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Contributing to students’ social worlds remotely

This pandemic year is also the first year of existence for the TAUU council, the advisory group set up in connection with TAUU’s new status as partner for the Centre for Academic Teaching. We TAUU council members are a diverse, and yet somehow amazingly like-minded, bunch, enthusiastically supported by Leonie Kroes-Wichers, and we are excited about organizing new ways of working for the TAUU community. During our most recent meeting, we resolved to start reporting regularly via the TAUU site on the matters that we find important, as individual teachers and as council, in the hope of engaging more effectively with the community that we represent. After each meeting, one of the members will write to let everyone know what we have been up to. This time, that honor falls to me (Jocelyn Ballantyne).

The impact of the corona pandemic on work experience has been a regular theme in TAUU council discussions. The pandemic has brought all kinds of challenges that no one was prepared for, and the potential for isolation created by remote teaching and learning is tough on teachers. I, for one, have invested extra heavily in maintaining a sense of connection to a community of teachers, and have been feeling very grateful for opportunities, like being part of the TAUU council and the organizing committee for the 2021 Onderwijsparade, that help with that. As challenging as the circumstances are for teachers, they are even tougher on our students. Our students are, of course, facing practical consequences of the extended lockdown, like separation from family, household quarantines and loss of income with the disappearance of work in restaurants, cafés and retail. Perhaps even more challenging, though, are the emotional consequences. Alongside the uncertainty about the future that we all face, our students are in a stage of life where they are working on figuring out who they are, and they need the context of the social world to help them find their place in it. That social world has been drastically limited by the consequences of the pandemic.

In the TAUU council, we realized that the switch to remote education has made the social dimensions of teaching even more important for our students, even as online meeting platforms make social interaction a less natural part of the experience. We know that teachers all over the UU are contributing to their students’ social worlds by making special effort to boost the social value of the online classroom environment. Here, we share some of our ideas for doing that, and ask you to share yours by responding to this post.

  • Arrive 10 minutes early in the digital classroom, and stay for 10-15 minutes afterwards, to allow room for small talk and individual questions (just as you might in the face-to-face classroom).
  • Break through the LCD wall and compliment students on something that you can see in their environment:  their electric guitar, an interesting painting, a lush plant, the colorful curtains. 
  • Make routine use of rounds in which students share questions or reflections orally (not just in the chat!) so that their faces are seen and their voices are heard by their peers. In a large class, you can select a subgroup of participants, in a small group, everyone can have a turn.
  • Ask students to tag a peer that they would like to hear from in the discussion by naming them explicitly  – after all, everybody’s names are visible (even when their faces are not).

Ballantyne, J.C. (Jocelyn)
10 March 2021

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