The Gift

We’ve talked about self-care for faculty (here and here), but how are your students doing? You have likely arrived at the first major assessment or test of this new academic term. How did they do? How did they do compared to how you thought they would do? How did they do compared to how they thought they would do?

Hourglass with red sandGive them the gift of time…to think about how they studied/prepared for the assessment. Perhaps prepare a metacognition form they could fill out (anonymously if you think that would be best), where they can think about their behaviors and see if there are places they might need to alter their studying and learning habits. Perhaps take some time—“in class” if you have that or on a discussion board or using some online tool where they can share their thoughts with each other about what they would like to do differently and why. Support their ideas and encourage tweaking study habits. Perhaps take a few minutes to share a few ways of taking notes if that is something with which some seem to be struggling. Post some links about these subjects for them to explore in more depth. Then send a few reminders about where those links can be found—especially in the run-up to the next major assessment/test.

But during this time of pandemic teaching and learning, don’t forget the gift of flexibility. Some schools have canceled fall break in order to complete most of the semester before Thanksgiving—some had always planned to do this, others have been forced to do it due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. Hopefully, you built in allowances for “whatever might happen” as you constructed your syllabi.

But I want to argue for the gift of spontaneous “time off” this academic term. Maybe it’s the day after a test and your students look and sound exhausted. Or maybe it’s when you log on and you see more gazing off into the distance than focus on the content you are covering. You’ll know when they’ll need this gift.

Silver whistle on red cordCall an audible. Let class out early and urge them to take a nap or do something fun. Maybe even cancel an entire class session.

I know, I know—“but what about the amount of class time required by institutional rules?” It’s easy for me to say “Ignore that” – but really, ignore it. The emotional health of each student and the class’ as a whole (as well as your own) in the middle (we hope!) of a pandemic, matters more.

I realize a very few students might come to expect such a gift far more than you might want to offer it, but they are likely outliers. Be humane…it’s the best gift you can give to your students right now.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Venting While Solo

Chalkboard with text that says "Sometimes I just need to vent"Last week I suggested that—to relieve the enormous stresses of the new pandemic academic year—that faculty and staff find someone with whom they can vent without negative repercussions. But not everyone has that option—they might be primarily alone at home or don’t know enough people also teaching to reach out and form a “venting relationship.” So what can such a faculty or staff member do? Let’s talk about ways to manage the stresses without such a partner.

brain dump-Daily “brain dumps.” Find a time, every day, where you can open up a notebook or the computer and just write. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes to start with. Some days you’ll find your writing will be about “regular” stressors but others you will see that pandemic teaching and learning dominates your writing. Don’t edit your thoughts and feelings—just keep writing until the timer goes off. If you have more to say, set the timer again and keep going. Save it if you want or joyfully delete it every day.

diary with opened fountain pen-Daily “post-teaching” entries to your teaching diary (I have previously talked about a teaching diary here and here). Perhaps create a Word document with a very simple  outline (create a blank form and then copy it for each day’s entry):

-Name of class?

-What happened that went well?

-What happened that was stressful?

-Was there something students didn’t understand about the technology?

-Was there something students didn’t understand about the course content covered?

-Was there something students didn’t understand well enough about an assessment?

 -How are you feeling about today’s interactions with students?

-What do you wish had been different about the class or your interactions with students before/during/after class?

 -Did anything joyful or humorous happen today?

 -How are you feeling…period?

dartboard in wooden cabinet-Do something physical which can allow you to process your emotions. Running, boxing, fitness walking, yoga—all can be helpful. But something less physical but still can work. ere was a time when I was involved in a protracted faculty grievance procedure (I was a witness) involving someone in my department. It lasted for about four months. It was very difficult for me, going to work and knowing some colleagues were furious for my testifying. My husband (also a faculty member) bought a dartboard. And we began to play several games a night. It so helped me. There were a few nights we played game after game as I threw darts and released about my feelings.

Getting out thoughts can help to externalize your feelings. That can make them easier to sort out and process. Even if there are things that—for now—are primarily unchanging (like the virus and your institution’s responses), writing about your feelings can help.

knittingBut doing “quiet things” can also help each of us to vent. Knitting has been that for me. I can knit up a storm in little time. Every single stitch calms me down just a bit more. For others, it might be crocheting, or weaving, or painting. (I recognize that for others, such handcrafting can be frustrating—I am that way kneading breadwith macrame’.) Making something which comforts and beautifies the world can help. Others use bread-making or other types of baking as a way to vent. Kneading dough by hand can soothe away most frustrations.

Still need another place to vent? There are many of us here to listen. Reach out. I’ll hear you out and brainstorm if you want me to do so.

Until tomorrow comes….

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

How Are You, Really?

Yellow sticky note, with phrase "How are you?" in handwriting. Fountain pen too.Many faculty have started back teaching, in whatever form that might be today (and not knowing what tomorrow might bring). You’ve likely gotten past the first-day stresses (or days, given that HyFlex classes don’t all at one time, at least the in-person part). And if you are teaching entirely remotely, you have probably dealt with at least a few errant pets, family members, and tech glitches.

So—congratulations! Well done.

You’ve probably asked your students “how are they doing?” and listened intently. You might have helped them to connect with the campus instructional technology unit. the advising center, their residence hall director, or the counseling center…all while wearing a mask, I hope.

But who has asked how you are doing?

How are you doing? Are you figuring out…how to build connections with students when being “too near” them violates social distancing? Or these high-tech teaching methods? How to teach in a mask? How to clean what you need to clean? Have you figured out it’s even possible to develop a rhythm for a term like no other (we hope!)?

How are you doing, emotionally?

Are you checking your institution’s COVID-19 dashboard, checking case counts? Every now and then, or obsessively? Or is your institution even sharing that information? Have you bookmarked your state’s and county’s dashboards? I get that information for 2 states and 3 counties, via Facebook (I live near the border of North Carolina and Georgia and I tend to shop across state lines.).

Are you sleeping relatively well? What about eating—relatively normal patterns or are you falling into maladaptive patterns? Same for alcohol usage? Other substances? Are you exercising in healthy ways? How often?

Quote: "Everyone needs a person to whom you can actually tell the truth when he/she asks 'how are you?' -- Tinku RazoriaAre you spending time with ones you love—either in person if they in your “bubble” or electronically? Have you found your person with whom you can say anything about pandemic teaching and know that it will be kept confidential and respected?

Close-up of man's eye and tearHave you found yourself sad or crying unexpectedly or getting angry at someone you love when you know it wasn’t something that person did? Those can be signs of stress—perfectly understandable in a pandemic.

Block of wood. Carved into it is word, "Empathy"It can be too easy to let your “well of empathy” get near empty. But if you don’t replenish it in healthy ways, that work for you perhaps before COVID or definitely during COVID, then you will run dry. You won’t be able to help others well nor sustain yourself for the academic term still to come.

These are quite remarkable, unusual times. But there is one more thing that might replenish your well of empathy. Your research. Don’t put a lot of expectations on yourself—please. But sometimes writing a page, a paragraph, even a sentence, can create moments of getting out of yourself, transporting you to a different—and for a few moments—better place. So sit down, take a moment, grab your favorite pen and notebook paper (or your tablet if that’s how you write), and just let the words come. Maybe they won’t even be about your research—that’s okay. But maybe they will. Maybe these are words that have been marinating inside during the craziness of spring and summer, are they are good. They are just what you need to say and just what your reader will need to hear. Let them flow.

Desk with notebook. Two hands, one holding pen. Surrounding notebook are several crumbled sheets of paper.I’m not trying to guilt anyone into daily writing on your research in the middle of a pandemic. As I have written—daily writing has been my “white whale” for my entire academic life. But what I do know, is taking some time to allow those words about my research projects to flow out of me and onto paper/screen has often helped me get over the bad times, the “I’m so stuck, why bother” times, the “I’m so busy I’ll just procrastinate” times. They don’t have to be brilliant. But letting them come into being can be one way to take care of yourself. Especially if you are on the tenure track or getting ready for a promotion—there will come a time when “the clock” will start up (if it ever stopped) and your words on paper will matter. Writing even just a little now can help you get back into a rhythm when things settle down again.

Do what you need to do for your emotional health. You are worth it.

Here are some websites about self-care during this pandemic:

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.







And So It Starts…

Graphic of wall calendar; first sheet has "1" on itFor many faculty, classes will soon start or already have. First days are a bit nerve-wracking for many of us, but now the pedagogical and health stakes are so much higher. How will you begin your class?

Normally I’d advise that it’s best to start with something intriguing and/or fun involving the topic of your course. Get students engaged and their curiosity piqued. For example, in my face-to-face sociology classes, I sometimes started the class with a discussion of why students chose the seat that they did. I would write down who were the first few students in the classroom and ask them why they chose the seat where they did. They often had clear reasons for their choices that got the entire class buzzing. Other times, I would put up numbers about US suicides and ask students to come up with possible explanations for them. We’d debate them and figure out what kinds of data we would need to better understand the patterns.

But the pandemic might require some tweaking of the “course subject first” advice. You might need to go over the norms for health safety—mask-wearing (if required or suggested), social distancing, quarantining if sick, etc. But I still wonder if that has to be the first thing you talk about—what do you think?

Pair of glasses: backwards text say "Make them feel they are important"If you are partially or completely online, there will have to be some tech talk during the first days, that’s obvious. But how you illustrate the technology could end up making or breaking your students’ online pedagogical experience. Make it about them and about your subject. Figure out some ways to have them introduce themselves. Maybe it could be:

-Worst experience in learning math or science (e.g., algebra, calculus classes)

-Best experience reading a required literature book (e.g., world literature classes)

-Happiest moment reading a book (e.g., any class!)

-Best moment linked to weather (e.g., weather and climate, meteorology, even geography classes)

-Best moment in a collection of strangers (e.g., sociology, psychology classes)

-One moment when one’s life connects to history (e.g., history, sociology, political science classes)

-Something about one’s family experience which links to the broader society (e.g., sociology, history, political science, psychology classes)

-One moment where doing an exercise made one aware of how one’s body works (e.g., dance, exercise science classes)

-How the pandemic has changed their lives for the better (e.g., any class) (I suggest you stay away from how it has changed their lives for the worse).

"Road sign: placards pointing in all directions, each with different name of an academic disciplineI think you might also want to introduce who you are even more than in a “typical” academic term. How did you come to choose your academic discipline? Tell them your story. They need to hear why they should care about your class, about your discipline, even if it is for the few weeks of the academic term. Practice telling this story, so that you can build in pauses, maybe ask them some questions about what they would have done in your situation, etc. Make it as engaging as you can!

If you plan on using either “Think-Pair-Share” or group-work in your class, then use those techniques in this “first day” exercise. Begin routinizing patterns you plan on having in your class. Do you want lots of questions? Then break students into groups and ask them to work through the virtual syllabus and create a list of questions for you to answer. Do you want them to use an e-whiteboard to post questions? Then open one and show them how to use it! If you have some sort of action to symbolize that it is time for a breakout activity, teach it to them now. In my face-to-face class of nearly 300 students, I would clap a pattern and ask them to repeat it. Only then would I introduce the “think-pair-share” or other small group activity I wanted them to do. I’d clap the pattern again when I wanted us to come together. They’d repeat it and we’d come back to learning as one large group. When I would sometimes forget to do this and found we went an entire class without such an activity, I put an icon of a pair of hands, clapping, on the PowerPoint slide after which I wanted to do the activity. That allowed both the students and me to know we were changing up how we were learning!

Picture that says "virtual office hours" and also has red apple and computer mouseAnother pedagogical thought about the first few weeks of class, no matter how the educational content is being shared—consider holding extra office hours or even inviting smaller groups of students to some of these extended office hours. They might be more willing to ask questions about technology or plans for COVID-19, etc., in smaller groups. Recognize that not all students will “come” (unless you make it required) and so still do “check-in’s” at the start of class about how they are doing emotionally and physically as well as if they have any questions about upcoming assessments.

Normally I subscribe to the “be who you are” while in the classroom (perhaps a slightly better version—I vowed I would never swear, and never did) but pandemic pedagogy might call for an upgrade to that pedagogical philosophy. I think faculty definitely should not be “pandemic cheerleaders” and tell students that “all will be okay.” Instead, faculty need to be straightforward and reassure students that the faculty member (and the administration, as the case may be) has a plan “in case” face-to-face classroom teaching and learning have to end, temporarily or for the duration of the term. Don’t share that is what you expect that to happen (even if you do) – just share in a matter-of-fact way that, “Here’s what we’ll do if the some or all of the class has to quarantine” or “If I (faculty member) become sick,” or “If the school switches to online-only delivery.” Knowing that there’s a plan in advance can provide the reassurance students might be needing on day 1 of this unusual academic term. The details can wait for if/when they are needed.

teach strong teach onNo one is sure of what this academic term will be like. What will classrooms be like with 40% occupancy? With online students Zooming in some of the time? With participatory documents replacing the buzz of students working in groups? What students need from you during this opening time, is hopefulness about the learning to come and realism about what the future might hold. Be your better self as often as you can. While they may not be able to see you crack a smile, don’t forget that cracking a joke every now and then can be just what is needed to break through the awkwardness and create opportunities for learning.

Have a good term, whatever that looks like now and into the future. Be safe, be confident in yourself and your students, wear that mask, wash your hands, and practice physical distancing—but create as many connections with your students as you can. They need it, even if they can’t or won’t ask you for it.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Are You Ready? Self-Care in the Age of COVID-19

It’s mid-August. That means colleges and universities are beginning the fall academic term—whether the delivery will be completely online, only face-to-face, or some Hyflex option.

So how are you doing, as you gear up for the return?

Let’s talk about how you might prepare for the educational, health, and stress-related challenges to come.

-Have you figured out your best—healthy—ways for you to destress? Will it be yoga? Running? Other exercise? Baking? Binge-watching your favorite TV show? Journaling? Reading a certain type of book? Turning off electronics for a while? Drawing/coloring? Talking with a loved one? Try to find one or more de-stressor. You might need a few on rotation for the weeks ahead.

Clear plastic bottle with label that says "Sanitizing Spray Bottle"-For those going back to campus, have you created a “health kit?” Do you have several clean masks (that you have practiced wearing and are comfortable), each in its own protective bag? Might want to label the bags. What about alcohol or sanitizing wipes? Sanitizing spray and paper towels? Will you bring some sort of gloves to use when you wipe things down? Some hand cream and sanitizer? Breath mints?

Whiteboard markers, arranged in a circle-Do you have your own whiteboard markers and erasers (or chalk if that’s what you will need)? These are things we used to leave in the classroom and shared unthinkingly—but times have changed. Your own stylus, electronic pointer, and flash drive? What about spare pens? Students might need some, but you’ll want more than you think because you probably won’t want it back once offered. Way before the virus, when I was teaching a class of nearly 300 students, I would carry 50 pens with me. There were days when I would need nearly all of them!

Open laptop, coffee, cell phone-Will you need your own tablet/laptop computer in order to manage more software in the classroom? If so, check with your Instructional Technology staff about what cables you might need and get them well in advance of the first week. You might also want a small notebook to jot down reflections at the end of class or to write down student questions. The stress of pandemic teaching might make it just a bit harder to remember everything, every day. So make it easier on yourself by being prepared to take some notes.

-I suggest that you label all your materials—pens, markers, and so on. Just in case you forget to grab them after class one day. Don’t forget to disinfect them once you get them back—safety first!

-Have you thought about if you will take course materials with you into your classroom? If so—what will they be? Remember whatever you bring in, you will need to sanitize and perhaps set aside for a day or so. Are there books that you can access online so that you can keep the hard copy at home with you? Will you need notebook paper? Just think through what you’ll likely need each day.

-Do you make a seating chart? You might need two or three, depending on if you see only a portion of your class each day. But you might want to get the chart (or charts) laminated so that you can sanitize them each day.

-Do you have a “working from school” bag where you can keep all these materials? Actually, do you have two of them? Preferably that are washable? Might want to leave one in the car overnight and use the “clean” one for day 2, and so on.

-Are you planning on taking off your “school clothes” right away and washing them? Consider thinking about the amount of clothes-in-rotation you might need and amount of laundry detergent you’ll be needing. It can be hard to find, so start your search now!

-Have you thought about food? Snack machines might not be refilled (at all or on the same regular basis), so if you need a pick-me-up in the afternoon, you might think about bringing some nuts, cheese, etc., with you. Think about getting a small refrigerator or a cooler. Unfortunately, this is not the time for sharing, so just pack what you like! The same goes for drinks. And remember, you probably will want to shut your office door to have privacy while you eat and drink (assuming you can have privacy). If you can’t, consider going outside and eating on a bench (at least while the weather cooperates).

-If you are teaching primarily online, you probably have decided on the “background” that communicates best for your pedagogical persona. Books? Just a room in your home? A “canned” background? What have you selected? Again, you might want a rotating set of backgrounds, so as not to be too predictable!

-But if you are working from home a lot (e.g., grading, online office hours, and so on), think about your environment. What gives you a sense of focus? A sense of calm? Is it the sounds of nature (can you open a window?) or listen to some on the Internet. Are you like me and listen a lot to Broadway musicals? If that’s not your thing—what kind of music helps you? Create your playlist. Are you a candle person? Scented or unscented? Try to find a space that you can make “yours” (or yours for when you need it, if you are like so many and are sharing workspace/living space at home with partners and children).

-Think about little things that can help. I’ve learned to increase the size of the text to at least 135% — it just makes it easier to read emails, Word documents, etc. Same for the font—a Sans Serif font is easier to read than a Serif one. What’s the difference, you ask?

Comparison of Serif and Sans Serif fonts

Serifs are those little “tags” on the capital “T, N, and R” and the small “s” and so on. They can be visually difficult to read compared to a Sans Serif font which does not contain them. Consider changing the “default font” for your browser and your writing software (i.e., Word, Google Documents, etc.). Maybe even increase the font size too while you are at it! You might never think that fonts could be de-stressors, but they can be. Give it a try!

pomodoro timer-Have you thought about using a Pomodoro Timer as a de-stressor? You can purchase one but I use an online one (see end of the post for links to some). It lets you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break or you can set it for the amounts you would like. I’ll turn off email notifications for the longer amount of time so that I can concentrate intensely. You could take a short walk or do some stretching/yoga, go to an Internet site for jokes, or read poetry—just something that gives your head and heart a break from the intensity of this academic term. I find that the timer going off makes me respond to it, where as just saying “I’ll take a break in 25 minutes”—well that never really worked for me.

Person walking on road; text says "Sometimes you just need to vent and not be judged"-Have you found your “venting partner” (or partners)? Someone who you can share the lows and the highs of teaching during a pandemic. Someone you can talk about fears, anxieties, and sorrow that might occur but also the joys of learning how to “not-hug but console” your students, and so on? That may be your romantic partner but if you are both so stressed, perhaps that’s not the best choice. But find someone who you feel comfortable with being honest with and who you are willing to listen to them as well. See if your institution is offering such groups (perhaps a teaching circle or a counseling center support group) and if you feel that would give you a safer place to vent.

It won’t be a “typical” academic term—don’t let anyone tell you it will. But teaching and learning can occur. Don’t go it alone—ask for pedagogical help from your institution’s Teaching and Learning Center, your Instructional Technology Center’s staff, talk with colleagues, your department head, look at Academic Twitter, etc. Can’t find anyone? Email me—I’ll help (

I am thinking and praying for each of you, for your colleagues—faculty and staff and administrators—and for your students. May you and they all act safely and not recklessly. May you all be healthy.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Some Pomodoro Timers

TimeDoser (for Chrome):


Tomato One (for Apple):

Tomato Timer:

COVID Flexibility – How Much? When? For Whom?

Text: "Be stubborn about your goals, and flexible about your methods."Fall’s coming fast. Many schools will start back—be it face-to-face, Hyflex, or doing completely remote learning—in just a few weeks. This means many faculty are caught up in syllabus creation and trying to figure out how to construct classes when a pandemic is raging. In the spring, most faculty were “caught” unaware and had to shift pedagogical delivery systems in mid-term. But fall will be different. We know more about the virus, how it is spreading in the US, and in our local regions, about human behavior in a pandemic (e.g., at least a fair number of us are not wearing masks, wearing them incorrectly, or not often enough). And we know that it is likely that however you begin the academic term, you might not end it teaching in the same way.

Text: Plan A (crossed out); Plan B (crossed out); Plan CEvents will happen: one student or more than one student might get sick; you might get sick; your campus might have to shift to remote learning again due to a COVID-19 outbreak (on or off campus); a loved one might get sick and force you to change where you teach, etc. These events will require you to have pedagogical flexibility. So let’s talk about that.

I think there are several types of flexibility to consider as you draft your course plans.

Flexibility about You

Have you considered how you might “hand off” your course if you might have to quarantine (for a face-to-face course) or get sick (any delivery method)? How easy would it be to add another faculty member to your course? It might be time to ask your institution’s IT department what it might recommend.

Consider talking with colleagues. Some of us know who might be asked to step in to cover a class for us because the course content is their specialty also. But consider that the virus might have other ideas, and anyone of us might have to step into any other course in our department. The more you can offer your colleague a “road map” for how you constructed your course and why, the easier a transition might be.

I had to step in for a faculty member once. It was a spring semester and the colleague initially just disappeared and then we found out about a health issue. The colleague’s classes were a mess—though it was late March, he had only given one test (his syllabus said there should have been 3 tests by then), and so on. I came in, revamped the syllabus the best that I could with the time we had left, and off we went. I have never been so disrespected as that five weeks of the semester. Students were not expecting to have to work and let me know that over and over, in quite colorful language. When I figured out how difficult it would be, I went to my department head and dean and said that, while some students didn’t seem to be wanting to step up now, etc., that I didn’t feel it was completely their fault and that I felt the lowest grade I could ethically give was a “C.” I was supported in that—but even that created lots of student hostility. Many expected to receive an “A” no matter how little work they had done (a legacy from my colleague).

back of beige envelope; it is closed and sealed with red waxI beg you: Write a letter to the potential colleague who might have to take over for you once you have constructed your class and leave it perhaps in a private section of your LMS or with your department head. Update it if something major changed in your course (so the colleague can figure out if the class is telling the truth about the change or not, etc.). That would be the greatest gift you could give to another faculty member during this pandemic term. It is hard to write this, but something could happen so quickly to you that you might not have time to write such a letter after becoming ill.

Picture of pretzelsAnd if you are the colleague who steps in—you might have to be so flexible that you will feel like a pretzel. And that’s okay too. Develop a thick skin—fast—because you might get hit by all kinds of upset students. They will be likely worried about how you grade versus your colleague, about how you write tests versus your colleague, who will be assigning their final grade—you or the other faculty member, if you re-configure the course and the grading structure—how will that impact their final grade. Then add in the pandemic fears on top of those other worries, and you can see why you might be in for a rocky time. Pack your patience. I learned to write the class a memo and then leave it for 24 hours before I sent it, because I was so frustrated and sometimes angry and I wanted to be able to edit those emotions out, as much as I could, before I sent it.

But also know your limits. I learned more swear words during those five weeks than in the entirety of my life. There was one day when I just broke down and posted something to Facebook about being sworn at so much. Some friend—to this day I don’t know who—emailed my department head. He came by that next Monday and I showed him some of the emails I was receiving. We drafted a letter that morning that we both signed and sent to the class. It talked about professionalism, ethical behavior, the tough situation this was, how everyone was trying, and that everyone needed to try to care more. It helped. And to that anonymous colleague who did what I couldn’t, on my behalf—thank you.

Flexibility for An Individual Student

Think about how you will address this likely scenario: you are told by your campus administration that one student will be out of class for at least 10-14 days. This likely means the student tested positive for COVID-19. What will you do? This scenario (and I think it is the best option of what might happen) is not that new—students become ill ever academic term and faculty have to make adjustments.

I suggest a very short email to the student via the campus learning management system (LMS) (if you are using it), checking in, telling the student you are thinking of them, and asking the student to contact you when they are feeling well enough to think about your class. Be encouraging, etc. We’ve all done those kinds of emails. We all know that means that deadlines might need to be adjusted for that one student for at least a segment of the course. Most LMSs allow such assessments to be reopened for one student.

Flexibility for a Larger Number of Students

Perhaps a segment of your class needs to be quarantined—they might live on the same floor as a student, not in your class, but had close enough contact to require isolation, for example. Let’s say that this is a substantial number of your students. Can you continue with your active learning activities if a fair number of students are not “attending” for the same two-week time period? Or will you have to change the kinds of learning activities you had planned? How will group work continue if over half of a group “disappears” for a period of time?

Picture of head of giraffe, flexing sidewaysWill you consider members of two groups still “present” combining to form a new group and progressing with the class? Perhaps the sick students who return can also form a new group and pick up where they left off? How flexible is your LMS and creating/disassembling groups? Might want to learn that in advance of the start of class.

Flexibility for the Class

Black background, white text that says: "At some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening"What will you do, in a face-to-face or Hyflex class, if so many of you either become ill or are forced to quarantine, such that most learning grinds to a halt? Are you prepared to pivot to a completely remote learning environment? It might make the academic term easier if you begin planning for that possibility now. Consider starting to create videos/presentations of course material for the last half of the term now (my rationale is that the likelihood of the virus shutting down more of campus will build as the term unfolds). Do what you can, with the normal stresses of prepping for fall term and the additional stresses of COVID-19.

Think about the essential elements of your course—which learning objectives, content, and assessments must be accomplished?  If worse comes to pass, focus on those, and help your students to do the same.

Flexibility in Course Structure

Think about scheduling some “catch our breath” events built into the course structure. It might be a long weekend at the end of every major section of the course or it might be offering a “drop one assessment” option (even if you have never done that before). The week of the presidential election will likely be a week where many of us–faculty, students, and staff–will be glued to the national and local news. Maybe have less/no assessments due that week? Or try to front-load your class as much as you can, because many colleagues’ classes will have a lot of work due near the end of the semester.

Yellow stickers with emotional faces: smiling, sad, unemotional, angryAnd take the emotional temperature of your class often. There might be a time when it is just clear most are exhausted, scared, and not up to the mental energy that learning takes. Be flexible enough to call it a day. Do the same for yourself, too!

Remember—like Spring 2020, Fall 2020 will be a term unlike others. So give the gift of flexibility to your students, your colleagues, your family, and yourself.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Meet Your New Students: When Anxiety and Fear Join Your Class

covid graphicWhether you will be teaching completely online, in a Hyflex class, or in a face-to-face environment, you likely will have two more “students” enrolled in your class: fear and anxiety. They might be your emotions or they might be what some of your students are feeling, or both, but they will be there, every day. Some days they might be fairly quiet, lurking in the background of discussions. But there might be days—when a student falls ill with COVID-19 or when a student has to quarantine because a family member falls ill, or you or one of your loved ones fall ill with this virus—when they will be front and center in your classroom. And as a social scientist, I can assure you that there will be rumors which will run rampant through your institution and the community it is embedded within, which likely also will at times, induce fear and anxiety in at least some members of your class.

Man, head in hand, with computer screen behind him that says "Coronavirus"So how can you teach with these hidden emotions being present among members of the class? I don’t think there is one correct answer to that question. Rather, I think it depends on several variables:

What is your discipline? As a sociologist, one of the things I study is how people connect their beliefs with their behavior. It would seem odd to me to avoid talking about COVID-19 in a class I might teach. But the other night at dinner, I asked my husband—a physicist—how he might have handled COVID-19 in his classes (save for changes needed in the lab component of the classes). He looked at me, a bit startled, and said, “I don’t think I would talk about it. I don’t see why it would come up.”

But if the discipline you are teaching analyzes income or health or racial inequalities, or public policy construction or implementation, or law enforcement—it will be difficult to avoid talking about the coronavirus and the movements for social justice which are happening in our nation. It will be there, even if your readings and assessments do not address it specifically. Expect that students will ask about how what they are learning might apply to the global pandemic in which we all are living. Be prepared for being asked how to apply readings, theories, and other course content to the events of the day.

But academic discipline, I fear, will not stave off these expressions of emotion. When—likely not if—these emotions get expressed in classes like physics or accounting, these faculty might not be as adept at handling those questions with their students. Which brings me to,

Who are you as a teacher? Are you comfortable with discussing emotions, be they yours or others, in order to process them and see if all of you can address them enough to focus on class content? If you are, this might mean talking about COVID-19 on the first few days of the new academic term. You might begin by sharing how you built “virus flexibility” into your class. That might be flexible deadlines or alternative assessments in case a student falls ill, and so on. For many students, hearing that information might comfort them, might reduce some of the anxiety they are feeling (but recognize it may increase it in other students).

Be prepared though: raising the issue of the virus in such a way may signal that it is okay for other virus-related questions. How would you respond if a student asked you if you are afraid of catching the virus? Or if you are worried about if some of your students’ behaviors might lead to you and others catching COVID-19? Some other students may want to know what will happen to the class if you become sick. Are you prepared to tell the truth about how you are feeling? Building trust requires truth-telling, after all.

If you are not comfortable discussing emotions—yours or your students’—then I think you will need to practice deflection strategies. How will you divert comments about the virus when they come up? How will you interact with a student complaining, for example, about another student who is not wearing a mask? Or who gets closer than the CDC’s recommended six feet distance for those not living communally? What will you say (or not say)? How will you pivot back to only talking about your academic content? And most importantly, can you only talk about your academic content? (In case I haven’t been clear, I don’t think it will be possible ultimately, to teach this fall without COVID-19 coming up for discussion—no matter the discipline you teach.)

How do you process emotions? And how quickly do you process them? It might not happen every time you interact with a student, but expect that at least a few times during the academic term, that you might feel anxiety or fear. Perhaps the student will not want to wear a mask or the student might be sharing with you about the big party he or she attended last Thursday night or just hearing that a student in your class has become infected with COVID-19—but there will likely come a moment when you will feel anxious, even fearful about catching the virus. How will you react? Practice now what you want to say. How will you manage your body as you are saying what you want to say? Remember, students will be noticing your nonverbal behaviors as well as your words, and any differences between the two. You need to realize that authenticity will be most important now (it always has been in the classroom, but in a pandemic classroom the demand will only grow).

Another emotion you might feel or that students might express that they feel is strangeness. It might arrive the first time that they see you teaching with a plexiglass shield between you and them or it might be when their small group activity means that they have to stay six feet apart (at least) and “talk” via an online shared document or when you ask them to clean their space as they exit the classroom. Will you own that you too might feel strange? Are you prepared to have these emotions voiced but then pivot back to the academic content of your course—in a way that makes students feel heard and respected?

Emotions will help construct and shape the relationships you build with your entire class and individual members of it. They always have and always will. However, they are likely to be heightened during a pandemic. I would expect that the visibility of emotions in your classroom will parallel the COVID case counts in your locale. Thinking about this now will help you when the inevitable moment happens.

Quote about supporting studentsWe’ve all heard it from administrators—“this is an unprecedented time and we are asking you to do something that hasn’t been done before”—but in a way, they are right. Emotions will be much more front and center in your teaching likely than ever before.

Many faculty have had to face intense emotions in the classroom already. Feminist, BIPOC, and LGTBQ scholars, for example, are often all too familiar with hostile feelings emanating from students. I suggest reading some of that literature (but please, at this moment, don’t reach out and ask these colleagues to help you learn about processing emotions in the classroom. They are just as challenged as you are about preparing classes for the fall, be it face-to-face or online). I’ll post some below under “Resources.”

Meme that talks about it is okay to have a variety of emotionsTeaching during a pandemic will be a challenge. The presence of emotions like anxiety and fear among those in a face-to-face class is understandable—be they yours or your students. They could also emerge in Hyflex or even online courses. Classes might be one of the few routines in people’s lives right now, so classes might provide the safest place to process emotions of fear, anxiety, and likely…grief.

Personally, I don’t believe that one’s academic discipline will wall off the emergence of these emotions. I believe that processing these emotions jointly with your students will be the best pedagogical strategy. I stand ready to help anyone who wants to think this through in advance. You can reach me at

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Resources on Emotions in the Classroom – A Very Short List to Get You Started

Alsop, Steve and Darren Hoeg. 2020. “Collegial Conversations at a Time of COVID-19.” Journal for Activist Science & Technology Educators 11(2):60-74.

Cohan, Deborah J. 2016. “Learning for a Change: Rage and the Promise of the Feminist Classroom.” In Teaching Gender and Sex in Contemporary America (Springer), edited by K. Haltinner and R. Pilgeram.

Corbera, Esteve, Isabelle Anguelovski, Jordi Honey-Roses, and Isabel Ruiz-Mallen. 2020. “Academic in the Time of COVID-19: Towards an Ethic of Care.” Planning Theory & Practice 21(2): 191-199.

Hill, Dominique C. 2017. “What Happened When I Invited Students to See Me? A Black Queer Professor’s Reflections on Practicing Embodied Vulnerability in the Classroom.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 21:432-442.

Johnson, Zac D. and Sara LaBelle. 2017. “An Examination of Teacher Authenticity in the College Classroom.” Communication Education 66(4):423-439.

Juhasz, Alexandra, Laura Wexler, Liz Losh, and Sharon Irish. 2020. “Feminist Pedagogy in a Time of Coronavirus Pandemic.” Report for Brooklyn College, The City University of New York.

Kaplan, Emily. 2019. “Teaching Your Heart Out: Emotional Labor and the Need for Systematic Change.”

Mazer, Joseph P. 2017. “Students’ Discrete Emotional Responses in the Classroom: Unraveling Relationships with Interest and Engagement.” Communication Research Reports 34(4):359-367,

Palomar College. 2019. “Hostile Students.”

Pittman, Chavella T. 2010. “Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students.” Teaching Sociology 38(3):183-196.

Rodriguez, Dalia. 2008. “The Usual Suspect: Negotiating White Student Resistance and Teacher Authority in a Predominantly White Classroom.” Cultural Studies ßà Critical Methodologies 9:483-508.

Woodson, A. N. 2020. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: Psychological Safety, Black Girls’ Speech, and Black Feminist Perspectives on Directness.” Journal of Educational Psychology 112(3):567-578.


Failing…Get Used To It, Use It, and It’ll Be Ok

Click on the title to read the earlier posts in this series: 1 (Going Big, Online); 2 (Backward designing your large online class); 3 (Designing for and with Accessibility); 4 (Online Assessments that Engage Them…and You); 5 (Communicating with Your Large Online Class); 6 (Software: Friend or Foe in Online Larger Classes); and 7 (Online Testing in Large Classes—Tips to Help). Again, apologies for a longer-than-usual post.

Whether it will be a pedagogical mess-up, a live slip of the tongue, a tech mistake, or something worse—at least once you will fail in front of/with your class. In fact—expect it, be ready for it, and use it to show your students that failure isn’t the end—but can be the beginning of real learning. I previously cataloged a list of teaching failures which can happen to any teacher, any time. Most if not all of these have happened to me!

Common Teaching Failures*

Kind of Error Possible Contexts When Error Might Occur Examples of Errors
Content mistake -Lectures


-Presentation slides



-During office hours

-Mistakenly list the types of suicide, according to Durkheim

-Incorrectly perform mathematical operation while teaching a statistical formula


Linguistic mistakes -In class

-Typos in written communication

-Saying “Marx” when you meant “Max” (as in Max Weber

-Saying “conflict theory” when you meant to say “control theory”

Procedural mistake -In class

-In email

-During office hours

-Tell students that the test is over Chapters 5-8 when it is over 4-7 instead

-Tell class wrong date for next test

Technology mistake -In class

-In cyberspace

-Send private email to entire class

-Respond with incorrect information to student’s email

-Forget electronic file needed for class

-Forget USB stick

Emotion Management -In class

-In office

-During office hours

-Over email

-Humorous remark to student (in person or in writing) that is interpreted by student as hurtful

-Displaying anger about something in one or more students’ work

-Expressing frustration when a student asks a question which you just answered several times

Technology fails -In class

-In classroom management system

-Computer will not turn on, so cannot show presentation slides

-Not having a backup plan sans technology

-“Clicker” software did not gather data from students

Classroom management -In class


-Not enforcing classroom norms consistently

-Not containing an angry student’s in-class tirade and others become involved

-Real or seeming favoritism of some students over others

 P. 130 in In the Trenches: Teaching and Learning Sociology by Maxine P. Atkinson and Kathleen S. Lowney (W. W. Norton 2016).

Teaching in an online environment can increase the likelihood of moments of failure, but let’s be honest, they happen all the time, no matter the type of environment in which the learning is occurring. Let me own some of my worst moments, both in face-to-face classes and in online ones, and give some advice about how to process them—for you and for your students.

Word bubble that says "Oops!"You might have changed your syllabus for teaching and learning in this pandemic moment. Perhaps you changed the order of learning modules or changed point totals for assessments, etc., from what you have done before. Be careful—old habits can be hard to break. In a moment of exhaustion or when responding to a slew of questions, you might answer and the “old answer” just flows out of you and onto the screen. Then you “send”—and it all hits the fan! This happened to me when, one semester, I changed the point total for each test from 75 points to 60 points, for a variety of pedagogical reasons. I was tired after a long week; I sketched out the test in my head and then typed the “test announcement” post, breaking down the structure of the 75 point test. I posted it and went to bed for a while. I came back on a few hours later to well over 100+ comments on the class discussion board, many of them quite hostile. Why? Because I forgot that I made that 75 to 60 point change in the tests and wrote 75. They thought I was changing the structure of the course on them in an underhanded manner and many were NOT happy!

I messed up in two ways. First, I shouldn’t have posted that important an announcement while that tired. It never goes well. And second, I should have checked the syllabus before posting to verify that I was following it exactly (or else explained it if I was not). We often complain about students not reading the syllabus, but I think one common faculty mistake can be not double-checking the syllabus before we say something to our students. In particular, in the middle of a pandemic, when nerves can already be frayed and everyone is exhausted—print out a copy of your syllabus and have it right in front of you whenever you reply to students. Do the same thing for each assessment and its directions. It will save you lots of heartaches. This might mean that for certain questions, you have to write the student and say something like, “I want to get you the right answer to your question, so I need a while until I can access my folder at home (or the LMS copy of the syllabus, or whatever it might be).” Try to give the student a good-faith estimate of when you will get back to the student—then live up to it, to the best that you can.

I apologized to my students the moment I understood what happened—via a class email in the LMS, an announcement in the LMS, and on our class’ Facebook page. I explained what had happened (I was supported by a student who had enrolled the semester before but who withdrew, who was now re-enrolled, who spoke up and said, “Yup, her tests were 75 points last semester!”) and what I had learned by my error.

Mobile phone, flashlight app turned onAnother fail—this one is embarrassing to share. It happened in my large face-to-face class just three years ago, but the lesson learned translates easily to the online environment. Due to a leaking AC system, my class had to shift quickly to a new classroom, the theatre in the Student Union. While I had attended many events in that theatre, I had never taught there. The day we had to move, I was uncomfortable with some of the technology and where it was located. I also just had purchased a new iPhone (my first non-flip phone!). The room was far darker than I expected and I was trying to figure out how to turn up the lights a bit (they were controlled somewhere near the floor but on the podium). As someone with a mobility issue, I was also worried about all the technology cords taped to the floor, in a terrain I was not used to—and I was trying not to trip and fall. I could not figure out how to turn up the screen lights. I scrambled around in the darkness and finally asked if anyone had a flashlight on their phone. There were gasps—then one brave voice, about 4 rows back said, “Dr. L, there’s an app for that on the phone in your hand.” Oops—did I feel stupid! That student came up and showed me how to turn it on. Problem solved and we went on with class and I didn’t trip!

When teaching online, it might be how to share the screen with a student or how to mute someone momentarily due to background noise, etc.—but there will be something you either forgot how or don’t know how to do.** It’s okay. Ask your students for help! Someone will know or be willing to Google it for you. Use it as a teaching moment, about how we all have things to learn.

Another thing that teaching online can give you is the gift of double-checking. So please—use it. Don’t put something out there for your students without listening to what you have said, without proofing your text. This story is explained in more detail in the chapter in the book (see reference) but it illustrates a common linguistic error, where faculty say something that is not quite what we mean. Again, while this happened in a face-to-face class, it could easily have happened while recording a presentation for an online course.

I was talking about Herbert Spencer in a 5 hour, one night a week, sociological theory course. His writings often used the phrase “social organism,” often shorted to “organism” to refer to social collectives and groups. I had probably said the term about 20 times when it happened. I said “orgasm” instead. Yup—out loud. Different members of the class reacted at different speeds to my slip of the tongue—some looked down and away, others turned beet red, etc. I knew everyone had noticed it—so I made the decision to just correct myself and move on.

So far, so good. Until it happened again. And then I would stop, take a long pause before I had to say the word “organism” so that it didn’t happen again. Students caught on, and laughing, they’d shout out “organism” for me. My slip of the tongue happened once more and the entire class just collapsed, laughing hysterically. There were some tears too, mostly mine—from laughter and also embarrassment.

Typed paper and fountain pen. Lots of red ink editing on paper.But if I were recording a similar presentation, I would have the possibility to hear and fix that kind of error before posting it. Do you have a word which you often misspell? Make sure you add it to your writing software’s auto-correct function. And have someone else proof your slides, the transcript of the audio you create, etc. You should want to model for your students that double-check everything is a good strategy.

But when you do make an error, admit it, fix it, and talk about what you’ve learned from it. Students need to know that it is acceptable to fail in your classes, that it is a safe environment to practice picking themselves up and keep learning. So please be thoughtful when responding to a student who has failed–use language which focuses on the assessment not going well versus on the student themselves as a failure. That might necessitate you (or the student) taking a few hours to process emotionally what happened so that the joint brainstorming can be focused on strategies for the student’s success rather than justifications for what happened.

Text: "Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. -- Denis WaitleyFailure is part of being human. So is learning. Let your students see you fail and learn from it, so that they know it is okay when they fail. So they know they can rise above failure, if they are willing to put in the work to learn.

I hope that this 8-part series on how to take a large class online has been helpful. Much of what I’ve said is not “new” or “earthshaking”–I wanted to gather my thoughts and experiences with teaching a large class, which was partially online, for over a decade, to help those who are having to find their way for this fall. Happy to help–send me an email at

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Note: I realize that good pedagogy, let alone good online pedagogy, requires that content should be “chunked” into smaller amounts. I had to balance that versus trying to get all my thoughts about teaching a large class online completed before the start of Fall 2020 begins–which is why this post is not chunked.


Online Testing in Large Classes–Tips to Help

Click on the title to read the earlier posts in this series: 1 (Going Big, Online); 2 (Backward designing your large online class); 3 (Designing for and with Accessibility); 4 (Online Assessments that Engage Them…and You); 5 (Communicating with Your Large Online Class); and 6 (Software: Friend or Foe in Online Larger Classes). Again, apologies for a longer-than-usual post. Next week wraps up the series, with a post on my pedagogical failures!

Computer screen graphic, with words "Online Test" and 2 of 3 boxes checkedIt’s time…to talk about testing in an online large class. It’s important to remember that testing is about assessing student learning versus simply student memorization of facts. So think about assessment strategies that ask students to apply course content to real-world problems versus simply solving formulaic test questions.

Online Low Stakes Quizzes

I believe in using online quizzes (versus tests) as “in the moment” assessments of students both before and after class/presentation where you ask to show students if they are understanding its content. These are low stakes, often can be easily created online (or use software from texts to create them) and give students rapid feedback. Such low stakes quizzes did not require significant security; I would create a bank of 50-80 questions (each student would see 5 questions) and randomize them so that it would be unlikely if students in the same room (I often had roommates taking my class) would see the same exact questions. I encourage you to create two types of questions; the first would be more about vocabulary, precise facts students need to learn while the second type would be application questions. For example, after we covered theories of social change (especially Durkheim, Marx, and Weber), I’d ask some questions to assess if students could differentiate between each of these men’s theories. Those might be two-thirds of the test bank questions for that quiz. But the other third would be application questions. Even though they might still be written as multiple choice or true/false questions, students needed to apply sociological knowledge in order to get the correct answer. I might ask a question—before the pandemic came–like “Think like Marx. Would he support social welfare programs, given by the state or federal government to poorer citizens of a country? Then there might be three or four possible answers, each would have a “yes” or “no” component but then also an explanation, which gets at the student’s deeper learning of Marx’s theory. The correct answer would be “No, because while Marx would not want people to be economically destitute, he realized that such welfare programs keep the poor just ‘not destitute enough’ to begin to organize and create the socialist revolution.” These kinds of application questions require more time to write—and rarely come with the text, so you will have to spend time creating them. Each section of the quiz would have its questions randomized (you want to be sure that each student has to do both kinds of questions).

Group Testing

group using phones (not socially distanced, I realize)Group testing works best if students have already been in small groups for some course activities (such as discussion boards) and have built up some trust. There are several possible ways to test:

-Have each student take a quiz (I suggest it count for points so that students take it seriously) about the content. Then a more application-based test is opened and the group submits one set of answers. The easiest way to approach grading the group test could be that it too is created/submitted online, so that you don’t have to get involved in the grading. Another way would be for the group to write a paragraph that explains their answer. Obviously, this is a more time-consuming grading event for you. It also creates opportunities for one or two students to “take control” and do all the work while others do not. To combat that, you could time the group and ask them to video their working to find answers and upload the video with their answers. I scan the video to look for the free-rider dilemma.

-Another option would be for the group to take a collective quiz first, giving them perhaps a day to do it, for a small set of points. While the same social phenomenon could occur, here it would be lessened because of the next step. After the group quiz is done, then each student must take an individual “follow up” test, after a day or two for students to do more learning.

-Have students write questions. I don’t suggest having this kind of test as the first one in an academic term—I would give one or two which you have written first so that they understand the level of complexity you are expecting of them. I have them submit several types of questions—from true/false to application questions—and the answers. This could be done individually or in groups. Points can be awarded for each question and also for each answer (in case there is a great question but the student or students answered it incorrectly—it has happened). Then post these questions as the test. When I did this, I reserved the right to create up to 15 percent of the test, so that I could “fill in” knowledge gaps. This kind of testing has to be a multi-stage process, because you will have to take their questions and copy them/recreate them in the testing software your institution uses. NOTE: I give content points for the questions/answers AND spelling/grammar points for this kind of test. I will correct grammar as I make the test (I don’t know how not to do so!) but I expect students to turn in their questions written correctly or else lose (some) points.

-Another way to consider testing in a large class is to give a “baseline” test after the end of a unit or section of the course. Have it be machine graded. Then students who fall below a certain grading standard have a certain amount of time for a ‘redo’ assessment. Have online hours to help students to relearn the material and to answer questions. Then only those students take another assessment. It might be a different version of the test; it might be an application of key concepts, etc. This allows you to zero in on students who are struggling with the content, help them, and give them opportunities to show you their learning. I suggest that a percentage of the 2nd score be added to their first score, versus just replacing the scores. I found that helped students who were not required to do the 2nd kind of assessment were often upset if the 2nd score was just swapped out for the 1st score of other students. This 2nd assessment (for far fewer students, I might add) might have to be hand graded.

Project-based Testing

Give a group of students a case study and ask them to use a specific set of theories/concepts to analyze the case study or to propose multiple solutions (depending on what case study is about). Part of the project might be a required page of definitions used/explanations in their words. Grade for those specific theories/concepts and then give them points for creative use of a certain number of theories/concepts that the group chooses. This way the group can feel some autonomy and control over their final product. See part 4 of this series (linked above) for more ideas on group projects.

One issue with project-based testing/assessment is trying to ensure that the case studies require approximately the same level of skills and application of knowledge. Read through each case study and list skills, theories, and concepts. Be sure that one doesn’t require more advanced statistical analysis than the others, etc.

Security of Testing

proctored testI start from a certain perspective: I trust my students, but I also verify. In face-to-face large classes, I sometimes would hear of students going into the classroom the night before (the room was open) and writing notes on the back of the seats. I didn’t care who it was who might be doing it—I learned to arrive early on test days and I cleaned the backs of every chair which had notes (sociological in content or otherwise). I didn’t note who later sat in those chairs, I just frustrated any possible cheating attempts.

Concerning online testing, I made two choices which impacted security:

-First, for tests (as opposed to quizzes which I used more as assessing reading comprehension before content was covered), I always wrote my own test questions.  And I wrote a lot of test questions. In face-to-face classes of 300+ students, I usually made 8 versions of the test and ran each of them off on different color paper and then mixed them up before passing them out. I used those questions and created more each time I created a test, so that I had lots to choose from; and

-Second, I randomized everything (quizzes and tests). So the chance of any two students, who, for example, might be roommates both working on sociology at the same time, would see the same questions, was low.

I did not use a security system like Respondus or ProctorU. Seek help from your institution’s instructional technology unit or your center for teaching and learning (if you have one) about what test security software is available on your campus and how to use it. Such software takes a bit of preparation, so try it out now while you are not being bombarded with questions confused students, feeling pressure because of a timed deadline (from your perspective as a professor and also see if you can get a few students to show you from their perspective so that you can see any difficult steps and can highlight them on your directions). Consider making a video that shows how to log in to the security software and your test as well as a handout. Attach it to the test link in your learning management system AND send it out in advance to the entire class (via email, LMS announcement, etc.). Both should be placed in the FAQ section of your class’ LMS.

If your institution requires students to pay for their test security, be sure that you let them know that early (hopefully it is flagged when they register for the course) but definitely put it in the syllabus and talk about it more than one week in advance of the first test. Remember that some students might need time to raise that money!

Testing for a large online class requires more preparation. I tended to write 5-10 questions every workday, so that I would have new questions to add to the test bank. Adding them usually took another day or so of my time. So any of those tasks which you can do in advance of the term starting—it’s worth it! At least try to get the first major test set up soon, and then start working on the next one once the term starts. Again, it helped that I had nearly a decade’s worth of questions to use in my test creation. I remember the frustrations as I began that process, but you can do it!

I’m here to answer any questions you might have—please let me know how I can help.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Note: I realize that good pedagogy, let alone good online pedagogy, requires that content should be “chunked” into smaller amounts. I had to balance that versus trying to get all my thoughts about teaching a large class online completed before the start of Fall 2020 begins–which is why this post is not chunked. I still have 1 more post in the series – on pedagogical failures.

Software: Friend and Foe in Online Larger Classes

Click on the title to read the earlier posts in this series: 1 (Going Big, Online); 2 (Backward designing your large online class); 3 (Designing for and with Accessibility); 4 (Online Assessments that Engage Them…and You); 5 (Communicating with Your Large Online Class). Again, apologies for a longer-than-usual post.

So you are doing an online large class this fall! Congratulations!! That means you will be using/trying to use/fighting to use/fighting with…several kinds of software. So let’s talk about what you might want to consider using. A confession—I have not used some of these as pedagogical software but I have been keeping up with stories about software on Academic Twitter, blogs, and educational websites during the pandemic. I also urge you to check with your institution’s Instructional Technology staff to ensure that using any of these software packages would not violate local IT policies, FERPA, or other laws about privacy, etc. Some of these would require a license (either for your course to use it or for the institution). I won’t keep posting URLs for Adobe, Cisco Webex, Google Suite, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, but they often have products which will help. For some, I have given links to “how to do it” help videos or information.

 Do’s and Don’t with Software in Large Classes

Woman sitting at computer screen, with coffee cup When hundreds of eyes will be watching what you prepare—be it pedagogical presentations, how you organize the LMS, the audiovisuals you choose and which you make in order to share content—there are some things to consider.

-Don’t use software if you are not comfortable with it. Practice, practice some more, and then even more. The last thing you want is to so post a presentation whose audio won’t play or you tell them it is captioned and the words don’t make sense, etc. Those kinds of errors will guarantee that you’ll have a lot of emails to read from frazzled students. You might also lose some of their interactional trust.

-Some software (i.e., those which are bundled with texts) often ask you to set up and account and to sign in as a faculty member. Do your best to also set up an account as a student—the software can look very different using the student view. If you can, be sure you have the student account “open” when you write directions about how to use the software, especially for an assessment.

-Use screen captures to illustrate each key step in setting up the software and to show how to use it. I use the snipping tool in Microsoft to take static screen captures. If you want to make a video about how to use the software, there is software which allow you to do this (e.g., Camtasia, Screencast-O-Matic, etc.). Remember to caption the video!

-Check for software updates before you need to use the software, so that you don’t keep synchronous students waiting. Also check with your institution’s IT staff about if you should update, before doing so.

Orange thought bubble that says, "How do I?"-Make a “how do I?” sheet for each software you are using. For some, that might be a set of index cards stapled together. For others of us, it might be online “sticky notes” which stay on one of your screens or a Google/Word form you create and fill out for each software. (I hope you have at least two screens – it will make online teaching so much easier!) What should you note as a reminder

-Your faculty account’s username and password for that software

-Your student account’s username and password (if you created one in this software)

-Your institution’s Instructional Technology helpline phone numbers/email address

-How to start up the software and login

-How to get out of the software if it crashes

-How to turn volume up and down

-How to change whose screen is displayed

-How to call on someone else/share the screen with someone else

-How to display different windows from your computer

-How to admit individuals into a group (and what is the upper limit of number of individuals possible in that software? Might be a different number for free or paid versions.)

-How to turn on captioning

-How to turn on a pen or some other tool to use onscreen

-How to access a chat room in the software and how to select another individual to manage the chat room (if possible)

-How to save the screen/file, including any additions you made while teaching, before exiting the software

 The Learning Management System

You likely will not have a choice about what LMS to use—it will be whatever your institution uses. As I mentioned in week 3’s post on accessibility, ask about the actual level of accessibility that your IT and teaching and learning staff believe the LMS has and don’t believe the company’s PR hype.

A key question is which other pedagogical software will interface well with your institution’s LMS—if you are selecting software that many others have used, for example, this past spring, then there will be many who can help you to avoid issues. But if you are pioneering software to use with your LMS, then expect to have more integration issues and create a policy for what to do if an assessment or group activity doesn’t work.

Polling Software

Graphic: tablet or phone sending information to an online pollIf you want to get a snapshot of your students’ learning, and you are teaching a synchronous online class, you probably want to consider some sort of polling software, either as a standalone or an addition to your presentation slides. (It would work for asynchronous, but you’ll need to set a time for when students must use it, in order for you to have that diagnostic ability to make any content additions/clarifications.) Polling can be especially useful for what I call “content trip wires” – a small set of concepts, theories, or skills that you know have confused many students in previous terms. If this is your first time teaching the class, see if other faculty can provide you a list of this content, so that you can focus on them. Here’s an example of this kind of polling question:

How do you clean your residence when a person is coming to visit for the first time? Do you…

1) Clean only the parts of the residence where the guest could likely go (living room, bathroom, maybe kitchen). Put all the mess in another room and close the door.

2) Clean the entire residence, “just in case” the person visits a room not planned.

I use this question in part because it gets a lot of conversation and laughter going, but it allows me to introduce the concepts of “presentation of self” and “how an object (the door) can symbolize something else (keep out/privacy).” We talk a lot about what the closed door could represent—normally we decide that it means “if you open this door, and violate the social norm about not opening a door in someone’s private space, then you don’t get to judge the mess you might find there.” That is a great segue way into symbolic interactionism as a theoretical perspective, and so on.

Done well, polls can also build student connection and engagement. You could ask a question without one correct answer. It will require each student to wrestle with how to find an answer. This could become the springboard for quick group formation (either those who used the same process or the same answer) or a more detailed discussion board conversation between a small group of students.

I suggest class polls should be low-stakes assessments—if they are even graded. Think of them more as diagnostic tools (and teach students to consider them that way as well) and perhaps make each question 1 point.

Cisco Webex:


Poll Everywhere:



 Breakout Groups and Projects

Again, most LMSs will allow you to create smaller groups. They can be sent emails, use discussion boards, create group chats, etc. However, most LMSs do not allow for simultaneous editing of a document, something groups often want to do. Also, many LMS software will add you to each group. That means you will receive every email from a group member to the group (sometimes you cannot be unselected even if a student wanted to take you off the email chain!). Some software will allow groups to manage their own projects.


Buckets*  (similar to Slack, Kanban, Trello)


-adding captioning  to-a-video.html?fbclid=IwAR3QAHQGh2aoGAKzZTjK4dkOke6M4PvCUW-   rD7zJ27dPTekui4spdf1ulPw


Google Jamboard (white board):

Google Meet: (how to set up video)

Hypothesis for Education (collaborative annotation software):

Excel as Project Management Tool


Padlet :

Slack (project management, group communication, etc.):

Trello (project management – more visual foci): (infographic creation)

Zoom Meetings


Bower, Matt and Jodie Torrington. Typology of Free Web-based Learning Technologies

Carnegie Mellon University’s Pedagogical Considerations for Teaching with Zoom:

Bruff, Derek. Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms (some ideas could translate to online only environments)

Darby, Flower with James M. Lang. 2020. Small Teaching Online. Jossey-Bass. (E-book available)

Davidson, Cathy. The Single Most Essential Requirement in Designing a Fall Online Course (the role of trauma)

Foss, Katherine A. “The Optional Zoom: Connecting with Students (while Reducing Your Grading)

Free Resources for STEM Educators

Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing. STEAM from a Distance Education Resources

How to Teach Remotely: The Ultimate Guide

LearnWords: The 22 best training video software


Open Resource Courses about Online Course Design

Pandemic Pedagogy Facebook Group

Sh!ft Disruptive Learning:

Toor, Rachel. Turns Out You Can Build Community in a Zoom Classroom.

Top Take-Home STEM Resources for School Closings

University of British Columbia’s Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology’s Online Teaching Program

Whitaker, Manya. What an Ed-Tech Skeptic Learned about Her Own Teaching in the Covid-19 Crisis. 248876?cid= wcontentgrid _hp_9

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual pedagogical consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Note: I realize that good pedagogy, let alone good online pedagogy, requires that content should be “chunked” into smaller amounts. I had to balance that versus trying to get all my thoughts about teaching a large class online completed before the start of Fall 2020 begins–which is why this post is not chunked. I still have 3 more posts in the series (software; testing and grading; and pedagogical failures).

*My nephew works for this software company. I used it to manage our move from GA to NC and use it to manage my editing business. Larger organizations have used the software to manage projects and connect individuals in a variety of worksites.