Feed on

During the COVID-19 quarantine times, I found myself filling time by playing the video game Celeste. In the game, you climb Celeste mountain as the character Madeline, who is coached along the way to overcome physical and mental challenges and reach her goal: make it to the summit. Each level consists of several short screens which the player must navigate flawlessly in order to progress to the next level. The ascent is full of not only deadly physical obstacles, but also the character’s unwelcomed critical inner voice pulling her down. Beyond the beautiful artwork, the immersive soundtrack, and the meaningful story of the game, Celeste offers an incredible user experience – one that had me relating myself to the learner, and the game to the teacher. No, this post is not a plug for the game; rather it is a story of how we can find parallels to good teaching practices from aspects of our everyday lives. Celeste is a game (course) that teaches the user (student) to play (learn) in an effective, meaningful way. 

The first thing I noticed and appreciated about the game is that if you die before reaching the other end of a screen, you are not punished harshly; you’re simply transported back to the beginning of that screen within seconds of committing your mistake. No cruel taunts, no entire loss of progress, which kept me motivated to continue and to enjoy the game. This design decision speaks volumes to how creating a safe environment to make mistakes helps us learn and grow from them, rather than be ashamed or frustrated by them. Cultivating positive attitudes around making mistakes requires a teacher’s positive attitude and careful use of language. “Be proud of your death count! The more you die, the more you’re learning.” Acknowledging and appreciating intellectual boldness even when a student is wrong, or admitting your own mistakes when they happen are great starts to creating comfortable learning environments. 

Another beautiful aspect of the game is that the gameplay itself teaches the player new mechanics along the way, but not through step-by-step tutorials or demonstrations. Instead, the design of the game encourages the players to learn by gently introducing them to new moves through an immersive experience. This feature reflects the importance of practicing active learning over lecturing alone. For example, a STEM professor could provide an opportunity in class for students to work through a difficult problem that requires more thought than simply reworking previously-presented steps. Students learn better by doing, not by watching. 

The game slowly increases in intensity, building off previously-learned mechanics, much like a well-designed class allows students to gradually master content by building off previously-learned concepts and skills. This feature of the game design leaves players feeling satisfied while looking back to the beginning and reflecting on how much they’ve improved since first picking up the controller. So fittingly titled, the “Reflections” level of the game has the Celeste “students” doing just that: reflecting. Even several levels in, after making significant progress, Madeline hears her inner voice sending doubts her way. She experiences a huge setback after stumbling down hundreds of feet. But with help and encouragement from friends whom she encounters on the mountain, she confronts her doubts and worries, and continues on with more determination than ever. The parallels to pedagogy here highlight the importance of metacognition in the classroom. Having students take time to reflect on their progress, what they’ve learned, and how far they’ve come since the beginning of the semester can boost understanding and confidence. This may take the form of a five minute reflective writing time in class followed by group discussion, or a short written homework assignment. Now, in the middle of the semester, is a great time to incorporate this practice into your course. 

COVID-19 has clearly changed our classrooms—from social distancing and mask-wearing to dual-mode delivery. But how has COVID-19 changed our courses? 

In the following blog post, Judy Ableser of Oakland University recognizes COVID-19 as a relevant, meaningful, and authentic learning opportunity and advocates incorporating it into our courses via intentionally designed assignments and assessments.

Authentic Assignments- Applying COVID-19 into your Courses

By Judy Ableser

We don’t know how this coming year will play itself out, yet we do know that COVID-19 will continue to impact our teaching, learning and life for some time to come.  Consider creating authentic assignments that directly connect your course’s learning outcomes to COVID-19. Authentic Assignments provide rich, meaningful and relevant opportunities in any discipline connected to COVID-19.

Authentic Assignments/Assessments

  • Relevant, meaningful, practical assignments that connect “real-life” situations to the course content
  • Engaging and interesting learning experiences 
  • Authentic Assessments directly measure students’ performance through “real life tasks” or “situations” that resemble “real life situations” (Wiggins, Grant. (1998). Ensuring authentic performance. Chapter 2 in Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 21 – 42.)
  • Often used synonymously with “alternative assessments” or “performance assessments”
  • Examples often include demonstrations, debates, field work, simulations, problem solving
  • Align with learning outcomes of course

How are Authentic Assignments different then Teachable Moments-  teachable moments are unplanned opportunities that arise due to a situation in which the instructors turns the experience into a learning opportunity.  Authentic assignments are planned experiences incorporating “real life” situations into the assessments.  

How to create an Authentic Assessment relating to COVID-19

  1. Begin by designing your course’s learning outcomes as you normally would.
  2. Create Authentic Assignments that align your learning outcomes with COVID-19 topics, issues and themes.  Be creative.  Be interesting.  Be relevant.
  3. Develop rubrics or marking schemes for your authentic assignment.
  4. Introduce and discuss COVID-19 as it relates to your course with your students
  5. Provide current resources and references on COVID-19 for your students to use in their assignments.
  6. Plan for additional “marking time”.  Using the rubric will help make your marking more efficient and effective but will require more time than giving a “traditional test”

Examples of Authentic Assessments relating to COVID-19 by discipline

  • Math- have students predict the spread of the virus based on current trends and statistics. 
  • History- compare previous pandemics to this one. 
  • Biology- analyze and compare the Coronavirus with influenza or other illnesses
  • Chemistry- explore and analyze research being done  vaccinations and treatments for COVID-19
  • Communication and Journalism- analyze different news coverage of the illness.
  • Psychology- have students interview others (virtually) about their stress and coping mechanisms. 
  • Business- analyze the economic impact of COVID-19
  • Nursing- develop strategies to support dying patients and their families when they cannot be together due to COVID-19
  • Nursing- analyze the threat to COVID-19 spread when limited PPE and how to address and reduce the threat
  • Public Health- analyze CDC updates and predictions
  • Social Work- develop strategies and interventions to help reduce domestic abuse due to stress and “stay home orders” during COVID-19
  • Engineering- develop plan for transitioning from building automotive parts to building ventilators
  • Additional Resource with some great ideas- Transforming COVID-19 into Learning Activities  (developed by Nanda Dimitrov Centre for Educational Excellence * Simon Fraser University)

* Today’s blog comes from the 2020-2021 Teaching Messages Collection, a collaboration of over 30 institutions of higher-education. This post is written by Judy Ableser, Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Oakland University.*

Moving Online: Quick Tips

Notre Dame announced last week that due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases on campus it would move all undergraduate instruction online at least until September 2. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Please be kind to yourself, your students, and your instructor this week; it’s a stressful time for everyone. 

What follows are a few things you can do to make the next few weeks (or more) of online instruction better for yourself and your students. 

Clearly communicate expectations: Transparent communication is critical in the online environment. Hopefully, if you’re a TA, you’ve already communicated with your professor about new expectations for your online course and clearly conveyed that information to students. But don’t stop there: be more diligent than usual in reminding students about changes to course procedures, assignment deadlines, and the time and (virtual) place of your office hours. Their minds, like yours, are probably in a hundred places at once right now, and they’ll almost certainly appreciate these reminders.

Check in (and adjust) often: Students, like instructors, are facing unprecedented challenges this semester. So, while it’s important to communicate your expectations to them, it’s also important to check in with students to gauge their current needs. Remember, many students are sick, quarantined, or otherwise distressed; nearly all of them are more stressed than usual. Assess their needs frequently and make appropriate accommodations. Try to remain empathetic and flexible for the next few weeks. The mental and physical health of you and your students should come first. 

Facilitate community building and active learning: In last week’s blog post, Alex Oxner, Assistant Program Director for Inclusive Pedagogy the Kaneb Center, wrote that within the first days of class, “It is crucial that instructors work to generate support systems among their students.” These support systems are more important than ever when classes move online. Make sure you’re taking advantage of online tools to help students build a class community and engage in active learning practices. If your class is primarily asynchronous, consider creating a student discussion board or small study groups. If class is conducted synchronously, make use of the breakout rooms on Zoom to help students connect with one another. 

Use your resources: The Kaneb Center has a number of resources available to support (emergency) online teaching. To start, you can consult this Checklist of Key Steps for Teaching Online, this ND Learning article on Effective Online Teaching, and the Resilient Teaching website.

This semester will feature challenging and uncertain circumstances, so we want to welcome students back to campus by communicating our expectations with care and transparency. This work should begin on the very first day of class as instructors establish new relationships with their students and set the tone for the semester. Whether you are teaching in-person, fully online, or in a dual-mode capacity, the resources below will provide an introduction to designing a safe, inclusive, and interactive first day.

Safety Norms: This semester will require an extra layer of trust between members of the campus community as we all do our part to wear masks and practice social distancing. The first day of class is the perfect opportunity to set the tone for a safe semester that is based in a mutual desire to protect ourselves and our students. Remind students that their physical and mental health are priorities. Consider including a COVID-19 statement in your syllabus and spend time discussing your expectations surrounding this policy on the first day. What should students do if they are experiencing symptoms? Will there be any remote access to your course materials if students are sick or quarantined? How will you maintain social distancing and masking within your classroom? What steps might you take if a student forgets their mask or does not want to comply with social distancing? The answers to these questions will vary depending upon your course goals—think through these concerns and be prepared to address them with your students in order to alleviate any anxiety.

Active Learning and Community-building: In the midst of the presidential election, a racial justice movement, and the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic, student emotions and opinions are likely to be strong. It is crucial that instructors work to generate support systems among their students. One method for building community involves active learning, or engaging students in the discovery of a learning process. This form of discovery “occurs when learners take control” and direct classroom dialogue, partly by understanding that their instructors “value both process and product” (Persellin et al. 2014). Instructors can use the first day of class to model this process by inviting students to share their ideas and experiences.

  • First day icebreaker. Ask your students to participate in an activity that requires them to reveal some of their interests, attitudes, values, or thinking processes. Icebreakers need to remain socially distant, so consider activities in which students can share their experiences verbally or through a written medium (rather than by huddling into groups, passing around a shared object, etc.). For example, students could describe their life as a movie (or book, manga series, etc.) to reveal their creative interests, collaborate to determine how they’d survive together if stranded on an island (pg. 19), or contribute to a class-wide Google Doc in which each student responds to a prompt or question set. When possible, explicitly link the icebreaker to your course material to reinforce the relevance and importance of group discussion. (For instance, in a course on supernatural fiction, I ask my students to tell me about their favorite horror story, myth, or folklore and to explain why they think it is effective. In an engineering course, the instructor may ask students to research articles or pop culture examples about the relevancy of engineering within our current society.)
  • Student information forms. Collecting information about each of your students can help you design a more directed and tailored course that meets your students’ learning needs. Information forms allow students to communicate individually with their instructor about their preferred name, pronouns, major, etc. This semester, you may also consider including questions that prompt students to share potential health or access issues, remote learning needs, and anxieties or special circumstances. Phrase questions as invitations to share information and avoid requiring students to answer all questions (i.e. avoid forcing students to disclose information). For example, rather than stating, “Please tell me about any health issues that may prevent you from attending class regularly,” you may ask, “Do you have any special circumstances you’d like me to be aware of?” Because remote/dual-mode instruction is a possibility, you may also wish to ask your students about their technology needs: “Please tell me which types of technology you will be able to use for this class (smart phone, laptop, headphones, etc.).” If students do not have access to the devices they will need to succeed in your course, direct them to the Office of Student Enrichment.

Student Interaction: By the end of the first day of class, each student should have spoken or interacted with at least one other student enrolled in the course. If possible, facilitate an exchange of contact information by having students share their university e-mail addresses (preferably after they’ve had some time to chat or participate in an icebreaker activity together). Research shows that collaborative learning and social interaction enable deeper thinking on course subjects and generate higher levels of student engagement.

References & Additional Reading:

A Concise Guide to Improving Student Learning: Six Evidence-Based Principles and How to Apply Them, Diane Persellin, Mary Blythe Daniels, and Michael Reder

Collaborative Learning,” Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation

First Day of Class,” Vanderbilt Center for Teaching

How to Teach a Good First Day of Class: Advice Guide,” James Lang

Make the Most of the First Day of Class,” Carnegie Mellon University’s Teaching Excellence Center

Practicing Inclusion: Icebreakers and Team Builders for Diversity,” Stonehill College’s Office of Intercultural Affairs

The First Day—And Beyond,” from Stephanie Chasteen’s How do I help students engage productively in active learning classrooms?

(This post is based upon the Kaneb Center workshop “Setting the tone: Using the first day of class to establish norms for safety, conversation, and community,” facilitated by Alex Oxner and Kristi Rudenga. More resources are available on the Google Slides and Zoom recording.)

End of the Year Round-up

Congratulations! You’ve (almost) made it to the end of what sometimes felt like an apocalyptic semester. Classes are over, and for many of us all that remains is a pile of papers or exams to grade. In the midst of all the end-of-semester chaos, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for all you’ve accomplished in the last few months. We’ve all moved mountains this semester, and it’s important to acknowledge our successes. 

As you wade through that pile of final assignments, you may be interested in our previous blog post on strategies for efficient evaluation. As you receive the results of your CIFs, you may be interested in this post on using course evaluations as a self-assessment exercise. But remember, this has been an extraordinary semester, and we should approach course evaluations with altered circumstances in mind. Your CIFs, like everything else, will be affected by the online transition, so remember to treat them with care and consider only the feedback that is constructive. 

We hope the summer will provide some time for you to catch your breath and also to hone your teaching skills. Consider taking advantage of Kaneb Center resources over the next few months. If you’d like guidance in interpreting your CIFs, designing a course for the fall, or just reflecting on your teaching practice, feel free to schedule an individual consultation. If you’d like to learn more about teaching remotely, consider signing up for our graduate summer course on How to Design Online Courses (GRED 64600). Keep an eye on the ND Learning Pedagogical Support website for our summer pedagogy workshop schedule, which will be announced in early May.

We’ll be back with more blog posts in the fall. Until then, we wish you a restful summer!


Take a minute to visualize your students studying. What do you expect them to be doing? If you were to make a study guide for your students, what would it look like? What skills or processes do you expect to be automatic? What concept is usually the hardest for students? How do you classify content and draw connections among ideas? 


In my mathematics courses, I receive many requests from students for “formula sheets” and “study guides”. This happens every semester, like clockwork, so last year I implemented a midterm exam wrapper to determine how my students prepare for exams. I was shocked to find out that some students study for math tests by just re-reading their notes. It was then that I realized the importance of modeling effective, discipline-specific study practices.

To be sure, there are scientifically proven good study habits (like minimizing distractions, getting enough sleep, testing yourself, teaching others the material, etc.) that we can all share with our students. But there are also practices that are especially effective for our disciplineand this is the subject of today’s blog post.

As an example, I’d like to share a few of the practices that I model and activities that I encourage students to do as they study for my calculus courses.


Revisit big ideas and classify course content. It’s easy for students to lose sight of the big picture and, as a result, students often struggle to see how topics are related. Before an exam, I dedicate 10-15 minutes of class time for reflection, recall, and the creation of a simple concept map.

Provide a fill-in the blank study guide. This is a great way to provide structure for student studying while still allowing for the benefits of note-taking. For each topic, I ask my students to fill in (i) the formula, (ii) the main idea, (iii) a connection to another concept, and (iv) an example problem.

Encourage repetition. For some computations and processes, practice makes perfect. I encourage my students to go back and work through old homeworks and quizzes with our concept map in mind and their study guide in hand. Not only does this promote proficiency and automaticity, but also metacognition.

Create a practice exam. This requires some extra work on my part, but is important for reducing test anxiety. Distributing a practice exam allows students to predict the structure, level of questions, and time constraints of the actual exam. And, of course, a practice exam is an opportunity for more practice.


As we approach finals week, I encourage you to think about what study practices are most effective for your discipline and to share them with your students.


The sudden shift to online learning can deepen existing inequalities.The digital divide (uneven distribution and access to technology) combined with the implications of a global pandemic for different socio-economic and racial groups means that many students will be disproportionately affected by the shift to remote work. For instructors, this means that we need to think about logistical and technological concerns as inseparable from pedagogical ones. Considering all of the factors that may be affecting student performance also means curating an inclusive pedagogy that prioritizes equitable access to the learning environment. 

Inclusive pedagogy asks us to consider how we can help all students succeed. Facilitating inclusion in the physical classroom often means creating spaces where students feel valued and included, setting clear expectations, and making learning and assessment accessible to all students. Though the online shift can complicate these strategies, the principles remain the same. Adapted to online teaching contexts, inclusive teaching and learning requires transparency, accessibility, and flexibility.


Clearly communicating the rationale behind instructional choices can motivate students to learn and make them more successful. However, the additional challenges of remote learning make it even more important to be mindful of hidden curricula and expectations we may take for granted. As such, we must make sure that we are not making any unnecessary assumptions about what our students know and what they are able to do. Inclusive strategies center transparency through clear, shared expectations for students and instructors. 


Students working from home may not have access to stable, high-speed internet service or top of the line software and hardware, and/or they may have to share bandwidth and devices with parents or siblings who are also required to work from home. Students who rely on mobile devices may have data plans that run low or run out before the end of the semester. Unfortunately community-based resources that we may want to direct students to, like libraries and coffee shops, are probably closed now due to state and local regulations. For students with disabilities, remote learning can be even more difficult. 


Equitable and inclusive teaching means working with the diversity of students across multiple dimensions. Right now, that means also considering the varied ways that their lives are disrupted. As we adjust to the new normal of remote teaching and learning, it is important to be as flexible as possible. We can accomplish this by adjusting our approaches to teaching: Consider balancing synchronous and asynchronous tools and course materials so that students have multiple points of access, re-center active learning strategies, provide multiple means of assessment and evaluation, and allow students–within reason–flexibility to meet deadlines. 

More tips for increasing equitable access: 

  • Survey students about their needs and wellbeing
    • Ask students about technology, availability, and anything else they would like you to take into consideration
    • If you have a student who anticipates or who has demonstrated accessibility concerns, ask them what they would need in order to participate more fully in the course or submit work
    • Use the results to inform your decisions about the course
  • Consider the Universal Design for Learning framework
    • Use the results from surveys to inform your decisions about the course: revisit your goals, materials, methods, and assessments, and make sure they are accessible to everyone
    • Create flexible paths of learning for each student to progress
  • Ensure lectures and synchronous sessions are accessible 
    • Record live sessions to be uploaded to Sakai or emailed 
    • Create captions on videos
  • Ensure asynchronous and other written materials are accessible
    • PDFs are generally more accessible for students with disabilities who may rely on screen-readers, and more accessible on mobile devices
    • Work with the library and bookstore to make texts accessible to students who may not be able to afford the necessary materials
  • Provide opportunities for low tech and alternate assignments 
    • Offer flexibility or alternatives to students when access is an issue 
    • Create a menu of options for students to choose from in order to meet assignment and course learning goals
  • Solicit feedback on online instruction
    • Ask students what is working for them and what isn’t
    • Students are well-placed to assess their abilities 

Inclusive environments value and include everyone. During this unpredictable time, everyone will experience high levels of stress and anxiety stemming from physical, emotional, cognitive, and financial challenges. Students and instructors alike will be significantly impacted by this disruption, which can have a negative impact on motivation and performance. Students will be affected in ways they may not even wish to share. So when possible, offer all students the benefit of compassion and understanding with deadlines, workloads and the necessary time to adapt to our ever-changing environment. 

Additional Resources: 

Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments
Inclusion, Equity, and Access While Teaching Remotely
Accessible Teaching In The Time Of Covid-19
An Equitable Transition to Online Learning: Flexibility, Low Bandwidth, Cell Phones, and More
You Have to Put Your Class Online: Simple Things to Think About
Reflections by Dr. Jason Petrulis 

This post was adapted from a Kaneb Center mini-workshop. For additional resources, suggested reading, and sample rubrics, check out the mini-workshop presentation slides, as well as this Kaneb Center presentation on creating and using class-based discussion boards

Now that classes have moved online for the remainder of the semester, many instructors have implemented online discussion boards as a course requirement. But it can be tricky to evaluate student participation on these boards, especially for instructors who have little experience with them. What follows are some tips about how to assess online discussions. 

Establish expectations and craft a rubric: Before you begin grading discussion boards, you’ll want to be clear, both to yourself and your students, about the purpose of the discussion board. How does the board fulfill your learning goals? What are the ideal learning outcomes for your students? Let these questions guide your evaluation criteria, and make sure those criteria are communicated to students as early as possible. Consider creating a rubric to share with students that clarifies both the quantitative and qualitative expectations for student participation in the discussion board or forum. 

Prioritize quality of engagement: While your rubric should include quantitative elements and objective measures—like post frequency, post length, and timeliness—make sure to emphasize qualitative ones as well. Discussions might be graded on elements like the demonstration of critical thinking; strength of argument, analysis, or interpretation; use of evidence; and application or synthesis of concepts. Likewise, though considerations like grammar and mechanics are important, the point of these boards is to help students exercise their skills in higher order thinking. Make sure your rubric prioritizes and rewards this kind of substantive student engagement. 

Prioritize interaction and collaboration: Discussion boards work best when students substantively engage not only with the discussion prompt but also with their fellow classmates. Make sure your rubric evaluates students in part on the frequency and quality of their interactions with others. Productive interaction doesn’t always come naturally to students, so consider providing frameworks that help them learn to advance the conversation. For example, you might ask students to respond to each other using a 3CQ, in which each student’s reply must include a compliment, a comment, a connection (3C) and a question (Q).

Keep feedback and grading simple: If you have a large number of students posting to a discussion board every week, it can be difficult to provide frequent individualized feedback. Instead, you might try providing collective feedback for students. Have a class conversation early in the process about participation in the discussion boards: what’s working and what could use improvement? To give students some ideas about how to improve their participation, you might also consider allowing them to evaluate their own contributions according to a set of criteria you provide. When it comes to grading, keep your systems as simple as possible: consider credit/no credit grading; roll discussion boards into a holistic participation grade; or use a simple points scale. 

Discussion boards can be tricky to evaluate, but they’re great tools for developing higher order thinking skills and for building classroom community. With a little thought and planning, you can create a set of evaluation criteria that not only make grading easier but also help your students realize these goals.  

With the recent move to online teaching and news about student grades, the following article written by Judy Ableser might serve as a useful reminder of one of our foundational goals for teaching – Mastery Learning.

Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn: Mastery Learning


Almost forty years ago when I began teaching special education students, we used a model called FIE (Feuerstein’s Instructional Enrichment) (1980; 2004) which focused on helping students see their learning mistakes and guiding them through prompts to relearn or correct the concepts and skills. Years later while observing a student teacher in a classroom, I saw the following poster repeated all along the wall of the classroom: “Mistakes are opportunities to learn”.

Our goal as professors is to ensure that our students master the content and skills (or learning outcomes). Why is it then that we focus more on the grade and not the mastery of the content? Mastery learning ensures that a student has “mastered” a certain level of success prior to moving on to a next level. Feedback, scaffolding and opportunities to relearn and revise are central to the process (Guskey, 2009).

If a student gets a low grade in an assignment or a test but then demonstrates that they have analyzed where went wrong, how to correct their mistake, relearn the material, revise their work, and master the concepts prior to the end of the semester, shouldn’t we acknowledge that with an improved grade? Intensive writing courses frequently use this approach as part of the writing process by having students submit drafts, receive feedback and then revise their work. Graduate students always get feedback on each chapter and revise their work before their dissertation is approved. How can we apply this into other disciplines including STEM courses? Not only will students feel successful because they will earn a higher grade, but we as instructors can feel successful, knowing that by the time the student has completed the course, they have mastered the concepts and skills necessary to move on to the next level.

Suggested Practice

  1. Create a culture and learning environment that values and rewards students for mastery learning and learning from their mistakes. Post signs such as “Mistakes are opportunities to learn”.
  2. Share personal experiences that highlight times that you as an instructor were not initially successful but that you persisted, analyzed what you did wrong and learned from your mistakes. Have students share similar experiences.
  3. Provide assignments and assessments that allow for feedback, analysis of mistakes and revision.
  4. If you give tests, take them up in class and review common patterns of mistakes that students tend to make. Discuss what the mistake was and how this can be corrected.
  5. In smaller classes, work individually with students to diagnose how and why mistakes were made and guide students on how to correct the problems.
  6. Give students an opportunity to retake a different test or assignment that covers the same concepts or skills.


Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, S., Falik, L & Rand, Y. (1979; 2002). Dynamic assessments of cognitive modifiability. ICELP Press, Jerusalem: Israel

Feuerstein, R. Rand, Y., Hoffman, M.B., & Miller, R. (1980; 2004). Instrumental enrichment: An intervention program for cognitive modifiability. Baltimore, MD. University Park Press. 48

Guskey, T.R.(2009). Mastery Learning in 21st Century education: A reference handbook, vol 1 ed. T.L. Good. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Developed and Written by:

Judy Ableser

Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Oakland University

Submitted by:

Carson Running

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

University of Notre Dame

As we continue adapting to remote learning for the second half of the semester, the Kaneb Center would like to help equip you to navigate this transition well. Hopefully, you are now feeling more comfortable with the various platforms, such as Sakai and Zoom, that you are using to teach your class. Now is an opportune time to pause to consider how you might use those platforms to communicate compassionate concern for your students as they navigate this transition as well. We recommend the following strategies not only because they are likely to improve your relationship with your students, but also because they are likely to make you a more effective online instructor and improve your students’ learning experience.

Compassion, at its core, is a social and relational emotion based on a sense of connectedness and concern with the prevention, alleviation or elimination of suffering in others. The following four guiding principles, and accompanying strategies, are ways to implement compassion in an online pedagogical context. 


One vital way to exercise compassion is to be transparent about new expectations for your classes, labs, or discussions. Things to clarify include: 

  • Altered learning goals
  • Grading, evaluation, and assignments
  • Synchronous vs. asynchronous contact
  • Attendance and participation

Another way to be transparent is to communicate with students as early as possible to check in and find out what they need. You might ask questions such as: 

  • Are they in different time zones?
  • Do they have access to computers, webcams, and the Internet?
  • Are they missing materials or resources? 
  • Do they have any past experience with online learning?
  • What will they need from you to succeed in this class?
  • Do they have other extenuating circumstances they’d like to share with you?


A helpful first step toward exercising empathy is to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and share your own struggles (within reason). Assure your students you’re willing to work with them. Consider creating space for them to share struggles, strategies, and resources as they transition to online distance learning. You might also consider incorporating mindfulness practices into instruction. Finally, where appropriate, you might refer students to mental health service resources and accessibility services where appropriate. 


If you’re the instructor of record, be as flexible as possible with course requirements, activities, assessments, and deadlines. If possible, mix synchronous and asynchronous methods, to accommodate different students’ needs. Be willing to change your methods if something is not working and provide alternatives for students unable to fulfill the stated requirements. In general, it’s a good policy to give students the benefit of the doubt right now. Make materials, resources, activities, and assessments as accessible as possible. 


A helpful way to make your course as accessible as possible is to incorporate frequent comprehension checks and opportunities for students to ask questions. It’s also a good idea to request student feedback on online instruction and make yourself available via virtual office hours and email. Give your students frequent reminders that you’re here to help. You might also consult the following accessibility pages.

Exercising compassion in an online pedagogical context can be challenging, but by intentionally implementing some of these strategies, instructors have the ability to improve the educational experience for everyone. 



This blog post is adapted from the Notre Dame Learning Kaneb Center “Compassionate Communication in Times of Disruption” Zoom Workshop by Emily Pitts Donahoe and Dominique Vargas. As mentioned in that workshop, additional resources include the following. 


Sara Bea Accessibility Services: https://sarabea.nd.edu/faculty-information—resources-for-online-accessible-courses/

Zoom’s Accessibility page: https://zoom.us/accessibility/faq

University Counseling Center: https://ucc.nd.edu 

Notre Dame COVID-19 Response: https://coronavirus.nd.edu 

Notre Dame Instructional Continuity page: https://coronavirus.nd.edu/instructional-continuity/ 

Notre Dame Learning Pedagogical Support for Remote Teaching: https://sites.google.com/nd.edu/nd-learning/ 

Notre Dame Care Consultants: https://care.nd.edu/


Suggested Reading

Federico Perelmuter, A Brief Letter to an Institution that Believes Extensions are the Accommodations We Need Right Now

James Lang, Turn Your Classroom Irritation Into Compassion

Michelle D. Miller, Going Online in a Hurry 

Martha Caldwell, How to Listen with Compassion in the Classroom

Four Part Nonviolent Communication Process, NVC

Gozawa, Joanne. “Contemplative Pedagogy and Compassionate Presence.” In Contemplative Learning and Inquiry across Disciplines. Edited by Olen Gunnlaugson, 341-360. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014. muse.jhu.edu/book/34066.

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