Never going back

Last week, we asked faculty to tell us what new teaching tools, strategies, and approaches they’ve tried this year that they would be keeping even after (touch wood) the pandemic is over. Now that we’ve had the opportunity to try some new things, what are we not going to give up?

Small group and individual meetings

One of the most obvious effects of the pandemic was a restriction in how many people could be gathered together in a regular size classroom. Some classes were moved to larger spaces to allow for physical distancing, but other professors took the approach of breaking their classes up into smaller groups. Lisa Burner (Spanish) wrote: “Meeting with groups of 3-10 students at a time has completely transformed my relationships with my students. I hope to be able to find a way to continue to integrate elements of these tight-knit interactions in the future, even as we figure out what it means to return to ‘normal’ teaching.” 

While a number of professors adopted the strategy of breaking their classes up into small groups for regular meetings, others made increased use of individual meetings for grading and providing feedback on assignments. Matthew Rudd (Mathematics) was one faculty member who found this approach to be fruitful: “Students worked on their tests independently and then met with me individually to discuss their solutions. These individual conversations have been much more effective for assessing understanding than traditional written exams, and using homework discussions in class to prepare students for this exam structure has bolstered attendance and participation.”

More frequent low-stakes assignments

In the knowledge that many students have been dealing with an increased level of stress this year, some faculty members decided to tweak the assignment structure for their classes. Emily Puckette (Mathematics) switched from 3 large tests during the semester to 7 bi-weekly quizzes and found that the change had a number of benefits. She reports that, with the new approach, students “are more likely to come to see me throughout the term, rather than only right before the tests” and that they “appreciate more frequent and timely opportunities to correct their misconceptions”. From the instructor’s perspective, she also found that “dividing up grading into more but smaller assignments has felt much less onerous”.

Use of electronic resources

Although many Sewanee faculty have been using electronic resources in their teaching for some time, the pandemic encouraged many others to try out these tools for the first time. Among the different applications on offer, Perusall was particularly popular. One respondent to our survey wrote that they were planning to continue using Perusall from now on, noting that “it motivates students to do the reading and it facilitates an out-of-class dialog about the material.” Other professors have found video assignments to be a surprisingly effective alternative to in-person presentations. Lisa Burner wrote: “In my literature and the environment class, students made video presentations of their research projects. We then met in groups of 4-6 students to discuss the videos during class time. The discussions were great, and it felt so much more productive, engaged, and supportive than a series of back-to-back in-class presentations, where everyone was too drained to ask meaningful questions. This year, students’ faces lit up when they got a chance to answer real questions their peers had about their research.”

What tools or techniques have you started using this year that you might not want to give up? What are your “keepers”? Our survey is still open and we’d love to hear what’s worked for you, so whenever you have the chance, take a minute to let us know!

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