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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.

Smeets, Elke, Kristin Neff, Hugo Alberts, and Madelon Peters. “Meeting Suffering With Kindness: Effects of a Brief Self‐Compassion Intervention for Female College Students.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 70, no. 9 (2014): 794–807. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22076.

Waddington, Kathryn. “Creating Conditions for Compassion.” In The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education. Edited by Paul Gibbs, 49–70. Springer International Publishing, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-57783-8_4.

Amid the intense cultural changes implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19, I, like many others who became full-time caregivers, teachers, coaches, counselors, and nurses for children, younger siblings, and even aging parents seemingly overnight, dreaded the eroding line between work and home. Even though I enjoyed occasionally working from my quiet, carefully curated home office, that space has been invaded. I cringed as I pictured my eight-year-old making his Zoom debut in the adorable but disruptive fashion of professor Robert Kelly’s children.

How can we care for others, meet essential learning goals, reassure students, and maintain personal wellbeing in times of disruption? While this will most assuredly be a difficult transition, there are a few small, adaptable interventions that can make it easier: 

Make a Schedule

Routines can help mitigate anxiety and ensure everything gets done. Make a daily schedule and stick to it as best you can. I suggest actually printing and posting a daily schedule. Google Calendar works well too, but I prefer to have the schedule on the refrigerator and at my workspace. When it is posted, older children, adolescents, or parents can also see what we are doing and when without interruption. 

Here’s the “aspirational” schedule that I use to organize school work for my third-grader: 

While he does self-directed creative time, chores, and reading, I take Zoom meetings, answer emails, research, and write lesson plans. We do outside time and exercise together, which helps us maintain physical and mental wellbeing. Full disclosure: we don’t always stick to the schedule! Things happen, and we have to be gentle with ourselves and make course corrections throughout the day. 

Routines are important for our students too. Even asynchronous learning can be roughly scheduled with deadlines for completing tasks and assignments. Consider implementing a newsletter or agenda for each week. This “one-stop shop” can help students keep track of the course topics, due dates, readings, and appointments. Whatever your strategy, it’s also important to be transparent about your availability and establish mutual expectations.

Create Boundaries 

While we can’t ask infants or toddlers to wait patiently while we finish a Zoom call, it is age appropriate for slightly older children to work independently in the next room. We can also compassionately communicate these expectations with adolescents and parents. This can range from closing the door during meetings with a sign that says what time you will be done to designating and practicing non-verbal cues for when you cannot be interrupted. 

Make liberal use of the mute button on conference calls and Zoom. You can also use earbuds and/or noise-blocking headphones when safe and appropriate. Be prepared for contingencies and make your students and colleagues aware of these. You will definitely be interrupted at some point.

Multi-task When Possible 

It will not be possible for most of us to do one thing at a time all day every day. Although typically multi-tasking is not an effective strategy for productivity, we’re now in a situation that demands we find reasonable ways to both work and manage households simultaneously. Keep your hands free when you can, so you can soothe babies, write notes, and correct assignments while talking on the phone, reading, or grading. You can also engage in quiet activities (like coloring, puzzles, blocks, etc.) with younger children while working. 

If you have an in-home partner or an older child who is able to help, coordinate schedules to facilitate care-sharing routines. I’m not advocating that we outsource responsibilities wholesale, but this is an opportunity for everyone to work together to keep the household running. Make sure that you take turns and divide responsibilities based on availability and type of work. This can also make it easier to work uninterrupted and get necessary rest. 

Take Advantage of Rest Time

At my house, every day at 1 p.m. is D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time. I try not to schedule meetings or instruction during this hour, so that my third grader and I are doing the same thing at the same time. This quiet time is invaluable: we are able to reset and do something we both enjoy. If you have infants or toddlers, you are probably exhausted. Take their nap time or quiet time for your own rest and/or restoration. Chances are, you will work after their bedtime anyway, and a brief rest during the day will make this more tenable. 

This is also a good time to tap into mindfulness resources. If you don’t already have a mindfulness practice, start small. Journaling and focused breathing can help manage anxiety in moments of disruption. These are beneficial to us, our children (who are also experiencing anxiety and fear), and our students. These contemplative practices can help us achieve a deeper understanding and management of our emotions, but they can also focus our attention, and prepare us for learning. If you implement mindfulness into your courses, remember to communicate its pedagogical purpose and the way it fits in with learning goals. 

Connect with a Community 

Arrange virtual playdates for children and younger siblings. Their social time is good for them, but also frees up some time for you to work and rest. Building and accessing caregiver support groups and writing accountability groups online can also help us maintain connections with others in similar situations. If it feels safe, share your family situation with close colleagues and peers. You can even develop some strategies for another person to take over if you have to step away from a call or meeting. 

These principles also translate to pedagogical practices. Our students are facing similar social isolation and missing out on the community they love. Facilitate student-to-student communication as much as much as possible. Providing a collaborative framework through Sakai forums or small group zoom meetings, can help build virtual connections. 

Finally, take care of yourself. 

In moments of disruption, it is easy to fall into hopelessness and allow our inner critic free reign of our self esteem, but we can also use this time to inspire ourselves to overcome internal and external barriers. This is a difficult and disruptive time for everyone, and the best that we can do is to find a new normal. 

Adhering to a routine and making virtual connections are the best things each of us can do to enhance wellbeing. If you’re unsure of what you’re feeling or where to start, take some assessments and develop a self-care routine. It can sometimes take weeks to process our feelings about difficult experiences. Check in with yourself often and reach out when you need it. 

Additional Reading: 

ND Learning – Pedagogical Support for Remote Teaching
ND – Coronavirus Response
The Chronicle of Higher Education – How to be a Caregiver While Caring for Your Own Career
The Wall Street Journal – New Normal Amid Coronavirus: Working From Home While Schooling the Kids


As Notre Dame transitions to temporary online instruction, I want to share five concrete tips that I have learned from teaching online for the past two years.


1. Keep it simple.

Revisit your learning goals and determine the technology that is necessary/available. Use this information to construct a feasible plan. (See here for sample online teaching plans.)


2. Take advantage of Sakai.

Avoid sending your students thousands of emails. Sakai has many useful tools. To view the options, go to your course Sakai page and select Settings → Manage Tools. I highly recommend 

– Lessons for creating content modules and sequences,

– Resources for posting documents, URLs to other websites, etc., and

– Assignments for posting, submitting and grading assignments online.

There are many other useful tools (chat sessions, discussion boards, quizzes and exams), but remember–keep it simple.


3. Apps for uploading student work

This is a big one. The easiest way for students to submit handwritten assignments is to scan the pages and upload it as a PDF to Sakai. There are many free apps that do this, but I recommend Scannable


4. Zoom is easier than you think.

You already have an account, you just need to log in. Click here to get started. Click here for more information.


5. Be clear about expectations and deadlines.

Most of your students have never received online instruction. They are probably getting just as many emails as you are. The most important thing you can do as an instructor is to be explicit about your plan and what you expect from your students. I suggest uploading a short document as an amendment to your syllabus (in Sakai under Resources) or actively using the Calendar and/or Announcements feature.


For more detailed advice and resources, refer to the University’s Instructional Continuity website (prepared by the Faculty Task Force, Notre Dame Learning, and the OIT).

I highly recommend attending the Instructional Continuity workshops or office hours. I have included the workshop titles and descriptions below for your convenience.



Basics of Teaching in Disruption

Are you wondering where to start with moving your class online? Join us for a high-level overview of the process. In this hour, you will begin to reassess course goals, learn a basic vocabulary for remote teaching, and develop strategies for moving your class online.

Asynchronous Teaching Basics

What is asynchronous teaching and how can it work in my class?  Join us for a demonstration on how to post resources, interact with students, and provide feedback outside the constraints of time and place.

Synchronous Teaching Basics With Zoom

Join us for this live (and recorded for future viewing) webinar on how to record and teach in Zoom. This session has four goals: 1) Get basics in creating, joining, sharing, and recording a Zoom meeting with your students. 2) Get familiar with pedagogical principles for using Zoom. 3) Recording a lecture using Zoom 4) Giving faculty the experience as a participant in a synchronous Zoom meeting




As we approach the midpoint of the semester, now is a great time to take stock of how your course is going. One of the best ways to do this is to check in with students. Gathering mid-semester student feedback may seem daunting at first, but there are several good reasons why you should consider it.

First, research indicates that getting feedback from colleagues and students is the best way to improve your teaching (National Research Council 2003). It can also help improve your CIFs: studies have shown that instructors who gather feedback and use it to adjust and improve their classroom practice see higher ratings on end-of-semester evaluations (Huston 2009). But gathering mid-semester feedback doesn’t just help you; it also helps your students. Asking students to weigh in on the class lets them know you are invested in their learning and can lead to higher levels of student motivation and achievement (Jacobs, D. et al 2008 and Feldman, K. 1996). When students have a voice in their own learning process, they are more likely to be invested in that process.

So, how do you gather student feedback? That will depend on your class size and dynamic. You could consider facilitating informal conversations with students individually, in small groups, or all together. But be aware that students may not feel as comfortable or be as honest when sharing comments face to face as they would be anonymously. Another approach might be inviting a trusted colleague into your classroom to facilitate a structured conversation with students about the course and then report back to you. This has the advantage of making students accountable for their comments (they won’t say anything they wouldn’t say in front of others) but still keeping the feedback anonymous—plus, your colleague could get a sense of which suggestions the group broadly supports and which are particular to individual students. Finally, you could design a student survey to be distributed either electronically or on paper. Consider creating a combination of directed and open-ended questions to make space both for your concerns and your students’. 

Once you’ve gathered all this feedback, think carefully about what changes you’d like to make going forward. Ignore outlier comments and concentrate on broad trends in the feedback. And don’t forget to share the results of the evaluation with your students. They’ll appreciate your willingness to make changes based on their input—and it can help hold you accountable for making those changes.

Gathering mid-semester feedback is an important way to help improve your teaching and create a positive learning environment for your students. We hope you’ll consider doing it! You can find some sample evaluations on this Kaneb Center handout and some ideas about gathering early-semester student feedback in a previous blog post. For more information, check out the additional resources below.  


Additional Resources

Angelo, Thomas A. & Cross, K. Patricia. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass Publishers. 

Feldman, K. (1996). Identifying Exemplary Teaching: Using Data. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 65, Spring, 1996, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, Inc. 

Fox, M. and Hackerman, N., Eds. (2003). Evaluating and improving undergraduate teaching in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. (2003). National Research Council. 

Huston, Therese. (2009). Teaching what you don’t know. Harvard University Press.

Jacobs, D. et al. (2008.) Course Instructor Feedback (CIF) A Major Upgrade to the Teacher Course.

Lewis, K. G. (2001). Using Midsemester Student Feedback and Responding to It. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (87).

Overall, Jesse and Marsh, Herbert W. (1979). Midterm Feedback from Students: Its Relationship to Instructional Improvement and Students’ Cognitive and Affective Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology 71: 856-865. 

Rando, W. C., & Lenze, Lisa Firing. (1994). Learning from students: early term student feedback in higher education. University Park, PA: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

University of Illinois Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Teaching Evaluation: Informal Early Feedback.

Educational technologies can be a powerful tool for facilitating learning. However, selecting the right technology can be a difficult task. Options abound, and new resources continue to be developed. This blog post will survey and suggest possible uses for a few current educational technologies for enhancing the face-to-face classroom. 

Google Docs is a flexible platform that allows for real-time cloud-based collaboration. 

Possible uses: 

  • Collaborate on lecture notes
  • Submit discussion questions
  • Brainstorm or reconstruct arguments in-class

Slack streamlines communication with and among students via topic-based channels.

Possible uses:

  • Replace email reminders 
  • Facilitate communication among students for group projects
  • Send direct messages to compliment or check-in on students
  • Share Google Docs 

Twijector projects a real-time feed of Twitter and Instagram posts, filtered by a hashtag.

Possible uses: 

  • Get real-time student feedback
  • Gather reflections to prompt discussion
  • Monitor live-tweeted events in real-time

Zoom is a sleek interface for video webinars, online meetings, and conference calls.

Possible uses:

  • Telecommute guest speakers or traveling students to class
  • Host a review session remotely

Yellowdig is a user-friendly interactive social media discussion board designed to enhance student engagement. The following features distinguish it from LMS-hosted discussion boards:

  • Social media features (@mention other users, hyperlinks embed thumbnail images, share videos, like, love, bookmark, and #hashtag)
  • Gamification (point system)
  • Automatic grading when integrated with the LMS gradebook
  • Analytics dashboard
  • Automated nudging of inactive students
  • Optional anonymous posts
  • Organize content by topic

Given the plethora of educational technology options, it is important for instructors to keep in mind that more is not always better. Instead, begin with the end in mind: using your learning goals as a reference point, carefully consider which educational technologies might help your students learn what you want them to learn. With a small investment of time upfront, instructors can leverage classroom technology to greatly enhance their students’ learning experience. 

Whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, there are always ways in which you can improve your teaching assistant (TA) skills to help your students and you get the most out of your experience. Earlier in the semester I wrote a blog discussing how faculty can build mutually beneficial relationships with their TA(s). This post will focus on the topic from the TA perspective.

A TA experience can vary widely from discipline to discipline and person to person. Some do it out of necessity to fulfill a graduate requirement, while others do it for the love of teaching. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, the following considerations might prove useful for getting the most out of your experience:

Be Enthusiastic and Be Yourself

Do your best to show enthusiasm and grow in your teaching skills; however, always be yourself. Do not try techniques that make you extremely uncomfortable in front of your students.

Reach Out to Your Students

As approachable as you think you may be, the truth is that most students will not go out of their way to contact you with questions. Try to be present and reach out to your students as frequently as possible to indicate your approachability and genuine interest in their success. This might look like frequent visits to lecture/lab, email reminders of office hours or upcoming deadlines, group reviews/recitations, etc.

Work Closely with Your Instructor

Your instructor of record is your ally, not your enemy. Building a relationship with him/her will help you navigate difficulties you encounter throughout the semester and beyond. As with your students, do not expect him/her to take the first step. Be proactive about building this relationship and dialogue from the beginning of the semester. You might consider requesting to meet before the semester starts with a list of questions/comments ready. In addition, you might ask what their preferred method of communication is, or what their semester calendar looks like.

Highlight and Reiterate the Course Learning Goals/ Syllabus

When answering questions and dealing with push-back, lean heavily on the course-wide syllabus and/or learning goals provided by the instructor. These are the foundational building blocks for the course and will provide you with guidance when interacting with students.

Know/Use Your Resources. 

Notre Dame Learning | Kaneb Center offers a number of resources geared towards TAs. A four-week Foundations of Teaching workshop series is offered at the beginning of every fall and spring semester. This series is crafted specifically for first-time TAs. Throughout each semester a variety of additional workshops are conducted covering a wide range of teaching-related topics. The center also offers individual consultations and a new Graduate Pear Observation Program (G-POP).

Another great resource is your fellow TAs!

Seek Feedback

Asking for student feedback on your teaching performances can be one of easiest ways to grow as a TA, and teaching professional in general. In addition, doing this reiterates your genuine interest in your students’ success and helps build a mutual relationship of trust and respect. Beyond your students, ask for feedback from your instructor. This too helps you grow in your duties and builds up your relationship with him/her.

Treat This as Professional Development

Often times TA duties feel like a household chore; however, if you treat them seriously, they can become an important aspect of your professional development (especially if you are thinking about a career with a teaching component). Seek out more responsibilities such as becoming the lead TA for a larger cohort, volunteering to guest lecture, etc. These duties can lead to beneficial lines on your CV, and possibly a future career.

These few tips and resources should help you navigate your duties as a TA and beyond. In addition, they can help you have a positive outlook on your responsibilities. Happy TAing!  

Submitted by:

Carson Running

Ph.D. Candidate, Aerospace Engineering

University of Notre Dame

A major concern for many college instructors is how to grade fairly and efficiently. The simple answer is to employ rubrics. Usually rubrics are defined as a detailed breakdown of point distribution, with evaluative criteria that explains that distribution. More importantly, rubrics help us to clearly communicate focused, meaningful and consistent feedback. Rubrics can also reduce student anxiety by making the parameters of the assignment transparent, and allowing for better planning and execution of the assignment. To better align these advantages, students can even collaborate on rubric design. So what are the advantages of inviting students into that process? 

I began implementing student-generated rubrics in an effort to make my teaching, assignments, and assessments more equitable. Mary-Ann Winkelmes calls this Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT). I introduce the basic principles of assessment early in the semester by teaching students to deeply analyze assignments, reflect on their writing processes, and finally to evaluate their own work. Despite this preparation, when I introduce student-generated rubrics, I often hear variations of: “You’re letting us grade ourselves?!” While this may sound dangerously anti-rigorous, students actually have set very high standards for themselves. With my guidance, we usually find a healthy balance of high expectations and practical criteria. Importantly, I frame this exercise as an ongoing collaborative process. Though some classes respond more positively than others, I have found that the process better prepares students for the assignment and ultimately makes them more active participants in the course work. 

If you’re thinking about introducing a student-generated rubric, here are some things to consider:

Why use student-generated rubrics?
When we create assignments, we are usually communicating certain expectations, purposes, and ultimately goals for students to meet. When students receive that information the responses vary based on transparency, but they generally approach the topic differently than they would if they set their own goals. Inviting students to assist in developing their own evaluation structure can activate meta-cognition, motivation, interest, and performance. 

How do I introduce this?
The key to student-generated rubrics is an early expectation of self-assessment. If students are able to set goals, revise them, and reflect on their own performances, they are primed for the evaluation process. Of course, the success of this type of evaluation depends on the communication of learning goals both for the course and the assignment itself. Clearly communicating these goals and scaffolding assignments will help students to think about the criteria by which the assignment should be evaluated. 

What does this look like in the classroom?
The first step is to revisit your course objectives and the learning goals for the assignment. Make sure that you have clearly stated the purpose of the assignment, it’s learning goals, and the necessary criteria. From there, you can create a preliminary outline with suitable categories for students to fill in. Alternatively, this can be a multi-day process where students read and analyze the assignment itself, generating their own outlines and criteria. You can then review these and synthesize or amend where necessary before asking students to begin filling in detailed criteria. While technology (Google Sheets, Google docs, etc.) makes this collaborative process easier, it can also be done on paper and distributed to small groups. 

What are the outcomes?
If we invite students to the rubric as collaborators, they are empowered to use their own knowledge and experiences to become active stakeholders in their education. Bloom’s Taxonomy places evaluation and creation as the highest levels of knowledge. The experience that students gain from this exercise allows them to move through the hierarchy while simultaneously thinking about their work at various levels. As students gain the ability to judge their own work, they are also learning what it means to evaluate the work of others. Moving beyond the singular goal of an instructor-generated grade, student-generated rubrics show the value of collaboration, process, self-reflection, and yes, evaluation. 

Additional Resources:
Getting Learners Engaged with Student-Generated Rubrics
Berkley Center for Teaching and Learning: Rubrics
TILT Higher Ed


If you find your office overflowing with students or your time dominated by teaching responsibilities, Catherine Sims Kuiper wrote a great blog, Managing Office Hours, focused on setting boundaries, creating structure, and knowing your limits. But what if, like me, you are just struggling to get students to come? 

Here are some things to try:

Tell students what office hours are — not just when they are. Talk about what you hope to get from it, what they can hope to get from it, and why you have chosen to set aside this time specifically for them. 

Pick a convenient time and location. Poll your students to determine the best time for office hours. If your office is on the far side of campus, schedule office hours in the library or the student center (this has the added bonus of being less formal, too). 

Require a visit during the first few weeks. Get students through the door by assigning a small grade (or extra credit) for visiting your office hours. Make it a low-pressure, short conversation about their background, major, interests, etc. Be sure to share about yourself, too! If you make a personal connection first, you will seem more approachable about course content in the future. (Another bonus: getting to know your students makes it easier to learn their names.) 

Designate some “topical” office hours. If you know that students are struggling with a particular section or idea, dedicate an office hour specifically for that topic. For example, in my calculus class, I could title this Thursday’s office hours as “What ARE series, anyway?” This title is not intimidating, suggests that we will likely talk about the theory of convergent infinite series, and does not require the student to come with specific questions.

Remind students often. Continue to let them know that you are available and looking forward to meeting with them. 

Most importantly, be yourself and be welcoming! 

If you have other ideas for getting students to come to office hours, please comment below! I am always looking for more ways to reach students and encourage dialogue.


Additional Resources:

  1. Office Hours: 6 Realities
  2. Why Students Don’t Attend Office Hours




Now that you’re getting to know your students, and their learning habits, on an individual level, it’s a good time to think about how you can foster equitable participation in your course. If you’ve noticed imbalances in your students’ participation levels, it’s best to address those imbalances now, before they become ingrained in your classroom culture. What follows are some tips on how to make sure every student is included in your class discussions and activities. 

Build relationships in the classroom: Students learn better and are more likely to participate if they have made personal connections with their instructor and classmates. Continue to prioritize activities that will build relationships among students, and try to connect with students on a personal level. Learn students’ names and use them in class discussion. (If you have a larger class, consider using name tents.) Take the time to individually congratulate a student who made a perceptive comment; to encourage a quiet student by validating their contributions; or to reach out to a student who seems to be struggling. 

Create an inclusive climate: Students are more likely to participate well in an environment where they feel comfortable. Make sure students know not only that their contributions are valued, but also that variety in student perspectives is welcome and encouraged. Ensure that many different voices are being represented in class discussion, and be aware of how the racial and socioeconomic makeup of your course could affect the dynamics of participation. Take the time to learn about experiences like imposter syndrome and stereotype threat that may limit students’ participation. The more you know about these student struggles, the better you’ll be able to address them.

Democratize the discussion: Large-group discussion is a great way to learn, but it is not equally effective for every student–particularly those students who appreciate the time to formulate their ideas before sharing them. Try breaking up large discussions with think-pair-share activities, small-group work, and time for students to brainstorm or freewrite. If certain students consistently dominate the conversation, consider creating an ultra-structured class discussion that limits who can speak at what time

Ask students to assess participation: Consider soliciting anonymous feedback at midterm about the classroom climate and the extent to which students feel their contributions are welcome or valued. You might also ask students periodically to reflect on and assess their own participation, as a way of encouraging more intentional engagement in classroom activities. 

Helping students develop the habits of good participation is an important part of any successful course. Start your semester on the right foot by building an inclusive classroom that allows each student to participate fully in course discussions and activities. 


Additional Resources

Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill, Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms

Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, the University of Michigan, “Creating Inclusive College Classrooms

Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Brown, “Fostering and assessing equitable classroom participation

Jay R. Howard, “How to Hold a Better Class Discussion

Jay R. Howard, Discussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online 

Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale, “Inclusive Teaching Strategies

Kelly A. Roca, “Student Participation in the College Classroom: An Extended Multidisciplinary Literature Review

Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan, “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive

 Robert J. Sidelinger and Melanie Booth-Butterfield, “Co-constructing Student Involvement: An Examination of Teacher Confirmation and Student-to-Student Connectedness in the College Classroom

Kimberly D. Tanner, “Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity

Thomas J. Tobin and Kirsten T. Behling, Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

Ready or not, the beginning of a new semester is upon us! Have you ever noticed that most students settle into the pattern of returning to the same seats, classday after class day, throughout the semester, even though they chose them randomly on the first day of class? One of the reasons for this is that humans are creatures of habit who tend to gravitate toward the familiar. This underscores the importance of making sure the “familiar” is an environment that is conducive to learning. The beginning of the semester is an especially pivotal time for instructors and TAs to establish expectations for their interactions with their students. Doing so can help us to intentionally establish productive habits rather than falling into potentially detrimental ones. It can also preemptively clear up sources of miscommunication—and the mistrust that such can foment—between instructors and their students.

Establishing expectations need not be daunting. Often, it primarily requires taking the time to think through what your goals are for a course and then identifying the support structures that need to be in place to accomplish those goals. After doing so, it would be a good idea to clarify the following for your students:

  • What can your students expect from you? 
    • How promptly will you start class? 
    • What is the best way for them to communicate with you? How soon should they expect you to reply?
    • What types of assignments will you give? How will you evaluate those assignments?


  • What do you expect from your students? 
    • How do you expect them to behave in class?
    • What are your expectations for student participation? (And how will you evaluate their participation?)
    • How much time do you expect them to spend on homework each week? 
    • What should they do if they need help?


  • What are your policies regarding:
    • Attendance?
    • Tardiness?
    • Eating in class?
    • Using electronics in class?
    • Recording class?
    • Late work?
    • Missing assignments?
    • Missed exams?


In many cases, it will be ideal to clarify these expectations in writing in the course syllabus from the beginning of the semester. If you are TAing, consider developing a policy sheet with expectations that are specific to your section. In addition to this, it may also be helpful to facilitate a conversation about them on the first day of class. And even if the first day of class has already come and gone, it’s not too late! It would likely still be a good idea to distribute written expectations and dedicate some class time to facilitating a conversation about them. It may even be preferable to begin by facilitating a conversation about expectations, and draft the written list of expectations based on it. In either case, intentionally establishing expectations from the beginning of the semester is likely to yield benefits that make doing so well worth the effort.




Carnegie Mellon University. “Examples: Course Policies/Expectations.” Eberly Center. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/syllabus/samples-policiesexpectations/

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