This past August faculty members from VSCC attended the University of Wisconsin’s Distance Education Teaching and Learning Conference. Like so many other conferences being held during the time of the pandemic, this four-day teleconference offered a large variety of online sessions, interactive and streaming, focused on the how to best meet college students’ needs to help them be successful during these challenging times.
One of the most refreshing and valuable aspects of this year’s conference was the focus on how online higher education and educators are working hard to meet the moment of our current national situation. Not only did keynote addresses and session discussions center on the challenges of distance education during the pandemic, but also many discussed the ways to create antiracist curriculum as we address concerns voiced by the Black Lives Matters Movement. The keynote speaker, Dr. Newton Miller, focused on how faculty can connect real-world issues to our teaching, reminding us that students are not empty vessels. Like Dr. Melva Black’s excellent professional development session “Supporting Black Male Achievement,” Dr. Miller emphasizes the need to focus on providing equity in college classrooms, particularly for Black males. To learn more from Dr. Miller, check out his TED talk from this past April.
Many of the sessions focused on building community in online classes, especially as home, family, and social dynamics are rapidly changing for students who are forced to take online classes. Students are working hard, but often need more time and more support. They emphasized the need for relationship-building between faculty and students to create authentic communities in our online courses. Community, creating a sense of belonging, has been proven to help students meet success.
Conference attendees Erin Bloom, Sheri Waltz, and Laura Black compiled a list of best practice take-aways from the conference—reminders for us all as we work to support our students in online classes in our current distanced and mediated environment.
Reminders and Best Practices for Faculty:
- Make connections with our students to ensure students’ feeling of belonging and to achieve student engagement in online courses.
- Design courses with intention for student success.
- Create an easy to use course, but don’t expect a well-designed course to be the only element that will ensure a student’s performance.
- Rely on fellow faculty to learn new ways to use technology to help students.
- Communicate!—Communication is so, so, so important—with faculty and students, especially as we are isolated during the pandemic.
- Don’t assume that students are proficient in the same type of technology that we are.
- Connect classroom content and activities to the real world.
- Actively work on anti-racism and equity issues in our classrooms.
- Be flexible with students as we continue to work under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Remember external factors may determine student success or failure. Encourage students to use Academic Support services and refer to Student Services for other issues, for example food insecurity.
Laura Black, Associate Professor of English