Pandemic Teaching: How to Keep Students Engaged

teaching in a pandemic
Political Science
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author: Dr. Emily Stacey, Rose State College


Most colleges and universities nationwide are still dealing with ongoing pandemic teaching challenges: delivering instruction online, making mental health a priority, and managing pandemic apathy/fatigue. It’s harder than ever to keep students focused on the curriculum, much less on emotionally draining current events. So how then can we as professors reach our Political Science majors—and all our students—in a meaningful way that spurs participation and engagement?

The following are some tactics that have worked for me thus far.


Pandemic teaching means meeting your students at their level

Their level is not that much different than ours. I know as seasoned academics we think of ourselves in a professional light, particularly when dealing with students. However, I have found that allowing my “fun side” to come through in class (or in an online discussion board) not only ingratiates me to students but helps to cleanse my weary soul as well. One idea is allowing students to follow you on Twitter. My account is not scrubbed or curated for my students. It’s my personal account in which I share opinions, memes, and other light-hearted content. It might not always be relevant to class literature but it’s politically focused. I think in these times it’s important for students to understand that we’re all humans going through this together. It’s important to laugh!


Include student resources

A vast majority of colleges and universities at all levels have a student support services office or something similar that offers students an array of opportunities for assistance. These services include tutoring and, perhaps more importantly these days, the ability to speak with a mental health professional on campus (or virtually). Post these resources to your main course page on the LMS. It’s also important to de-stigmatize certain resources, such as counseling, by mentioning it in class and explaining its benefits on syllabus day.


Pandemic teaching is about making yourself available

Go above and beyond (it is a pandemic after all). Office hours are great, but we know that not all students are going to make use of them. I make sure to have virtual office hours each week and utilize Zoom so students are still getting face-to-face interaction, even if we are not in the same room. I’ll check in with students who seemingly fall off the face of the earth during the semester. If a student has consistently participated in a course and then drops off in week five, I will send that student an individual email (not an Early Alert or institutional communication) and inquire about their status. This shows that we actually care about their well-being. This can go a long way in reinvigorating care/interest in a class—or life in general.


Prioritize time for gathering virtually

Plan specific events (virtual or safely in person) for POLS students that engage them with literature, current events, theory, etc. There is so much going on in 2021 and we need to make sure that POLS students are not just floating through these historical times without providing proper context, history, and allowing the much-needed discourse amongst future leaders in our field (and world). Zoom Politics has been my solution to this issue since many of my students are completing this semester online. I hold biweekly open forums for students to come and discuss whatever political issues are on their minds and hearts. This is my second semester doing this with great participation—including that of my colleagues.


Incentivize good political behaviors

I’ll offer extra credit to students participating in their state and local politics (with proof). Examples of participation include attending a demonstration, signing, an initiative petition, voting, going to a public forum, etc. I will offer a nominal amount of extra credit for photographic proof of their participation.


Are you assessing your lesson plans for the summer and fall semesters? Browse our new American Government Course Guide.