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Look across many college and university campuses and you’ll see an unfamiliar site - students! Lots of them. Moving into dorms, heading into lecture halls, and hanging out with their friends in the quad. Many students eagerly anticipated the return to campus - even if that return meant adjusting to a new environment, one with different rules of engagement than in the past.
And while institutions eagerly prepared for students, faculty, and staff to return, they also acknowledged and planned for the need to maintain some of the changes they implemented while fully remote. Institutions considered how everything from blended learning environments to more online course offerings for those who wish to remain remote to a hybrid work environment for faculty and staff fit into the (not quite) post-pandemic world.
In a recent Deloitte study entitled Return to Campus: Perspectives from Higher Education Leaders, respondents acknowledged the sea change occurring across campuses. Institutions are trying to balance the cultural importance of the on-campus experience with increasing demand from higher education leaders to remain in a hybrid environment. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed prefer a hybrid work environment and 70% feel that staff productivity increased while remote.
At the same time, however, Deloitte reports that 53% of respondents fear that student engagement is down. And this is a big concern. So how can instructors help their students re-engage with campus life, after more than a year away from campus?
The skills below are not new, nor are they groundbreaking. But during these unsettled times, we should lean into these skills as they will help educators better support students as they navigate uncertainty in their academic journey.
For students, for colleagues, and for leaders. Everyone will handle re-entry to “normal” life on campus a little bit differently. Inside Higher Ed equates it to the reverse culture shock that students feel when returning to campus after a study abroad program. The “psychological, emotional, and cultural aspects of re-entry” are real. Be aware that not everyone is returning to campus with the same perspective.
Some students embraced an online or hybrid environment while others struggled. Giving students access to the resources they need to be successful in their courses is key to helping them succeed. And tailoring content to the learning model, whether in-person, online, or a blend of both, is also important.
Use examples of what you expect - like an image or a video - so students can see exactly what you’re requesting of them. Instructors should also allow extra time for submissions, knowing that many students continue to juggle family and work obligations on top of their coursework.
There will, inevitably, be bumps along the road to re-entry. But the way you respond matters. Try to look on the bright side, even when the situation is grim. Offer your students positive insights in your feedback. Share meaningful resources to help them learn from their mistakes. And encourage connection by getting personal yourself through the rich media, anecdotes, and comments that you share.
Some students may be transitioning to a learning model different to what they used for the past year. While others may need time to readjust -- to a new tool or process, to learning in a classroom, or possibly to bigger life events. And it’s possible that the situation on campus will remain fluid over the course of the academic year, leading to increased uncertainty and anxiety for students, faculty, and staff. Adapting to whatever the situation is, or becomes, is critical, as is staying positive in the face of adversity (see point #3!)
The pandemic has changed all of us in ways we never could have imagined just a few years ago. And not everyone will adjust to the new environment in the same way.
Change is hard. But we’re all learning, growing, and adapting together. So whether it’s a glitch with new technology or a shaky WiFi connection, just know that everyone is doing their best to adjust. And be patient with yourself, too. Because remember, you are experiencing change as well.
Using these skills this semester - and in the months and years ahead -- will help you set an example for your students and your peers. And while we can’t solve all the challenges you could face upon returning to campus, we can make your job as an instructor a little bit easier.
Online content is here to stay, and keeping students engaged online will continue to be a challenge. One of the best ways you can create community in your virtual classroom is by meeting students where they are - using formats that are familiar to what they use in their personal lives.
Going beyond text-only communications by using visuals in your online discussions and announcements proves to be an effective way to keep learners engaged. And to make it a bit easier for you, we’ve created some visuals that you can use - free of charge - throughout your online course environments. Download them here - or share them with your colleagues!
From the team at Harmonize, we hope everyone has a safe, healthy, and happy return to campus this fall.
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