Demonstrating Care through Course Design
ISTE Standard for Coaches
This post is related to the following ISTE Standard for Coaches:
7b: Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.
There are a lot of factors in when designing a course that impact a student’s experience. An important value I see that’s needed is care; which must be done with intentionality throughout every aspect of the course.
A Faculty Focus article came through my inbox recently called: Cinderella Deadlines: Reconsidering Timelines for Student Work. The Dr. Spangler (2020) writes: “On the contrary, they seem instead to signal to students that burning the midnight oil is an acceptable model of time management and an ethical boundary to allow in future work settings, even though most professors would not welcome similar parameters on their own working hours.” Perhaps these due dates are not encouraging healthy technology habits after all.
The question I decided to explore this time is:
When designing an online class, what are the elements that should be considered to encourage healthy and positive online experiences?
Excessive Technology Use
There’s a lot of research that shows excessive use of technology can have detrimental effects on a person. With the normalization of screens and our current situation of being online, there’s a lot of concern about how much time is too much time and the effects on students, particularly children who are still developing. In Psychology Today, Shianna Ali, Ph.D., LMHC (2018) talks about how excessive technology use may manifest itself – sedentary lifestyle, impacted vision, being more susceptible to accidents & infections, hindered social skill development or withdrawal, sleep deprivation, or potential psychological impacts – such as well-being, self-confidence anxiety, depression, emotional stability, and even life satisfaction.
How Care fits into the Picture
With all of those concerns on the table, how can teachers begin to address them in their classrooms? I think care is the best place to start. At a minimum, care is a reciprocal relationship between an instructor and student. I think it goes beyond that, it’s an intentional decision to pay attention to a whole person.
In community people care for each other and not just for the community in the abstract, as a whole, as an institution or as an ideal way of life. It is people that matter; to love and care for the people that are there, just as they are. It is to care for them in such a way that they may grow according to the plan of God and thus give much life. And it is not just caring in a passing way, but in a permanent way. Because people are bonded one to another, they make up one family, one people, on flock. And this people has been called together to be a sign and a witness, to accomplish a particular mission wish is their charism, their gift.Jean Vanier (Community and Growth, p. 20)
As Maha Bali notes (2015), showing care is seemingly easier to do in small classes, but on a large scale, daunting to say the least. However, she goes on to write that it’s still possible to care for your students even in large courses like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) by asking – see what’s going on with your students, listening – collect feedback and listen to it, responding – participate and comment on blogs or discussion boards, and sharing – if you want students to share, instructors need to also share about themselves too.
As I reflect more on healthy technology habits, like unplugging (turn off notifications), managing expectations, using social media wisely, being present, and taking time to recharge (American Psychological Association, 2017), a critical look at course components and activities, to see if they’re encouraging healthy use of technology, is needed in order to demonstrate care.
- Reflect on due dates – rather than burning the midnight oil or not sleeping in order to finish an assignment, scaffold assignments and provide enough time to work on assignments so students can still have a normal sleep schedule.
- Create community – it’s important for students to get to know you and each other more on a regular basis throughout each week.
- Reflect on the Faculty to Student and Student to Student interactions that happen in your class and try to create a balance.
- Try making notes about your students, so you can get to know them on a more personal basis.
- Collect feedback – if you can’t see your students and you don’t know how they’re feeling or responding, look for other pieces of data in the systems you use and create opportunities to capture info in other formats.
- Introduce wellness activities & reminders in your course – if you have regular Zoom sessions, create time for breaks, do stretches together or remind students to get up and walk around.
- Remind students to unplug – that it’s okay if they don’t get instant notifications about their grades or the latest thing posted.
- Manage expectations – it’s important to be clear and just regarding decisions made throughout your course.
- Consider creating ground rules for participation in your class sessions and let go of expectations that may hurt students.
These points will help you get started, but you’ll still need to make adjustments because each group of students will be different and bring different experiences to the classroom.
Ali, S. PhD., (2018). Psychology today. Could You Be Addicted To Technology? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201802/could-you-be-addicted-technology
American Psychological Association. (2017, January 1). Connected and content: Managing healthy technology use. http://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-technology-use
Bali, M. (2015). Hybrid pedagogy. Pedagogy of care – gone massive. https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-care-gone-massive/.
Spangler, S. PhD. (2020, September 28). Faculty focus. Cinderella deadlines: Reconsidering timelines for student work. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/cinderella-deadlines-reconsidering-timelines-for-student-work/
Vanier, J. (1989). Community and growth (2nd rev. ed.) p. 20.