Planning Spring 2021
Students and faculty alike have provided valuable feedback on their experiences with remote learning, including both opportunities and challenges. As we turn to Spring 2021, it’s time to find ways to make our courses flexible and manageable for students—and for faculty too.
This is not about lowering the bar—our students are not eager to have fluff classes. It’s about creating a learning environment that’s responsive and sensitive to the situation so that our students can actually reach our learning goals.
In the face of general fatigue and anxiety, student respondents most often reported the following to have affected their academic engagement positively:
- Interesting course content (58% of student respondents)
- Professors’ flexibility to accommodate student needs (48%)
- Professors’ clear communication around coursework priorities (43%)
- Timely feedback from professors (41%)
It’s important to note that the Georgetown Academic Calendar is different from the usual spring calendar, starting later and having fewer breaks. In response to these changes as well as to student feedback, we offer strategies and examples of how other faculty members have adapted or are planning to adapt their courses this spring.
What we are hearing from our students:
- They are feeling disengaged and overwhelmed
- They are not happy the official spring calendar has a lengthy 9-week period between the start of the semester and spring break
- Some faculty have added too much content or being rigid about coverage
- Some faculty are not respecting class start and end times
- Some faculty are not providing breaks during synchronous activities
- Some faculty assigned work over the Thanksgiving break
reported that they were ‘very or somewhat disengaged’
reported general Zoom fatigue
reported anxiety about the state of the world
Understanding the Feedback
- There is an overhead cost for a full course load of online courses during a pandemic situation; we may not be able to cover as much as an in person class in this particular situation
- Some faculty are still trying to find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities
- Students have five intense classes all asking for active participation. This makes it difficult for students to manage their time and efficiently approach their work
- Students are feeling overwhelmed by the isolation and continued state of the world
- Students always have to be “on” when in Zoom learning sessions
Some things you can do easily as you are designing your spring courses:
1. Work around President’s Day (Feb 15) – do not make assignments due on (or very near after) President’s Day
2. Choose one week—ideally either week 5 or 6, which are half-way between the start of the semester and spring/Easter break—to provide some relief for your students. You might:
- Hold tutorial-style classes, meeting in small groups of students to review and discuss key concepts.
- Create limited asynchronous activities that encourage students to reduce screen time (read print books or articles, listen to audio books or podcasts, interview family members in their homes, etc.)
- Reduce or eliminate assignments and assessments.
3. Reduce what you can cover in the semester—the effects of isolation and full-time online learning come with an overhead cost. Perhaps meet as a department or program to discuss ways you might coordinate soft breaks or relief in the term
Make sure you communicate these choices to your students and encourage them to take advantage of the periods of relief to do what they can to rest.
More Complex Solutions
CNDLS will be holding workshops and training over the next two months to give you an opportunity to get design feedback on your syllabi. During these sessions, you will have the opportunity to explore ways to:
- Design alternating pacing throughout the semester, with periods of shorter synchronous and more substantial asynchronous engagements followed by more intense synchronous activities
- Balance synchronous and asynchronous activities you are asking your students to engage in
- Design around the midterm time frame, a period we know to be when students begin to feel greater exhaustion in any semester
- Provide frequent and iterative feedback loops to help students know where they are in their learning at all times
- Explore alternative grading schemes, including contract grading to replace traditional assessment grading and giving students a built in throw away grade for one assessment
- Create alternative assessments to timed, closed book exams
- Avoid long, intense projects, particularly projects that do not offer frequent feedback and opportunities to revise
- Replace full-class meetings with smaller tutorial sessions
- Increase the number of excused mental health days available to students in your course, to be used at their discretion
- Connect students to other university support resources related to well-being, including Student Affairs, CAPS, Health Education Services, Campus Ministry, etc.
Resources & Peer Examples
- Student Feedback from Fall 2020: The major themes from their feedback, as well as ideas for how to address that feedback for a better spring 2021 experience.
- CNDLS staff recorded this podcast of conversations with students who offer keen insight into what worked and didn’t work in their courses.
- Click here to explore templates for your syllabus, your course, outreach emails, and more.
- Incorporating Soft Breaks: Here is a short primer on how to incorporate a modulated approach, including a real-life example