Continuity with Care

As we prepare to deal with the reality of COVID19 at PSU, the staff of the CoLab has been assembling advice and resources for faculty. We’ve organized this into three main sections, focusing on setting realistic goals, caring for yourself and your students, and preparing for specific teaching situations. As always, reach out to us if you have questions or concerns. 

Let it Go!

At Plymouth State, we’ve been struggling with the challenge of online learning for more than a decade. It’s not reasonable to think that we are going to “move online” in a week or two, especially in a way that preserves the intimacy, efficacy, and engagement of PSU’s learning community. So let’s pull an Elsa and Let it go. We don’t need to build an online university in a week. We need to do what needs to be done to manage this crisis while demonstrating to our students that we care for their health, their progress toward graduation, and their connection to PSU–their academic home. You should not feel pressure to fully redesign your course for an online environment. Instead, think about how you can demonstrate care, assure that students will learn the fundamental content of your course so they can progress in their studies, and help them stay connected to PSU during a time when they need to be physically away from us.

Online doesn’t mean you need to change how you teach. You are still just as human, and so are the students on the other side of your screen. Email, text messages, phone calls—these are all ways to sustain a human connection.”  —Sean Michael Morris. Read his entire Twitter thread for more advice about how to approach online teaching, especially if you’re brand-new to it. 


“We cannot expect people to immediately become experts in a modality. Their focus will be on supporting their students. And that's really the most important part.”  —Josh Eyler. Read his entire Twitter thread for a realistic perspective on approaching this challenge (i.e. You do NOT need to become an expert online pedagogue right now. You just have to get through the challenge of the next few weeks.) 


“Remember it’s not Online. You are NOT preparing to teach online. You are planning to finish a f2f class or hybrid class or online class that required f2f proctoring without meeting f2f for the remaining days. That’s revision of a class. It’s not “going online”. —Jim Luke, read this blog post about taking care of yourself and being realistic about your expectations and what you can accomplish. 


“Keep it simple: when dealing with a new platform/medium, it is best to keep things really simple” —Martin Weller, check out this blog post about pivoting to new approaches. 


“I found that teaching online was more difficult than I thought it might be.” —Rebecca Glazier, check out this video about retaining online students 


“Consider realistic goals for teaching from anywhere.” —Stanford University, check out this Getting Started guide about checking in on class goals and being more realistic.

Take Care of Your Students and Yourself

Taking care of students and yourself means thinking more broadly about the challenges they may be facing in the weeks ahead. We’d like to encourage all instructors to consider the whole student, since students won’t necessarily have the same connections to the broader safety net of campus resources when they are away. First up is to be gentle with yourself and your students when your “solutions” end up causing more problems (hey! It’s a wicked problem!). Moving online is hard if you don’t have a computer; or broadband access/data plan; or a quiet place to work. Going to school is hard when your work hours have been cut and you don’t have money to buy food. Going home is hard when your home was a dorm and you have no other place to go. Focusing is hard if you are caring for children who are home or family members who are ill. Studying may be impossible if you get sick yourself. These are not reasons to give up; these are reasons to engage. Provide flexible deadlines, multiple ways to work, and help coming up with workarounds for those who need them. Most importantly, be human and recognize the complicated human lives of your students. Show them that you are there to help them get through it all.

“Students are humans first. The more a student feels connected to and understood by their college of university, the more likely they are to stay enrolled and engaged. The language you use to communicate about the response to COVID19 matters—it must convey care along with urgency. Consider using multiple platforms and modes to reach students. Reassuring videos from administrators, staff, and faculty would beespecially effective.” -- Check out this guide from The Hope Center (Temple University) for more guidance on supporting your students in a difficult time.


“Most of what we do in-person is by inertia, not intentionality, and it’s rarely optimal. Use all the new options and experiments from your remote time to figure out your optimal”-- check out this Twitter thread from Kris Shaffer about taking care of yourself while moving to a telecommunting/online work mode.


"Be kind to yourself and your students. Everyone is stressed, even if they're playing cool. That includes faculty. And that's okay."-- this Facebook post by Amy Young has great advice about caring for yourself and your students (and some of the other things covered on this page).

Specific Challenges and How to Think about Them

Remote teaching is probably feeling especially alienating to certain segments of our faculty. Besides those of you who are not tech fans, there are also those of you who think but online learning is really NOT a great option for my particular course. Maybe you teach a science lab. Or a printmaking course. Or your students are doing project-based learning with external partners on site in the North Country. You know what? You are probably 100% correct about what will be impossible about replicating your class online! While it’s true that plenty of studio art and lab and PBL courses are offered online, most of those are intentionally designed from their origins to be online courses. So for YOUR class, it may be a really tough challenge. A couple of thoughts: 

  1. Let go of the usual. Don’t be afraid to talk with your colleagues about moving certain things that require certain equipment and supervision to Fall courses instead. Some content may not translate and that will have to be ok. And the way you do things will obviously have to shift, so don’t be afraid to get out of the box as you try to pivot.
  2. Seize the learning moment. As students cope during a global crisis, how can your curriculum involve them in their world? Work with data or epidemiology? There are direct connections. But do you teach Social Work or Painting or Creative Writing or Criminal Justice? What are the connections between the current world and your field, and how can you offer some assignments that still feel active and applied even if they are not quite what you had originally planned for your course?

In online teaching & conferencing, personal connections still matter. “ —check out this Twitter thread from the University of Windsor about teaching or conferencing using online video. (includes reviews, tips, etc.)


“Lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work)” —Stanford University check out this advice on dealing with lab classes 


“I'd recommend making sure everything you do is *asynchronous*. You don't know when/how/if students have broadband access. You don't know their home responsibilities (caregiving duties, etc.). Best not to assume everyone can call in/zoom/skype for a synchronous meeting.” —Kristina Killgrove, check out this Twitter thread on pivoting to teach a science class (biological anthropology) online 


Check out this crowdsourced Google Doc on teaching a pottery class online (lots of ideas for other “hands-on” classes/disciplines)


Check out LabXchange for online molecular biology labs (free account required) 


Check out Middlebury University’s resource on teaching lab classes. Some of this advice is specific to their campus, but there are links to online lab resources. 


Check out this Website from a presentation by Keegan Long-Wheeler and Chuck Pearson on online science classes at OLCInnovate 2018.


Check out this article on Mike Caulfield's approach to spotting misinformation related to COVID19. A great resource for teaching science and digital literacy.