Guide To Teaching and Learning

Supporting Students Now

Pandemic learning and its isolation and changed expectations are coupled with newer patterns of behavior among young people: heavy reliance on text messages for communication, even when in the presence of the person they’re ‘speaking’ to; use of social media for assessment of social and personal status; the rise of ‘influencers’; the ‘algorithmization’ into like-minded communities speaking from similar perspectives; the expectation that they will not be exposed to differing or potentially offensive positions; the inability to read social cues. Add in their experiences of significant upheaval–most especially, among US students, the Black Lives Matter movement and political and social uncertainty around personal and bodily freedom and autonomy, and, for all students, the frightening reality of climate change.

Speaking broadly, while all people exhibit generational characteristics, our students, especially undergraduates, are quite different from those who have come before. Students do not know how to ‘read’ or perhaps even ‘write’ interpersonal cues such body language and facial expressions in the same ways as prior generations. They have been deemed less able to distinguish or appreciate subtle or nuanced situations and language. They do not know how to ‘chat’ with people outside of a text box. They believe they can multi-task and that they are good at it. They are ‘younger’ than prior generations in some respects, especially in interpersonal skills, but more mature in others, such as in their commitment to equity, inclusion and social justice. They are always ‘on their phones’.

Our students need to learn new ways of being, including what it means to be a college student. Below are some suggestions, some of which are specific to changed student expectations during Covid learning, that faculty might employ to help them make these adjustments and to learn and grow as people as well as college students.

Classroom Dynamics and Interpersonal Relationships

  • This generation of students evinces difficulty in in-person social situations, e.g., inexperience in making ‘small talk’ and getting to know people in person; difficulty reading facial cues; uncertainty about interpersonal interactions. Students have made friendships and connections online, often via social media, but many students don’t know how to ‘be’ in person together. Adopting classroom warmups can provide an initial icebreaker-silence breaker-isolation breaker, so that students can see who each other is and provide a first entree into who they are. Then you can …
  • Encourage students, when they arrive in class, to put their phones away and engage with each other. If necessary, provide simple prompts to encourage them to speak to and get to know each other, such as: What did you watch last night? What’s your favorite food? How do you feel about the [latest] TikTok challenge, what do you think about those who engage in them and why? At this point, it’s wisest to avoid potentially controversial topics.
  • Allow students to practice communication and interpersonal interactions by using frequent pairing and group exercises. Group/team work should be clearly structured so that roles are clearly defined, e.g., recorder, reporter, facilitator, skeptic. Students can choose their role, roles can be determined by the group, or they can be assigned by the instructor. No- and low-stakes assessments are best for group work early in the semester, while students work on developing these skills.
  • Encourage self-reflection, e.g., you could ask them to write for two minutes, reflecting on how they felt emotionally, mentally, and physically during the preceding exercise, especially a ‘getting to know you’ exercise, then pair them up to share their thoughts and feelings, then share with the whole class. This helps underscore that they are not alone in whatever they might be feeling and begins to create a shared basis for communication.
  • Pair online prompts with in-person and online get-to-know-you exercises. These are often framed as ‘interviewing’ and structured as one student approaching another and inquiring about them. Allowing online discussion boards as one forum for this activity promotes inclusion of those who are non native English speakers and those uncomfortable speaking in person.
  • Consider whether beginning of class exercises in which students interact informally could count as no stakes participation ‘points’.

Classroom Activities, School Work and Study: Prioritization and Time Management

  • All students, but especially first and second year students, will benefit from transparent teaching. Be clear about why you made the choices you’ve made, what your expectations are from your students, and what you hope they will achieve. Indicate that you believe that all students in your class are capable of being successful, but that it’s the learning that really counts, not the grade.
  • All students learn differently and all students have learning challenges, whether they are diagnosed with a learning challenge or not. Ask students what you can do to help them learn. Providing alternative means of engagement, such as allowing them to submit audio vs video or written reflections, makes your classes more inclusive and accessible.
  • Students respond well to metacognitive approaches to teaching and such approaches have been demonstrated to deepen learning, engagement and learning retention. Ask students to actively reflect on how they learn, how they were feeling during a particular activity and how that might have affected their learning, and how they might have approached an assignment or activity differently.
  • Many students, especially first and second year students, will struggle with time management and prioritization. Help them determine where they should spend their energy by articulating how much time they might spend on an assignment (10 minutes? two hours?) and its relative weight in the context of their learning in the course.
  • With the de-emphasis on course content and more emphasis on student wellbeing during the pandemic, faculty relationships have taken on a mentor-type quality with increased one-on-one work sessions. We may find that this becoming a new way of educating students going forward. Students will anticipate a continuation of that level of attention and responsiveness. Faculty may substitute collective class time for one-on-one and group conversations.
  • Online learning, especially, was inclusive: students found ways of engaging with their strengths and developing areas needing improvement through written discussion, video, group work and breakout rooms. Faculty should consider how to incorporate the advantages of online learning into in-person classes, e.g., recorded demonstrations on Zoom, in which everyone sees the same thing, rather than gathering around table, when students will see things from different angles.  
  • Incoming students are balancing the transition from home to a new place, dorm life and the distractions of New York City with their academic work. Help them prioritize by being clear about what’s required for your class.
  • Many students experienced online learning systems and an organized approach to learning materials, with clear structure, guidance and modules. Students will anticipate homework and assignments being posted on Canvas and similar clear organizational structure. 
  • Students will expect and respond well to highly organized classes that include live and recorded content. They will anticipate scaffolded teaching to guide them into projects and clearly articulated expectations for type and quality of work. 
  • Consider issues of ‘accessibility’ writ broadly: employing principles of Universal Design for Learning is inclusive of all students in the classroom, regardless of ability.
  • Multitasking: Our students think they do it well. No one does. Help them understand that focused time, even if for a short period such as five or ten minutes, will make them more productive, help them learn better and more deeply, retain what they learn, and make connections across areas. Multitasking just means we’re doing a bunch of stuff not-so-well.

Understanding of Using Resources & Locations

  • All students experienced diminished in-person learning over the last several years. Students will need to be reminded–or even taught–what resources are available to them and how to take advantage of them.
  • Faculty may need to tell students about physical campus supports such as the University Learning Center, Counseling Services, and Printing. And the Libraries and Archives are wonderful resources with staff eager to help both you and your students.
  • Faculty, especially those teaching first year students, are encouraged to engage in full class walk-throughs of various locations and to invite representatives from the University Learning Center and Libraries to their classrooms.
  • Students may not have experience using city locations and cultural institutions for classes or projects. Students may need help mapping the city, working safety and employing appropriate and ethical research methods. Even students who have lived in New York would benefit from expanded horizons.

Belonging and Well-Being

  • Help students feel that they belong here: create opportunities for students to get to know each other, to work collaboratively, and be welcomed. 
  • Students will need to feel grounded and heard: Faculty are encouraged to employ community agreements; low and no stakes projects, experiences and assessments; and group or team work. 
  • Especially for new students, students who have worked in some isolation, and students dealing with loss: The transition to a large urban campus may feel overwhelming. Be sure to point them to resources that can support their mental well-being.

Personal, Social and Critical Engagement

  • Students have experienced an increased opportunity to personalize projects and will expect this to continue. 
  • Students have experienced increased choice in materials and options. 
  • Topics related to identity, social systems, politics, social justice, and location have become  more centered in projects across courses.

Materials, Tools, and Making

  • Students are accustomed to video demonstrations of making and doing activities and practices and they are more equitable than live demos; they also allow students to view them multiple times and on their own time. Faculty should continue to deploy recordings posted to Canvas and consider when a Zoom activity makes sense based on the pedagogy and learning outcomes of a particular lesson.
  • Students have demonstrated incredible creative capacity in transforming materials and pushing the potential of what they had to hand. 
  • Parsons and CoPA especially:
    • Use of facilities: orientations, sign-ups, planning projects will not be understood and will need to be taught. 
    • Students may have heightened expectations regarding materials: they will not have experimented and failed with as many materials as usual.  They may anticipate materials as (magic) solutions and be very focused on learning with specialized facilities.

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