Starting Somewhere with Empathy in Teaching aka 9 Ways of “Surfing the Tsunami”

These are unprecedented times. With the growing, urgent need to “shelter in place” and slow the spread of COVID-19, higher education institutions are closing their campuses and making an emergency transition to online learning. RISD is far from alone in this transition to a virtual world.

1) Start with the basics. Use the tools you know: for example, sending course materials by e-mail or posting information in the learning management system. No matter how simple, it’s a start.

2) Communicate with students. It’s important to reach out and make sure their needs are being met. But also, students who feel isolated during this crisis crave a sense of connection. During this time faculty should remember to be empathetic to themselves as they are adjusting to a change and extend empathy to students as they are in a transition process together.

3). Lean on your colleagues (from a distance) to share ideas and best practices. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

4) It doesn’t have to be perfect. Resist the urge to try to perfectly recreate existing courses in an online environment. Identify the most important, key goals and objectives that you want students to focus on, recognizing that many students will not get as much work done during this crisis as they might otherwise be able to.

5) This is not “online learning,” it’s emergency remote learning. Faculty in this situation don’t have the luxury of months and months of well-planned instructional design. Learn what works as you go and tweak accordingly.

6) It’s okay to feel anxious. It is important to recognize the perfectly normal anxiety that all participants in this new education format will experience. There is no reason to pretend that this isn’t disconcerting in many ways — but we are all in it together and will get through this time together.”

7) Allow yourself to grieve. Being wrenched away from normal campus operations is like experiencing a loss. Our familiar ways of teaching and learning make us feel comfortable and competent.

8) This is temporary. It may not be as short-term as we would like, and we don’t yet know how long it will last, but there is an end point.

9) Look for silver linings. Getting out of your comfort zone and trying new technologies has a bright side: We will all gain skills over the coming months that we did not previously have. Once we are able to return to in-person learning, many of these skills can be utilized to augment live teaching with an enhanced virtual presence.