Student-Faculty Partnerships in Curricula

There is a growing movement to not only include but also involve students in curricula decisions. Students in higher education have challenged the notion that they are customers receiving a transactional education and instead call for higher levels of participation and agency in their learning (Matthews et al., 2017). Students collaborating with institutions, programs, and faculty to design curricula is a framework known as students as partners, or student-faculty partnerships. At Portland State University, student body President Nya Mbock has called for more student involvement with faculty in the curriculum (Swordfisk, 2021).

Positive outcomes of student-faculty partnership include increased student engagement, motivation, and ownership for learning, a positive shift of power dynamics between faculty and student (toward more equitable power), engagement and empowerment for students who are historically excluded, and increased student confidence and self-determination (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).

With any approach to curricula, the intention of including students can end up harming students. It’s important to set intentions, to be transparent, and to reflect on how power affects the partnership. Without these intentional pieces, partnership work may end up tokenizing students and essentializing the student experience (Cook-Sather et al., 2014; de Bie et al., 2021). As a result, and despite good intentions, partnerships can reinforce the inequitable learning environments that they seek to disrupt. For example, partnership work may focus on an increased sense of belonging for students, which may be problematic when the institution students are invited to feel connected with has a history of erasure and colonization for some student populations (de Bie et al., 2021).

Example Partnership Approaches

Here are three examples of partnership approaches you can include in your own practice:

  • Student-faculty course design. This happens before a course is taught and when you are designing the course. A student or group of students collaborate with the faculty member on the design of a course. This might include a redesigned syllabus or elements such as course outcomes, a course assignment, or an entire course.
  • Students create and choose. This includes students in a course you are teaching. This might include having students choose the weekly discussion topics or create and vote on quiz questions, embedding students’ social bookmarking annotations to shape course content, or having students collaborate to create course content (Cook-Sather et al., 2014).
  • Partnerships in assessment. Invite students to identify grading criteria for an assignment or final essay or invite students to co-assess their own final presentations. Another example is to bring a rubric with past student papers (used with permission) and have current students grade the papers based on that rubric. Have a discussion about the rubric and invite students to offer suggestions on adapting it for their course term.

Getting Started

  1. Begin by reflecting on how you currently involve students in your curriculum.
  2. Create a list of when students get to make decisions within your curriculum. (If this is currently  “never,” consider starting with a negotiated syllabus.)
  3. Acknowledge that this iterative process never really ends.

Examples in Practice

Negotiated Syllabus

Provide a diversity of materials in formats that remain consistent from week to week. Students choose which materials to engage with to learn the concepts outlined for that week. The focus of the negotiated syllabus is to highlight student agency within their learning by creating opportunities for students to choose the way they want to learn a concept.

For example, provide lecture slides, supplementary texts, and external videos covering the information being taught each week. From this collection, students can choose which items are most useful to them and will have reliable access to their preferred materials for each new topic.

Reflection

Reflect on the level at which students make decisions and identify opportunities to increase student involvement: Hold a discussion with students in class to determine course learning outcomes and discuss how predetermined assignments will help the class reach their goals.

Be prepared to make small changes to assignments based on the class discussion. This is expected, as every class will have different students. The discussion may also yield ideas for new or different assignments to help the class meet their co-created learning outcomes.

Alternatively, hold a discussion with students in class to create course assignments based on predetermined course outcomes and how these assignments will help the class reach their goals.

Identity Expression

Integrate the student voice into your course by providing ample room for identity expression and application of the material to students’ own lived experiences — in ways such as including languages spoken beyond English and encouraging cultural and community practices. This engages more parts of the brain and allows for greater communication between them, along with deeper integration of the learned material into long-term memory (Johnson et al., 2006)

Co-created Syllabus

Develop a syllabus, in partnership with students, that reflects your collective values. Co-creating a syllabus is a chance for students to democratically participate in their own learning. It signals that a course is designed to share power and encourage not only student involvement but also engagement and agency.

The syllabus might include co-created community guidelines, flexible deadlines based on the class’s needs for that quarter, or opportunities for students to self-grade. You might also consider including a list of linked resources (where to find cost-considerate course materials, necessary technology, internet access), a land acknowledgement, and an acknowledgment of bias.

References

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felton, P. (2014). Engaging Students As Partners in Learning and Teaching : A Guide for Faculty. John Wiley & Sons. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/lib/psu/detail.action?docID=1650837

De Bie, K., Marquis, E., Cook-Sather, A., & Luqueño, L. P. (2021). Promoting Equity and Justice through Pedagogical Partnership. Stylus. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/lib/PSU/detail.action?docID=6647714

Johnson, S., & Taylor, K. (2006). The Neuroscience of Adult Learning: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Wiley. https://search.library.pdx.edu/permalink/f/p82vj0/CP71182273540001451

Matthews, K. E., Groenendijk, L. J., & Chunduri, P. (2017). We Want to be More Involved: Student Perceptions of Students as Partners Across the Degree Program Curriculum. International Journal for Students As Partners, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v1i2.3063

Swordfisk, K. (2021, September 27). In pursuit of student success: ASPSU president prioritizes student involvement, improving the post-COVID learning environment. PSU News. https://www.pdx.edu/news/pursuit-student-success

Learn More Elsewhere

Website


Communicating in Canvas

Canvas has several ways to communicate with your students. Here are two of them:

  • Announcements are course-wide.
  • Inbox messages may be private between an instructor and a student or group of students, or a message between students.

Announcements

You can use Announcements to give students news, updates, and reminders. Students receive email copies of your announcements in their campus email. This is based on their notification preferences; by default, they receive the message immediately — but they can opt for less frequent notifications.

Note: A default Canvas course is set to show the latest announcement at the top of the page. You can set how many announcements to display, but we recommend just one to make sure students notice the most important and current information.

Watch the video for a basic overview:

 


306 – Announcements Overview from Instructure Canvas Community on Vimeo.

Using Announcements

The primary use of an announcement is for news and reminders:

  • Notify students of class cancellation, if a class location has moved, if you will be out of town or delayed in providing feedback on an assignment, etc.
  • Remind students of upcoming due dates.
  • Notify students of campus events or news items of interest or relevance.

You can also use announcements to engage students at the beginning of each unit (week). Doing this consistently helps participants stay connected and recognize that you are a human with a personality (and not just a computer). It helps define your “presence” in an online course.

When writing an announcement, use the “inverted pyramid” model from journalistic writing. Open with the most important facts or information and then progress through less important details. Most people will read only the first sentence or two unless they perceive a need to keep going.

Guiding announcements generally include two or more of the following:

  • Introduction to the main idea for the week — short, one sentence, to motivate and encourage engagement in the topic of the week.
  • Any scheduling information such as days the teacher will not be available, a changed due date, holiday, etc.
  • Summary response to previous week’s discussion (or assignment submission). Provide positive feedback; whenever possible, mention student names and take quotes directly from their postings. This should be only a paragraph highlighting just one or two exceptional comments. (This recognizes and motivates, as well as demonstrating that you actually read the discussions.)

Other Considerations

  • By default, students receive an immediate email copy of a course announcement. However, faculty do not automatically receive copies of announcements they have created. If you want email copies of your own announcements (e.g., as reassurance that the announcement went out), edit your notification preferences.
  • You can schedule Announcements in advance or post them immediately. Delaying release — even by a little — gives you time to proofread (and revise if needed) before students receive it.
  • If multiple sections are loaded to your Canvas site, you can post an announcement to just selected sections if necessary.
  • Announcements are also available in Canvas Groups. You can post an announcement to just one group, and group members can post announcements to each other.
  • When you copy an entire Canvas site from one semester to the next, the announcements are included. You will need to go through them and delete any that are no longer needed or edit the release date for those you wish to reuse. Be sure to also edit out any information that was only relevant to the previous class!
  • You can use the Rich Content Editor and Content Selector when you create an announcement. Use these to format the text of your posts or to link to the items you reference; for example, if you are reminding students that an assignment is due, you can link to that assignment.

The Inbox

The Inbox allows Canvas users to send messages to one another within Canvas.

Both faculty and students can configure their notification settings to receive Canvas Inbox messages at the email address of their choice. You can also choose how often to receive these notifications.

Use the Inbox to:

  • Send information or updates to an individual student, a section, or a group.
  • Record a media comment (audio or video) to send to an individual student, section, or group.
  • Send file attachments to an individual student, a section, or a group.
  • Use the “Message Students Who…” feature in the Gradebook to contact students who have not submitted an assessment, who scored less than a given grade, or who scored more than a given grade.

Adapted from “Communicating in Canvas” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.


Student Interactions in Canvas

Student interaction plays an important role in learning and overall sense of community. Whether you’re teaching fully online, blended, or in-person, you might consider developing space to support such interaction in your digital classroom. Canvas has tools to help students digitally interact:

Groups

  • Create student groups to use with Canvas Discussions, Canvas Assignments, and Canvas Peer Reviews.
  • Create student groups randomly or manually, or allow individual signups.
  • Have student group members create and edit their own Canvas pages.
  • Have students create their own groups in your course (if enabled).

Peer Review

  • Facilitate students reviewing one another's work and giving substantive feedback.
  • Allow students to serve as an audience for one another's presentations, performances, etc.
  • Assign peer reviews randomly, manually, and both within or among group memberships.
  • Have students use associated rubrics to leave peer feedback.

Collaborations

  • Add a Google Doc as a collaborative document and share it with individuals or groups in your Canvas course.
  • Have students add their own Collaborations (if your course uses Collaborations). Student collaborations will automatically be visible to instructors. 
  • Use Collaborations to co-create certain course elements (e.g. syllabus, discussion guidelines, rubrics).

Discussions

Students can:

  • Share learning resources with one another.
  • Teach topics or information to one another.
  • Help one another troubleshoot issues or answer content-related questions (e.g., course Q&A forum).

Integrating these instructional strategies and technology tools helps cultivate a safe learning community, foster peer interaction, and give timely and meaningful feedback by involving students in both doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.

Adapted from “Learner-Learner Interactions” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.


Discussions in Canvas

Discussions are threaded conversations on a single topic. They are asynchronous, which means participants do not have to be online at the same time, making them an especially flexible communication tool. You can use Discussions for communication and for assessment.

This video provides a basic overview:

 

303 – Discussions Overview from Instructure Canvas Community on Vimeo.

Using Discussions in Your Teaching

  • Have students introduce themselves to the class at the beginning of a semester.
  • Create a Q&A thread for the class and ask students to post questions instead of contacting you by email. You can even encourage students to respond to each other in this thread rather than waiting for you to reply.
  • Create a “water cooler” thread for students to chat about topics unrelated to the class. While this is not teaching per se, it allows students to connect with each other and helps build social presence in the course.
  • Ask students to use the media tools in the Rich Content Editor to post their responses. For learners who are more comfortable speaking than writing, this provides a means for them to respond more fluently. In a language course, this allows you to assess students’ pronunciation, grammar, etc.
  • Have students work through a case or problem.
  • Embed a media prompt (a diagram, video, etc.) for students to respond to.
  • Students can create their own discussions within Canvas Groups.

Setting Discussion Guidelines and/or Expectations

In your syllabus or on an introductory page in the Modules area, be sure to define exactly what you expect from students when posting to discussions. This can include general netiquette information, use of full sentences, citing sources, and specific information on how you will assess discussions (include quantity and quality of posts).

Considerations for Using Canvas Discussions

The “threaded discussion” option will make conversations easier for everyone to follow. Remember to select it when creating a discussion. (It’s not selected by default.)

You can use the Rich Content Editor in Canvas to format the text of your discussion prompt, add links (to other parts of the Canvas site or to other webpages), and embed videos.

For a graded discussion, you can review student responses in SpeedGrader. When you select a student in SpeedGrader, you will find all of that student’s posts to the discussion — which is helpful if you require students to reply to their classmates in addition to posting their own responses to the prompt.

You can attach a rubric to a graded discussion or require peer review for discussion responses.

Using Discussions with Groups

In a large class, consider breaking students into smaller groups and then having each group respond to discussion prompts.

Discussions in Groups allow for collaboration on projects.

Writing Good Discussion Questions

Asking the right question(s) is vital to creating a good discussion in your course. Consider the following discussion prompt:

After reading textbook chapter 5, please describe challenges that social workers face due to the social climate, economic changes, and political environment.

Once a few students have responded to the question, it’s likely they will have covered all potential answers. The rest will have little to add without being repetitive. Additionally, fact-based questions like the one above don’t help students identify their own knowledge gaps, explore multiple perspectives, or negotiate content meaning.

Instead, ask open-ended questions or questions that have more than just one or a few correct answers. These can offer additional discussion opportunities. For example:

How do you perceive that plan as adequate to the problem? What makes you think so? Where might that plan derail? What other plans are possible?

Questions that invite students to share their own point of view from their personal and/or work life can generate multiple perspectives.

Important Takeaways

Make sure responses are not “right” or “wrong” and cannot be answered with “yes” or “no.” The best discussion prompts ask students to reflect and to demonstrate higher order thinking (analysis, synthesis, comparison, evaluation). Otherwise, discussions risk becoming “homework out loud.” Students perceive them as busy work, and you won’t enjoy reading and assessing the responses.

Discussions are meant to be interactions among learners. You may want to ask students not only to post comments to the discussion questions but also to respond to one or two other students. If so, give different due dates for initial posts to discussion and for peer-to-peer interactions. This will help you avoid a situation where learners post the discussions and interactions on the last day of the discussion, giving learners no time to interact with each other.

Adapted from “Discussions in Canvas” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.


Using Canvas Modules

OAI recommends using Modules to develop course organization and navigation. Correctly using Modules simplifies navigation for your students. Modules let you organize instructions, content, activities, and assignments in the order you want students to progress through them. Using Modules avoids the problem of telling students to “go there and do this” and then “go somewhere else and do that.” This can be frustrating — as you may have experienced yourself in poorly designed online training.

(Re-)designing the navigation and organization of your Canvas learning environment can reduce the cognitive overload on your students and allow them to engage with what really matters — the unit material.

— From [Don’t] Get Lost! Using Good Navigation and Organization to Improve Your Canvas Site

By organizing all your instructions, content, activities, and assignments in Modules, you can hide the Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, and Files pages from the left navigation list in the student view. This gives students one central location to look for everything. That means fewer “where is” questions for you and less frustration for your students.

The more doors students have to the same items, the more confusing it is for them and the harder it is to be sure they are in the right place. In Canvas, all the other tools organize these items differently than in Modules. For example:

  • Discussions are ordered by time of the most recent comment. So if an earlier discussion is still attracting comments, it could appear above the current module discussion unless you have ordered discussions under the “pinned discussions” area.
  • Assignments are in the order created unless you grouped them by assignment and dragged-and-dropped them into your preferred order.
  • Files are grouped in folders to the extent that you build a folder structure for them. Generally, it’s best to hide the Files area from your student regardless of your planned course structure.
  • Quizzes and Discussions appear on their own tool page — and also on the Assignments Tool page if they are graded.

All these can lead students to lose their place in the course, which causes more confusion and delay.

Examples

There are two schools of thought about how to organize items in Modules.

Short Version

Each module begins with an overview Content Page that includes a list of the books or chapters for the module as well as links to other items the students are to read, watch, and explore.

A module that begins with an Overview page, which would contain links to readings, videos, activities, and other items or resources.

Long Version

Each item is a separate part of the module, including links and readings as well as activities and assignments. For reference, this course uses the long version.

A module in which each item or resource — including readings, videos, and activities — has its own link.

In Review

Making each item a separate module element can significantly increase the length of the module. Long modules can appear overwhelming to students and reduce motivation.

On the other hand, students may skip over readings and not explore links unless they are required to progress through them one at a time.

A Big Takeaway — Consistency Is Key

Once you choose your organization strategy, the best thing you can do for your students is to implement it as consistently as possible.

Face-to-face students get in the habit of going to class at the same time and the same place every week. Online students need to form habits as well, to maintain consistent performance across the term. Consistent organization in your online spaces benefits all students, regardless of your teaching modality. Making sure assignments are always due on the same day of the week and modules always begin on the same day of the week goes a long way to providing structure.

Students also benefit from consistently having a written or video overview of each module describing what they are to do and learn. The overview should also include a list of reading (identifying chapters from books or linking to digital resources) and brief assignment descriptions or links to Assignments, Discussions, or Quizzes. Some faculty members like to put the overview description or video on one page, and then readings and resources on a subsequent page — and then have assignments and activities follow individually in the module. Either way is good as long as you pick one approach and use it consistently.

Templates

Use these templates from the Commons to help you get started organizing your own modules in Canvas. (For help, review how to import and view a Commons resource in Canvas.)

Adapted from “Using Canvas Modules” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.


Course Management Timeline

Instructors have a lot to think about before, during, and after each term. Be sure to accomplish these essential tasks.

Pre-Term
(at least two weeks prior)

Don’t wait until the last minute to get your course prepared for the new term. Before opening your course to students, reflect on the last time you taught. Think about ways to enhance your course for the upcoming term. This guide points to articles about new teaching strategies, as well as steps you to make sure your course is published and open to students on the first day of the term.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Schedule of Classes available online
  • Priority Registration begins

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Weeks 1 - 3

Early and regular communication with your students is important and this guide offers key contact points and ways to help your students get the support they need before the term even begins. If you’re new faculty, make sure to use your Gmail account at mail.pdx.edu. This is also where you can access the Google Suite of Education applications. If you need help preparing your course, please contact the Office of Academic Innovation as early as possible to schedule a consultation.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Last day to drop with 100% refund
  • Last day to add with instructor approval
  • Last day to drop without a “W” withdraw on academic record

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Weeks 4 - 8

Being present in your course is key to keeping students engaged, leading to overall student success. This guide outlines a few things you can do to stay connected to your students and help them feel like part of your learning community.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Last day to change grading option
  • Last day to withdraw from a course

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Weeks 9 - 12

As the term ends, here are a few things to do before you relax and celebrate your course success! This guide highlights steps to share grades with both your students and the registrar, and helps you prepare for the next time you teach the course.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Deadline for submitting final grades
  • Official grades available online

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)


Easy Wins in Canvas

Here are a few popular Canvas features to be especially excited about.

Appearance

  • simplified interface that streamlines course development for instructors and helps students navigate their courses.
  • true student view: If you want to preview your course, just switch to student view. You can even take quizzes and submit assignments in student view, and Canvas will save your scores just like a real student. You can click “Reset Student” any time to start over with a fresh test account.
  • Great mobile apps, such as the Canvas Teacher App that lets you post announcements, grade assignments, and make changes to your course quickly and easily. The Student App allows students to receive course related notifications, submit assignments, take quizzes, and participate in other learning activities.

Course Management

  • Simplified course setup: Canvas makes it quicker and easier to set up your online course content, so you spend less time clicking through menus and more time doing what’s important (like teaching!).
  • Undelete: In some cases you can restore accidentally deleted course content.
  • Easily copy files from one course to another: Under the Files tab in your personal Settings, you'll have access to all your files in all your courses — in one spot. From there you can drag a file from one course to another, which creates a copy. This is much faster than downloading and re-uploading.
  • Dashboard: This shows handy information, like whether you’ve published your course yet, assignments that are ready to grade, etc.

Communication

  • Calendaring: The Canvas calendar shows all important dates for all your courses in a single place. Additionally, the instructor can change the deadline for an assignment just by clicking and dragging the event in the calendar. Or they can create a new assignment by clicking on a due date.
  • Notifications: You can receive notifications via email, text, or in your calendar. This also applies to the mobile app.

Student Tools

  • Student collaboration: Students can be assigned to groups and have a small version of a course for just their group, where they can share materials, form discussions, create assignments for the group members, and even create sub-groups.
  • Student pages: You can allow students to create and comment on course pages for collaborative work.
  • Peer review tool: This allows students to give feedback on other students’ assignments. Feedback can be anonymous.

Course Content

  • Bulk upload and download: This can be done with drag and drop or zip upload, with an “unzip into folder” option.
  • Canvas Commons is a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. A digital library full of educational content, Commons allows Canvas users to share learning resources with other users as well as import learning resources into a Canvas course. These resources can be shared throughout the entire Canvas international community, just with the university, with your department, or with specific individuals.
  • Google Drive and Docs integration: Once the user authorizes it, Canvas can display a link to Google Drive in the course navigation. Student group work in Google Docs can be managed in the Collaborations tool.
  • Rich Content Editor: This has many handy features. For example, you can drag and drop hyperlinks from anywhere on the web into the editor to insert them.
  • Content prerequisites: Since students may open course materials without reviewing associated files, you can set requirements in the module. For example, you can require students to complete an activity or open a specific file in order to access other module content.

Quizzes and Grading

  • Integrated Gradebook: When you create an assignment, quiz, or discussion with a grade, Canvas automatically adds a grade item into the gradebook. You don’t have to create grade items in the Grades Tool and the activity tool and then link them together, as in D2L.
  • Streamlined attendance-taking: Canvas allows you to take attendance with almost no setup. Just open Attendance and click students’ names to mark them present or absent. An attendance grade will automatically appear in your gradebook; you only have to choose how much it’s worth.
  • Message students who…”: The Grades tool lets you send messages to specific students based on a range of grade-status variables.
  • Quiz question groups: If you use a group to put your questions into a quiz, they are connected between quiz and question bank. This means edits made to those questions in the question bank automatically update that group in the quiz, too. This is not the case for individually added questions.
  • What-if grades: Students can access the grades page and enter hypothetical grades to determine how that would affect their overall course grade. Students really appreciate this feature.

Supporting Students through Difficult Conversations

The classroom can be a place to explore controversial topics including equity, identity, religious beliefs, and political views. These topics may come up as part of your curriculum, or through external factors and events. You may or may not choose to engage students in difficult conversations — but either way, it’s important to prepare.

Notice your own responses and emotions surrounding a topic and recognize that you and your students may not be able to show up as your best selves for these conversations. One approach to this might be transparency with your students, acknowledging how challenging the topic is and giving everyone space to process before moving forward with a conversation.

If you do choose to engage students, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom. The following tips may be helpful for framing a conversation where students with diverse experiences and points of view can engage productively with one another.

Helpful Tips

Establish community agreements before discussing difficult topics.

Encourage your students to help create these collaboratively. They might include one or more of the following agreements:

  • Addressing ideas rather than people
  • Taking and making space to ensure everyone has a chance to speak
  • Entering the conversation with a spirit of curiosity and good will
  • Welcoming correction and reflection

Identify a clear purpose for the conversation.

Is the class interested in exploring a question, better understanding the context of a recent event, reflecting on the impact of current events, or something else? There is no right answer, but it is helpful for students to agree on a focus and purpose before diving in.

Provide space to summarize the discussion.

Provide space to summarize the discussion, receive student feedback, and allow students to reflect on their feelings and experiences. This might look like a brief exit email or poll, a word in the Zoom chat, or a Google Doc with reflection notes.

Recognize that difficult topics may impact students differently.

Your students likely experience a range of emotions when responding to difficult topics, informed by a range of factors including their lived experiences, intersecting identities, and feelings of safety in the class space. Particularly during uncertain and highly stressful circumstances, some students may be more at risk for marginalization connected to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or region/country of origin.

  • It may help to encourage a discussion of students’ relevant experiences while being mindful to not ask students to self-disclose information they may not be ready to share.
  • Consider asking students to complete an anonymous poll about their questions or concerns (or email you privately, if an individual response is needed). Options include Google forms, discussions, and survey tools. Find out whether students feel they are making progress, if they are having difficulties with the course, and if they have specific suggestions for addressing any challenges they identify.

Acknowledge the impact on your students.

If you do not choose to address a difficult topic substantively but still want to acknowledge it, you can:
  • Begin by recognizing that different people have strong emotions from a variety of perspectives, and it may be hard to focus.
  • Give your students a chance to write for a minute or two to process their thoughts and feelings, and/or identify people they want to reach out to for the types of connections and processing that would benefit them. Then move on to your plan for the day.
  • Note the difficulty of focusing and of controlling strong emotions and let students know they can feel free to take a brief break to refocus.

If a student raises a topic when you had not planned to discuss it, classroom discussion agreements might provide guidance to have a productive and respectful conversation. If you do not feel prepared for a conversation, you can recognize that the student might want to have the conversation, but explain that you want to think further about whether and how to engage it as a class.


Email Templates for the Start of Term

Many students are anxious for information about their classes before the term starts. By communicating early, you can help establish an encouraging online environment and alleviate some of their anxiety.

Use these templates to craft a message you’ll send to students as or before the term starts. Consider also adding a short introduction paragraph or video.

Welcome Email (Faculty to Students)

Dear Students,

Welcome to [term/year]! I am excited to get the term started, but I want to first share some details about how our course will be organized this term.

Course Materials

  • All course materials will be posted online and will be available on [date].
  • I will send you the syllabus on [date]. // The syllabus is attached to this email. // The syllabus will be available online.

Class Meetings

  • The class will meet via Zoom on MTWF from [time] to [time].
  • The Zoom link for this course is [enter link].

Communication

At some points in the term, my inbox gets quite full — but I do want to hear from you. If you don’t hear back from me within two weekdays (not counting weekends), please send a follow-up email. I will appreciate the gentle reminder.

Now for a little about myself…

[add a brief introduction paragraph or video]

For questions related to advising for the undergraduate major (e.g. degree requirements, petitions, graduation), please contact [enter department advising email]

For all other questions related to undergraduate courses (e.g. technology, library, PSU resources, PSU policies, and practices), please contact [department email].

Staff will either answer your question or direct you to the relevant person or resource.

Thank you and I look forward to meeting you all soon.

Faculty / instructor name

Sharing Student Resources (Department to Students)

Consider sending this the first week of the term, to remind students of the resources available to them. Also, consider sending a department newsletter with videos to build community and connection.

Dear Students,

Your instructor will be in touch to explain the details of your course. This may involve using the learning platform, as well as other tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, email, and more (all free to students using a PSU Odin ID). Watch for an email from your instructor, and check the learning platform if you have access.

In the meantime, here are some resources available to you.

  • If you are new to Canvas, you can log in at https://canvas.pdx.edu/ and find tutorials by selecting Help from the lefthand navigation bar and choosing “Technology Help for Students”. Also, an introductory Canvas course is available to all students called “Online and Remote Learning Support.”
  • To learn about Portland State’s activities to reduce the spread of COVID-19, visit the Covid-19 Response page.
  • If you need additional accommodations during remote instruction, contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 503-725-4150 or drc@pdx.edu.
  • If you get sick or have mental health needs, you can book an appointment with Student Health and Counseling (SHAC).
    Call SHAC first! Students who have respiratory symptoms and fever should contact SHAC’s Nurse Line at 503-725-2515 or the 24/7 Nurse Advice Line (after hours) at 844-224-3145.
    If you miss an appointment or need to cancel at the last minute due to respiratory and fever symptoms, SHAC will waive the $25 fee missed appointment/late cancellation fee.
  • The Learning Center offers academic coaching, tutoring, and more. Contact them at thelearningcenter@pdx.edu or 503-725-4448.
  • The Cultural Resource Centers (CRCs) provide student leadership, employment, and volunteer opportunities; student resources such as computer labs, event, lounge and study spaces; and extensive programming.
  • The Library is renting out laptops, webcams, and WiFi hotspots (available for pickup and home delivery). Visit the Library from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. (It’s closed Friday and Saturday.)

Also don’t forget to visit the [enter department] website to stay connected!


Start Your Term Right: Essential Student Communications

Early and regular communication with your students is very important. This guide offers key contact points and ways to help students get the support they need before the term even begins.

If you’re new faculty, make sure to use your Gmail account at mail.pdx.edu. This is also where you can access the Google suite of education applications. If you’re new to online teaching, contact the Office of Academic Innovation as early as possible for help preparing your course.

Email Your Students

Approximately two weeks before the start of each term, a Google Group is created for each course in Banner. You can use your class group to email all students enrolled in your course. Some tips to save time and effort:

  • These groups are maintained for two terms — so make sure to select the email address for the correct term.
  • You don’t need to work from scratch. The Office of Student Success has created helpful email templates with information for an initial email, along with a course syllabus.
  • Don’t wait until your syllabus is absolutely final. You can label it clearly as a “draft” and provide as much information as possible.

Include Student Service Links on Your Syllabus

Throughout the term your students may need PSU services. Linking to services on your syllabus is a great way to let students know what’s available. These could include free e-tutoring, disability resources, tech support, library help, and more.

Publish Your Course and Open It Early

You can publish your Canvas course before the term starts. This can help students who may have concerns about course requirements or who are new to online learning. Even if you don’t plan to teach online, it’s where students expect to find your syllabus and course materials.

Post an Announcement and Share Instructor Information

Your home page is the “megaphone” of your course. It’s reassuring for students to know you will post important announcements here, along with your contact information. If your home page is not configured for this, you can get help from OAI Support or modify it yourself.

Learn about Your Students with a Google Form Questionnaire

You can create a Google Forms Survey to learn about your students before the term starts. Along with their academic experience, during remote teaching it’s important to know whether your students have any significant constraints on their coursework.

Schedule an Early Zoom Office Hour Check-in

It can really help students to have a brief “in person” conversation before term starts. This will alleviate anxiety for students who have questions about course requirements or structure. It can also foster engagement and make your first week more productive.

Add a Zoom Check-in to the Google Class Time Calendar

Our Google Calendar automatically generates events for courses you teach. These are shared with everyone on your Banner roster. You can add your Zoom meeting link as a course event so all your students will find it there.