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Improve Your Teaching by Looking at it From the Student’s Perspective

Student engagement is paramount, especially in the world of online learning. Initiatives don’t have to be effortful or time-consuming, even the small things like daily emails are a great way to make your students feel connected. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped how we as teachers interact with our students. Zoom calls and the inevitable “you’re on mute” have become everyday occurrences.

Because of this shift, there have been lots of articles about how COVID has affected student enrollment, teacher salaries and mental health, but it seems as if the majority of information has been geared towards how teachers are altering their lectures, interactions and even office hours to deal with virtual learning. 

Are these tweaks that faculty have made during the past nine months helping students? Are students feeling isolated, or have we been able to create courses that allow them to still feel part of a community?

I decided to ask students how they were doing. As expected, there were many different answers, but the overall theme was that students mostly were able to adapt, and that feeling seen and important by faculty was a major component in how they felt about the semester. Below are some examples of comments written by students (from both spring 2020, when students started with traditional face-to-face learning and later switched to online, as well as fall 2020, which was completely virtual).

“The biggest thing for me regarding virtual learning is not the material but rather the motivation or lack thereof to try to understand it—not to say that the material was boring, because that is far from the truth. I’ve loved this course and its content, but online learning has been a struggle personally.”

“It took a long time for me to adjust to learning differently, and this year was a lot mentally and emotionally. I didn’t realize how much the world had changed in such a short time. It was a learning curve, but it taught me a lot for the years to come!” 

“Virtual learning overall challenged me to find new study techniques. Studying from home, I found it hard to be as motivated compared to working on campus and physically going to class. That being said, virtual learning allowed me to learn at my own pace and re-watch lectures I did not quite understand the first time around. This was helpful, but I still miss going to class, hearing the lecture, and interacting with my professor in person.” 

Making students feel included and important can make all the difference, whether in person or virtual, in how students interact with their faculty and classmates, and that can translate into improved grades and retention. 

When universities first pivoted to online learning in March 2020, faculty were faced with completely changing material, and students were facing new learning modalities, but there was a disconnect between the two. It seemed that for the most part, faculty didn’t share with the students the reasons behind the changes they made. Because of this, students felt unheard and underappreciated. 

For cardiovascular physiology, a course offered at the University of Arizona in both spring and fall 2020, I started posting a morning announcement every day. In these announcements, I not only talked about what was going on in terms of material but what was going on in the state and country as well as some personal information about what I was doing or thinking about. These announcements not only kept students informed of critical changes but also acted as a sort of journal for me to share my own worries and appreciation for what was happening. 

An example announcement would be:

“Good Morning, Everybody!!

How was your Monday? Mine was pretty good! I got to “see” a couple of you at office hours… And I worked on honors theses! I think I mentioned to you in an earlier announcement that I have been getting headaches from looking at screens ALL DAY! So, I bought some blue-light-blocking glasses, and I think they help… Although yesterday I still got a headache! 

Yikes…the TV says we will hit 100 degrees here in Tucson tomorrow!! If you are going out for exercise, drink lots of water! (If you’re in Phoenix, you’re all saying,” poor Tucson babies…think they know heat!!” )

Today and Thursday, you should watch the integration lecture! It’s the last lecture of the semester! 🙁 But it’s a great time to think WAAAAY back to January and realize how much you now know about the cardiovascular system!! Impressive!! And I’m so proud of how you’ve rolled with the changes this semester and really learned, in spite of the difficulties!!

Since the lecture today is about exercise, your homework is to move your body!! Go for a walk, DANCE PARTY, do some squats/lunges (that’s what I’m doing today!)… Just something to get the blood flowing! (And then think about what’s going on physiologically!) 🙂

Have a wonderful day!! I miss you all!!


What I found, through these emails as well as a final survey sent to the class was that these short morning announcements allowed students to feel as if they were having a conversation with me, which not only kept them engaged but also made them feel included.

Some responses I received included:

“I really appreciate the effort Dr. Cohen put into making her students feel comfortable with the transition to online learning. I thought the daily updates were great for keeping people informed on just about anything going on. Also, just to remind us what day it is as they all started to blend together (:”

“Thank you for communicating with the class every day, as some professors only reach out to students for important announcements. She is probably one of the most compassionate professors out there who truly understand students.”

“I think Dr. Cohen made the transition from in-person to online learning better than I could have expected or asked for. She encouraged us daily to ask for help, reach out when we needed it and to allow ourselves to take care of ourselves. When she made the decision to offer short “tests” at the end of each week, I truly believe she had all her student’s best interests in mind. She has made this transition far easier for her students than some of my other professors.” 

What I found through this year is that with very little effort on my part (writing a short announcement each day), I was able to keep my students engaged, curious and willing to work with me through our course. The added benefit that I hadn’t realized was that I used these chats with my students as a way to feel connected to others also. We all came out of these semesters a little stronger and confident that we were not alone. 



Wang X, Hegde S, Son C, Keller B, Smith A, Sasangohar F. Investigating Mental Health of US College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cross-Sectional Survey Study:J Med Internet Res 2020;22(9):e22817

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