In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all teaching and learning has gone online. The protective benefits of this scenario are that it facilitates in the continuation of education via distance or blended learning in safer, more socially distant environments. However, it has created a stressful situation for some health professions educators, whose personal and work lives are now a blur causing “techno stress” and burnout. Constantly interacting through a box on your screen is not ideal for medical professionals, and we have done much improvisation in our teaching practices. This blog post discusses instructional strategies which would help teachers combat frustrations created by online sessions.
The first thing that warrants attention is how “work from home” has resulted in more work as not only are we looking after professional tasks but also additional family and household demands. One way to manage this work life imbalance is to schedule everything and keep close family members in the loop. Schedule online lectures, webinars, meetings and then schedule household and family responsibilities around these. Similarly, keep your office or colleagues abreast of any important personal responsibilities so work-home boundaries stay defined. As this time has us isolating, locked down and in front of our screens; build a support network. Connect to like-minded colleagues and friends. Save some time for yourself between sessions. Reserve blocks of time to relax with family members. It is an ongoing struggle, but being positive and proactive will help you stay afloat.
Meticulously plan learning sessions: Keeping them short and sweet. Only address the “must know” learning objectives–online teaching is tedious, and both student and facilitator can only do so much. Let pedagogy dictate the technology and not vice versa, as a good instructional strategy will trump any program you use for delivery. It is also good to always plan asynchronously, even if you have a synchronous event. Keep handouts, links, and flipped classroom activities handy so you can relieve some burden and let some self-directing learning work for you and your learners. Think of the learners as partners and co-create as much as possible.
Use aesthetics to your advantage: Toy with software, such as PowerPoint, Canva, or Procreate, to create gorgeous slides and savvy visuals to keep motivation going. Use gamification elements to foster a healthy and fun competition. Host “Zoom bingo” events, engage students in peer teaching session- let them take center stage and see the creative juices flow.
Do not fear technology: In case you consider yourself not to be very tech-savvy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Learn as much as you can and delegate specific technology related tasks to skillful students. Not only will that enhance their engagement, but it will foster a sense of community.
Normalize feedback: As we move towards more technology enhanced learning, navigating the territory and knowing what worked and what did not is becoming increasingly difficult for our learners. They need to be guided at every step, so we should embed feedback within the teaching process to make this transition seamless. Provide timely feedback at all stages using audio, visual, or written communication. Make sure it is detailed and helps the student understand how to move ahead. Keep checking on yourself, too. Reflect on teaching practices frequently to help put things in perspective. This will aid in better planning and decreasing anxiety relating to upcoming sessions.
Be prepared to fail: Online teaching can be accompanied by technological challenges including crashing programs, internet disturbances, and hardware complications. Do not build up anxiety in trying to make a “fail safe” plan. Embrace the uncertainty of the situation and keep back up measures handy such as battery packs, asynchronous materials, another laptop, or an alternate internet connection. It is also very helpful to have a “substitute” ready in case you have an emergency. Keep a colleague in the loop and do the same for them!
Lastly, as taxing this time is on all of us, be accessible to students. Lend an ear, show kindness, uplift and encourage-slight gestures go far. What are your suggestions to decrease burnout in online learning? Join the conversation by commenting below!
Did you know that the Harvard Macy Institute Community Blog has had more than 245 posts? Previous blog posts have explored topics including engaging students virtually, training with mental practice during COVID-19, and using online learning to prepare medical students for USMLE and beyond.