ACT to sustain learning through current events
Collectively witnessed or experienced events, such as acts of terrorism, global pandemics, divisive national elections, natural disasters, or campus-wide controversies, can impact student learning and well-being. We encourage instructors to ACT to acknowledge the potential impact on students and plan to navigate a period of possible uncertainty. Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) echoes the recommendation that instructors acknowledge and plan for events impacting student learning and well-being.
Here are a range of instructional practices for supporting your students and their course learning through current events, which you can adapt to your courses. View or download the resource as a Google Doc
Acknowledge the event and express a commitment to supporting students.
- If the event precedes the start of your course, include a statement in your course syllabus and Canvas course site, acknowledging the event and its potential impact and your commitment to support students.
- Build flexibility into your course design, to eliminate the need for struggling students to reach out to you and the need for you or your teaching team to make case-by-case judgment calls. Ideas for building in flexibility are offered in the course design strategies linked to in the next bullet.
- Communicate clear academic expectations to students to eliminate ambiguity on course requirements. See CTL’s Course Design Strategies to Address Challenges Identified by Spring 2020 Stanford Students.
- Coordinate course alterations with leadership in your department or program to ensure consistency across course offerings.
- Regularly acknowledge during class and in written communications that students might be struggling to focus on their work, that this is understandable, and that you want to help them succeed in your course.
- Give specific examples of how you are prepared to work with students and their needs without expecting or requesting details of their situations, for example:
- providing extensions
- including options to revise and resubmit
- dropping a lowest grade
- adding review sessions
- revisiting class material at a later date
- making attendance optional on some days and providing alternative ways for students to make-up the work
- Provide students with helpful resources about well-being, community centers, and units offering student support.
- If you have Teaching or Course Assistants (TAs or CAs):
- communicate your support to them, too
- confirm academic expectations for students enrolled in the course, as well as university resources to which they can direct students
- If you anticipate disruption to your own ability to teach effectively, consider:
Create space in your course for students to process their reactions around the event.
- Build in optional and ungraded opportunities for students to free-write or journal on what they are thinking and feeling around the event, and holistically assess their well-being.
- Dedicate some of your virtual office hours, or schedule an additional one, for discussion of the event, and make that theme explicit if you are comfortable doing so and feel equipped to have these conversations.
- Use quick exit tickets (search for Exit Ticket Compilation Module in Canvas Commons) or create an anonymous Zoom poll to get feedback from students on how they are doing, especially around the event. Other ideas for getting student feedback through Zoom and Poll Everywhere can be found in Creating an Online Classroom Environment to Support Open Student Conversations.
- Familiarize yourself with signs of student distress and steps you can take to help. If you don’t hear from students, contact Stanford staff who will follow up.
- Share Seidu, Okumu, and Mwange’s popular graphic Who Do I Want to Be During COVID-19? and extend and normalize the stages of fear, learning, and growth to what students might be experiencing around the event.*
*Credit and thank you to Deland Chan, Stanford instructor in Urban Studies, for the suggestion that this COVID-19 graphic might be extended to help students process their reactions around other events.
If you would like to create space for class discussion of the event:
- Create class norms or commitments for respectful and productive discussion.
- Introduce students to Stanford SPARQ’s LARA method, assign the Are You Ready to Talk? Toolkit, and allow them to practice it with each other on lower-stakes topics.
- Emphasize that class discussions of the event will not be recorded and remind students that they are not permitted to record class sessions either. For more specific guidance and suggestions, see Creating an Online Classroom Environment to Support Open Student Conversations.
Pay extra care to class sessions occurring during key developments:
- Consider adjustments to your course plans, for example:
- recording lectures for students to view later
- extending the deadline or scope of assignments and assessments, as possible
- holding optional classes and providing alternatives to obtaining course materials and making up work
- Design a lesson plan that defuses potential sources of stress for students—intellectual, academic, political, emotional—and allows them to engage with course content in community with one another. For example:
- Humanities: students take turns reading aloud from the assigned text, with the option to pass and simply listen if preferred
- Arts: students watch a documentary about a work of art or an artist
- Social Sciences: students draw graphical representations of a data set
- Natural Sciences: students watch a documentary about a natural phenomenon or a scientist
- Engineering: students build models of a target system with objects in their current environment
- Design a lesson plan that gives students interpersonal safety and space to reflect and/or talk to their peers about the situation.
Sample lesson plan
Learning objective: By the end of this lesson, students will feel safe and supported in our class community to process their reactions to the event and determine their next steps.
- Begin with a minute or two of meditation, or silence
- Brief review of class community commitments, to ensure that all dialogue stays respectful, supportive, and productive.
- Students take some time individually and silently to reflect and write a letter to themselves about how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
- Students have the option to share and talk as a whole group, to go into breakouts if they'd like to talk in smaller groups, or to remain together in silent camaraderie.
- Everyone reconvenes to decide on one thing each person is going to do next— whether that's get some sleep, talk to a friend, or take larger action— and students have the option to quickly go around and share their next step if they'd like to (or pass).
- You, the instructor, clarify how you plan to support them moving forward, such as holding extra office hours, extending a deadline, soliciting their ideas in a few days for what support they need, and so on.
- To guide students in stepping back and reconnecting with something going well in their lives, invite students who are comfortable to share 1–3 words in Zoom chat about something they are grateful for.
If possible, connect events to course learning, whether through course topics, skills students are learning, or habits of mind or affect they are cultivating.
- Use the event as an example or case study, for example, of the rise of extremist groups or the effects of climate change.
- Connect course content to surrounding issues made prominent by the event, as you feel disciplinarily and personally equipped to do so; for example, recent history of geopolitics or methods and contestation of scientific claims.
- Connect skills students are learning in your course with skills relevant to navigating the event, such as creating predictive models or drafting compelling narratives.
- Connect habits of mind or affect students are developing in your course with those relevant to the event, such as developing empathy or seeking evidence for claims.
- ASSU: Recommendations on Online Teaching/Learning
- Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL): Course Design Strategies to Address Challenges Identified by Spring 2020 Stanford Students
- CTL: 10 Strategies for Making Virtual Office Hours More Effective
- CTL: Structuring Short-Term Groupwork Online, with Zoom Breakout Rooms
- CTL: 10 Strategies for Promoting Student Flourishing
- CTL: Working Effectively with Teaching Assistants Online
- CTL, 10 Strategies for TAing Online
- Institutional Research and Decision Support (IR&DS): Stanford Spring Student Survey: COVID 19
- IR&DS: Improving Online Courses: Stanford Student Focus Group Study
- Stanford Administrative Guide
- Stanford Health Improvement Program (HIP): Headspace - Meditation Made Simple
- Teaching Commons: Creating an Online Classroom Environment to Support Open Student Conversations
- Vaden: Red Folder
- Vaden: Flourishing Reflections
- Vaden: Personalized Menu of Self-Care Strategies
Bisz et. al. (2020). Pedagogies of Care: Open Resources for Student-Centered and Adaptive Strategies in the New Higher Ed Landscape. West Virginia University Press Teaching and Learning.
DiPietro, M. (2003). The Day After: Faculty Behavior in Post 9/11 Classes. To Improve the Academy.
Huston and DiPietro. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. To Improve the Academy.
McMurtrie, B. (2020). What Does Trauma-Informed Teaching Look Like? The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Carello, J., and Butler, L. (2014). Potentially Perilous Pedagogies: Teaching Trauma is Not the Same as Trauma-Informed Teaching. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. 15(2): 153-168.