How to have a Successful Fall Semester

By: Nandita Abraham, President - Pearl Academy

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves from an urgent public health crisis to an economic catastrophe, higher education institutions are bracing for long-term impact while working around the clock to continue delivering instruction.
What was sufficient to get through the spring crisis will not be considered adequate in the fall. We have all had time to improve and prepare. Expectations of students and parents will be higher, and colleges that do not deliver will risk angering students and parents and, importantly, potentially failing their most vulnerable students.
All of us pulled through the last semester. Most faculty and students rose to the occasion of being stuck in the pandemic and innovated and completed learning. Some colleges who were already using hybrid learning managed better than others. The fall semester will be a different scenario. Despondency has set in, many students and faculty know someone who has been infected by the virus; some may have lost a loved one; there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. No one wants to do another semester online, but we have no option.
What should we do as educators? I am going to outline some key pillars to focus your energies while planning your next semester.

Faculty Preparedness
Many teachers are still reeling under the pressure of completing the last semester online, and the last thing they may want to do is to plan for an online fall, but with the current situation, there is not much option. Even if colleges open outstation students will need access to meaningful online learning experiences
Training in online and hybrid learning - If you haven’t started already, this is essential. There are many online courses in virtual teaching and learning. Coursera offers a specialization of 5 courses. Your development team could put one together with the specific needs of your teachers. Going online doesn’t mean just taking the same content and lectures online. There is a lot more to be done for active engagement and learning. it is essential to research assessment methods before the selection of the best assessment methods.
Home teaching studio - All teachers’ homes need to be set-up for effective and safe delivery of classes. Provide a checklist including wifi, appropriate equipment, suitable chair, and other details, including lighting.
Plan an enhanced delivery - Advance planning is essential at this stage. Take feedback from students about what worked and what didn’t work during online classes last semester. Look at what you want them to learn this semester. Select platforms that will engage then, create detailed plans, select suitable engagement hours. Push out practical subjects to Spring but keep the semester interesting.
Build an active online teaching community - staying at home can make you feel alone. Teachers are a community that thrives off discourse. Faculty room conversations, discussions about what went well and what they struggled with are essential to their everyday practice. The feeling of camaraderie and being a part of a collective has now gone away, and it is vital to bring this back. Create a space where faculty can have these conversations.
Well-being - This is essential for a COVID semester. Ideas like planned small relaxed group catch-ups, online summer camps for children of teachers, access to online counselors for employees and their families will go a long way.

One thing is for sure. Students, too, are tired of online learning and will not be enthusiastic about starting classes. They will also expect better preparation and delivery compared to the last semester, which they will see as a hurried ad hoc experience.
Context setting and complete information - Orienting students to their upcoming learning is essential. Expectations need to be precise. What they will learn, how online will work, what assessments will be. The attendance policies, online resources for them, and how they can be accessed. Who to reach out to when they are stuck.
Home studio set up - a small learning space is essential with some tools required for enhanced learning. Students studying fashion could get a sewing machine or a dress form; you could give students access to ERP software needed for their course, simulations, and a drawing tablet to improve skills. A comfortable chair and wifi specifications are essential too.
1:1 time - it is critical that students feel like they have some personal time with a mentor or teacher. Simulating faculty office timings is an affirmative action towards giving a personal touch to students. This action can solve a lot of potential problems. Rumi, the poet, said, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there."
Build an active online learning community - students are a part of many groups, but a learning community/forum where students can engage as and when they want to is a good idea. There are many platforms where this is possible. Taking regular feedback allows corrective action midway.
Well-being - Young people are going through challenging times. Ensuring or enhancing student well-being is essential. Check-in forms, movement breaks, mindfulness activities, encouraging students to express themselves is important. Face it; this semester rigor may suffer, but considering the situation that’s ok. It is crucial that our students that they stay well and continue to feel connected.

Innovative and Fun
In all this, you must remember that learning is more than just credits or getting good grades. Learning should be playful, forward-looking, and create excitement and adrenaline in your students. Encourage parties, festivals, showcases, and jam sessions.
Opportunity for digital exploration - there are myriads of project software, 3D software, which can enhance student experience and outcomes.
Social media - faculty are using social media to increase the width of discussions happening around particular subjects and also showcasing student work. Use Twitter threads, shared blogs, and Instagram for online engagement.
Collaboration - the online semester is an excellent time to do multi-location collaborative projects. Industry and academics around the world are open to new ideas, online internships, joint research, and global classrooms. These are sure ways to make learning more enjoyable.
Being away from one another, one misses on the informal and face to face communication that happens in the class and staff room. Another stakeholder who is very concerned during this pandemic is the parent community. Miscommunication and misunderstandings can lead to mistrust, and it is essential that everyone on the same page. Develop a clear communication strategy across the institution. Discuss the COVID situation openly and at the same time, give hope for when it will be over.
Take into consideration that a lot that will happen during fall may be irrational. A lot will be based on feelings, so be fully prepared, be ready to change gears midway, and more than anything, be there for your students. This quote from Descartes Error sums it up. Antonio Damasio asserts, "We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think."
Your faculty and students need you and your expertise more than ever before.

By: Nandita Abraham, President - Pearl Academy

24 June 2020 . 8 Minutes


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