2021: A brand new year! Like you, we are hoping for a smooth transition to the next semester/quarter in the midst of this pandemic and our quarantine lives. To help you accomplish this, we wanted to share small but helpful course tips that can be incorporated into spring courses.
Karenna: I am a big fan of setting the right tone for my classes from the beginning, especially in online courses. For the past few years, I have created a visual syllabus for each of my classes. I include my photo, relevant tables and charts to break down important course information, and more! The visual syllabus is inviting and more conversational than the typical course syllabus. Along with a good welcome email, I have found that students have responded positively to it. All this takes is a good newsletter template in Pages or Word. Another good option is Canva for Educators! (Don’t forget to include a more typical syllabus within your course LMS homepage to maintain ADA compliance.)
Molly: Bitmoji! All my classes were asynchronous, and since I teach intro stats courses, many of the students don’t know me at all. This term, I started including Bitmoji in my announcements/reminders (like a little cartoon “You can do it!” right before the final was released) and I got a surprising amount of positive feedback from students. It helps me communicate a little of my personality, warm up text-based reminders, and most importantly, it amuses me. Bonus tip: sign potentially stressful announcements or reminders from you and your dog/cat/fish/baby for a little boost of cute energy.
Janet: My favorite ideas, bullet points style :)
- Flexible assignments. Students get to drop lowest scores so that a missed assignment or two won’t hurt them. This alleviates anxiety and makes it easier for me (I don’t have to judge whether there was a “worthy reason” to make-up points - everyone gets grace).
- Renaming office hours to weekly review. Last year I renamed my office hours to “weekly review” and mentioned that we could go over homework, example problems, etc. Attendance at office hours skyrocketed. I changed nothing else, just the branding. I’ve never had such full office hours. Another strategy I use is to hold office hours right after class (the questions are fresh and the transition is seamless, especially in Zoom when they just stay logged in!).
- In-Class Activities. It can be hard to keep focused any time, but especially in Zoom lectures (and meetings!). To help students stay engaged, I give them small prompts throughout the lecture that they respond to via Google Forms. Sometimes the prompts are application questions, muddiest points, or even just checking in with them. There might be 2-5 throughout the class period. Later, I might peruse the answers as a whole (feedback!), but I don’t grade them. Even though they are ungraded, the students really like them and engage well.
Daniel: My recommendation would be to collect data from your students! What sort of data am I referring to? Well, take the tried-and-true Informal Early Feedback (IEF) as an example. IEF might be common knowledge—and hopefully common practice!—to some of our readers. If not, we highly recommend it! IEF refers to creating your own teaching evaluation survey (using, e.g., Google Forms, Qualtrics) early on in the term. This simple practice allows you to collect data on how the course is going, what students like and don’t like, etc., early in the term. In addition to being a gesture to illustrate to your students that you care about the quality of your teaching and about their experience, it also allows you to figure out what can be done to improve the course before it’s too late (i.e., before the course is over). You can also collect data on specific assignments and projects. For example, you can create a couple of short surveys to ask about students’ knowledge and interest in a topic before and after they complete a project related to that topic. Doing so will allow you to determine whether or not your projects are interesting and meet your pedagogical goals, and this can be valuable data to include in institutional review processes for promotion or tenure.
Albee: To help ease students into the general semester’s tasks and our particular class’ requirements, I ask students to complete graded, low-stakes “course orientation” assignments to familiarize them with technological components (of which they may be unfamiliar) and to foster engagement.
- One task is to send me an email using their college/university email address with their favorite joke or pick-up line, which I share anonymously with the group as a whole throughout the semester. This assignment helps establish the importance of checking and utilizing their emails as well as infuse humor and engagement in class meetings. As the semester progresses, these jokes/pick-up lines are used to connect with several concepts: episodic memory, expressive language, intelligence, personality, etc.
- Another task is to log into the learning management system and do a scavenger hunt for a slide on a PowerPoint with an assignment (e.g., send a GIF related to a concept in psychology, send an image of their favorite inspirational quote, etc.). This helps students locate files in the LMS, which are available to them throughout the semester. Then, these motivational quotes and applicable GIFs are shared anonymously to support motivation and engagement, especially around midterm exam and final exam times.
- A task that I incorporated last semester (and is doable since I am at a small liberal arts college) is to meet with students one-on-one during office hours. Using a short list of questions (e.g., What are your reasons for taking this course? What topic has interested you so far? What is a fun/interesting skill you have?, etc.), I utilized these moments to connect with students on a personal and professional level. Some of them were not comfortable asking questions or were very quiet during class discussions; however, during these individual sessions, they were able to share their sadness about not being on campus, their fears about the pandemic, and their anxiety about the future.
Courtney: I love using the Perusall program in my classes! It automatically grades student commentary based on quality (which can be a nice time saver!) but perhaps even more importantly, I’ve found it to be a great tool to get students reading and talking about the course content outside of class. Given my Fall classes were broken into smaller sections, it was also a nice way for students to get to know the whole class via discussion (even when they only saw the same 5-6 students in their in-person section).
Your STP Early Career Psychologists Committee
Karenna Malavanti, Ph.D.
Albee Mendoza, Ph.D.
Molly Metz, Ph.D.
Janet Peters, Ph.D.
Daniel Storage, Ph.D.