Innovative Teaching During COVID-19 Series: Stacy Smallfield

The Center for Teaching and Learning is highlighting innovative work done by faculty at Washington University in St. Louis during the Spring 2020 semester at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as part of a new web series. Our latest Q&A features Stacy Smallfield, OTD, OTR/L, BCG, FAOTA, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy and Medicine and Assistant Director of Entry-Level Professional Programs.

How did you change your teaching to respond to the pandemic?

I took a critical look at the learning objectives for the course to determine which content and which assignments were essential and which ones were extra. Based on this I streamlined the course to include the essential information. I arranged the content of the course (and therefore the course modules in Canvas) by week. All assignment due dates were at a consistent day and time of the week (i.e. Fridays at 5 PM).

I originally planned for mostly asynchronous delivery of content as I knew that students might have competing priorities that required their attention. I offered course content in multiple formats so students could access it the way it worked best for them. For example, I posted an asynchronous voice-over PPT, but also held a synchronous class session (on Zoom) on the same content. I recorded the synchronous session and posted the recording. Students had the option of getting the material in three different ways.

I enhanced my use of Canvas (for example, organized the course by weeks, clearly labeled each Canvas module by date and then moved that module to the bottom when the week was over so that the current information was always on top where students could easily find it). I sent weekly course announcements on Canvas clearly stating the upcoming learning activities and assignments for the next week. I gave feedback on assignments as quickly as possible so they knew that I was present and engaged in the course and prioritizing their learning.

I was teaching a course that was heavily team-based. Recognizing the difficulty in completing team-based work remotely, I reduced the number of team-based assignments remaining in the course.

What was the result of the changes, if any?

Organization and structure for the students. The intent was to make it easy for them to access the course material so they could spend their mental energy on the content rather than figuring out how to access the content or what the expectations were. (I try to do this in all my teaching, but this becomes more important in remote learning.)

How did students respond to your teaching?

Feedback I received from students was that my format of remote delivery was very organized and clearly communicated. I asked for feedback from students about what they liked and didn’t like about the online delivery and made adjustments based on their feedback. For example, I had a journal club planned as one face-to-face learning activity during the semester. When we moved to remote learning, I had determined this was not an essential learning activity (we had already done one earlier in the semester) so I converted it to an individual activity. Based on class feedback I added synchronous journal club sessions back into the class. I was pleased that the overwhelming majority of students attended the synchronous journal club sessions.

What are you the most proud of?

Receiving student feedback that the course delivery was one of the best they had experienced in the transition to remote learning and that the transition to the virtual environment was transparent, organized, and structured.

What advice would you have for colleagues who need to adjust their teaching due to the pandemic/other unforeseen circumstances?

Keep it simple! Be consistent. Communicate regularly (but don’t bombard students with too many messages). If possible, stick with the tools that you know how to use rather than spending extra time on tools with which you are unfamiliar.