Pivoting Your Curricular Approach to Virtual Engagement for Student Learning

For folks using curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom, shifting to virtual or online or remote engagement can seem daunting or overwhelming. In my conversations advising folks making this shift, there are a few themes that emerge consistently that have helped folks clarify, focus, and move forward. Here are 9 themes that have emerged from these conversations.

1. Pivot your curriculum to virtual engagement.

Some folks have been tempted to set aside their curriculum in times of crisis. Others have been tempted to start over with a new curriculum for virtual engagement. Both of these options are a ton of work and completely unnecessary. Instead, pivot everything you had planned and sequenced to the new reality for students. Not everything will work exactly as you intended it. Not everything will fit. However, don’t move away from your curricular approach. Use your curricular approach to guide your pivot to online learning opportunities.

2. Increase your focus on learning. Decrease your focus on strategies.

Take a look at your goals and outcomes? I’d bet they are all more relevant today than they were on March 1, 2020. Equity and justice? For sure. Community and relationships? Yes. Well-being? Definitely. Self-awareness and self-efficacy? Absolutely. As you pivot, increase your focus on the learning but let go of any attachment you had to strategies. Be diligent about what you want students to learn but nimble and flexible with how they will learn.

3. Be truly student centered.

Let go of your projects, initiatives, timelines, and favorite events and get truly student centered. What do students need? When is a good time for them to engage with this learning? Who would they trust about this information? How would they be most open to engaging?

4. Practice Essentialism.

How can your division, office, or unit do less so you can be more for students? This is a powerful question. The answers won’t be easy, but they will be transformative if you are willing to think differently.

5. Some of this will be better than ever.

I’m hearing from many folks, especially those in orientation which shifted to virtual ahead of most of us, that some of the things they have been forced to shift to this virtual learning is actually way better than what they’ve always done.

Why have we had the Dean do the same session 15 times? Why don’t we just have them do it once really well and then share it with students and families a month before school starts?

Why do we cram a million things into four days when we know students are overwhelmed and full of distractions and staff are exhausted and fried from training, when we could share more with them before they arrive when they are eager for information and connection?

Why do we do a student organization fair with tables and mayhem and chaos hurriedly put together by student leaders who just returned during the first week of school, when a virtual student organization fair could developed months in advance and be accessed anytime throughout the year as students awareness and interests grow?

6. Fresh starts are great opportunities for innovation.

One of the most challenging aspects of creating a curricular approach is letting go of what you’ve always done and really letting the learning outcomes drive the strategies. When none of our previous strategies are even possible, this obstacle is removed and we can be really innovative around what will work best for students. I find it ironic that higher education claims to be the engine that drives innovation, research, creativity, and learning for our society, but we ourselves are so slow and resistant to doing anything differently than we’ve done it before.

7. Eliminate self-imposed limitations.

Many of us are still playing by old rules that no longer apply. Why are we still scheduling the event for Monday at 7pm? Let’s record it and make it available for students to access anytime for up to 30 days? Why are we cramming in so many events and information in the 4 days before classes start? Why are we doing 15 versions of the mindfulness workshop to different students? Let’s offer it once live (synchronous), record it and make it available to others to access on their schedule (asynchronous).

8. We are all craving meaning and connection.

I hear people say things like, “Now that we have all this free time…” Ha! I don’t know anyone who has more free time now than before. Students aren’t looking to be occupied and entertained. They, like the rest of us, are seeking meaning and connection. How can you offer them the skills and tools to navigate online learning, social isolation, massive and messy social change, not being able to see the love of their life, and many other challenging and potentially traumatizing experiences. Look for opportunities to provide meaning and connection. We’re all craving it.

9. The fewer technology platforms the better.

Folks are eager to find the service, platform, app, or tool to solve all their problems. Like many things, less is more here too. I’m often asked what I recommend for platforms. My response is whatever students are used to accessing already. You can do lots with your campus learning management system (LMS), Zoom, Google forms/docs/etc, and any other tools your campus is already committed to and using. We all get exhausted and are tempted to give up when we have to login into three different platforms and create another username and password. Keep it simple.

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