By Meghan Kennedy
Happy New Year! What New Year’s resolutions have you made? Run a 5k, watch more/less Netflix, eat only raw carrots? One resolution I encourage you to consider in 2021 is to look for ways to increase flexibility in your teaching.
While we want 2021 to look different, the reality is that it is looking pretty similar to 2020 right now. Our students still face most of the same challenges – lack of employment opportunities, illness, food insecurity, kids learning at home, and many other roadblocks to learning.
We are limited in how we can assist students who are dealing with multiple challenges, but flexibility is one easy way to support students. Designing flexibility into the course structure takes a little up-front thought, but it can minimize the ongoing need to make individual changes and exceptions for students. Flexibility will also help faculty who are also dealing with challenges and stress throughout the semester.
A few ideas to consider:
- Evaluate assignment due dates. It is important to keep students on track, but they may be balancing many competing priorities. Some ways to increase flexibility include keeping your due dates but imposing fewer late penalties, allowing students to turn in assignments up to a week (or another timeframe) late, or identifying a certain number of assignments that can be turned in late with no penalty.
- Rethink assignments and assessments. Take a look at your course competencies and consider if there are alternative ways to meet them. For example, instead of having students write about a topic, ask them to record themselves explaining the topic or answering a series of questions about the topic. This could help students who struggle with writing or have regular access to a phone but limited access to a computer. It will also give you a different type of assignment to grade. Think about providing options for all students that achieve the learning outcomes/course competencies but may offer more flexibility with technology and assignment types.
- Provide options. While synchronous lectures, discussions, and exams help mirror the experience of an in-person course, consider offering an asynchronous option for students who encounter technology issues or schedule changes. Find ways to make the content available later including making a screen recording of your lecture, recording and posting a synchronous session, or using a discussion board. Evaluate if some assignments can become individual reflection assignments instead of class discussions. Consider adjusting exams and quizzes to be offered without proctoring.
- If it isn’t working, change it. As we have all learned, changing the modality means adjusting the teaching methods. There are probably assignments and activities that worked well in an in-person class but didn’t transfer easily to the online or Live Online environments. Look back at last semester, and don’t be afraid to change an assignment, teaching approach, or tool you use. If you need help brainstorming what to do, please reach out to the CTLE.
Flexibility is a great goal that will help you and your students. Remember that you aren’t alone. The CTLE is available to help with small technical questions and assist as you make changes to your teaching now and in the future.