Supporting Students in the First Weeks of the Semester

Notes from the Virtual Hub & Pub

(2 minute read)

At the recent Virtual Hub & Pub (February 2, 2021), facilitated by the CTL-Hub Teaching Excellence Faculty Fellows (Kaytlin Eldred, Sophie Godley, Joseph Harris, Irit Kleiman, and Benjamin Siegel), discussion centered on the importance of developing class community early in the semester. Participants reflected on ways of supporting students as well as gathering regular feedback to make adjustments to the class in the first few weeks.

Here are some of the ideas that faculty shared in the discussion:

  • Use the Chat as a forum for students to share their questions and concerns at specific times during class
  • Connect with students through a “Walk and Talk” meeting – for students who are on campus, meeting with the professor to walk and talk together provided an invaluable opportunity to build relationships and offer informal support
  • Provide “On demand” Office Hours (that is, at times when students need them) where possible, through Zoom or another virtual meeting platform
  • Develop a “Suggestions” channel in Slack as a forum for students to post their questions; this was helpful for students to communicate ideas to their instructor as well as provide support to each other
  • Solicit frequent feedback through anonymous, quick google or Qualtrics surveys to allow students to comment on class content, activities, and general anxieties. One instructor recommended taking the pulse through a general question (e.g. “Is there anything you’d like the professor to know?”) on a regular basis. Others suggested frequent feedback on the content, including asking questions via a Qualtrics form at the end of every class to allow for course adjustments at the beginning of the next class.

(These suggestions are very much in line with research into retention and student success. See, for example, the Persistence Project, which highlights the importance of simple strategies such as getting to know students’ names and meeting with them individually in the first 3-4 weeks of semester; read more about this project and its recommendations for student success here.)

Faculty also discussed how to increase student engagement with, and understanding of, class activities. Suggestions included:

  • Remind students at the beginning of each class about learning goals for the day; make connections to content as well as how that knowledge builds on what they have already learned and transfers to other spheres (e.g. such as careers or other classes); this strategy aggregates over the semester so that it reinforces student awareness of their own goals for learning as well as the larger context of learning outcomes for the class
  • Ask students to reflect on their learning, with a series of questions about their own goals and how the class material connects to these goals

Participants also exchanged ideas on the question of keeping cameras on during Zoom class meetings. A variety of approaches was evident: some faculty made it a class policy for students to maintain their on-screen presence (through policies in the syllabus as well as statements during class), while others noted that engagement could be evident through verbal participation even when a camera was off. Some instructors also varied their policy depending on the activity: for lectures where presentation slides might dominate the screen, one instructor allowed students to turn cameras off; however, in discussions, they were asked to keep cameras on.

This discussion indicated the variety and flexibility that instructors bring to the Learn from Anywhere classroom and emphasized the care with which BU’s faculty are managing connections with students to provide them with supportive learning environments. Thanks to all participants for their contributions!