In his most recent communication to the university, Chancellor Green wrote of 'the incredible challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic' and the way 'the UNL community has delivered' on the 'herculean task' of rising to those challenges. All of us at the Center for Transformative Teaching are proud to have had the opportunity to support the hundreds of instructors we've interacted with in workshops, the summer institutes, and one-to-one consultations since the move online in the spring.
The entire UNL community has wrestled with the many challenges of a hybrid face-to-face and online mode of delivery as we've been forced to imagine scenarios for the fall semester that have simply not been encountered in higher education previously. As though this were not sufficient to increase our anxieties and workload, we face uncertainty about how the current situation might develop and how it affects us outside our working lives. In all this, though, what has struck us most powerfully at the CTT is how fortunate UNL is to have such a resilient, adaptable, and creative group of educators.
Not only are instructors preparing for the practical realities of fall they are, like us, tightly focused on students and student engagement. With this in mind, the CTT’s Summer Institutes for Online Teaching and its workshop program have sought to address both of these concerns. We must, no matter what the conditions, do as much as we possibly can to engage our students in active learning. We understand that thinking about student engagement is tough when you’re trying to imagine a socially distanced classroom where you’re simultaneously trying to teach students face-to-face and online, but student engagement is way more than a buzzword or some ill-defined ‘good.’ The foundation of effective pedagogy is the role of students as dynamic partners in their learning (Freire, 2000). Expecting students to simply absorb the material they are offered will not be enough in online and hybrid environments any more than it is in face-to-face ones. (Cole, 2014).
The best practice is to encourage our students to think critically and analytically about what they are taught and to challenge received wisdom. Student engagement can, the research tells us, generate a cascade of pedagogic and social virtues. Just one is that it inculcates in disadvantaged students a real sense of belonging that can often elude them, and even cause them to withdraw from the university if they feel 'this place is not for the likes of me,' or 'people like me can’t succeed here.' Students already succeeding do better, students are better fitted to work environments on leaving university, engaged students produce higher quality work in assessments (and are better able to engage with authentic assessment), and express greater satisfaction with their university experience.
Once again, thank you from CTT to all of those who work with us, and we look forward to connecting with those who are yet to engage.
Cole, M. T., Shelley, D. J., and Swartz, L. B. (2014). Online instruction, e-learning, and student satisfaction: a three year study. Int. Rev. Res. Open Distrib. Learn. 15, 111–131. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v15i6.1748
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.