Wondering how to set a welcoming tone, get to know your students, and engage everyone from the first day of classes? Use icebreakers to reduce the awkwardness of introductions, build an inclusive learning community, and offer students the opportunity to practice participating. The right icebreaker helps students apply course content and enhance their learning. Plus, it’s a great way for you to try out engagement options in a low-stakes manner. In Zoom, you can try out chat, hand-raising (virtual or physical), emojis/reactions, polls, or other IU supported technology tools, such as TopHat. For icebreaker ideas for your classes, read this new CITL Quick Guide about Icebreakers.
Throughout consultations and events this fall, instructors have shared that the “magic” of their typical, in-person class wasn’t as strong in their online or hybrid courses. The common thread among all the stories is that instructors are missing the closeness felt among students in the class. These stories drive me as a graduate student studying high-impact practices on student sense of belonging.
Defined broadly, high-impact practices (HIPs) are learning experiences that are made more meaningful because they typically ask students to invest lots of time and effort on purposeful intellectual and social activities (Kuh, 2008, p. 14). One of the ten types of HIPS is a seminar. Seminars tend to have that feeling of closeness because of the small class size, but there are other factors at play. Kuh (2008) notes that seminars tend to reduce anonymity, foster face-to-face peer and faculty interaction, encourage collaboration toward similar intellectual pursuits with people who are different, and promote frequent feedback from faculty (p. 14). Though these qualities are more present in in-person classes, there are tools online that can help build a class that feels as “psychologically small”, in Kuh’s words, as a seminar.
Reach Out with Care
Email all students regularly. Send emails of concern to the physically or mentally absent students. Send encouraging emails to students who are doing well. Thank the class for particularly engaging days with specific moments that you enjoyed as an instructor. If real-time emails are not possible with heavy workloads, schedule Canvas announcements to be released to pre-plan messages.
Check in with students using Poll Everywhere or any collaborative platform anonymously. You may ask students to personally share what went well this week, celebrating those great moments. Alternatively, you could also ask students to share their largest stressor this week to foster a sense of solidarity in the class against mutual challenges.
Support Collaborative Work
On a regular basis (4-5 weeks), ask students anonymously what is and is not going well with the course. Reflect on what is feasible to change. Present the results and discuss with the class how the course could be revised moving forward. Sticky notes in Google Jamboard is wonderful for quick responses in a synchronous course.
Instructors who engage in HIPS are building toward a more equitable classroom because participation in HIPs has a “compensatory effect” for historically disadvantaged students (Kuh, 2008).
For other tips on creating a psychologically close classroom, reach out to one of the CITL consultants for personalized ideas for your classroom! Consider attending a CITL workshop or contact our office for an individual consultation. Otherwise, Katie Linder’s (2018) High-impact Practices in Online Education: Research and Best Practices (via IU CAT) is a great resource for more on this topic.
If you’re tired of logging into uits.iu.edu/zoom to launch or create Zoom meetings, try out the Zoom Desktop Client. The Desktop Client (download for PC and Mac here) offers additional features:
- Better host controls
- Ability to self-select breakout rooms (as a participant)
- Enhanced security options
- Easily ensure you’re signed in with IU credentials
- Integrate Zoom into your email client for easy scheduling
Already using the Zoom Desktop Client? Check for updates to ensure you’re not missing new features and security enhancements. To check for updates:
- launch the Desktop Client
- In the top right-hand corner, click on your photo/image
- Scroll down and click “check for updates”
- If updates are needed, it will provide an option to update now
- Once updated, click “release notes” to learn more about the new features
See more at this short video and guide: Installing and Updating the Zoom Desktop Client.
Take time on the first day of class or early in the semester to talk about the fact that adversity is to be expected in college, but it is temporary, and how you and the class will support each other to get through it. Why do I have to care about this when I teach biology or chemistry, not diversity? It closes performance gaps and bolsters attendance and retention for all students. Here’s a brief exercise to help students know how to react when the learning gets tough and to foster sense of belonging in your classroom.
More instructors are connecting their students to campus resources, particularly highlighting the services available at CAPS. As we navigate COVID, we are learning more about other equally meaningful connections students may need. Ensure your students know about other campus resources that could support their sense of belonging and, in turn, their success as a student. Share information about, for example, where to find Crimson Cupboard and support their food security, or where Black students can find “a home away from home.” You can point your students to other self-care resources on IU’s Keep Learning website.
I hope that by the time you’re reading this, you’re fully enjoying winter break—spending time safely at home, perhaps trying out a new hobby (sourdough starter, anyone?), or getting caught up on some much needed sleep. As you slowly come out of winter break hibernation, you’ll likely start to think about the classes you’ll be teaching spring semester. This semester will be a bit different, with classes starting on Tuesday, January 19th and being held entirely online until February 7th. With all of us starting our classes online, it is more important than ever that we communicate clearly with our students about course expectations. One way we can do so is through clear learning outcomes written in our course syllabi.
Learning outcomes are statements that tell students what they should be able to do at the end of a period of time (like a course section or class period). These statements are student-centered, rather than instructor-centered. This means they are speaking to what students will be able to do/produce/explain, rather than what role the instructor will take. It is important that learning outcomes are measurable and often observable.
To better explain what measurable means, let’s look at some examples from our webpage on learning outcomes:
Hard to measure: Students will be exposed to the major folklore genres of Indiana.
Measurable: By the end of this course, students will be able to analyze an example of Indiana folklore that is unfamiliar to them, using appropriate research and writing techniques.
SPEA – Public Affairs
Hard to Measure: I want students to see how urban problems are important in their own lives.
Measurable: Students will be able to invent and defend a solution to an urban problem that is relevant to their own city, town, or campus.
If you want to learn more about creating a syllabus, watch this short, 5-minute video explaining backwards course design and how to create learning outcomes using Bloom’s Taxonomy.