– Saurabh Anand, Ph.D. student & GSRA fellow, Department of Language and Literacy, University of Georgia
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted everyone’s life. As a result, regular classes at all levels of education have been suspended, and new and innovative modes of teaching are being explored to ensure students don’t suffer.
Due to the restrictions imposed by lockdowns, educational institutions are asking teachers and student teachers to start taking classes using online tools. This is significantly different from the face-to-face interactions that students and teachers are generally used to. But these are not ordinary times, and extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions.
In the era of digitization, it’s not that teachers and students are not used to online teaching. But what makes this different is the circumstances under which these classes are being and will be taken.
These are sensitive times, and teachers must ensure that they are accommodative in their teachings. They also need to brush up their online communication skills urgently. Institutions are doing their best in terms of giving extra preparatory time to their teaching staff to redesign or rather design web-friendly teaching activities, study materials, and curricula to get this academic year resumed.
Across campuses, amidst these dark days, one amazing thing is that the academic community is coming together and helping each other. Teachers and other instructors are interacting online, collaborating as teams, and guiding each other in designing course structures, among additional methods of help.
In this article, I am trying to do the same and make my contribution. Here are a few tips that one can consider while designing an online syllabus. Though these tips can be beneficial to all, they will be particularly helpful to those who are incorporating Zoom or similar applications for their asynchronous online courses:
1. Use fewer links for quick communication
Since having an online meeting with your students is one of the few practical solutions to connect with them, you can explore platforms that provide opportunities to organize such meetings. Most online meeting platforms provide a reoccurring link facility for any online meeting.
This link is helpful because it allows teachers to communicate with their students and get in touch with them using just one link. The same link can be used more than once, which makes communication faster. It is likely to be helpful for teachers and students who do not teach online very often.
2. Be flexible with your office hours
Given this unique situation, your students might need you more than ever before, not just for academic purposes, but also to have some encouragement from you. Therefore, it can be helpful if you specifically mention in your syllabus (or tell them verbally) that they should not hesitate to reach out to you during and beyond office hours.
This will provide emotional support to your students and add a personal touch to your teaching methodology, which in turn strengthens the student-teacher relationship.
3. Do not penalize your students for late submissions
It might be very relieving for your students to have some flexibility in submitting their assignments, even if it may mean missing the deadline. The situation they are in is unprecedented, and some flexibility will help them cope better.
Set realistic deadlines keeping in mind the hardships they are going through. Mention in your syllabus that you hope that your students will do their best to keep up with deadlines. This kind of language makes the syllabus student-centric. It gives students the impression that the teacher prioritizes students’ safety and mental well-being over deadlines.
In case they can’t meet the deadlines, they should not hesitate to reach out to you with a request for an extension. But ensure this is not too frequent, either. A teacher’s priority at present should be the successful completion of the academic year without compromising the students’ learning and academic success. A little flexibility can do wonders.
4. Regular check-ins with your students
Keep a policy of having at least one weekly individual checking with your students, preferably on video. It can help your students by providing them an opportunity to share their thoughts, fears, and concerns with you.
You may be in a position to guide them in the right direction in these uncertain times. If someone could not attend these sessions, you can always offer other modes of checking-in, such as emails. The latter could be slower but certainly is as effective as the other one. Ensuring this, students feel their voice matters, and it helps them stay in a positive state of mind.
5. Offer at least one extra credit activity
Everyone is in a vulnerable situation at present. See if you can give your students an extra chance to make up for their poorer grades. It will motivate them to perform better. You can introduce this extra credit component as a completely optional activity in the syllabus with proper instructions and course of action.
6. Organize your syllabus into weekly modules
Splitting the content of your syllabus and other tasks/assignments could be crucial. Organizing the course into weekly modules can minimize confusion and lower the possibility of students missing the deadline. For more assistance, you can also provide a weekly consolidated checklist of all assignments and tasks students have to complete in a particular week.
Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, no one really knows when things will be normal again. However, by being flexible and sensitive, we as teachers can make the situation less difficult for them. We owe it to our students, don’t we?