Column: How to teach through a crisis

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Commentary by Julie Saam

Currently, we find ourselves within a global crisis, a pandemic. What we are learning about how to teach through this crisis is not to focus on the technology, but the students. How we teach through a crisis is through connection, patience and grace.

Connection

Students crave connection. They enjoy being connected to the content, making it more enjoyable and memorable. Teachers need to know their students well to help them make content connections. For example, in a mathematics class I taught, I had a student on the soccer team. When estimating measurements, we could talk about how many soccer fields in length that would be.

Students also need and want connections with their instructors and peers. I often use ice breakers for students to get to know each other. I love to use “Unique and Shared.” In small groups, students share characteristics they have in common and then find one unique characteristic for each of them. This exercise allows students to realize that they are more alike than they may have thought.

Connections through Zoom are challenging. Zoom has many features to help students stay connected, but it is cumbersome to navigate the casual conversation. One of our faculty opens his Zoom classroom 15 minutes before class to simulate walking into a classroom and casually chatting with peers. He said they had a heated discussion on ice cream flavors recently.

Patience

A few months ago, our faculty and students knew little about synchronous and Hyflex, and learning these takes patience. Our instructors are patient with their students because we know learning takes time, and they practice patience with themselves to methodically learn the necessary strategies.

Hyflex is teaching half of our students enrolled in a course on campus while simultaneously teaching the other half through Zoom. I noticed worry in their eyes while I explained this method to nearly 100 faculty members over Zoom. I am patient with them learning this new method because I know they will be patient with their students. We are working through this new strategy together.

Grace

At first, I decided the last component was flexibility but then realized it is grace. As an instructor, I need to give my students grace with due dates, technology and the capacity to learn. With all that is new, mitigation testing and quarantine, students are overwhelmed and anxious, and learning is not in their capacity. I provide grace to help reduce stress and uncertainty.

My daughter is a college sophomore. She needed to ask for an extension for an assignment, but she didn’t want her teacher to think that she was less capable. Her teacher provided the extension to the entire class. This is grace.

We need grace from our students as well. Early this semester, our instructors used our video technology platform to prepare materials. This platform experienced a backlog preparing materials for viewing. Our instructors worried that their students would think that they lacked the competency to produce videos promptly. Instead, the students were gracious when they learned of the backlog.

When a crisis hits, one looks to funding and technology to bring support. However, what we learned at IU Kokomo, to teach through a crisis requires connection, patience and grace. Although funding and technology are necessary conduits, we found our students to be most important. So, how do we teach through a crisis? We focus on our students.

Julie Saam, Ph.D., is a Carmel resident and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and professor of education at IU Kokomo.


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