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Teaching in Person in the Present Circumstances: Strategies for Supporting Students

Fall 2021
Facilitated by James Aguirre, Physics and Astronomy, and Melissa Wilde, Sociology


Opening Reflections, Cathy Turner, CETLI

We’ve all learned things through the challenges and opportunities of this semester:

  • Masks
  • Red passes/absences
  • Students excitement about being back 
  • Continuing to manage the stress and difficulties from the last year+

James Aguirre, Physics and Astronomy

  • What worked well during remote teaching?
    • Zoom for quick meetings
    • Scheduling things with Calendly - makes it easier for students to schedule time with him
    • Canvas Quizzes for low stakes assessment
      • Students can take slightly different versions of the assessments
      • Flexibility in scheduling, some students do better when they have slightly more time, when time isn’t a part of what is really being assessed
      • For high stakes exams, did a mix of randomized questions and one or two relatively difficult questions
    • Canvas generally
      • Grading online
      • Was more organized because of Canvas
    • Course Recordings
      • Sobering to look back at course recordings and how we presented content; was a learning opportunity 
    • What was not so great?
      • Quizzes are time consuming to set up
    • What does flexibility and fairness look like now and going forward?
      • Course absence reports
      • Policies around dropped assignments and missed classes
      • On going question: Are recordings an adequate substitute for missing class?

Melissa Wilde, Sociology

  • Large class, typically 150 students 
    • Because of issues around finding TAs, it’s capped at 50 students for this semester
  • Previously required participation and attendance; this semester, attendance is not required
  • Students were concerned about being back in person
  • Recorded 2-5 minutes snippets of course content on Canvas
    • Concerns: Are they redundant? Do they discourage attendance?
  • Course has now become a lot more active: small group and breakout discussions, which seem to encourage students to come to class; attendance has been high this semester
  • Has found it difficult to follow the university’s guidance about students attending virtually: student in motorcycle accident wanted to attend class remotely but felt had to say no given the policy
    • Others noted that students are opting to join remotely when given the option; some students are advocating that recordings and notes work better for their learning than attending class
    • Felt that faculty should be empowered to make the choices about virtual attendance that work best for their teaching rather than an inflexible policy
  • Excited to go back to in-person exams because those are an important learning opportunity
  • Being flexible is a great way to support students; but still having high expectations and to encourage students to be in class
  • In the pass/fail environment, some students miscalculated what they needed to do to pass, and it was a challenge at the end of the course about how to be fair: ended up giving students an opportunity to pass with clear and high expectations and that felt both flexible and fair



  • Are we giving a course that is mostly instructional or interrogative/helping students solve problems? Different goals require different modalities with the latter being more challenging to do online (i.e., synchronous meetings and time zone challenges)
  • Students seem happy and more participatory this year than in past years
  • Use Canvas to share instructional materials and resources but also include in-person, interactive components
  • We need to create a norm that class is a community; this also promotes attendance
  • Given remote teaching experiences, many are rethinking assessment approaches:
    • There is evidence that students are cheating on some online exams and even low stakes assessments; students felt they had to cheat to be competitive 
    • For timed exams, what is a question of fluency and what is a question of requiring more time to think/work to be successful; this is an important consideration for how exams and quizzes are designed and what formats might work best (in-person, online, open-book, take-home, etc.)
    • During the pandemic,Nursing course did away with exams and did low stakes, open-book exams; and now not interested in going to back to exams that students “cram” for
    • One instructor gave participation points for low stakes assessments rather than assessing correctness of the quizzes to not further stress students about grades
    • Others chose to weigh in-class activities more heavily than exams this semester
    • Questions around how to lower stress with regard to exams; frequency of exams - more exams resulted in more stress even if it lowered the weight of each exam; taking exams in person was stressful for some students this semester 
  • Zoom office hours has been great and most want to keep doing those
  • Wondering about whether to ban laptops; does it identify students as having an accommodation when they do have them? One approach is to ask students to consult with instructor about laptop needs and make it a discussion about whether/how to use those appropriately in class; rarely makes exceptions other than accommodation requests
    • Now there are more digital materials for class which can also make it challenging to ban laptops

Concluding Thoughts

One theme we regularly came back to was being fair and flexible: there can be tension and these can also be complementary. 

While some of the challenges we talked about were new (masks; red passes), many of the challenges we talked about are also ongoing (assessing participation, assessing students, reducing stress). Some of the things we learned from the pandemic and remote teaching are things we will keep doing and others are things we will keep revisiting and revising in attempts to be both fair and flexible moving forward