What’s Next? How I’m Planning for Success Amid the Unknown

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Online Learning
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Sherri Singer is a professor and Department Head for Social & Behavioral Sciences at Alamance Community College in North Carolina.


The pandemic is not over! While many states have lifted some restrictions, predictions are that we will have a rough fall semester.

The problems our students experienced in the spring are now compounded by social change, continuing unemployment—or stressful employment as an essential worker—and online learning. This spring, we all hoped that somehow, someway, fall would be normal. Reality will truly set in with our students in August.

As students return to campus, things will be different. They can no longer sit near their classmates, many will be required to wear masks, campus activities will be limited and instructors will be behind plexiglass or online. Even office hours and advisor appointments will become remote due to small faculty offices. Amid all this change, faculty have the unique challenge of creating a caring campus culture that provides students with structure, connections and the ability to succeed.

Creating Course Structure: More Important Than Ever

Fall brings a new socially distanced and self-isolated environment that will be a struggle for students. Structure will be an important component of providing a sense of normalcy.

Many students will have been out of the classroom for approximately six months, with a portion not having been active over the summer; to help pass the time they’ve “streamed” themselves crazy on YouTube, Netflix, Prime and Hulu. They may be bored and have probably lost some study skills.

Jumping back into fall may be a challenge. Providing courses that are consistent in the amount, and types of work, as well as regulated deadlines, will help students maintain a schedule and stay on track.  As instructors, we’re providing students with a purpose during an exceptionally stressful time; our determination to provide quality courses and continue with fall semester leads by example.

Staying Connected Will Be Crucial for Students

We’ll need to become savvy leaders and create much-needed campus activities and connections. Academic clubs and student activities are an essential part of college life and are needed now more than ever.

In a world of social distancing, we must remember our students will be, to some extent, cooped up in their residence halls and apartments. Student unions and libraries will have chairs removed to encourage social distancing while limiting interaction, and classrooms will contain fewer students. A few approaches to consider:

  • Can we host virtual club meetings, guest speakers or group events? If so, how do we make these online gatherings not only engaging, but something students want to attend?
  • Can we encourage students to attend virtual class sessions and make those interactive?
  • Can we spend one-on-one time with students to help them improve their academic performance and maintain campus connections?

Continue Tackling Challenges with Flexibility and Empathy 

Above all else, remember that the stressors of the spring semester are still here. Our students are still experiencing the same issues they were in March.

The idea that we can start over in August with a clean slate and begin our fall semester like always is not possible. We need to prepare ourselves for these new challenges by being flexible with ourselves and our students.

Deadlines may need to be moved, students may need an exception and we need to be caring instructors— instructors who weave together a structured, engaging course that somehow has the flexibility our students may need. In this way we can create an engaging, successful and low-stress academic experience.


To gather more tips and ensure you’re ready for success with whatever course model you’re using this fall, watch our Empowered Educator session now.