Students’ capacity to engage is shaped by many larger factors, which right now are increasingly challenging and complex. Research suggests that students learn most effectively when instructors convey a belief in their capacity to succeed, even though students are facing different challenges. This approach entails clearly communicating both the expectation that students can meet high academic standards and how we, as their instructors, are supporting them to do so. This support takes many forms, from how we’ve organized course materials and arranged supplemental resources to making ourselves available through multiple channels to listen, address questions, discuss challenges, and offer advice.

This also requires acknowledging the challenges students are encountering during the crisis, from personal or family members’ illness to limited internet access to living situations that make studying difficult. The potential impact of such challenges, as well as strategies instructors can use to address them, are explained in this blog post from the Student Experience Project, a national initiative of the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities for which CSU is providing leadership. For example, instructors should provide flexibility on assignment, exam, and project completion dates; offer alternate approaches to accessing course materials and instructor feedback for students with limited internet bandwidth or access; and encourage students to use study aids and other resources.

As adversity confronts us all, keep in mind that students from historically under-represented groups, who regularly face systemic inequities, may encounter particularly extreme circumstances. For example, students of Asian descent could be experiencing hostility, and even physical violence, when others scapegoat them as the supposed cause of COVID-19. Similarly, Zoombombing has been used to perpetrate hate speech and harassment targeting people based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. I encourage you to take a proactive approach. Using Microsoft Teams for live lectures and discussions substantially reduces the risk of Zoombombing. If you’re using Zoom, follow these recommendations to diminish risk. Just as importantly, create a mutually respectful online classroom climate by following the Vice President for Diversity’s Inclusive Teaching Tips, which advocate instructional approaches beneficial for all students.