Getting Better Prepared for Online and Hybrid Learning

The third webinar in ACUE’s Back to School series, Getting Better Prepared for Online and Hybrid Learning, featured insights from Flower Darby, Northern Arizona University; Dr. Michael Pullin, Queensborough Community College; and Dr. Wanda White, Winston-Salem State University. Dr. Harry L. Williams, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and Dr. Jessica Rowland Williams, Every Learner Everywhere, provided inspiring remarks on the challenges and opportunities ahead in ensuring student success. The discussion was moderated by ACUE Academic Advisor Dr. Kevin Kelly.

Panelists shared tangible practices that can be put to use immediately, which are also featured in ACUE’s Back-to-School Toolkit.

Key Takeaways

Higher education is in a moment of change.

“Everybody knows 2020 was a game-changer in higher ed,” said Dr. White. “But our faculty were resilient.”

Dr. Pullin noted that institutions and faculty have had to ramp up their teaching and learning efforts in light of the pandemic. “There’s been a scale-up,” he said. “Departments have all been responding to the challenges in ways they think are best for the students.”

Meanwhile, Darby has been experimenting with different modes of teaching. “I’ve redoubled my efforts on making connections with ‘in-between’ students,” she commented. For example, she’s used flipped-grid discussions. “Students feel more connected.”

Dr. Pullin added that they have invested in significant training to prepare faculty, including turning to ACUE to equip them with evidence-based teaching practices for effective online teaching.

“We spent a lot of time talking with faculty and providing ways to make instruction more accessible,” Dr. White said. Her institution has “provided a menu of choice for faculty based on their needs,” including training on how to use new technologies. “Having options out there has worked wonders as an innovation.”

Faculty can try new ways to engage students through online instruction.

Darby emphasized “engagement and accountability.” She suggested, for example, providing students with a guided notes document, something to annotate during class.

“We often lose community in an online class,” Dr. White added. “Let students see you on video, and use tools to talk to them — so it’s not a ‘wizard behind the curtain grading my paper’ feel.” She also encouraged faculty to break students into smaller groups to work together and give them assignments that pull everyone in.”

“Build in active learning modalities,” Dr. Pullin said. “It makes it more personal. And I would consider paring down the amount of content — what’s essential? I’d rather see students master that than get shallow coverage of more ‘things.’”

Equitable learning must remain front and center across all modalities.

The panelists all underscored the importance of creating equitable and inclusive learning environments, no matter where and how students are learning.

“We need to make sure we address equity issues, such as access with the digital divide,” Dr. White said. For example, she noted that some texts use language with which students are unfamiliar, adding, “That can impose bias.”

“And there are the technological challenges for students,” Dr. Pullin said. “No matter how hard we work, those challenges are still going to be there. Think about grading and attendance policies in that light. Many of our students come from low-income backgrounds, and we‘re having to bridge that technological gap.”

Darby emphasized the importance of “culturally responsive, relevant teaching. Recognize that students are bringing their cultural backgrounds with them,” she said. “Design for relevance — how are students going to see themselves in our classes and the materials? Help everyone feel like they belong.”

Online learning is here to stay.

“We all collectively agree that [online teaching] does provide flexibility and access,” said Darby. To prepare for the future, she encouraged institutions and faculty to keep improving and reimagining teaching and learning “Reflect on what we can do better when using technology tools. Recognize that this does take time and effort, and think about how can we recognize and reward really great teaching practices.”

“We can take away more positive aspects from this experience,” Dr. White agreed. “Encourage faculty to find that one tool or practice that works — don’t try to use everything. Find what you like and what works best for you to make that space more comfortable.”

“Many faculty were reluctant to do too much online instruction,” Dr. Pullin added. “Now, a lot of minds can be changed. A lot of faculty believe this can be a good way to teach if done well.”

“Good pedagogy is good pedagogy, whether in-person, online, hybrid — the same principles apply,” he said.

“Be flexible, have fun, and never forget your love of teaching — the students can sense it,” added Dr. White.

Check out our Back-to-School toolkit, a free resource to support administrators and instructors in ensuring a strong and equitable start to the new academic year. 

Meeting Students Where They Are

In the second webinar of ACUE’s Back to School series, Dr. Santiba Campbell, Associate Professor of Psychology, Faculty Senate President and Ex-Officio member of the Board of Trustees, Bennett College; Dr. Edward Hill, Interim Provost and Accreditation Liaison, Harris-Stowe State University; and Dr. Terry DiPaolo, Vice Provost of E-learning, Dallas College, shared practical approaches and best practices around meeting students where they are.

The discussion was moderated by Carmen Macharaschwili, ACUE Academic Strategy Consultant, and featured remarks from David Brailow, Council of Independent Colleges, as well as Felice Nudelman and Dr. Jacquelyn Jones, American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Key Takeaways from the Conversation

Students must be acclimated to learning environments and expectations.

“We’re adapting to another academic year,” said Dr. DiPaolo. This year, he explained, is a first for many students, including those returning from last year.

Dallas College, he explained, is in “one of the most deprived and diverse areas in the U.S., and we spend a lot of time talking to students, understanding them and their circumstances.”

Dr. Campbell added that many students aren’t aware of the time and effort involved in learning of all types. “Online courses can be a greater commitment than an in-person class,” she said, something many students don’t understand.

To illustrate this, she shared an anecdote about a student who was logging onto Zoom via her cell phone while working at a drive-through window.

In order to combat these misconceptions, Dr. Campbell encouraged higher education to reevaluate how they run institutions. For example, Bennett College has introduced mini-semesters to try to acclimate students to expectations.

Dr. Hill noted that Harris-Stowe has many first-generation students “who might not have been as prepared for college.” Last year, “we sent them back to environments that probably weren’t conducive to learning.”That’s why Harris-Stowe leaders are working with faculty to discuss these issues and considering how to move forward.

Collaboration and communication are foundational to success.

“How do we move students and faculty forward?” asked Dr. Campbell. She pointed to communication. Bennett College, she said, has monthly, campus-wide meetings to share concerns.

“What is your identity as an institution? Focus on that to start to bring the message home.”

Bennett College, she said, started with the ACUE toolkit for online courses.

“Don’t feel like everything has to be a written-up policy,” she added. “Think about changes you can make on your own.”

“Collaboration and partnership have been critical,” Dr. DiPaolo said. He also emphasized the importance of communication between administrators and faculty. “We have to be agile and nimble in ways we’ve never had to before….What if we took some time to put ourselves in the shoes of a new student?”

At Harris-Stowe, “we meet almost daily,” Dr. Hill said. The university depends on federal funding, but during the pandemic, they’ve had to find new ways of supporting students and faculty, such as tapping into the alumni base. “It’s taught us about resilience,” he said.

The best way to understand students’ needs? Ask them.

“Instructors can ask students ‘What can I do to help you succeed in this class?’” Dr. DiPaolo said. “Just reach out to your students one on one. Makes them feel heard.”

“We spend so much time talking pedagogy, that nobody stops to ask a student, for instance, ‘Why haven’t you been to class?’” Dr. Campbell agreed. She also urged educators to get to know their campus and the resources available so they can point students in the right direction.

At the same time, “the faculty and the student are exchanging roles,” Dr. Hill said. “We’re all learning at the same time. How do we give faculty the opportunity to learn?”

Mental health and well-being must be front and center.

The panelists all underscored the importance of prioritizing the mental health and well-being of students, including making sure students have access to resources like counseling.

“We’re leading the way in removing the stigma around mental health,” said Dr. DiPaolo.

“We also need to consider faculty and staff,” added Dr. Campbell. “Often, we focus on students, but we have to be sound of mind ourselves. We’re figuring out multiple modalities of instruction while being respectful of safety and health.”

“We’re a unit that’s trying to get everyone across the finish line,” she explained.

Join us for the next webinar in our Back to School series, Getting Better Prepared for Online and Hybrid Learning Confirmation, Tuesday, September 14, 3:00 pm ET.

Back to School Series: Welcoming Back Students and Faculty

How can we ensure a strong and equitable start to the new academic year as our lives continue to be affected by the pandemic? As administrative leaders and faculty grapple with this question, ACUE’s Back to School webinar series convenes expert voices and provides key resources to support higher education’s return to campus this fall.

The first installment, Welcoming Back Faculty and Students, featured Kelly Lester, Director, Center for Faculty Development, The University of Southern Mississippi; Shonda Gibson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, The Texas A&M University System; and Natasha LaRose, Program Coordinator, American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC). The discussion was moderated by Kim Middleton, ACUE Academic Strategy Consultant, and included welcoming remarks from Maxine Roberts, Strong Start to Finish, and Rebecca Martin, National Association of System Heads.

Key Takeaways

1. Embrace flexibility

Gibson pointed out that the pandemic taught us that we need to be flexible. At the same time, she noted that educators discovered that they could quickly adapt and “be creative and find solutions. We all got in there and got the work done.”

Lester agreed, adding that she’s found ACUE particularly helpful as a partnership and resource that “gives you tools to gain insight and feedback from your students in a way that’s not about you as a person.”

Lester also commented that addressing safety is the priority. “Use your first couple of days of class to acknowledge that this year’s going to include adapting and flexibility, but also safety is a big concern. In my classroom, I’d want to say, ‘Let’s have a discussion about our ground rules for this class. What is it that you need in my class to feel safe?’ And I think there could be a lot of vulnerability in that.”

“Be flexible with your own self so that you can be flexible with others,” Gibson added.

2. Resilience and community will carry students and educators

“For us as tribal nations, we’ve always been a resilient type of people,” LaRose said. “And I think we responded as quickly as possible by partnering with ACUE and getting our faculty trained for online courses. That’s a really important step because we’ve been faced with a whole lot of interesting dynamics with the pandemic hitting us.”

Part of resilience, Gibson added, is looking for support when it’s necessary. “Don’t try to do this alone. Our resilience bank accounts are going to run short if you try to do this all on your own.”

This, she said, extends beyond faculty-student connections to the entire campus. Gibson encouraged instructors to share resources and pose questions to peers within content areas, as well as point students to support systems.

3. People need space to ask questions

“There’s a real openness to having conversations and allowing space for questions,” Lester said. “We may not always have the answers, but if we don’t provide the space for the questions, then I think people feel unheard.”

USM, she explained, holds “Faculty First Week,” featuring teaching development, technology orientations, and guidance on building community.

Gibson agreed that these opportunities are critical to the teaching and learning community. Across the A&M system, she said, there are communities of practice. “What we’ve learned is that collaboration, networking, and sharing among the group is so powerful. I’m seeing so much promise, and I really want to see that continue into the future.”

Gibson also encouraged educators to ask questions of themselves, through a process she describes as “durable innovation.” “Take time to stop and ask yourself what’s not working or what really did work well.”

LaRose noted that AIHEC initiated a biweekly check-in with all the tribal college universities as part of their response to the pandemic. Along with quarterly meetings, they have led to “a continuous communication of new developments and helping each other navigate this whole new world we’re kind of living in.”

4. Embrace creativity

One silver lining of the pandemic is that faculty and leaders alike have stretched themselves creatively to identify new solutions.

LaRose, for example, discussed how the tribal colleges sought out ways to share resources across campuses and networks. “If we’re being proactive and we can really preserve teaching techniques and go forward, I think we’re building a really strong core of what we can do in the future,” she said.

Lester, meanwhile, is finding ways for students to be involved in their own learning. For example, she offers options for final assignments. “They could write a paper, they could create a piece of artwork and a poem, or they could do a video reflection,” she explained. “And they all had the same guiding questions that got to the core of the content we were covering.

Gibson saw that faculty who became ACUE-credentialed during the pandemic found new ways to collaborate and brainstorm ideas. “I heard incredible stories of how they came together collectively and they came up with novel solutions. These faculty were able to embrace new tools and new technology to be able to create environments where students could get that information.”

At the end of the day, the panelists agreed, welcoming faculty and students back to campus this fall comes down to being intentional about community, care, and communication.

“Show care, check in with people, and listen,” Lester said.

Register for the next webinar, Getting Better Prepared for Online and Hybrid Learning, taking place on September 14, 2021, 3:00-4:00 PM ET.

Examining and Mitigating Implicit Bias

Panelists share practices they have found helpful to effectively set expectations for valuing diverse viewpoints, facilitating respectful conversations, and engaging students in inclusive active learning exercises. The teaching practices discussed in this webinar can be utilized in a variety of disciplines and course sizes to promote equity and inclusion.

Preparing an Inclusive Online Course

Panelists share their thoughts and practices for approaching your online teaching with an inclusive mindset, ensuring your course reflects a diverse society and world. Learn inclusive strategies you can put into practice even before the first day of your online course to set the stage for creating a more equitable online learning environment.

Creating an Inclusive Online Learning Environment

Panelists share practices they have found helpful to effectively set expectations for valuing diverse viewpoints, facilitating respectful conversations, and engaging students in inclusive active learning exercises. The teaching practices discussed in this webinar can be utilized in a variety of disciplines and course sizes to promote equity and inclusion.

Engaging Students in Readings and Microlectures

There are a variety of ways to keep students engaged in the content and help them focus their attention on what is most important. Learn how to use a variety of practices to assess how well they are learning and making key connections, such as using guiding questions, preparing online discussion forums, developing skeletal outlines and more.

Recording Effective Microlectures

Microlectures are short (6 minutes or less), instructor-produced videos that are designed using a structured format to provide effective explanations of a single key concept or specific skill set. Learn how to use this format to help maintain student attention and allow students to reengage with the content when and if needed.

Planning and Facilitating Quality Discussions

Learn techniques to help students get the most out of online discussions. Learn and discuss with online teaching and learning experts how to provide rubrics, create reflection activities, provide strategic feedback and more.

Organizing Your Online Course

Students can become confused, frustrated, or disengaged if they find it challenging to simply navigate a course learning environment. Learn how to organize your course from the students’ point of view—using tools like creating a module roadmap, creating a predictable rhythm, and more.