This summer marked a decade since the US entrepreneur and software engineer Marc Andreessen famously predicted that “software is eating the world”.
When I was a graduate student in the late 1990s, the North American labour market was undergoing a profound (albeit gradual, in modern terms) shift. A still nascent but booming internet economy, expanding international trade agreements and the offshoring of industrial jobs led to mass factory and plant closures.
“Do we really have to attend your diversity training?” challenged one member of faculty after I announced that we would be making justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (Jedi) education mandatory for all members of search committees.
“I mean, we can do all the training we want. The problem isn’t us; the problem is that there isn’t a pipeline for women and scholars of colour in our discipline,” he continued.
As we begin to emerge out the other side of the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that a large and growing demographic of adult learners − historically underserved by traditional higher education − was disproportionately affected.
While they strive to complete degrees and credentials while re-entering or navigating the workforce, many find that colleges and universities are ill-equipped to respond to their needs. This ongoing demographic shift comes as no surprise, so why has the sector been so painfully slow to react?
This past year has emphasised the value of community. In higher education, many students and instructors struggled with a sense of isolation from their peers and colleagues when institutions adopted remote and virtual settings at the start of the pandemic. While academic advisers are not often in the spotlight, they play a vital role in bridging the gap between student and institution and in helping students feel part of a broader learning community. Feeling connected – that is, being “seen” and “heard” – is critical to student success.
I taught my first university course as a second-year graduate student. Luckily I’d just finished a graduate teaching seminar that we were required to take in the psychology department. In that seminar, we learned the fundamental aspects of HE teaching. One of the principles stressed was that we were to treat every student the same. The instructor told us it would inevitably turn out bad if we allowed one student to make up an exam and not another student or allowed only some of our students to turn in work late.
When a home is constructed from stone, the cornerstone is the first stone to be laid. It orients the placement of all that follows. It can’t be added on later. The same is true of a pedagogy of kindness. It can’t be a checklist that is pasted over a syllabus that already exists – it needs to be foundational to course design and central to an instructor’s teaching practice.
The sudden change to teaching online required faculty to be nimble and to learn new technology very quickly, bringing a multitude of stresses. A personal challenge for me was the amount of time it took to convert my “chalk talk”-style lectures to something such as PowerPoint that was more amenable to online delivery. Calculation-based courses such as chemistry, physics and mathematics necessitate students seeing problems worked out step by step.
Here are 11 tips for teaching challenging courses that need step-by-step instruction online: