Teaching Through the Coronavirus, Together: Ideas for Focusing Your Student Engagement

Tuesday, March 24, 2020 – 6 p.m.

A Message from Wendi Dew, Assistant Vice President, Teaching and Learning and Isis Artze-Vega, Vice President, Academic Affairs

We hope this week is off to a good start and that you’ve been able to allocate a bit of time to your own wellness and diversion. Otherwise, we encourage you to do so!

Amy Bosley, vice president, organizational development and human resources, acknowledged in her communication to Valencia supervisors this week that they may feel a sense of duty or obligation to get their team through this time. Many of you may feel this same sense of responsibility to your students and to one another. As Amy counseled, it’s important that you identify how you plan to maintain a work-life balance, reach out for support and take time for yourself: “You are best equipped to support others if you are taking care of yourself, and your actions will serve as a model for your team” — in this case for your students and colleagues.

We have always stressed the importance of student engagement at Valencia, and as you know, this is a critical moment for our students, especially those who, like many of you, are new to online learning. As such, today’s communication provides suggestions on how to focus your student engagement this week.

Valencia Faculty Advice on the What and How of Focusing Engagement This Week 

Teaching scholars stress the importance of three types of engagement in online teaching: student to student, student to course material, and student to faculty. And the research findings are clear: student-faculty interaction makes the biggest difference in student learning and success (Nilson, 2018).

What might you prioritize/deprioritize in your student engagement this week? What key messages might you highlight? What communication methods might you use to reach out to students? We posed these questions to three of our colleagues: Al Groccia, professor, mathematics; Lisa Macon, professor, software development; and Jorge Alberto Valladares, professor, psychology. Below are some of their insights.

What might you prioritize/deprioritize in your student engagement this week? What key messages might you highlight?

As we suggested in our first communication, you’ll want to make sure students know about any looming deadlines, how you will communicate with them (via email, using announcements, etc.), how they can reach you and how soon they can expect your reply.

This week, you may also want to let students know that a new “Keep Learning” webpage has been developed to support online learning, and that all tutoring has been moved online. Tutoring can be accessed through the “Help” icon located on the Canvas global navigation bar, and this access tutorial helps students use the new completely online process.

When determining priorities, Jorge says (in this video) that it has been helpful to shift from his planned in-class tasks to defining learning outcomes for the remainder of the course. This has allowed him to focus his student engagement on the key learning that’s left and replace redundant assignments with more optimal ways of reinforcing learning.

Both Al and Jorge stress the importance of extending deadlines and providing more flexibility this term than ever, in light of the unprecedented circumstances, and that it’s important to communicate these extensions and the increased flexibility to students.

As Al writes, “The students need to know that the deadlines are not penalties, but that it’s important to learn the material and be successful in the course in the time provided. Also, clearly explain that if there is an emergency or they need help, to reach out. You can help students one-on-one with any issues. Some students may need an extension, and that is okay and can be worked out one-on-one.”

Jorge adds that he has extended all of his deadlines, so students have the greatest chance of attaining the remaining course learning outcomes by the end of the term, and he also provides suggested deadlines along the way, to guide their process.

Al indicates that his messages are generally focused on learning, listening and showing that you care: “In this time of uncertainty, we all need to be heard, valued and cared for. Help the students learn the material and feel supported, and everything will work out.”

Jorge provides similar advice and shares his most important message to students: “I am here, with you; I am experiencing this, with you; … I’m gonna make mistakes, with you — but I’m with you — I’m here.”

What communication methods might you use to reach out to students?

Lisa has had a great deal of success with virtual student engagement hours, during which it’s not uncommon for her to send and receive emails from students. When the student needs more help than can be easily provided via email, she logs into Skype for Business on her phone, which allows the student to call her on her work phone and have the call come into her computer or cell phone. Then, they can discuss the problem in real time while they are both looking at the relevant course material. Among the strengths of this approach, as Lisa recognizes, is that it is relatively low tech and also low bandwidth; it only uses the student’s phone. Students also email Lisa photos of their work when they get stuck.

Jorge says he uses many forms of communication, including email, and finds that Canvas Announcements appear to be most effective. He also likes the Big Blue Button interface in Canvas for conferencing with students. A brand new tool for conferencing, Zoom, is now available and will integrate with Canvas on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Here are tips for getting started with Zoom for Faculty and Zoom for Students.

Bringing Your Classroom to Canvas provides a variety of ways to engage with students in Canvas using discussions, Zoom and conferences, as well as other tools.

An important reminder when emailing students — in fact, for any form of written communication when teaching online — is that we’ll have to be more mindful of style and tone than usual, since students don’t have access to our nonverbal communication, for instance, our smiles. Be positive, encouraging and fully present and let them know you welcome their feedback on how the class is going.

Quick Student Feedback on Instruction Update and Invitation to Participate in Student Calling Campaign

In light of this distinctive time, and based on feedback provided by deans and faculty leaders, we have decided not to proceed with our standard Student Feedback on Instruction (SFI) process this spring. We will provide updates on other ways we will gather student feedback as they become available.

This week, we’ve launched the “We’re In This Together” calling campaign, with an ambitious goal: call every single Valencia student with courses moving online this week. This way, we hope to provide a human and personal connection; reaffirm key messages (among them, give online courses a chance; hang in there); let students know we are extending the withdraw deadline and creating additional options to give them more time to attempt online learning; share resources, especially new ones that we’ve developed in light of our new circumstances; and connect students to someone who can help them.

We know you have a lot on your plates, but if you would like to make even a handful of calls, please email Isis directly at iartzevega@valenciacollege.edu.

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. To borrow Jorge’s phrasing, we’re here, with you, and we’re experiencing this, with you. We’re stepping forward, together, and drawing from deep resources to sustain learning.

Again, here are key resources and ways to seek support:

– To reach out to a member of the Teaching and Learning team for assistance, please use our new Faculty Support Request.

– We have multiple methods to access help with Canvas. Select the Help button at the bottom of the left-hand menu inside Canvas to access the following options:

      • Chat with Canvas Support 24/7 Chat live with someone from Canvas to get support for any issues you are experiencing.
      • Support Hotline 407-582-5600 – Speak 24/7 with a Canvas support agent.
      • Create a Support Ticket – Submit a ticket when you need to ask a question but can’t stay on the phone or chat live.

– Visit the Canvas Resources website for existing and new resources.

Source: Nilson, L. (2018): Online Teaching at Its Best: Merging Instructional Design with Teaching and Learning Research. Jossey-Bass.

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