1. Organize your course effectively.
Create a clear syllabus and a well-designed Canvas (or other) site. Remember that your Canvas site guides your students through assignments and course structure. Therefore, rather than conceiving the syllabus as a discrete document, construct your Canvas site with greater specificity about each task/reading/assignment. List all readings and necessary resources and include well-defined assignments. Faculty must set precise goals for the course and be clear about expectations.
Give students access to all course materials at the beginning of the semester, to the extent possible, and communicate any changes to course materials or assignments as early as possible. This will help students plan ahead.
Design assignments that allow students to accomplish regular and consistent work over the course of the semester, even if there is a large assignment at the end of the course. Try also to include some lower-stakes assignments along the way.
2. Communicate your expectations clearly and consistently.
Consistent, transparent and regular communication about expectations, assignments, and deadlines will help all of your students. Review the goals for your course and emphasize key requirements. Identify for students the objectives that you are setting for them.
- Be sure to maintain regular, in-person, virtual, lab, or other meetings. Make it clear when you are available and when and how students should contact you.
- Decide what you want students to accomplish in terms research and writing. Will there be multiple options? What degree of flexibility will you allow?
- On what schedule do you expect progress to be made? When working with graduate students, consider asking for regular, short written or oral progress reports and provide feedback. Create a structure that enables you to set goals to be achieved, e.g., pre-meeting summary of key tasks; pre-meeting report on accomplishments, obstacles, questions for discussion. (These can be very brief.)
Be responsive to students’ concerns about the job market, work-life balance, time to degree and other issues that arise. Advisors should always address these with students, but as a graduate teacher, you can also lend important perspectives. Inform students of campus resources for wellness as well as where to find the latest information about Penn’s response to COVID-19.
3. Maintain flexibility
In graduate courses, like undergraduate ones, it remains crucial to respond nimbly when elements of a class may or may not be working well. Keep your core learning objectives, but be flexible and if possible, build in multiple options for how students can meet them. You may choose to let students know what standards/requirements/assignments you view as critical and must be carried out in a particular way, and those areas where options might be available.
Consider having members of a seminar, lab or cohort form sub-groups with 2-3 people to check in on each other regularly. They could read together, formulate questions, craft brief presentations, or do whatever applies most beneficially to your particular course. Checking in with each other should be about research, but can also offer mutual support, which you should encourage.
4. Establish modes of accessibility and set clear boundaries
Students need to know how and when they can contact you. You should provide detailed instructions about modes of communication, while setting clear boundaries so as to maintain your own time structures.
Consider these questions:
- How do you plan to communicate with students—individually and/or in groups? ( In person? Email? Zoom? Slack? Phone? Facetime? Skype?)
- How often can students expect to hear from you? Schedule regular check-in times for one-on-one meetings.
- How often do you want to hear from your students for check-ins and progress updates?
- Will you have open office hours or a sign-up mechanism? Just inform them of your process and stick to it.
5. Find ways to create a sense of community.
Consider strategies that foster a sense of a sense of collegiality and rapport among students and with you. For example, spend time introducing yourselves in more than a cursory way at the beginning of the semester; plan some early small projects that enable students to get to know one another, and continue those through the semester. There are many other strategies to achieve these goals.