“Uncertainty is a bandwidth stealer”* (Teaching Tip)

Uncertainty strains our mental, physical, and emotional resources. Much like scheduled Canvas, Webex, and Zoom maintenance updates, there are steps that we can take to help our students (and ourselves) feel a bit more certain.

I do not know about you, but I am stressed. Stressed about the well-being of my parents in a Covid-19 hot zone, worried about family members working in health care, and sad that the students in my creative thinking class do not have the experience that I had planned just a few months ago. And yet, I am sitting in my comfortable extra office/bedroom/gym with little worries that I will have a job or that I have enough food to eat. I am safe. For many of our students, staying home means a loss of employment, added responsibilities, and the stress of keeping up.

Here are some ideas to make this uncertain situation feel a bit more stable:

Consider assessment as a paradigm shift. Changed assessment strategies do not mean foregoing quality and teaching excellence. Consider how you can use Canvas quizzes and assignments as learning aids, and project and problem-based learning as essential survival skills. Even the College Board is adjusting its usual AP exams, eliminating multiple choice and reducing three-hour exams to 45 minutes. There is precedence for a temporary paradigm shift in the traditional assessment of student learning and in treating our students as adults also struggling with readjustment amidst uncertainty.

Keep accurate gradebooks. Undergraduate students will be able to take a pass/not pass at the end of this semester. Many students continue to work diligently to earn their deserved letter grades. Keeping your Canvas gradebook up to date provides students with an accurate depiction of their current standing.

Dispel the unknown. Provide students a structure and plan for the rest of the semester so that they can organize their time.

Listen to your students. With all of the uncertainties right now, do you know how your students are doing? This act can be as simple as asking your students how they’re doing. Students can write a word, sentence, paragraph, post a picture, or choose to opt-out. This one question can give you valuable information about their well-being and ability to connect to technologies and complete course work. If you can, provide prompt, encouraging feedback to students using written, video, or audio tools that reinforces you heard them.

You might also ask students to complete an anonymous plus delta to have a pulse on the positives and possible adjustments to your teaching and their learning. Create a Wordle from their responses and post prominently in your online course to inspire and help them persevere.

Uncertainty remains in many spheres of our lives. We can help students feel more certain by assuming the best, listening to them, and understanding that they are feeling as much, if not more, stress as we are.

With a joy for teaching,

Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

*Quote from author Cia Verschelden during AAC&U Webinar on “Safeguarding quality, equity, and inclusion as learning moves online.”


Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: “Uncertainty is a bandwidth stealer”* (April 2, 2020 – Constant Contact) website.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for April 2, 2020 (PDF).