Brown DLD Faculty Guides

How do I gauge the climate?

Updated on

Ways to Gauge the Climate in Online and Hybrid Courses

  • Affective check-ins. Launch a quick poll, using Zoom or Top Hat Poll or simply by having students type into the Zoom chat or a collaborative document. Prompts might include asking students to share a three word story that summarizes how they’re feeling or typing one thing they’re excited about and one thing they have concerns about. Even if you can’t address each concern in detail, the check-in will give you a sense of the climate and student mindsets heading into the class session.
  • Collect student feedback at the end of class sessions. Have students complete a survey using a tool like Google Forms to share how comfortable they felt in class, what aspects of the class are working well, and what would improve the climate for them. Be sure to address these in the future and note how you used the feedback to make adjustments since it can damage rapport to seek feedback that is then never utilized.
  • Encourage a culture of inquiry. Praise or incentivize question-asking whether it comes in-the-moment or after the fact. The content of the questions asked are a barometer for participant comfort-levels and understanding. Are students asking clarifying questions? Are they asking reflective questions which show interest or cognition? Do they seem to feel comfortable asking questions? Why or why not?
  • Monitor engagement behaviors. Reflect on how much engagement you had and from how many students. Consider non-verbal forms of engagement as well, such as engagement with collaborative documents and, when applicable, body language such as nodding along to instructor or peer comments. If engagement seems low, inquire as to why and don’t shy away from asking students in quick polls or surveys. Could there be alternative ways to engage that might draw in more students?

Handling Conflict

  • Take a proactive approach to mitigating unhealthy conflict. The chance for unhealthy conflict can be mitigated by building a strong community early on in class and by collaboratively constructing classroom norms with students. These might include principles like “criticize the idea, not the person” and “assume good intent”. See Sheridan Center’s page on Facilitating Controversial Discussions for more guidelines. Once you’ve developed a set of norms to ensure respect in the classroom, post them in a prominent place on your Canvas site and refer back to them, reminding students when behavior seems to be deviating from the agreed upon norms. In addition, a strong rapport between the instructor and students can help mitigate conflict and make students more receptive to the instructor.
  • Interrupt problematic comments and behaviors in discussions. Be sure to monitor conversations that occur on discussion boards as well as in classes. If an offensive comment is not addressed by the instructor, that may signal complicity to students. Even though we want students to be self-directed in their discussions, we also need to recognize the authority we have in the classroom to mitigate and interrupt problematic dynamics.
  • Provide students time to pause and reflect: In synchronous classes, you can de-escalate and allow students a chance to manage their emotions by pausing the class activity and a taking a break or doing a brief reflective writing exercise. You can use a short reflective writing exercise in fully online courses too. We suggest you then communicate to students the themes you heard in their responses and discuss how you plan to address them.
Previous Article How do I foster community online?
Next Article Supporting Adult Learners: Principles and Practical Suggestions
Still need help? Contact DLD