Meeting Students Where They Are

In the second webinar of ACUE’s Back to School series, Dr. Santiba Campbell, Associate Professor of Psychology, Faculty Senate President and Ex-Officio member of the Board of Trustees, Bennett College; Dr. Edward Hill, Interim Provost and Accreditation Liaison, Harris-Stowe State University; and Dr. Terry DiPaolo, Vice Provost of E-learning, Dallas College, shared practical approaches and best practices around meeting students where they are. 

The discussion was moderated by Carmen Macharaschwili, ACUE Academic Strategy Consultant, and featured remarks from David Brailow, Council of Independent Colleges, as well as Felice Nudelman and Dr. Jacquelyn Jones, American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Key Takeaways from the Conversation

Students must be acclimated to learning environments and expectations.

“We’re adapting to another academic year,” said Dr. DiPaolo. This year, he explained, is a first for many students, including those returning from last year. 

Dallas College, he explained, is in “one of the most deprived and diverse areas in the U.S., and we spend a lot of time talking to students, understanding them and their circumstances.”

Dr. Campbell added that many students aren’t aware of the time and effort involved in learning of all types. “Online courses can be a greater commitment than an in-person class,” she said, something many students don’t understand.

To illustrate this, she shared an anecdote about a student who was logging onto Zoom via her cell phone while working at a drive-through window.

In order to combat these misconceptions, Dr. Campbell encouraged higher education to reevaluate how they run institutions. For example, Bennett College has introduced mini-semesters to try to acclimate students to expectations.

Dr. Hill noted that Harris-Stowe has many first-generation students “who might not have been as prepared for college.” Last year, “we sent them back to environments that probably weren’t conducive to learning.”That’s why Harris-Stowe leaders are working with faculty to discuss these issues and considering how to move forward.

Collaboration and communication are foundational to success.

“How do we move students and faculty forward?” asked Dr. Campbell. She pointed to communication. Bennett College, she said, has monthly, campus-wide meetings to share concerns.

“What is your identity as an institution? Focus on that to start to bring the message home.”

Bennett College, she said, started with the ACUE toolkit for online courses. 

“Don’t feel like everything has to be a written-up policy,” she added. “Think about changes you can make on your own.”

“Collaboration and partnership have been critical,” Dr. DiPaolo said. He also emphasized the importance of communication between administrators and faculty. “We have to be agile and nimble in ways we’ve never had to before….What if we took some time to put ourselves in the shoes of a new student?”

At Harris-Stowe, “we meet almost daily,” Dr. Hill said. The university depends on federal funding, but during the pandemic, they’ve had to find new ways of supporting students and faculty, such as tapping into the alumni base. “It’s taught us about resilience,” he said.

The best way to understand students’ needs? Ask them.

“Instructors can ask students ‘What can I do to help you succeed in this class?’” Dr. DiPaolo said. “Just reach out to your students one on one. Makes them feel heard.”

“We spend so much time talking pedagogy, that nobody stops to ask a student, for instance, ‘Why haven’t you been to class?’” Dr. Campbell agreed. She also urged educators to get to know their campus and the resources available so they can point students in the right direction.

At the same time, “the faculty and the student are exchanging roles,” Dr. Hill said. “We’re all learning at the same time. How do we give faculty the opportunity to learn?”

Mental health and well-being must be front and center.

The panelists all underscored the importance of prioritizing the mental health and well-being of students, including making sure students have access to resources like counseling.

“We’re leading the way in removing the stigma around mental health,” said Dr. DiPaolo. 

“We also need to consider faculty and staff,” added Dr. Campbell. “Often, we focus on students, but we have to be sound of mind ourselves. We’re figuring out multiple modalities of instruction while being respectful of safety and health.”

“We’re a unit that’s trying to get everyone across the finish line,” she explained.

Join us for the next webinar in our Back to School series, Getting Better Prepared for Online and Hybrid Learning Confirmation, Tuesday, September 14, 3:00 pm ET.

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