NCSSM AI Program Architect Charlotte Dungan leads a remote training session on “Alternative Assessment Strategies for the Remote Environment.”Sarah Shoemaker is NCSSM’s Director of Mentorship and Research, but like many at NCSSM, she is also a parent. So, like so many parents across the country, she’s pulling double duty now, working from home to ensure continuity of classes for NCSSM’s residential students while also facilitating her own kids’ at-home learning. It’s been hard. “I’m still figuring out my own kids,” she said to a group of fellow NCSSM faculty and staff gathered online last week for a live training session called “Supporting Students at Distance.” “Teaching is important, but I think the most important is the students and being able to support them.” With NCSSM’s residential courses all moved to remote instruction beginning March 20, faculty and staff from across NCSSM’s Distance Education division, IT department, and library have been hosting remote training sessions to help faculty in the residential program rapidly adapt their classes to remote teaching. Leading last Thursday morning’s session on “Supporting Students” was Jamie Lathan, NCSSM’s Dean of Distance Education, who has years of practice teaching via videoconferencing in NCSSM Open Enrollment distance education courses. But when campus and academic life is upended so dramatically, how do you continue to support students used to a residential education with many supports when the classroom is now remote? It turns out, Lathan said, that while the tools and technology in a remote classroom may be different, the methods of teaching in many ways remain the same. Here are some of the tips that he shared with the group: First and foremost, Lathan stressed: show students that you care. Devote a few minutes before formal class starts to simply check in with students and see how they are doing. Whether face-to-face or in a remote setting, nothing soothes frayed nerves like kind words and genuine concern. Communicate, communicate, communicate, Lathan also emphasized. “Communication in any learning, really, cannot be underestimated,” he said. “In a remote context, you can’t really over-communicate.” Email regularly, post assignments in a timely manner, provide students with multiple ways to contact you, make yourself available, and be there. “Don’t be just a talking head in Zoom.” Straight lecture and assignment is not a best practice in a remote context, Lathan says, so incorporate interactive lessons that encourage students to interact with the content, with their classmates, and with you as the instructor. But be careful about introducing unfamiliar or complicated tools, advised Joyce Ventimiglia, NCSSM’s Instructional Design Specialist and one of the staff members digging deep to help NCSSM’s residential instructors get up and running. With such a compressed time frame to prepare, it’s best to stick with what the school is already familiar with. In another training webinar, “Alternative Assessment Strategies for the Remote Environment,” Charlotte Dungan, NCSSM’s AI Program Architect, offered similar takeaways:
Foster collaboration during the first couple of weeks. “A simple way to do this is to ask all students to turn on and utilize their webcams during remote classes to enhance connection for the online classroom.”
Dungan also noted that putting students into “break-out” rooms within Zoom and utilizing the chat feature also supports building a more traditional classroom feel. Lathan echoed this need for students: Encourage students to build community again in the classroom. Whether juniors or seniors, NCSSM’s students have built new lives for themselves at NCSSM that revolve around personal interaction. Now that circumstances have so unexpectedly upended that routine, it’s especially important to provide assignments that encourage peer-to-peer interactions. Don’t overwhelm students. “We have to rethink our syllabus and student outcomes,” says Lathan. John Woodmansee, instructor of humanities, and Jianbei Deng, instructor of biology and chemistry, had already begun reorganizing their content. “I’m cutting a lot,” said Woodmansee of his syllabi. Deng was doing the same. “Right now,” she said, “the only issue is we do not know whether our current revision is realistic.” And finally: Be flexible and understanding. It is an unprecedented time for NCSSM’s students, and there’s much for them to come to terms with. “Our class,” Lathan says, “may not be their highest priority at this time.”
Lacy Kelly Ramos, Digital Communication Specialist, contributed to this story.