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Transitioning back to the face-to-face classroom

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Students in classroom with Welcome Back written on chalkboard

In our daily conversations with instructors and students, the return to the classroom in Fall 2022 is generally anticipated with great relief and positivity. However, after two years of remote teaching and learning, instructors and students may encounter challenges when returning to the face-to-face learning environment.

Karen Robson and I held a workshop on August 16, 2022, titled Transitioning Back to the Face-to-Face Classroom. We presented a compiled list of considerations for the return to the classroom collected from instructors and students, and from our own observations, along with a list of suggestions to mitigate challenges. Karen also added some lessons learned from her own experience teaching a hybrid course in Winter 2022.

Participants of the workshop added their own contributions, all of which we are now sharing with you. If you wish to add any suggestions of your own, please share them in the comments.

Student issues:

  • Student forgot/don’t know how to take notes in a lecture (are used to being able to review videos, pausing and repeating, fast forwarding, etc.)
  • Student anxiety of completing exams in the classroom.  Open book exam is different than without.
  • Social anxiety: how to make friends, how to introduce self, afraid of being called on, physical collaboration/group work
  • Students who thrived in on-line, want videos, flexibility, anonymity
  • Finding it hard to engage for the whole time.
  • Aren’t familiar with the campus. Don’t know where classes are
  • Anxious to be around so many people – various levels of comfort, feeling of safety, attitudes towards masking
  • Juggling getting to campus, work, and other responsibilities

Instructor concerns:

  • Students wanting a recording of the class
  • More work to build rapport with the students.
  • Challenge getting students to reconnect.
  • What considerations for returning to in-person labs?
  • Are GAs and TAs coming to class now? How are to manage their duties? Are they clear and comfortable with their duties?
  • Gap in student learning from COVID – though seen already.
  • How to navigate comfort level of students – vulnerable – and being respectful.
  • Where to hold office hours? Online or in person or both?
  • How to train GA or TA if they never been in class or never been in an in-person lab? 
  • Concern with personal safety
  • Learning new technology in the classroom
  • Managing set up time in physical space that is shared with others
  • Enhanced student expectations of technology in the teaching and learning
  • Longer days with return to travel, parking, set up, answering questions after class, meetings in person, etc.
  • Loss of student knowledge and/or adherence of classroom etiquette

Suggestions that have worked for others

Suggestions for student concerns

  • Discuss norms of the classroom in first class (Don’t assume they know.) Norms such as office hours, leaving class etiquette, hallways, behaviour during class time. 
  • Allocate course time to help students (re)learn how to take notes in the first few classes.
    • Use to review and create teachable moments. “What do your notes look like? Do they have these critical points?”
    • Provide PowerPoint slides ahead of time with fill-in-the-blanks, as an option for helping with note taking
    • Have students compare notes with person beside them. Fill each other in with what’s missing.
  • Set aside some office hours specific to study skills, note taking, how to write an exam
  • Spend time instructing how to write an email to prof.
  • Leverage GA/TAs. Encourage students to use GA/TAs as resources. Maybe ask them to give examples from their experience.
  • Provide small participation opportunities to show participation is not scary, such as Think-Pair-Share exercises.
  • Allow time for students to express concerns. 
    • Mid-term check in.
    • Time for students to check in with their peers during class time, chat about issues as class/small groups (depending on size)
    • Set up a chat, or encourage students to use social media, to connect with each other.  Help them create study-buddies, or at least have someone they can reach out to if they miss a class.
  • Encourage department to provide beginning of term orientation.

Suggestions for instructor concerns

  • Issues to recording class – how to navigate that (Senate Policy on Recording Lectures: https://www.uwindsor.ca/aauheads/resources/bylaws-policies-procedures.
  • Setting the tone and give them first steps. Send an announcement/email through Blackboard or Brightspace prior to class. Tell a little about yourself, set expectations, point them to what first steps are, tell them where the class is (include a map).
  • Encourage interaction between student and faculty. Be specific:
  • when are you available, by what method (emails, text), include course name in subject, use BB, etc, and how long it will take to get back to a student’s inquiry? 
  • How and where are your office hours?  Will you entertain online office hours/ visit?  How should a student go about joining you?
  • Why should a student visit you? – give broad selection of examples
  • When are you absolutely not available?
  • Provide a learning contract that establishing norms, due dates, groupwork requirements, what to do if requesting a grade review of an assessment, what to do if missed class, etc.
  • Build in time to work with your GA/TAs before class to acquaint them with working in a classroom/in-person lab.  Think through your expectations and be specific with them.
  • Provide a timed “texting” break during class in which students are encouraged to check their texts rather than texting during the lecture
  • Set aside time you wouldn’t normally have needed to
    • Prior to classes starting to plan to address your concerns
    • During class, particularly at the beginning, to help students with in-class skills

Suggestions that have worked for Karen

What went well:

  • Ask students to chit chat at beginning of the first class for 15 min. Suggest they get to know each other by talking about not school related things.
    • At the end of the 15 minutes, get them to exchange contact information and assign them as classroom ‘buddies’ who they can reach out to if they are sick and need to miss a class and want notes from a friend.
  • Talk about classroom norms and ‘how to be a student’ that they may not have picked up from experience. Do they need to ask to leave to go to the washroom? What if they are late to class? What are office hours and how do students use them? How should you address your instructors? Proactively answering very small questions like this helped students.
    • International/exchange students have told me that they found this especially helpful
  • Continue to do open book on-line assessments.  (While this makes sense for my discipline – Marketing – it may not make sense for every instructor.)
  • Explicitly cover the question: What to do if you can’t come to class, including
    • Forms students need to fill out on SIS to ‘Report An Illness’
    • Class policies about missed classes/assessments
    • Reminders to get in touch with their ‘Buddy’

What did not go well:

  • Flipped classroom (pre-class content of 5-10 YouTube videos ranging in length from 3-12 minutes). This worked really for the first 2 weeks and then didn’t work at all – very limited student engagement and low rates of students actually engaging with the flipped content by mid-semester

What I wish I had done differently

  • Partially flipped classroom rather than fully flipped classroom, with some critical content being delivered in class
  • Ask students to chit chat with each other periodically throughout the semester, not just at the start of the first class. It takes time and effort to connect with others and maintain the connection.
  • Give a primer on how to take notes, either by hand or on paper. Students can no longer pause, rewind, etc. content because it is delivered live in a classroom. Students do not seem to be taking notes like they used to, but notes are important. I wish I had discussed this with the class to nudge them in the right direction.
  • Get to the classroom super early to learn the Tech setup and plexiglass setup. Lots of upgrades happened during covid, so need extra time to learn the hardware and software.
  • Many students self-reported mental illness. Good idea to have on hand resources and links to share with students, such as

Final notes:

Anna Galka is the Learning Technologies Education Consultant within the Centre for Teaching and Learning. Anna helps faculty, sessional instructors, GAs and TAs, researchers, and staff develop their teaching skills and knowledge related to the implementation and use of teaching technologies, primarily supporting effective learning management system (Blackboard) pedagogy. She completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Windsor, MFA at UCLA, and Certificate in Adult Education at George Brown College. Anna completed the Foundations of University Teaching Certificate and is a Certified Training and Development Professional, accredited by the Canadian Institute for Performance and Learning.

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