Moving Forward: Teaching in Uncertain Times

Community Blog on online, hybrid, and F2F teaching during the pandemic

Redesigning (again) for Summer Semester

By Jennifer Hall, PhD, CETLOE and Department of English

Preparing a course for summer semester can be difficult under the best circumstances, but after spending the past year designing copious amounts of material for our online classes, cutting that back to create a seven-week class can feel down right overwhelming. If you return to in-person teaching, you’ll have to fight “class-and-a-half” syndrome, trying to keep everything from your online classes PLUS your amazing in-person stuff. If you’re still online, you’re going to have to figure out which of your carefully organized modules make the cut for a shortened version of the course.

To help you work through this, we’ve come up with a few tips we’d like you to consider as you redesign your classes (again) for the summer.

  1. Focus on your learning outcomes:

We know you get tired of hearing this from us, but learning outcomes are particularly helpful when you’re designing to teach materials efficiently and effectively. Design around one or two outcomes per day, and be transparent about which outcomes you’re working toward.

When students receive tons of information in a short amount of time, they struggle to prioritize it. They end up highlighting every line in the textbook because everything seems important in a time crunch. Organizing around learning outcomes helps you make sure that you’re not missing anything when you’re cutting down the material, and it helps the students prioritize the information you’re sharing.

Focusing on learning outcomes can also help you distinguish between what your students must know for the course and what it’s just nice for them to know. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference, especially if we have a favorite story or a specific connection we’d love for them to make, but as you reflect on your outcomes, try to distinguish between information that is crucial to meeting the outcomes and information that adds color to the discussion but could be eliminated without jeopardizing outcome achievement.

  1. Pace your class to prevent cognitive overload:

If you’re teaching in-person or synchronously, 2 ½ hours is an impossible amount of time to keep students engaged without careful pacing. Try to arrange your classes so that they shift your students’ focus every 20-30 minutes. Integrate group work, short reflections, entrance and exit writings, and discussions to keep the students engaged and working. As with every course, break up your lectures, focusing on one idea at a time and giving them a break in between ideas to work with the information and reflect.

If you’re teaching asynchronously, consider which of the readings, videos, lecture recordings, or other materials you might make required and which might be optional. There’s so much great stuff out there that you can quickly overload your students, particularly in an abbreviated semester, so make sure you’re only adding the materials that really help them achieve those learning outcomes. Also, consider labeling the files with the time commitment. When I’ve taken online classes, my favorite professors labeled their materials with an estimated time to completion. It was great to know that the video they posted from YouTube was only 5-minutes long so that I could squeeze it in between meetings or that the reading was only 2-3 pages. Longer materials are sometimes necessary, but it’s nice to give the students a heads up so that they can plan quiet time to sit down and digest a 30-minute video or 30-page reading.   

  1. Emphasize reflection and connection:

Even though technically the contact time is the same during summer semester, the abbreviated schedule eliminates the period students have to reflect between their classes. When we teach during a regular semester, students do their reading, go to class, situate their understanding within a framework we help them create, and then go home to reflect on the ideas, connecting them to what they see in their lives or hear in their other classes. Summer semester doesn’t give them the space to process information in that way. They’re constantly bombarded with new ideas, new frameworks, and making sense of all this new information can be daunting. As you design your class, make sure you actively integrate moments for reflection and connection. Writing is a good way to encourage reflection and connection, but you can even do it through your automated quizzing if you set your quizzes up in a manner that encourages practice and the linking of ideas between questions.

If you have time for writing or projects in your class, consider using scaffolded assignments rather than a series of different assignments. Scaffolding is great for short semesters because students can stay focused on one idea for an extended (somewhat) period of time rather than bounce from new idea to new idea. Scaffolding allows them to continuously reflect on their work and integrate new information as they revise it. Scaffolding also helps you manage the grade load! Since students are building the assignment in pieces over time, you get to see it in small chunks as it develops. By the time the finish the project, you’ve seen it all, commented on it all, and should be able to grade the finished draft very quickly.

However you arrange your course this summer, try to focus on keeping what has worked well to get you through this year. We’ve all learned some wonderful tools for communicating complex ideas in new modalities. If they’re more efficient, take advantage of them! The condensed summer semester will require you to edit your course, but as you edit, make sure you leave time for the enjoyable parts of teaching and learning, doing so will make the summer more pleasant for you and your students.  

jenniferhall • May 27, 2021

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