Recent research suggests that educational challenges persist in post-pandemic classrooms. Such challenges include knowledge/achievement gaps due to variables that impacted academic rigor during pandemic remote teaching; decreased social engagement opportunities; and increased mental health issues, including higher rates of depression and anxiety, thereby influencing student motivation for academic excellence. Below we provide solutions to counter these challenges through purposeful teaching strategies. While these techniques may not be new, they are more important now than ever as we work through finding solutions for today’s students.
Educational Challenge: Knowledge Gaps
Scaffold the Learning Environment
Pandemic learning loss created a challenge for instructors as they returned to post-pandemic teaching strategies and schedules. Anecdotally, instructors across multiple campuses and disciplines have identified an overall sense that students are “not ready” for their courses and that they lack the seemingly basic skills that they’re expected to have at that level.
Instructors can identify where those learning gaps exist by scaffolding their instruction and assessments. Break down assessments by identifying the skills required to complete them (and consequently, the course learning objectives) successfully. Create a path for students to develop the skills needed for the higher-stakes, complex assessment through frequent, low-stakes assessments. Low-stakes assessments create an opportunity for students to engage in productive struggles/desirable difficulties, where they can try, fail and learn from their mistakes, and do so in a safe environment.
While this strategy requires more feedback from instructors, each student’s progress, competence and achievement is made clearer throughout the term for both the instructor and student, providing the ability to catch issues early and address them through remediation activities.
Create Productive Struggles
A common misconception persists among students that if something feels easy, they must have learned it. Multiple studies by University of California Los Angeles psychology professor Robert Bjork and others have shown us that the opposite is the case. Creating opportunities for students to struggle with their material in a productive way is key to retaining learned information. Practicing recall as well as spacing learning and interleaving concepts are ways instructors can manipulate the learning environment to provide opportunities for students to struggle productively.
Leverage Technology—Is AI Your Friend or Foe?
Technology, especially new and emerging technologies, can sometimes get a (well-deserved) bad reputation for creating opportunities for students to cheat. However, it can also create opportunities for instructors and students to engage in the learning environment in creative and educational ways.
Struggling students may not know where to even begin when tasked with researching course information. Providing students with guided time using an AI generator can help them begin generating ideas, allowing them to spend more time on the work at hand. AI-generated information can also be used as a critical thinking task—is the information relevant, reliable and accurate? Asking students to investigate the validity of AI-generated information teaches them to critically evaluate information as it is presented to them.
Educational Challenge: Social Skill Gaps
Engage Students in Pair/Group Learning Activities
The pandemic removed students from the social engagements they were used to, impacting their social-emotional learning. Today’s students may struggle to engage with their peers in the same way they did in the past. Creating structured pair or small-group learning activities can create a safe space for students to relearn how to engage with others in a learning environment. Additionally, group activities can provide an opportunity for students at different levels to learn with and from each other. An activity as simple as “Think/Pair/Share” provides students an opportunity to formulate their own ideas (in writing is best) before vetting them through a single peer for feedback, providing a safer environment for participation at a full-group level.
Educational Challenge: Mental Health and Motivation Struggles
Student Autonomy and Choice
Autonomous learning choices can motivate and empower students to work harder. Removing the pressure of what students “must” do and allowing students to decide what they “want” to do provides them with a sense of control over their own learning. Consider ways you can include student autonomy in your courses. Can students choose the format in which they prove their competence (a paper, presentation or story board, for example)? Can they choose the topics they pursue in depth, related to the course material? Can students be a part of the assessment creation process, by co-creating rubrics?
Engaging Student Voice
Purposefully engaging your students’ voices at a classroom and institutional level allows educators and administrators a chance to identify student struggles before they become untenable challenges. The field of Student Voice Work provides students with input into the decisions made at the institutional, program or course level, depending on the focus of the student voice program.
During pandemic remote teaching, we all had to make purposeful shifts in our teaching strategies, and we should continue to think creatively when returning to the classroom post-pandemic. The challenges may be different, but the way to address them remains the same: Ensure our learning environments are learner-centered, break down complex concepts to build up knowledge and skills, and create structured and purposeful educational challenges for students.
Dr. Amy Simolo is a Senior Customer Success Manager at D2L, working with Higher Education clients. Previously, Amy spent over 10 years as a faculty development professional, training faculty teaching within both face-to-face and online environments.
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