Looking Backward Before Moving Forward

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Wednesday, December 14, 2022
By Sheryl Kline
Photo by iStock/BrianScantlebury
The pandemic has forced us to pivot and adapt. Now, we must use what we’ve learned to develop new ways of teaching, engaging, and supporting our students.
  • As we look to a post-COVID era, we cannot simply revert to old ways of teaching, but instead also must integrate the new methods that served us well during the height of the pandemic.
  • After our students returned to campus after lockdowns ended, they needed more help managing research projects, balancing their social and academic lives, and attending to their mental health.
  • Today, our faculty not only must offer more interactive classroom experiences, but also must identify and provide support to students who are in trouble.


Like other colleges and universities around the globe, the University of Delaware (UD) weathered the storm of a global pandemic that forced us to retreat from the hallowed halls where we were accustomed to commune in scholarship. And although the strain from COVID-19 remains with us, we have adapted to it and grown from it, because we had no choice.

At UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, we came back to full-time class instruction in 2022. We came back to learning on the beautiful, bustling campus that we love. We came back to our community. But we also came back to different student behaviors, expectations, and needs for support.

Since January of 2020, faculty at the Lerner College have taught in multiple learning modalities—including in-person, online, and in hybrid settings. This need to switch teaching formats has brought with it a whiplash effect that has been compounded by multiple global catastrophes. Through it all, we have learned not only to pivot during times of change, but also to sharpen our preparedness for future catastrophe.

That said, our experience also has reminded us that, as faculty, we recognize that our first responsibility is to instruct, even during a crisis. When we came back to campus, we knew we could not simply return to the way we taught before the pandemic. We had to look back at the old ways we did things before the pandemic and then consider the new strategies we have learned through these difficult years about renewing and improving student engagement. Only by looking back in this way could we see how to help our campuses move forward.

The pandemic taught us to color outside of the lines—to expand the old lines and draw new ones. We now have an opportunity to paint a new picture of what the college experience should be like for our students.

Teaching in a New Era

When the pandemic moved us to online instruction, some of our students did take the easy way. They skipped classes, fell asleep with their screens off, and turned in work late. In many cases, they watched recorded lectures at times more convenient for them instead of when instructors were present and able to answer questions.

The big takeaway from this experience is not that our students are lazy. It’s that we must make the following fundamental changes to the way we engage with our students, if we are to provide them with the support they need:

Emphasize the experiential. If we want our students to embrace coming to class, we must provide them with learning experiences that are far more practice-driven than we did prior to the pandemic. This means flipping our classrooms using the same technologies that are ever-present for the generation of students that we teach, so that students listen to lectures outside class and engage in interactive exercises during class.

At Lerner, our students love this. When we present courses in flipped formats, our students ask more questions about the material and tell us that they want even more interactivity as they learn.

Empower teams with technology. Increasing in-class interactivity has changed the way we design in-class teamwork. In the past, for example, students completed most of their teamwork by talking to (or, in many cases, at) one another. Now, our student teams still sit together to talk, but they do so with their laptops open so they can create and share files on Google Docs or other platforms. Using different technologies, they can put together great information in real time.

They learned this skill when they were separated during the COVID pandemic. Yes, there are times when I tell students to close their laptops and talk as they write their ideas on paper, but technology has been a bonus. Technology also helps students conduct teamwork more effectively outside the classroom, as they easily meet over Zoom to complete cases and work out problems.

What’s more, our faculty have also embraced meeting virtually—even those who weren’t open to this format have completed additional training. They now have an added skill set.

We must provide students with learning experiences that are far more interactive and practice-driven than we did prior to the pandemic.

Fill in learning gaps. When Lerner College had to make the switch to online learning, we were able to leverage our online MBA program, where faculty already had expertise in teaching and administering tests online.

Faculty who taught in the online MBA program continued to assist their colleagues and reviewed best practices for different methods of online teaching. UD’s Academic Technology Services (ATS) hosted Delivering Learning Experiences Online (DLEO) sessions where experts in online teaching and instructional design reviewed the best practices in online delivery with faculty and administrators. The college’s instructional design team continued to meet one-on-one with faculty to troubleshoot and make improvements.

That said, after we returned to campus, we realized that the pandemic had had a detrimental impact on the quality of education students received in high school. As a result, some of our incoming first-year students came to us lacking skills that previous incoming classes had mastered.

Some of our first-year students didn’t know how to format research papers, because they hadn’t written them in high school. Many had no idea how to do research using databases or searching Google Scholar.

For that reason, we began to hold workshops on the skills necessary to get the most from online teaching and learning. For subjects like math and statistics, our faculty had to spend extra time every week, not just office hours, helping students catch up. In my own teaching, for instance, I had to break down an assigned research paper project into small pieces and integrate those pieces into individual assignments—this was something I didn’t have to do pre-COVID.

Offer help managing multiple priorities. Once students returned to campus, we found that many were skipping classes to participate in clubs and social activities—they did not have the time management skills to do both. This new reality fueled our decision to make in-class learning more interactive. On the flip side of that, we also have had to advise students on how to participate in student organizations, maintaining each club’s bylaws and avoiding becoming overwhelmed by these activities.

To help students balance their social and academic lives, UD has hired more personnel for the Student Support Services Program. The university also has ramped up tutoring services, including at our writing centers.

Address mental health and well-being. We next recognized that many of our students were experiencing social and emotional problems, especially our juniors and seniors. These problems manifested themselves in several ways. Because of their isolation during the pandemic lockdown, many of them experienced social anxiety. When they returned to campus, many students didn’t want to be around large groups of people, which made attending events like career fairs overwhelming for them. In response, we had to provide additional mental health services.

We encourage faculty to discreetly reach out to students they see who are in trouble and connect those students to the appropriate support care.

Moreover, some students didn’t know how to dress professionally, so after we returned to campus, we pulled many aside to give tips on proper dress for attending career fairs and guest speaker sessions. We encouraged them to wear socks and ties, dress shoes, or blazers over blouses. Many indicated that they did not have to think of such things when they were behind a camera on Zoom.

To offer more formal guidance, we added to our existing career services workshops extra class sessions, where we taught students how to dress in both professional attire and business casual. In addition, some of our business fraternities and student clubs offered workshops on dining etiquette.

Balancing Old and New Practices

Our faculty has been in step with all these new initiatives. They have trained to enhance their teaching skills and to better manage moving back and forth between virtual and in-person teaching. We also have asked them to focus more on spotting and pointing out students in need of services. We held several sessions with faculty on how to spot students with mental health issues and what resources to contact, based on behaviors that students exhibited. We now regularly encourage faculty to discreetly reach out to students they see who are in trouble and connect those students to the appropriate support care.

We are enhancing the best of what we value about teaching in person with the best of what we learned about teaching virtually. In the end, we are learning to combine old methodologies with new priorities.

As we look ahead to a post-COVID era, we know that the problems we face will continue to change. But we have learned a great deal about how to pivot between old and new. In the process, we also know that no matter the teaching modality, we will continue expand our boundaries to improve our ability to educate, support, and engage our students.

Sheryl Kline
Deputy Dean and Aramark Chaired Professor in the Department of Hospitality and Sports Business Management, Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, University of Delaware
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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