As the Fall semester quickly approaches, many of our colleges and universities are still grappling with the seemingly impossible decision whether to offer face-to-face classes, online or remote classes, or a hybrid thereof. Indeed, several universities will offer principally remote instruction and limited campus-based instruction, with many moving exclusively to remote/online delivery following the Thanksgiving holiday break.
As educators, we face a myriad of challenges not the least of which is the need for agility in shifting from on-campus instruction to remote or online delivery, coupled with the associated stress of redesigning our courses to fit within the distance learning frame. When you add the importance of student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content engagement, the workload can seem immense and intimidating. Our students also face their own challenges that bring significant stress, including balancing their remote and online coursework, their employment, and other personal and family obligations. Just as instructors have an underlying fear of being back on campus amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and all of the associated unknowns, so too do our students.
Finding ways to bridge this remote delivery divide, especially when you may have been accustomed to only teaching face-to-face courses, is key to our success in the coming months. To that end, focusing on student engagement is likely a good starting point. Effective online learning focuses on the learning community. Using the Community of Inquiry framework, the instructor and student form a community of online learning that encompasses three elements: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Social presence is crucial to the online paralegal classroom, where a student’s sense of belonging in the course as well as the ability to engage with other students and the instructor are fundamental to learning.