Governor DeSantis recommended on Tuesday that all Florida colleges and universities complete the spring 2020 semester remotely. We may have been expecting this, but most of us are experiencing confusion and even grief as we try to sort out the rest of the term. Our students will also feel a sense of loss, and the profound changes to their normal routines will be difficult to process. In addition to the official announcements about this from the university, they will also appreciate hearing from you. They will need reassurance that it will still be possible to finish the semester successfully, even with the limitations that we now have. They will be wondering how to maintain their connection with you and a sense of community with their classmates.
Our bonds with students, and the ties amongst them, are an essential part of the learning environment we work so hard to cultivate. In order to preserve them, we’ll need to remember to humanize ourselves and demonstrate our care for students. Some of this will be intuitive (maybe your kids or your pets pop into your screen while you’re conferencing or recording; you can ask students to share pictures of theirs, too) and some will require more attention. If you’re not using web conferencing, and if you don’t lecture, it will be valuable to record quick greetings so that your students can see your face and hear your voice. They need to see and hear each other, too, so you can encourage them to make videos of their questions and comments rather than just typing in the discussion board (all of this is possible through Kaltura and Canvas).
We also need to remind them to treat one another with care and respect, even when things get difficult. Back in February, the Asian American Student Union reported incidences of xenophobic and racist speech and actions on campus. The atmosphere has not gotten any safer for students of Asian descent since the level of anxiety about COVID-19 has ratcheted up. It is all of our responsibility to speak with our students about racism, and to ensure that our classrooms and our campus, even when they’re virtual, are, as President Thrasher put it last year, “a welcoming place for all,” where “we share the values of acceptance, respect, and civility.”
If you’re wondering what might be going on in your students’ lives at this point, and what they might prefer or need in order to successfully complete this semester, you can ask them with a short survey or writing prompt. FSU’s own Vanessa Dennen, Professor of Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies, provides a great list of questions. Even if you have too many students to read all the survey results, you can read a good sampling and look for themes. Students will appreciate the demonstration of interest and care, and you will be better able to address their concerns and support their learning.
We’re here to support you, and we can meet with you by phone or Zoom. We all have questions about teaching in these difficult circumstances, but we can help you work through them. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.