Supporting University Students During COVID-19
Published By Cary Hopkins Eyles, MA, CAP, 12.05.2020
I was not trained to teach online, and maybe you weren’t either. It has been a challenge
to switch from walking into a classroom and seeing my students’ faces and teaching
them in ways I am used to. Kim Johnson has written in Going Online, part 1 and part 2,
about that shift for us as educators. I am going to talk about how it is difficult for
students and how we can support them.
During this time, as the world is contracting, our role as instructor is expanding. We
cannot just focus on the educational attainment we hope for our students to gain, we
now have to look at the students in a more holistic way. If they are not feeling safe and
secure, as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us, they won’t be able to focus and learn
what we hope to impart.
When I was thrust into the role of teaching remotely, I felt disconnected from this group of students I had grown close to and fond of. I began to ask them questions before and after our class (we are using Zoom and having synchronous courses). I would ask them if they were safe, healthy, and well. And offer that they could talk to me during office hours or via email if they didn’t want to discuss it in front of their peers. There are multiple benefits to asking students if they are ok during these times. Besides just showing genuine concern, it opens the door to students to be able to talk to us about things that are not directly related to the subject we teach. If and when they reach out to us, we can offer suggestions, support, and our point them to resources. But if we don’t open the door, and make it clear they can come to us about things, it is unlikely they will do so.
Students may have issues we are completely unaware of such as sick relatives, environments in which it is difficult to concentrate or learn, or scarcity of resources (e.g., they cannot log on or use the technology we are expecting of them). While we cannot necessarily fix these issues, we may be able to assist in some ways, and if we can’t, it is important we empathize.
I feel the best thing we can do for students during times of crisis, and really all the time, is be human. Show them that we care, that we teach because we want to inspire and motivate, and that we are going through things like they are. When we allow relationships to grow with our students, learning can happen on multiple levels – not just academically. This is a difficult time, for them and us, and we can all use the extra support and understanding.