10 A culture of care

Consider how the pandemic affects students

What an anxious moment we are all surviving together. When designing a course for remote instruction, flexibility is important. In this pandemic situation, students have not CHOSEN to take a . They are being required to take courses remotely and may not even have taken an before. Even if they had made that choice, a pandemic is not the ideal circumstance in which to begin that experience.

Students will not have equitable access to essential tools and materials for an online course. For example, students may: (i) not have a printer, (ii) have poor or no wifi, (iii) not have a calm place to work, (iv) not have a suitable device, (v) health (their own or family members’), or (vi) may be working in a different time zone, be working for a family business, or have other responsibilities that take time away from their studies.

It is easy to imagine myriad ways in student identity could line up with challenges they will experience as remote learners. Remember also that intersectionality (belonging to more than one group that traditional experiences obstacles to full participation) makes potential challenges more complex and hard to fully address in advance.

We suggest simply addressing this issue at the outset of the course, and acknowledging the circumstances in which we all find ourselves (students, professors, TAs). We share the goal of trying to include everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Including everyone with reasonably similar effectiveness will simply require a bit of extra care and patience. This does not imply discarding academic standards, but does imply applying them thoughtfully in an individual way wherever practical.

Students may not have access to these elements during the pandemic.

To address potential issues, you can ask students what tools they have available to they, for example, by copying this questionnaire (adapt as desired). Using asynchronous options is one way to allow for greater flexibility in the course. There are also lower bandwidth alternatives to common tools that you may wish to explore.

Student can be referred to uOttawa’s Student Academic Support Services, and Accommodation Services (formerly “Access Services”) in particular. Educators should add an accommodation statement to their syllabi.

Remember how the pandemic affects you

Students are not the only ones who have or will experience serious challenges. Professors and TAs are subject to all of the same constraints. Pressures could even be greater under some circumstances.

Be kind to yourself and forgiving of colleagues. We suggest giving yourself extra time to get things done if you find yourself managing many obligations. If colleagues appear to breeze through some of the challenges that take you longer, maybe they do not have children, or their children are grown, or… just, be kind.

 

Strategies for Reinforcing Care and Community

Stress levels for everyone are extremely high right now, and the uncertainty around us doesn’t help. But there are strategies for reinforcing the care and community you have already established in your face-to-face classes, even as we move online.

  1. Remind students of your presence. Often. Whether through short video blogs, regular and predictable email responses, or remaining present in discussion forums, students will be reassured by your continue participation in their classwork.
  2. Be flexible, humane, and kind. Students will be dealing with a lot of additional external stressors during this time. Consider relaxing your approach to deadlines and late penalties in the coming days. Remember that the authorities ask that we not tax the health care system, so it may not be appropriate to require a doctor’s note for missed work due to illness.
  3. Seek support. Our Moodle resource has a faculty support forum, and the Learning Technology and Innovation team is here to provide support for all your questions about teaching online. The Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and the Instructional Designers in Open Learning are all community resources for you to draw on. Let us help.

Some additional ways to demonstrate care (all resources can be reused and shared, with attribution):

 

Addressing Wellness

is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth.” – UC Davis

“…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The World Health Organization

“a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.”
The National Wellness Institute

To support students’ wellness, you can suggest that they:

Visit TRU Services

Consult external resources

How and when to provide suggestions and resources

There are no rules for this but some ideas include:

  • Sending periodic Moodle announcements, which can be set up in advance.
  • Short weekly video overviews can be useful to students and help them focus on the week’s tasks.
  • You can put resources links like the ones above in a Resources section in Moodle.

Up next

The next chapter focused on ways to help your students become better online learners.