UF instructors showcase online learning success through social media campaign

When UF mobilized in response to COVID-19 in the spring semester and transitioned online, faculty and staff realized they were still equipped to foster the communities they built within their classrooms while teaching online.  In May, UF’s Center for Teaching Excellence invited UF instructors to participate in the #NoWallsTeaching movement to share teaching methods to keep campus communities connected and engaged. 

UF Faculty led and participated in a variety of virtual workshops, social hours, retreats and game nights. Then, champions were selected based on their extraordinary teaching record and past contributions to the UF teaching community.  

One of those champions, Dr. Joslyn Ahlgren, emphasized that teaching online doesn’t mean learning is confined to a computer screen but instead means the classroom just got bigger.

Ahlgren builds connections with and among her students to empower her students’ success. She shared three ideas in the #NWT workshop “Humanize your Course.”

“Tools such as virtual office hours in Zoom and the GroupMe app to help build a sense of community and trust,” she said. “During virtual office hours, I ask how students are doing — not just in classes, but in general — and we have themed days to make things more fun. For example, on spirit day everyone wears orange and blue and changes their Zoom name to something that reminds them of UF.”

To further develop her students’ online experience, she asks students to incorporate what they learn in class into their daily lives. “This gives students practice using and feeling more confident with this type and level of communication so that they can better express and describe what they are learning and applying,” she said. This approach empowers students to take charge of their own learning.

Ahlgren provides students with clear directions and helpful content so they can master even the most challenging tasks. In her UF Online Applied Physiology & Kinesiology class and lab, students dissect a fetal pig, sheep heart, and sheep brain at home. Throughout the experience, students are asked to document their dissections with photographs and that they label in a power point presentation. This attention to detail paired with thoroughly planned resources combine to enable a successful home-learning environment.

For teachers refining their online classromes, Ahlgren recommends starting small.

“Pick one or two new practices that are feasible for your schedule and level of technology skills,” she said. “It is not necessary to be perfect or have every single bell and whistle. Even small efforts can go a very long way in cultivating an ideal learning environment online.”

She also suggests being honest with students, especially when trying something new. “Let them know that and be open to their feedback. My students have given me some truly ingenious ideas over the years.”

Jennifer Smith August 20, 2020