Rivka Glaser, Assistant Professor, Stevenson University
COVID-19 has forced many colleges and universities to move to entirely remote or hybrid learning. Dr. Glaser recognized that the switch to remote learning, coupled with the stresses of living during a pandemic, negatively impacted many of her students. Undergraduate education is not a vacuum, and what happens in students’ daily lives impacts their ability to succeed in the classroom. For students to succeed in today’s environment, instructors need to understand a student’s overall well-being and be a source of support and encouragement.
Creating a Supportive Environment for Students
For many years, Dr. Glaser required students to write in a weekly journal used to assess student understanding of the concepts covered the previous week. In light of the struggles that many students faced during the pandemic (namely increased anxiety, concerns over their mental health, lack of motivation and engagement in classes), Dr. Glaser altered the assignment to include two additional prompts, as well as the weekly content check-ins:
- How are you doing (share your struggles or highlights of the week)?
- How are you getting the support you need, be it academic support, mental health support, or just taking some time for yourself?
These questions allowed Dr. Glaser to understand where students were coming from, and in turn, better help them. Small changes, like the wellness check-ins, had a huge impact on student well-being, and in turn student success.
I just want to say thank you so much for this semester. Not only did you actually care about our wellbeing during this pandemic but you also showed a side that I rarely see from professors.
I felt like being able to talk and connect on a different level other than educational is comforting and I enjoy seeing the responses that you have left for me. It has certainly helped me, and I’m sure it’s helped other students as well.
“Last semester, my course evaluations were the best I have ever had in my 16 years of teaching. Specifically, I saw an increase in students reporting that they felt challenged in the class, they felt that they learned something of value, and they felt that their thoughts and questions were welcomed compared to previous semesters. Secondly, learning gains were measured using a pre-and post-concept assessment. Last semester, the mean difference between the pre- and post- content assessment was statistically greater compared to the mean difference between the pre- and post-assessments from previous semesters.” -Dr. Glaser
Course Evaluation Table:
|Course was intellectually challenging and stimulating||85%||93%||100%|
|Learned something valuable||93%||83.3%||100%|
|Interest in subject matter increased||78.6%||76.3%||93.8%|
|Style of presentation holds my interest||64.3%||75.3%||81.3%|
|Materials are well prepared and clear||71.4%||92.3%||100%|
|Student participation is encouraged||93%||97.3%||100%|
|Students invited to share their ideas and knowledge||93%||97.3%||100%|
|Students encouraged to ask questions and are given meaningful answers||85.7%||97.3%||100%|
|Students encouraged to express their own ideas and/or question the instructor||78%||97.3%||100%|
|Instructor makes students feel welcome in seeking help/advice in or outside of class||78.6%||92.3%||100%|
Note – the % reported reflects students who agree or strongly agree with each statement. The same pedagogy was used in all three semesters (flipped classroom and team based learning). Spring 2020 started off in person and then switched to remote halfway through. Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 were entirely remote. Journals were used in all three semesters, but the prompts changed in Fall 2020 and the changed prompts were used again in Spring 2021.
Implications Beyond the Pandemic
Small changes on the instructor’s part to understand students holistically had huge impacts on students. Beyond the virtual learning environment, Dr. Glaser suggests supporting students by:
- Creating a space to get to know students – this can be a virtual space even if the class is taught in-person.
- Using some of class time to acknowledge outside influences that impact student learning – even if it is the first couple of minutes of class.
- Reinforcing the idea that we do not expect students to be perfect – this can be demonstrated by sharing our own experiences to relate to students.