer and type a note to the student. As you build up this capacity, you can take another step and use built-in features in Canvas Speedgrader to record video feedback. This technique is surprisingly popular with, indeed loved by, the students and can be a way to preserve rapport that you have established earlier in the semester should circumstances require a pivot to emergency remote instruction again. You will have established a pattern of providing feedback in Canvas so that pivot to wholly online instruction is less disruptive.
    • Supplemental materials – You might already provide additional materials like study guides, assignment guides (see below), or electronic readings via Canvas. Now stretch your thinking beyond Canvas as a mere repository. Is there course content that you can provide in short, self-contained videos? Is there media online that you can use to provide variety and perhaps another perspective on a topic? As your students are mastering the material in your course, perhaps they can analyze and assess what others are saying and posting online about those topics. Taking on this challenge makes the potential transition to wholly online delivery of course material less daunting to you and less disruptive to your students.
    • Gradebook – If you haven’t been using the gradebook in Canvas, it is well past time to figure it out. Admittedly, it has limitations and can be downright frustrating at times but our students need to see their grades and Canvas is the place they are looking.
  • Put Instructions in Writing – Have you burdened your syllabus with the added duty of bearing the instructions for your various assignments throughout the semester? We tend to be unaware of the clarifications and added guidance given informally in traditional classroom settings. Questions are asked and answered before and after the class period; reminders are called out to the students as they pack up and rush out the door at the end of class. These extra bits of information and reinforcement are not available to the quarantined student or in a wholly online environment. Start now creating robust assignment guides starting with your most complex assignments like research and writing.
  • Create Rubrics – hand in hand with clear instructions on how to perform each assignment is further communication of expectations in the form of grading rubrics. These may be two things you have wanted to get around to for some time. Now is the time. Assignment guides and rubrics work together to communicate your expectations to your students and set them on a trajectory for success. They will improve all your teaching, not just online course delivery.
  • Provide for Creativity - Have your students create something digital that has both their own personal touch and relevance to the course. They can then make that creation available to you and their fellow students online. This engenders an added sense of social presence and investment in the course whether it is taught in-person or online. Should students go through a period of isolation from the class or the whole university go online, an already established sense of belonging in the class community and having contributed to that class community in an online medium can help keep them engaged in the course online.

These are your starting points. This guide is light on the how-to and is focused on what you can do and why. If you need help figuring out how, Baylor has resources in place to help you learn the techniques and technology. Go to the Learning Together step on technology, contact the Help Desk (x4357), or peruse the Keep Teaching subsite developed for rapid deployment of online instruction in the Spring semester.

We wish you the best and encourage you to keep learning how to be a better – and better prepared – teacher in a season of rapid change and challenge. To continue your journey, visit the Academy for Teaching & Learning to find faculty development programs and opportunities.