By Tina Shanahan
As colleges and universities across the United States close in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, instructors are scrambling to convert their previously face-to-face classes to an online format. This sudden transition has left everyone feeling uncertain about how to proceed, especially those of us teaching developmental education in a co-requisite format.
There is an abundance of advice circulating on Twitter, Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Most of the suggestions in these discussions and articles are based on veteran online instructors’ expertise, but there is no precedence for taking co-reqs online.
When people say, “online classes aren’t for everyone,” they’re talking about students like the ones in our co-req classes – students who, for varied and complex reasons, may have low confidence in their academic abilities, struggle with executive functioning skills, suffer from test anxiety, etc. But, I’m convinced that our students CAN be successful through this transition to an online environment and you are capable of helping your students end the semester strong during this stressful time.
Teaching a co-req requires an individualized approach in any format. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to moving co-reqs online, but here are some tips you might consider:
- If you teach both the college-level class and the support class, focus on transitioning the college-level class first. Getting your head around the changes to the college-level class will help you identify parts of the transition that will likely be most challenging for your co-req students. Then, you can adapt your co-req to offer support in those areas.
- If you teach a co-req with another instructor, do your best to collaborate. However, communication might not be easy with all of us scrambling to put classes online, take care of kids, stay healthy, etc. If you can’t closely coordinate your support with the other instructor’s online model, use your best judgement to continue working on the skills your students need to practice most.
- Keep things low tech as much as possible. Publishers’ offers to provide free access to online courseware are generous, but now is not the time for you and your students to learn a new Learning Management System or conferencing tool with all the bells and whistles. Use the technology that you and your students know best, like email and the basic features of your school’s LMS.
- Be flexible with your typical requirements in the co-requisite. You might not get to all the activities and assessments you had planned. Your school may have their own grading policies, but the grade in the co-req should mostly reflect how prepared students are for more advanced academic work rather than their performance on individual co-req assignments. Put a lot of stock in what you have seen your students prove themselves capable of already.
- Support students’ technology use, time management, and motivation. Remember, the purpose of co-requisite courses is to help students develop the underlying skills they need to be successful in their academic work. Basic writing skills are important, of course, but during this transition, they might need different types of support. Make or find quick videos to demonstrate any technology you’re using. Provide timelines or checklists to help students keep track of the remaining work. Find something to celebrate in each piece of work that students are able to complete under these stressful circumstances.
- Conduct individual check-ins with co-req students. Depending on the size of your co-req, you may be able to reach out to each student during the time that you would have been in class. Instead of waiting for students to come to you with questions, check in with them weekly to ask what they’re finding most helpful and most confusing about the week’s materials. Consider giving students the option of communicating with you via email, phone, text, or webcam to make check-ins most convenient for them.
- Find ways to personalize communication and connect with students. Leverage the relationships you have already built with your students. If you joked around with certain students, try to keep things light by using memes or emojis in your communications with them. If you know certain students struggle with anxiety, check in with them about their stress levels. Ask your parent-students about their kids and how they’re managing the workload while schools are closed. Remind your students that you know and care about them – not just as students but as people trying to get through this tense time.
Some of these suggestions will be effective for you, and some won’t make sense in your context. As co-req instructors, we’re familiar with flexibility and personalization. All we can do is trust what feels right to us as we support our students through the end of the semester.
If you have any other suggestions for co-requisite instructors transitioning to an online format, please share in the comments!
Dr. Tina Shanahan is a reading and writing instructor at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Her work focuses specifically on teaching and learning in co-requisite models of developmental education and the integration of reading and writing. She lurks on academic Twitter as @TinaTeachesEngl.