Spotlight on Teaching and Learning: Fall 2020 Reflections from UC Berkeley Educators

February 12, 2021

At the end of the Fall semester, we shared a “Spotlight on Teaching and Learning” featuring strategies for reflective teaching. In this post, we also solicited reflections and insights from our UC Berkeley teaching community. Many wonderful ideas and considerations were submitted. In perusing the responses, we identified three themes that surfaced across multiple reflections. For each theme, listed below, we compiled a couple of representative quotes and some resources for further exploration.

Theme 1: Fostering Student Engagement

Student engagement in remote classes has been a recurring topic of discussion in academic communities and the Fall 2020 reflections were no exception. How do we incorporate opportunities to support students as active participants in their learning, leverage peer interaction, and promote reflection? 

“What worked well: Breakout rooms! Having Zoom sort them randomly into discussion groups of 4 or 5 students (5 minutes discussion; 5 minutes report back to the whole class) until they all got to know each other.”

“Ask more questions during lectures! I always think I could do more of this with clickers in class, and tried to do it with Zoom and pre-recorded videos. But MORE! Ending videos with "cliff hangers" about questions helps students think about the content more. Asking more questions than you think you need while over Zoom is really helpful just to break things up more than normal.”

“Think well in advance about different techniques -- and fallback techniques -- for keeping students engaged, keeping them doing the reading. They will drift away unless their engagement is constantly reinforced.”

A few resources for further exploration:

Theme 2: Communication and Connection

In the absence of the same in-person class interactions, some colleagues highlighted the ways in which they aimed to connect with students. This included mechanisms for explicit communication about course logistics and materials, as well as opportunities to acknowledge student struggles and their experience as learners outside of the classroom.

“A colleague had suggested a weekly announcement, providing (in one spot) links to lectures, discussion sections, readings for the week, assignments for the week, additional items of interest (e.g., internship opportunities), etc. This was a fabulous idea. Students loved having everything in one weekly synopsis, and it reduced students' administrative email queries.”

“Get all the help you can learning various platforms to connect students and challenge isolation. Acknowledge students' feelings and real crisis. Provide links and phone numbers to counseling/support services. Encourage students to raise their personal concerns, whether about academics or personal life circumstances.”

A few resources for further exploration:

Theme 3: Technology Considerations

Multiple colleagues referenced how they approached the use of technology in their remote instruction practices. Reflections highlight the benefits of incorporating brief, segmented videos to sustain student engagement and leveraging a “keep it simple” approach to technology.

“Prepping to make videos is challenging, but breaking components down in smaller chunks is helpful! It makes it easier to "recover" if you mess up a recording or need to reschedule, and smaller videos can be more easily reused. But also, hold live class! For the students that want to be there live, they really seem to benefit.”

“Simplify the technology. There is the temptation to introduce many applications and choices into the course to turn the whole ordeal into a media lab. I advise against this, because while it is tempting to excite them with possibilities, it distracts students from focusing on orthodox research skills that actually do not change very much pre or mid or post-pandemic. When you find some media that work, stay with it and refine it to make it better, and develop a [routine] so that students do not get confused with having to adjust to new platforms every week. The students believe in their own learning and in the success of the course. If you are unsure about something, just keep moving forward and focus less on technical details and more on their learning, but make sure that the technical issues are in place for all the major assignments. In my teaching philosophy, I believe that most of the assignments should be about a specific learning objective; thinking about this aspect and using any of the media tools at your disposal to get there will lead to a successful outcome that will be evidenced in their papers/assignments.”

“I use power-point presentations for each class. I also showed video clips of films or documentaries at the beginning of each class that supplemented what the power-point would discuss. [In one session], I provided visual content along with commentary, and gave students the opportunity to respond to questions I posed, and posted their responses in the power-point. It resulted in active participation, and almost 100% attendance at every class session.”

A few resources for further exploration: