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Being Human Online during COVID-19

Mon May 11, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Even before COVID-19, there has long been an emphasis on “humanizing online learning,” or pushing back on the criticism of online learning as a solitary, disconnected learning environment. The #HumanizeOL movement emphasizes practices familiar to the Community of Inquiry framework, which consists of social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence in online learning (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). The bottom line is that online environments can be engaging, humanizing places if they are designed intentionally.

In the context of COVID-19, it is important to also remember that we are humans in front of and apart from screens. While much of our work has always been connected to screens, this pandemic has made almost all of our work facilitated through screens, and we should recognize the toll that can take on ourselves and our students. We lose our sense of time because we have been stripped of our normal routines. The new term “Zoombie” refers to how one feels after being in too many Zoom meetings (see one definition of Zoombie, plus #zoombie in use). These pandemic-related struggles remind us that we have bodies that need to stretch, move, and rest; minds that need to reflect, slow down, prioritize, and orient. Some of this can happen with a screen, but we also need to step away.

In the spirit of attending to human needs, this teaching tip offers questions upon which to reflect. 

Questions to Consider

After a relentless semester of moving to remote teaching, we likely need to attend to our own work and wellness to ensure we’re ready to support students. Some of the Your Work and Wellness questions are informed by Beating Pandemic Burnout, whose author has written Agile Faculty and has a contract to write a book on faculty burnout.

Your Work and Wellness

  • What habits and routines ground you during remote work?
  • Do you move in meaningful, restorative ways through exercise or other active means?
  • What boundaries can you set for work realms and rest? What signs have you set for when new or revised boundaries are needed?
    • When do you think your computer should be turned off for the day? When it's time to stop online "checking" (email, social media, task lists)?
  • When do you feel your best, and how can these points be extended, more frequent, or best used?
  • What you might need to put on hold or let go of in light of how life has changed?
  • What most motivates and energizes you? 

Students and Teaching

  • Do you encourage student wellness with words and course design? We can remind students in the syllabus that all of the normal supports and resources usually listed in the syllabus are still available to them (counseling, tutoring), and additionally add what is available specific to current struggles, such as additional financial support. 
  • Can students take some course learning on the go? Does some of course material involve podcasts or mobile-friendly reading? Can some student activities take place on the go, such as handwritten notes, place-based photos, or their own video or audio?
  • Do you express empathy in words and course design? The syllabus is a great place to start (see an Adjusted Syllabus Statement written soon after the sudden shift to online, which can be further adjusted for current semesters).
  • How are names used in courses? We love the sound of our own name, and using student names in class feedback text or videos is a powerful way to pull students in and together. The Sharing Your Name Pronunciation Teaching Tip provides direction on how the class can better know one another’s names. If you use discussion forums, I like having students sign off posts with the name they go by, and when replying to others address them by name.
  • How do you and your students get to express and share who you are? When I first started teaching online, I was intrigued by the lives, interests, struggles, and talents of my students. I often found the composition of my online classes more diverse and face-to-face classes, because online students were out in the world, and their learning was informed by experiences. This realization made me want to invite my students to share their stories as often as possible. Students can develop their Moodle profiles, which go with them from class to class, by including text, video, and audio. Since I didn’t have much traction with optional social forums in the past, I upgraded it slightly to include weekly prompts and challenges that earned students a little bit of extra credit (see more in this page on class community).
  • When and how do you ask students how they are doing, and enable students to do this for one another? Students can be reminded of how to communicate with one another and can perhaps discuss ways beyond Moodle they’d like to communicate. I have also included “Help Lines” for students within Moodle, which are simple, optional activity tools that invite students to express whether they are stuck or concerned about their ability to complete a course. I have written about this and other ways to “take the temperature” in a course.

Additional Insight and Resources

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.