By: Monica Aswani, Andrew Friedson, Melanie
Teaching can be difficult, and it has been doubly so this past year when courses were subjected to a wide number of uncertainties and disruptions due to universities rapidly transitioning to online and hybrid instructional models. The challenging aspects of teaching were exacerbated, often without being offset by a corresponding increase in the rewards of teaching. In addition to difficult teaching conditions, challenges in other parts of professional and personal life such as research disruptions, sudden changes in family responsibilities, and general feelings of impending doom may have made you feel like you could use some extra help and support. The good news is, you are not alone. Rather than venting frustrations by screaming into the void, we would like to invite you to join the Teaching Health Economics (THE) discussion group (although you are certainly still welcome to scream into the void all you want).
Started in 2020 by Beth Munnich (University of Lousiville) as an informal discussion group, THE grew over the past year to over 40 participants. Presently it is managed by Monica Aswani (University of Alabama Birmingham) and Melanie Guldi (University of Central Florida). and the group meets monthly via Zoom. Meetings are a place to share teaching resources, get support from other faculty teaching similar courses, and help others. If you would like to join a meeting, please feel free and welcome to email either Monica Aswani (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Melanie Guldi (email@example.com).
Another outreach/information program that THE organized this past year was a Spotlight Session on teaching challenges during the pandemic at the 2021 ASHEcon meeting (special thanks to Joe Benitez, Andrew Friedson, Beth Munnich, Priyanka Anand, Monica Aswani, Yulya Truskinovsky and Seth Freedman for participating). A consistent and recurring theme that emerged from our planning meetings and this panel was the communication challenges that instructors and students alike faced. Being out of the classroom means that you miss a lot of in-person time (such as the general milling about before class begins and after class ends). This informal unplanned gathering time is when students may feel more comfortable communicating with their instructor and losing that time can discourage many students from reaching out. There is value to finding ways to bake student-instructor communication into the course (whether it be online, hybrid, or in-person).
During the Special Session at ASHEcon, a repeated theme was the shared goal of creating a classroom environment where students can ask questions or solicit extra help as a low-cost activity for the student. Below, we share some best practices to enhance student communication that came out of our group:
- Frequent feedback. Some ideas include having students fill out a 3×5 index card daily, a post on a private discussion board, or a weekly low-stakes (or no-stakes) quiz. For example, Andrew Friedson asks his students questions after each class: What was the most interesting thing today? What concept or material did you struggle with? Is there any additional information you want the instructor to know or concerns you have? He scans the exit cards for patterns (to adjust material) and red flags (for students that need some extra help).
- Building in “casual time” in online synchronous courses where students can have organic conversations with one another and the instructor without any material being presented. This opportunity can be encouraged by saying, “I’ll hang around for 5-10 minutes in the room in case anyone wants to talk about anything” before dismissing the class.
- Breakout rooms to allow conversation. Alternatively (in a course taught either synchronously online or face-to-face), students can be put into breakout rooms during class time and given a prompt that is related to the lecture (or a problem to work on together via a google document). This structured feature gives students a chance to “meet” and discuss the question (and whatever else comes up) when they might not otherwise have a chance to meet their classmates in an online setting (and to nudge them to do so in a face-to-face setting). The instructor can also pop in to meet students in a small group setting, where it might be easier for some students to open up.
- Identify students who are on the margin grade-wise and send them an email to check in. Sometimes they have more going on and may benefit from the targeted communication.
- Bank of responses. Build yourself a word document with answers to common questions that you receive so that you can copy and paste answers into e-mails. The templates not only save you time, but the quick responses can help to put students at ease and mitigate their anxiety about reaching out for help. It also ensures that students are receiving the same, consistent information from the instructor.
The ability to connect with students and build a sense of community in the classroom has always been important. Likewise, the ability for faculty to network, to exchange ideas, and to share lessons learned is an equally valuable contribution to supporting students.
Monica Aswani , Assistant Professor, Department of Health Services Administration, University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Andrew Friedson Associate Professor of Economics, University of Colorado Denver
Melanie Guldi, Associate Professor, Department of Economics. University of Central Florida