Tips & Tricks for Pandemic Teaching and Learning

Whether you're teaching by Zoom, taking an online class, or navigating your way through in-person classes, we applaud your efforts. This year launches a new era of teaching, and you are the pioneers. We've gathered some thoughts and articles that may help you along the way — and please, if you have ideas of your own, we hope that you share them with us in the comments!

From Anne Pharr, English Instructor at Pellissippi State Community College

"First, with each technological tool I implement, I am diverting my students' (and my) attention and time away from the course's content, so that should be a consideration. Second, my choices must not assume that all of my students have equal access to the resources necessary to operate any application I may use in my class, so my choices must not undermine equity. And finally, if a student is enrolled in four or five classes, and each class relies on a different constellation of applications, this creates a real burden for students — not what I want to do, especially during this time. For these and other reasons, I have chosen to limit the amount of new technology I'm using during this season of online instruction to applications that are already commonly used at my institutions, and the grateful emails I've received from students let me know that, for now, that's a good approach for me."

from Heather Walker Peterson, Associate Prof, Chair of English and Lit at University of Northwestern

On exams and assignments.

"I'm making my online exams timed, open-book, and application-based so students will likely do their best with their resources and are less likely to cheat. To keep students engaged but not overwhelm myself, I'm giving small 'completion' assignments, which I don't respond to but give 10 points for completion, 7 points for most of completion, and so on — I'm clear on the first day of class about these so that students aren't disappointed by my lack of response."

On hybrid teaching.

It's been 1.5 weeks of teaching a class "hybrid," and I wanted to share with you in Facebook land what it's like.

  • Students are spread out for 6-feet distancing
  • They are all wearing facemasks
  • I spray their tables with disinfectant when they come in, and they wipe them with a paper towel
  • I open up Zoom before class starts on the classroom computer
  • For classroom capacity reasons, six students are remote from their homes or dorm room, watching me on the camera
  • Because of rotating the six remote students, I take a photo of the students in the classroom as class starts for contact tracing
  • I have a harder time remembering their names because I can’t see their entire faces, so I’ve brought in cardstock for them to make name cards
  • I’ve put any of the handouts and exercises for the day online for the remote students to access.
  • Up front I wear a clear plastic face shield, but if I distribute any exercises, I put on a face mask and distribute them to individual students so that they’re not passed from student to student
  • I’m able to put exercises we do in class together on a document camera that the remote students can see
  • I’ve made all exams and assignments online
  • The remote students don’t like speaking aloud, so I’ve learned to open the chat box for video conferencing and put it in the corner of the screen, and the students in the classroom notify me if they see a comment. (I think they might feel freer to make a comment in the box than they do in class)
  • It’s all going well for me, but the hardest part is that when they’re doing practice exercises on their own, I stay up front instead of going among them and nudging them along or affirming them


From Pamela Simmons, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Cuyahoga Community College
  • Not all students will have the ability to watch a synchronous class sessions due to limited (or maxed out) internet bandwidth, child care issues, etc., so it is important to either record the session (requires less bandwidth to watch) or provide alternatives.
  • Video quality tends to suffer when many participants are sharing their video feed but it is important to encourage connections. I think we are all craving community right now, so I plan to have everyone share their video at start of each class session (or upload a profile picture if privacy concerns) as we review the previous class. Then I will ask them to stop sharing when I start the new material.
  • During this unprecedented time, patience, empathy, and flexibility can go a long way. One great idea I took from one of the training sessions I attended this summer is to create a survey (see below) for students to complete for minimal points at the start of the semester. Not only does it provide me the chance to get to know a little about them and let them know I care about them as individuals, it also prompts them to consider challenges or barriers they may face and then identify compensating strategies. It even provides an opportunity for them to share any further concerns or anything else they would like me to know — those things students typically will share privately after class in a face-to-face format. 

Pamela Simmons's Beginning of Term Survey Questions — "Tell Me About Yourself"

  • Course:                                                                       
  • Class section #:                         
  • Name as registered (first & last):
  • How would you prefer I address you?
  • Most of our students are juggling multiple responsibilities. Tell me a little about what you have on your plate — i.e. working full-time, school full/part-time, caring for family, etc.
  • What is your background, if any, in accounting?
  • List two goals you have for this course.
  • Identify at least one course of action you will take toward achieving your goals.
  • Identify at least one challenge that might arise to impede your goals.
  • Identify at least one strategy you could employ to overcome that challenge.
  • How can I best support your success?
  • Do you have additional concerns or is there anything else you would like me to know?
from Amanda Benckhuysen, senior professor in old testament studies at Calvin Theological Seminary

How are you making online learning better this fall?

One of the things I missed most in the spring about being in the classroom was the interaction with the students. Those interactions give me energy, joy, and enthusiasm for teaching. In an online environment, you lose that direct connection with your students. However, one of the things I have discovered over the summer in teaching online is that there are aspects of teaching beyond interacting with students that give me joy. For instance, I love the subject matter that I am teaching and I love developing creative ways of engaging it. So ... in the online environment, I am rediscovering my love for the subjects I teach and the joy of creativity in teaching. And I'm having fun with it, learning and trying out new technologies, finding new ways to help my students engage with each other online, and giving myself room and permission to fail. I'm hoping that if I have a good attitude and exude enthusiasm, the students will be excited about learning (online) as well.

What do you suggest to others?

We are all learning — teachers and students alike. So be gracious with one another and with yourselves. And create good pathways of communication. Encourage your students to be open with you about how they are doing, what is working and what is not working, and what they may need to succeed.  

Online retreats and conferences

  • Join Dr. Christina Bieber Lake, author of The Flourishing Teacher, for a self-paced retreat that explores strategies for thriving as a teacher in a pandemic. Sign up before October 1.
  • A remote-learning virtual summit for faculty took place this summer, but you can still view it on demand for free.

Tools for video teaching



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