Leading with grace and reprioritizing with distance learning in a global pandemic — Brittany Liu & Kyla Day Fletcher

Too long, didn’t read: In this post, we reflect on some of the course design choices we made for our large, Psychology research methods course. A lot of things we’ll keep, some we’ll change. Knowing we couldn’t simply teach the course the same as previous iterations, we used these guiding principles and focused on 1) how to make the class accessible and inclusive to all students, 2) embracing flexibility, 3) following up with students quickly, and 4) extending compassion to ourselves and the students.
Some elements seemed to work really well, and were mentioned by students as particularly helpful while learning in a global pandemic.

  1. Accessible & flexible. We asked students to complete a survey before the first day of class. From the results, we saw that students’ home lives looked very different than when they were physically at K. Some were now working full-time jobs, some were working night shifts, some had to share a single computer with siblings also doing distance learning, some had childcare duties. We welcomed the students with a video addressing their concerns and anxieties, and shared our guiding principles for the course. Before covering content, we posted tips and resources not just for how to do their best work via distance learning, but also how to take care of themselves during a time of upheaval and uncertainty (e.g., link 1, link 2, link 3).
    • Deadlines? We set due dates in the syllabus, but told students they were guideposts to keep them on track. There were not late deductions. When a student did not turn in assignments, we followed up with an email asking the student to check in with us (example of email wording). When a student reached out asking for an extension, we first wanted to respond to their emotional need, expressing our sympathy and understanding of the toll they’re under, reminding them that it’s good to take care of their well-being , and offering to follow-up one-on-one on assignments when they were ready.
    • Synchronous contact: we put the students in groups and encouraged them to work with one another to study and practice the course content. Some groups took advantage of this, and others did not; next time, we will incorporate specific low-stakes activities to be completed by the groups to encourage socialization. We also were available for (optional) synchronous “office hours” twice a week (at staggered times for students with atypical schedules). We found that we tended to get the same handful of students each week and we really missed seeing students’ faces, chatting in live time with them. For the future, we plan to build-in more synchronous opportunities for Fall 2020 that are still flexible.
  2. We wanted to make sure that students could do their work whenever worked best for their schedule, so the course was asynchronous (recorded video lectures & slides posted to Moodle, and students turned in work via Moodle).  We created short video lectures each week that lead to a short class assignment (goal for videos was 20 min, and in feedback students preferred this to when videos drifted closer to 40 min).  We based assignments on in-class activities we used in the past.  We also provided instructional videos for larger assignments to answer common questions and concerns.  Other choices we made that aimed at giving students a better sense of control were 1) posting class materials on the same day of the week, so students knew when to expect them (you can set Moodle to do this ahead of time), 2) listing in the syllabus due dates for all assignments (big or small), and 3) using the syllabus to give students a color-coded suggested schedule for completing coursework. 
  3. Quick follow-up with students.  We wanted students to have something due every week so that we could monitor if a student stopped engaging with class (Moodle allows you to view which students have visited a page and/or opened a file).  We provided answer keys for small assignments to provide immediate feedback and allow us to  target our feedback more efficiently.
  4. Another big change was that in 2019 we had 2 big class projects; for 2020 we decided to break them down into medium assignments that still met our course learning outcomes.  For instance, in 2019 students wrote a large literature review paper; for 2020 we broke it down into 5 medium assignments: a theoretical framework; article analysis; detailed outline of the paper; references page; and then formally writing-up 1 section of their outline.  We really liked this change because we could get students feedback sooner on their big ideas, and hopefully students were more confident to start writing after getting feedback on their idea and outline.    

Now, having time to pause and reflect, in some ways we are grateful for the opportunity to drastically rearrange our teaching priorities. We realize that many of the “necessary” components of past course iterations were in fact quite superfluous. By leading with compassion and reframing our approach, the students seem to have learned more, made more real-world connections, and achieved more psychological balance. Come to think of it…so did we.

1 thought on “Leading with grace and reprioritizing with distance learning in a global pandemic — Brittany Liu & Kyla Day Fletcher

  1. This a great piece! Thank you so much. I love the accessible and flexible section. That’s really necessary in online learning, especially under the circumstances. Many student’s probably had much less autonomy and more outside commitments when they went home unexpectedly in the spring. Still, my hunch is that this approach is beneficial in ALL instructional settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.