For most of us, life today looks almost nothing like it looked just a few short months ago. The world’s major cities are virtual ghost towns. Schools and businesses worldwide are shuttered. Airports are mostly empty, as are our highways and interstates.
And “the college experience” meant something very different in the Spring of 2020 than it used to. If you’re an educator or administrator used to working with students in a traditional on-ground environment, chances are you’re going through quite an adjustment crisis yourself.
But now, more than ever, your students need you. And supporting them through this transition into the remote learning environment is going to mean more than finding new ways to teach your standard content. It’s also going to mean providing your students with the emotional support and practical advice they need to accommodate this new normal.
First Things First
The shelter-in-place orders that have been instituted virtually nationwide have meant that many colleges and universities have closed their dorms with very little advance notice. And, unfortunately, not every student is going to have parents, relatives, or friends to crash with until this crisis passes.
Supporting your students means helping to ensure they have their most essential needs met first before you start worrying about getting back to your curriculum. You may need to help students locate resources in their community to help with basic needs like housing and food.
You can also advise them on strategies they can use to quickly secure safe and affordable housing on their own. Students might consider renting out a bedroom or motel room, or converting a shed or RV into their new, if temporary, digs.
Tricking Out the Tech
Once students have safe and affordable shelter to ride out the pandemic, then they can start worrying about getting themselves set for online learning. Again, though, this could be a challenge for some students, particularly those who may have been relying on on-campus resources for their tech needs.
Fortunately, most communities, even in rural areas, now have access to at least 4G LTE network speeds. That means that students should be able to get fast, secure, and reliable access from their smartphones or tablets.
Best of all, a host of productivity tools are available for download on Android and iPhone at low or no cost, including Google Docs and Microsoft Office. To be sure, “attending” online classes and doing homework on your smartphone isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s doable. And if this pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s how to make do.
Building a Virtual Community
And when it comes to making do, teachers have always been pros. Now is no different. You probably never could have imagined that you’d be ending the semester and potentially teaching a new one in front of a computer screen rather than standing before a sea of bright young faces, eager for summer break.
But here you are, and while teaching online is not the same as teaching on the ground, there are a few important similarities. The first, and most important, is the need to turn your class into a community. In fact, that particular need is more important than ever, as your students grapple with the fears, uncertainties, and, yes, the loneliness of lockdown. Fortunately, for many of you, the semester was well underway when the pandemic hit, meaning that you and your class had already had time to build strong relationships.
Now is the time to affirm and strengthen those bonds, to provide a sense of continuity for your students, even as you transition to online learning. Continue to model the empathy, compassion, and humanity you have shown all semester, even though you must now do it from a distance. Your students need that now more than ever.
When you’re teaching online, it’s imperative that you model the same passion and the same level of presence that you exhibited on-ground. Try to be active and “visible” every weekday in your online classroom, from posting announcements to actively and frequently contributing to discussion forums.
Be as positive and encouraging in your public communications as possible. Remember, also, that your students don’t have the benefit of your body language or tone of voice, so soften your written communications and use mild humor, if any. Provide emojis (used judiciously) to temper what may be read as a harsh or critical message, and be as clear and specific as possible in your instructions and class requirements.
Not only will all this help your students succeed in the class, but it will also help them feel more confident and more engaged in the work. And it can provide a sense of normalcy and accomplishment in these troubled times.
BIO: Dan Matthews is a writer with a degree in English from Boise State University. He has extensive experience writing online at the intersection of business, finance, marketing, and culture.