The following resource was compiled for the Fall 2021 semester.
The Amherst faculty members shown below all taught in-person classes last year, and have generously shared their experiences and recommendations for teaching with masks in the classroom, as well as ideas for contingency planning around potential student and/or faculty absences.
Also please see the college's Fall 2021 COVID-19 FAQ list which includes a section on Academic Protocols.
Masks in the Classroom: Challenges and Strategies
Assessing Student Engagement while Masked
MATHEMATICS AND STATISTICS
Ivan Contreras taught a 35-student Geometry class in Fall 2020, with about half of the students with him in the classroom, and the other half participating remotely on Zoom. He chose to teach the class in person with a goal of being able to “read the classroom”, something he found more difficult to do over Zoom.
Professor Contreras developed the following strategies for gauging student understanding while masked:
- Maintain eye contact with students.
- Periodically check for frowns, inquisitive or confused eyes, nods, etc.
- Encourage students to raise their hands/ask questions directly during the lecture.
- Have students give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for quick checks to confirm whether certain concepts or ideas made sense to students.
- Increase the number of pauses for questions within a class session.
Catherine Infante taught her courses in a “HyFlex” modality during Spring of 2021, meeting with about half the students in-person. She found it easier to read social cues in person than over Zoom. Even with masks, she could see where students were looking and their body movements helped her read how students were engaging with the material and each other.
Some suggestions from Professor Infante for in-person, masked-teaching:
- It helped to organize the class layout into a circle or open square so that everyone could see each other.
- Don’t hesitate to ask individuals to speak a little louder if you think others might not be able to hear them, and encourage students to ask you (the instructor) to speak up as needed.
Additional Resources for Assessing Student Engagement in the Classroom:
Managing COVID-related Safety, Etiquette & Community Norms in the Classroom
Amherst faculty reported that during the 2021-21 academic year, students generally observed campus protocols around masks and social distancing in the classroom.
To reinforce expectations for student behavior, Professor Contreras discussed masking and social distancing protocols with students at the beginning of semester, and again during the semester as COVID-19 cases on campus increased. He suggests adding language to your syllabus to clarify expectations around classroom behavior. He also recommends encouraging students to monitor their health, make use of the health services on campus, and refrain from attending in-person classes if they feel unwell.
Professor Infante also found that students did not generally need reminding about mask protocols, but occasionally a reminder was needed about social distancing when they were working in groups (bearing in mind that the physical distancing expectations are different for the coming year).
Additional Resources for Establishing Community with your Students
Planning for Course Continuity in Fall 2021
Below, faculty share strategies and advice for supporting students in maintaining continuity in their coursework during periods of time when individual students cannot attend class in-person due to illness or quarantine requirements, or if the instructor must stay home.
MATHEMATICS AND STATISTICS
In Fall 2020, Ryan Alvarado taught a course with 11 students with him in the classroom, and two students remote. He recommended the following strategies:
- Stay in conversation and check in regularly with any remote students, perhaps by scheduling separate times to meet with them individually or as a group over Zoom. This will also help you gauge any preferences around how the students would like to engage with the class while remote.
- Design assignments that intentionally put remote students and in-person students together, to support their sense of community in the class.
In Spring 2021, Jagu Jagannathan and Ivan Contreras co-taught MATH-102/PHYS-102 - Geometry and Relativity in a “HyFlex” modality, in which a small minority of the students attended in-person, with the rest of students completing the course remotely.
Their thoughts on planning for periodic student and/or faculty absence in the coming year:
- Consider proactive structures in your grading scheme to allow for needed flexibility, such as allowing students to drop or refrain from completing a subset of assignments without penalty, or requiring less than 100% attendance for full participation credit. Students can be advised to keep these “freebies” for true emergencies or extreme-pressure points in the semester.
- Hold remote office hours (over Zoom) so you can maintain contact with any students in quarantine or isolation.
- If possible, record your lectures (with Zoom or classroom lecture capture) so students can view what they missed.
- Maintain a shared “course diary” (using a shared Google Doc or similar) where students can collaboratively compile notes, questions, reflections, and comments about the class. This will help remote students follow the course content and stay engaged.
- In the unfortunate event that the instructor cannot come to campus, they have discussed substitute instructors and merging of course sections (which must be coordinated as a department). Instructors can also consider converting some class assignments into independent or remotely supervised projects.
- In general, prioritizing mental and physical health, flexibility, care, understanding, and transparency will help students adapt to this new version of campus life.
Professor Infante also shared the following strategies for keeping students connected with the course despite potential periods of physical absence:
- Be clear with students that there may be challenges this semester (masks, absences, etc) but communicate that she will work to support all students and adapt as needed.
- Meet with each student individually early in the semester to establish a relationship and identify any challenges to their learning they may be experiencing.
- Deliver a short, anonymous mid-semester survey to elicit student feedback.
- The CTL has provided the following resource to support faculty in the development of, and response to, mid-semester feedback.
- Keep a well-organized Moodle site and maintain it throughout the semester. It alleviates students’ stress when they consistently know where to find course material and submit work.
General Links and Resources for Fall 2021 In-Person Teaching
- Teaching Spaces and Technology
- Teaching Spaces- Classroom, Lecture Capture, & Tent Information
- Some of the larger classrooms on campus are equipped with microphone systems. Please email askIT@amherst.edu for support.
- Guidelines for Transparent Moodle Course Design (Academic Technology Services resource)
- Masks in the Classroom
- 3 tips on teaching while wearing a mask (Indiana University)
- How to Teach F2F With a Mask and Create Caring Classrooms (Inside Higher Ed)
- Recommendations from Psychology Today on facial communication while wearing masks
- The college has procured transparent face masks for classes where it is critical to view mouth movements (language instruction, etc). To request, please submit a request to the Service Center by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggestions to share? Questions? Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.