A Message from the CFI and Libraries to Academic Unit Heads 

Your colleagues in Libraries and in the Center for Faculty Innovation (CFI) are positioned to assist you and your faculty as we navigate teaching under extraordinary, even tumultuous conditions. What follows is a compilation of resources, including excerpts from the Teaching Toolkit devised by colleagues across the University. Through late summer into the start of the academic year, our units will unfold an array of workshops, roundtables, and institutes designed to support faculty. We offer 1:1 CFI consultations, 1:1 Libraries consultations, departmental consultations, and joint office hours (with instructional technologists from Libraries and educational developers from the CFI) for instructional faculty.

A. I. Intentional Thinking about Teaching Choices

What follows is a compilation of adaptive teaching perspectives, practices, and choices that may be utilized to guide discussion within academic units. Recognizing the situational complexity of each department and field, particularly amid COVID-19 circumstances, this is not to be read as a prescriptive list, but as a grouping of diverse perspectives on good teaching that also align with JMU’s vision and mission. Further, these perspectives, grounded in the literature, supersede context so as to guide face-to-face, blended, and online learning environments. Review this Guide to Quality Teaching, created by JMU faculty Andreas Broscheid and Emily Gravett, for more information.

1. Situational factors influence the learning environment.

Each learning environment is different; Fink (2013) uses the term “situational factors” to summarize the context that is relevant for learning. Such factors include: characteristics of the learners (e.g., educational background, demographic makeup), characteristics of the teacher (e.g., experience, educational background, identity), nature of the subject (e.g., disciplinary approaches, spaces, signature pedagogies), institutional parameters (e.g., class size, load, departmental culture, online pivoting), and learning environment factors (e.g., online connectivity, distancing protocols, learning devices).

2. Well-aligned courses provide fertile ground for student learning and development.

The main idea behind constructive alignment (Biggs 2003) is that the central elements of an educational experience— learning outcomes and objectives, assessments, and learning activities—are aligned. If students complain that a test was nothing like what they learned in class, for instance, this can be an indicator that the assessment (i.e., the test) and the learning activities were about different things: that is, they were not aligned. Through constructive alignment:

  • The overall design of the course can be made not only evident, but transparent, to students;
  • Learning outcomes articulate to students what they will know, do, and become;
  • Instructional materials (e.g., syllabus, assignments, activities) enable students to achieve stated outcomes;
  • The syllabus should be a powerful (and inviting) communication tool, in both tone and content;
  • Transparency in assignment design (e.g., stating the purpose, task, and criteria for success) is recommended, particularly for diverse and underrepresented learners.

Note: As an important counterpoint, some instructors (e.g., those teaching graduate learners) may construct courses where learning outcomes emerge, and are not prescribed.

3. Well-designed courses are attuned to accessibility and usability for all learners.

We can plan for diversity in advance, without waiting for an individual student to disclose the need for an accommodation, by attending to the principles of universal design (UDL). These entail: 1) equitable use, 2) flexibility in use, 3) simple and intuitive, 4) perceptible information, 5) tolerance for error, 6) low physical effort, 7) size and space for approach, 8) a community of learners, 9) instructional climate. Although often associated with increasing access and removing barriers, authors such as Tobin and Behling (2018) argue that UDL works as a broader diversity framework to education too: as they say in their title, “reach everyone, teach everyone.” Considerations also include:

  • Using UDL principles to guide how the course syllabus and other course materials (e.g., through the University learning management system and other online tools).
  • Utilizing the learning management system and resources, such as these quick steps, to ensure students can access and navigate learning content and activities.
  • Articulating a course schedule that provides clear context and details related to the learning environment. This will be especially critical if the course is facilitated in a hybrid or HyFlex mode with some sessions held online and others held face-to-face.

4. Student engagement with regular, substantive interaction is pivotal. 

Higher education has a long tradition of great lecturers and lectures. At the same time, lectures may be less effective when it comes to achieving the higher-order learning outcomes that necessitate practice and feedback. Still, the lecture can be used, effectively, to summarize information, provide overviews, or convey enthusiasm for the subject matter. This in mind, the lecture should make use of practices known to be effective for learning, such as brevity, clear structure, repetition of main points, and opportunities for active-learning. It is possible to employ think-pair-share activities, brief reflective writing exercises, muddy point discussions, or other short “classroom assessment techniques” (Angelo & Cross 1993) and “learning assessment techniques” (Barkley & Major 2016).

Student engagement may also feature practices drawn from pedagogies like Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Team-Based Learning (TBL), Service-Learning/Community Engagement (S-L/CE), etc. Most active learning approaches are cooperative or collaborative—they engage students in interaction with each other. Behind the various pedagogical approaches is the notion that good teaching engages students in regular, substantive interaction with their peers and with the instructor. Providing frequent communication and feedback to students on a regular basis is critical (e.g., responding to student questions, facilitating group discussions).

B. Timely Tools

A subgroup of the Academic Affairs Infectious Disease Response Team (AAIDRT) has compiled an online Teaching Toolkit, which seeks to provide faculty with a list of links to some of the most important tools related to teaching during the pandemic. The Toolkit is not an exhaustive list of resources, but rather a first stop. The Toolkit will be updated on a regular basis as better tools, more resources, and better informed policies become available. Below, we have excerpted facets of the Toolkit relevant to the AUH role; please view the full resource for additional tools.

Teaching Guides

Additional Opportunities and Resources

Accessibility in Course Design
Classroom Technology
Course Management


Classroom Safety

Equitable Pedagogy
Anti-Racist Pedagogy
Inclusive Teaching
Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

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