The early days of the coronavirus pandemic caught everyone by surprise. We now know there are still several uncertainties ahead of us, but we are far more equipped with knowledge on what we should be doing to minimize the spread of the virus. If someone in academia were to ask for an honest opinion on how to proceed with planning for the fall I would simply say, “Proactively prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
The summer months are usually a calm period of reflection for educators. We are carefully reading course evaluations, reviewing syllabi, and conducting research. Educators are spending several hours a day refining lectures, identifying areas of improvement, and incorporating new content into courses that helps us achieve student learning outcomes.
The coronavirus pandemic has created great angst for all of us and will continue to do so through the fall. Summer plans for educators have been dramatically altered due to the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming academic year. Are we teaching in a classroom? If so, what will it look like for students? Will it be safe for everyone? If not, will online learning continue and if so, for how long? Are we properly prepared to deliver a high-quality online experience for students? What is our new normal as educators?
The challenges for educators are extraordinary. They will need tremendous support from parents, academic leadership, and elected officials. However, educators will also need to step up and demonstrate resilience. Some will struggle far more than others and they cannot let personal agendas or academic politics cloud their judgement.
Experience tells me educators will fall into two categories amid difficult circumstances: selfless and selfish. A true educator is rolling up their sleeves right now and working on multiple scenarios for how they will deliver content in the fall. Time is not on their side and they need to properly prepare themselves so they can act in the best interests of the students.
Sadly, there are other educators who will look internally rather than externally. Instead of working for the benefit of the students, some educators will be driven by personal insecurities when it comes to adjusting to a new model of teaching that does not involve a physical classroom. They will wait for guidance and express displeasure if decisions are made that fail to reflect a style of teaching that is comfortable to them.
A hybrid method of online and classroom learning has been regularly discussed at all levels of education. At initial glance, this model could be a significant upgrade from the mixed results produced by online learning this past spring. However, there are several variables beyond health and safety for hybrid learning to work and it all begins with educators and how they develop a course.
Start With the Syllabus A syllabus is not only a roadmap to achieve success in a course, but it is a contract between educators and students. It is the responsibility of the educator to provide students with a detailed outline of how the course will be structured as well as their expectations. The syllabus must be thorough and consider several variables under normal circumstances.
Over Prepare (there’s no such thing) Educators need to envision how their courses can be delivered in the classroom, online, and in a hybrid format over a period of several months. It cannot be a week to week exercise. The time is now for educators to be detail oriented and over prepared, which will allow them to quickly adjust to immediate and unexpected changes.
Schools Will Be Under a Microscope Educators and academic institutions will be under far greater scrutiny by parents, since they are unlikely to see discounts on tuition. Therefore, educators must develop three ways of delivering a course. This might require long hours of becoming comfortable with online learning, adapting a course to a different delivery model, or even adjusting one’s teaching style.
The only way to ensure confidence and comfort is to create a detailed approach considering all options.
Now is the time to carefully think through how you should approach your work and what makes the most sense to the students. Most importantly, you need to quell any concerns from your students by providing them with structure, assurance, and a meaningful learning experience.
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About the Author: For nearly two decades, Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr., M.B.A. has been intimately involved in sports management education, sports media, and coaching. He achieved the rank of Clinical Professor of Sports Management and served as an Academic Chair. McDonnell was a Co-Director, Program Development and Special Initiatives for New York University’s Sports and Society.