Getting CCOMFE in Times of Crisis – Post-Presentation

I’m so grateful to my friends and colleagues, Dr. Sarah Vincent and Dr. Marcela Herdova, for participating in this roundtable. And I want to thank DIRECTO for all the work that they put into this fantastic event.

As I posted previously, the presentation was based on research from Oregon State University, which found that both students and faculty had better experiences in classes that were characterized by Compassion, Clarity, Organization, Multifacetedness, Flexibility, and Engagement — CCOMFE classes.

We covered a lot of material in a very short time and I hope that the discussion was helpful for others who are struggling with how to adapt their teaching. Here is a breakdown of the questions that guided our discussion:

Compassionate – There has been an ongoing conversation over the last 6 months or so about the importance of compassion as we approach our classes and our students. The examples that the Oregon State study points to in this category center largely on communication – Zoom office hours, Canvas chat, email, the learner-centered syllabus… But I think that there is a broader conversation to be had here around compassion. As faculty members and instructors, we must be sensitive to not only to the health and economic effects of the pandemic on our students, but also to the effects of the renewed protests, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. Now we can add the impact of natural disasters like hurricanes, storms (like the de recho across the Midwest), and the massive fires in the West. How can we use compassion to meet our students where they are and make sure that they can be successful in light of the ongoing anxiety and upheaval?

  • When you think about compassionate teaching or pedagogy, what comes to mind? 
  • What is compassionate teaching? What are some characteristics? 
  • How have you tried to be more compassionate in your courses? Have you reconsidered topics or readings or the way that you are approaching certain questions because of a desire to be more compassionate? 
  • Students are not the only ones who are struggling right now. Instructors are struggling as well. (Many of the people in this session are probably both students and instructors and so they are hit from two sides.) Compassion fatigue is a very real phenomenon. We see it all the time in caring professions, like nursing. Do you think that it is important for us to extend compassion to ourselves as instructors? How do we do that? 
  • What are some ways that we can be show more compassion to ourselves in the way that we approach our classes?
  • Are there things that we can or should be doing to support each other right now? 

Clear and Organized – I feel like these two categories really go hand in hand. In terms of clarity, the focus is on presenting clear expectations and detailed, well-structured content. Letting the students know exactly what they need to do in the course. Organization ties into this because clear instructions are not helpful if the student cannot find them. So here we are looking at using the various tools that we have to present the students with an organized course. 

  • You (Sarah and Marcela) are both teaching synchronous remote courses. I am teaching asynchronous remote courses. What steps have you taken to improve clarity in your classes? 
  • Similarly, how has your approach to course organization changed? What tools have you found particularly helpful? 
  • This may seem like a strange question, but I have been thinking a lot about the unspoken rules of university life (for students, grad students, and even faculty) and how those can be a barrier for people who come from different backgrounds – like first gen students. Do you think that clarity and organization can help close some of the gaps that exist? Making explicit the things that many of take for granted may not be of much use to some students, but it could be an enormous boon to others. Have you been thinking at all about the way that a clear and organized course can open doors for students? 
  • This is more of comment than a question… I feel like the pandemic has really brought to light a difference between some instructors. I think that there are good instructors, who are engaging in the face-to-face classroom and really care about whether their students are learning, but that don’t have a clear and organized picture of their own courses. Or, they don’t know how to communicate that to students when they aren’t together in a room twice a week. The transition has been hard for all of us, but I think it has been especially hard for the students in these kinds of classes. 

Multifaceted – Multifaceted courses provide students with different ways of engaging with the course material and with each other. This is an important part of building a community in a remote class, especially during a pandemic. I would argue, however, that this is a practice that we should keep after we return to face to face instruction. Building these rich connections would be a boon for students who feel like outsiders in the university community because of factors like race, ethnicity, nationality, age, ability, or parental status. Here the researchers have in mind different ways to approach learning and interacting with content, the instructor, and other students. Examples they give are: Zoom breakout rooms and polls, canvas chat, discussion posts (and replies?), collaborations, group work, mini-lectures, podcasts, and student created media 

  • How are you bringing in this element to your courses? Were these new things that you added because of the pandemic or things your were already doing? 
  • Have you tried things that just don’t seem to work? What happened? 
  • For me (Tracie), this has taken form (partly) in an increased focus on UDL (universal design for learning). For example, for every video lecture I post, I post the lecture video, the ppt, a pdf of the powerpoint, and a word outline version of the powerpoint. I have also started using BB Ally to check all my pdfs and other documents for accessibility. Have you been incorporating any UDL elements into your courses?

Flexible – Students and faculty benefitted from flexibility across multiple dimensions – how students demonstrate knowledge, attendance, due dates. 

  • What are some ways that you find yourself being more flexible with your remote classes?
  • Are there somethings that you are not flexible on? Why? 

Engagement – Faculty who were more engaged reported having students who were more engaged. By being present for students through frequent emails, videos, quick responses, etc., and by involving students in post-lecture activities, we develop a learning community that is more engaged. Engagement does more than contribute to learning outcomes. It helps us build a strong and dynamic community of learners.

  • What are you doing to be more present and engaged for your students? 
  • What things are you doing to engage students in the course? 
  • Are you tracking engagement? If so, how? 
  • Are you reaching out to students who seem disconnected or disengaged in the course? 
  • Are there things that you are doing now that haven’t done in the past? 
  • Have you found opportunities be creative in your approaches to engagement (either your own or the students)?

Published by Tracie Mahaffey

Senior Teaching Faculty and Director of Undergraduate Studies Department of Philosophy Florida State University

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