THE JED FOUNDATION: Tips for Distance Learning

The JED Foundation has offered some solid tips for faculty to consider as they move to a distance-learning environment. The following information was distributed on Friday; I re-print it in its entirety here.

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, many college communities are faced with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Academic schedules have been disrupted and students, faculty, and staff have had to adapt to different forms of distance learning and working. We applaud your efforts to provide essential support to your students and campus communities during this difficult time. The Jed Foundation is here to offer expertise and resources to help you support the emotional health of your students and campus communities.

Below are some recommendations for supporting your students during this period of online learning. We hope this information will be helpful as you continue to assist your school community while also taking care of yourselves.

Know your institution’s resources. 

Many counseling centers are setting up mechanisms to maintain continuity with the students they have been serving and to triage new student clients. Questions about the limitations of teletherapy have prompted recent shifts in federal guidelines. Some colleges also have food banks or may be setting them up for students in need. Know where to refer students who may be concerned about loans, employment, or graduation, or those who need career guidance, and provide contacts to your institution’s adapted mental health resources if needed (e.g., digital platforms, crisis lines). It’s okay to say, “I don’t know about that, but let me find a contact who can help you.”

Offer support and express hope. 

Emphasize that students are not alone; this is a new context for us all. Provide guidance for anything in your realm of expertise—study skills, time management, or handling anxiety related to new digital formats. If you recently had to shift from an in-person class to online, remind students you believe they can be successful in this new course format while also being mindful that not all students may have access to a computer or high-speed internet service. Convey flexibility about deadlines, assignments, and exams, and encourage students to communicate specific problems or needs that emerge around completing their work. Also be mindful of time zone differences for international students. Employ principles of “active listening.” If a student expresses some concern to you, try to listen carefully at 3 levels: the content of what they are saying, the emotions they are feeling, and their behaviors in response to those thoughts and feelings. It is important to know where to refer students or who to contact if students express things that are concerning or worrisome.

Create channels for communication.

Open a discussion group, specifically for students to talk about what’s going on and how they feel. As an instructor, you would want to monitor and respond to some of the posts students share on social pages. While you should let your presence be known on social platforms, allow students to form connections with each other. This will enable them to crowd source questions that you might not be able to answer yourself, but that others in the group could. If concerned for a student, ask, “Are you ok?” in a private message and know where to refer them for support or other resources.

Promote and practice self-care.

Encourage students to maintain social connections digitally with friends, family, classmates, and others. Remind them that good self-care, like sleep, regular exercise, and proper nutrition, is important to learning. Consider adding self-care tips to the daily lectures and slide show presentations. Remember to also prioritize self-care for yourself. Though you and other online instructors may be students’ only connection to the institution, you do not have to be everything to them. You can be a good bridge to other campus professionals who are also there to provide support for students. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Committee (SAMHSA) offers some helpful tips.

We all want our students to be safe and successful. We want you to feel safe, successful, and supported as well.

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