Managing Stress in the Transition to Online Teaching

Managing Stress in the Transition to Online Teaching

The COVID-19 pandemic is a world-wide problem that is having profound impacts on the education system. So far, more than 1.1 billion students have been affected by campus closures. With numbers that extreme, it’s no surprise that digital learning has seen a surge of growth in recent months.

Colleges and universities in particular have been scrambling to implement new instruction methods. While elementary and secondary education have to confront their own struggles, universities face the very real threat of losing significant portions of their student bodies. Finding methods to provide academic continuity are key to keeping students engaged and learning of their own volition.

The transition to online learning won’t necessarily be smooth for everyone. The process of changing the entire academic structure from in-person to online classes often leads to new anxieties, concerns, and challenges. Managing these new stresses effectively will help students and faculty alike succeed in their new academic environment.

The Emotional Challenges Educators Face in the Transition

Overwhelmingly, educators and faculty are reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety. Most educators were given mere days of notice about the transition to digital classrooms. Developing a curriculum for an online course is a serious undertaking under normal circumstances. Add to that the stresses of a global pandemic and middle-of-the-semester transitions and it’s unsurprising that many educators have voiced feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. 

Several studies have revealed just how severe the emotional toll on US educators really is. At the end of March, a team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, alongside the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), launched a survey about the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis. In just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded.

According to the survey, the top five feelings among educators were:

  1. Anxious
  2. Fearful
  3. Worried
  4. Overwhelmed
  5. Sad

Anxiety was by far the most frequently mentioned emotion. Educators are worried they do not have enough support as they face the same global stresses as everyone else.

It is important to remember that educators are just as important as their students. It becomes much more difficult for an educator to help their students if they themselves are struggling. Resources that help educators will help their students too. By comprehensively supporting educators as they navigate this time of stress, it becomes possible to make a smoother transition to online learning.

Adapting to Unfamiliar Digital Territory Can Be Challenging

With new constraints raised by COVID-19, the challenges might seem insurmountable. However, there are many solutions to these challenges. The following methods are just some examples of ways to alleviate educator concerns during the transition to online teaching:

Consider Using a Webcam for Live Lecture Sessions

Educators who have never taught online before are likely most familiar with the standard lecture class format. Recreating this atmosphere online can help teachers manage their courses without completely changing them. Using a webcam and live streaming a lecture is an effective way to emulate a traditional classroom atmosphere.

Live lectures are also familiar to students. Most students understand how to take notes and learn from live lectures, so using a webcam and scheduling lectures offers an effective solution for everyone. 

Overall, using a webcam to produce live lectures is a great way for teachers to quickly add structure to their online classes and bridge the gap while transitioning to digital education.

Organize a Suitable Office or Workspace 

Most university educators have a dedicated office space on their campus. This is the place where they plan future lessons, review assignments, and generally focus on their work. With campus closures, many educators have lost access to their dedicated workspaces.

As classes become fully online, it’s likely most educators will begin working from home anyway. Recreating or choosing a workspace at home is a great way to regain some structure and agency during this time of high stress and unease.

A home workspace can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it. A home office is ideal for those who have the space; setting aside an entire room for work helps separate your work life from everything personal. At the end of the day, it’s possible to simply close the door and return to your private life without any lingering stress hanging over you.

For homes with no room to spare, there are still options. For instance, you can set aside a particular desk or table. Having a dedicated work space helps the brain transition from task to task. If you always work at the same table or in the same space, just being there will automatically help your brain focus on the task at hand. But make sure to leave work at your workspace once you’re done for the day or else you will erode this association. 

Plan Out Tech Support

Tech support is essential to assist your move to a new online system. There will always be questions about the most effective way to share information or access data. The quickest way to help educators find peace of mind during the transition to an online environment is to provide technical resources in advance.

Educators are already working hard to repurpose assignments, projects, and presentations. Technical support removes the stressful burden of figuring out new platforms or software; working with systems and companies that provide reliable technical support and resources will help the transition process go more smoothly.

At CIP, our team of trained support specialists can help handle technical questions of all types. From helping educators upload their content to answering student concerns about access, our goal is to keep the technical side simple. 

We also have a large online reference database of frequently asked questions. No matter the concern, both students and faculty can quickly find answers to their questions. This means educators can focus on their students and students can focus on their course materials. The end result is an online course that is less stressful for everyone.

Helping Students Overcome Common Challenges of Online Learning

Once educators understand their transition to online teaching, it’s time to focus on helping students transition to online learning. Many students who previously attended in-person classes need help transitioning to online-only learning environments. Given the significant differences between the two settings for education, providing effective coping strategies and study methods help students succeed in the face of challenging circumstances.

Students face many common challenges with online learning. Anticipating and preparing for these challenges will help educators produce more effective classes and better student outcomes. Studies on student responses to pandemic-related online learning have outlined a few of the most common problems with digital learning:

Self-Motivation

Online learning had been easing into the mainstream for a while before the pandemic. Many students who preferred in-person education did so because it helped motivate them to learn. Now that online learning is mandatory for most campuses, many students will face the struggle of finding motivation by themselves.

Student participation is now entirely based on the learner’s self-motivation. Since students cannot interact with their instructors or peers in-person, there is less external pressure to focus on class — this is why being self-motivated is such a vital element of online learning. 

Students are doing their best, but not everyone is a self-starter. Educators can help students succeed by making participation as structured and easy as possible. Using simple online systems removes a barrier of confusion from the learning process so students don’t have to struggle to participate. Their efforts can instead go into their coursework instead of troubleshooting.

Understanding Course Expectations

Beyond making course materials accessible, educators should make their expectations clear. Without the traditional start-of-the semester “syllabus day,” there are many students who don’t understand course requirements and expectations. Providing clear, simple sets of instructions and expectations for course assignments will remove ambiguities and help students immensely.

For example, educators should develop and share a clear schedule for the semester from the start. Upload assignments, tests, and other learning materials at the start of the course and include all the relevant deadlines in the schedule. Students have more outside obligations than ever, so many will appreciate the chance to plan out classwork in advance.

Another helpful tactic is to provide examples of different assignments. Every instructor expects something a little different when they assign discussion posts, essays, or lab reports. By providing clear examples of what you expect, students will feel more confident and you will receive better work.

Academic Integrity

Dedicated students and educators want their classes to be taken seriously. Maintaining academic integrity is important if the wider world is going to take online education seriously. When students aren’t taking tests in-person, exams become a potential failure point for academic integrity.

That’s where online proctoring is a useful solution. Different online testing methods might require educators to rewrite tests or compromise the integrity of the class. That makes it difficult to compare results from different years. Online proctoring solutions let educators use the same test formats as they would for in-person classes and makes it easier to track students’ comprehension of the material from year to year, all while trusting that academic integrity is intact.

CIP has partnered with industry leader ProctorU to provide streamlined, integrated online proctoring. This service allows students to schedule tests at times that work for them. We take care of incident reports, technical questions, scheduling, and everything else. Educators only have to upload the test material and wait for the results. 

Different Learning Style Needs

Students who thrive with in-person classes may falter in the transition to online courses. That’s because in-person education appeals to certain learning styles in ways that can be difficult to recreate online. Providing a rich variety of learning materials for your students is essential to keeping all your students engaged. For instance: 

  • Aural learners thrive in lecture environments, but may not get much from written sources. Webcam lectures, either live or recorded, are a great resource for these students. 
  • Hands-on learners may suffer from a lack of physical models to study, but providing in-depth interactive 3D models can help them focus. 

The more variety you provide, the more your students will gain from your online course.

Uncertainty About the Future

Students are just as concerned about the future as educators are. Students want reassurance that their education will continue smoothly. They want to know that they are getting the information they’ll need to succeed. When they can’t be sure about world events, they look to their educational institution for support. 

While educators can’t end the pandemic, they can reassure students about their education. A clear, well-defined online education program can be deeply reassuring to many students. Providing a well-established online curriculum shows students that their chosen institution has things under control. That helps students relax and focus on their studies instead of worrying about the future. 

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has created innumerable challenges for the world of education. Educators and students alike are working to keep the system running smoothly. Although difficult to navigate, many of the challenges associated with the transition to online teaching and education can be mitigated with some forethought and planning.

By anticipating the stressors that educators and students will face in this transition, it’s possible to provide solutions in advance. The transition to online learning can be made smooth. Choose the right resources and tools, and everyone will have a less stressful learning transition.

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