Assistance from the Stearns Center

Dear Colleagues,

We have talked with and heard from so many of you this week, and we are endlessly impressed with your determination to support your students, with your flexibility and persistence, and above all with the ways you are working with one another to adjust to an entirely new set of teaching experiences. As we collectively forge a path forward, it’s important to take a deep breath and consider your essential purposes for your courses, so you can focus on the most important learning you want your students to achieve. Your class this semester is not going to look like the class you imagined in January—but we believe that you can support your students, and each other, in sustaining the “access to excellence” foundation that Mason is built on.

As we get ready to start instruction next week, we wanted to share a few thoughts to help get you through this next leg of the journey.

Focus on your goals. As you’re transitioning to remote courses, it’s important to keep in mind what you ultimately want to achieve. What are your goals for the course? How do you want your students to engage with your field’s key concepts and questions? The Stearns Center team can help you think creatively about how to achieve these goals. Please reach out for help through scheduled office hours and webinars and explore some of the Stage Two and Stage Three content on our Instructional Continuity site.

Be flexible. Remember, the activities and assignments you’ve previously used were always the means to an end, a single pathway toward learning about your field. This semester will very likely require all of us to explore new paths. The new plans that you have for next week may not work out as you imagine—but we and your students know you are doing as much as you can to support good learning. Students may also run into difficulties with the new expectations, and again your flexibility will help them continue their learning here at Mason.

Finally, be ready to be flexible with respect to technology access. We have never experienced the demands that we are seeing for so many—the whole country!— to be online at the same time. You should expect some delays as you access online recourses, and it might take a couple of times to access what you or your students need. In some cases, things that were planned to be synchronous might need to be asynchronous, and some tasks that you had planned using one tool might need to adapt to another. Please be patient with yourselves, and with your students.

Communicate. Keep your students updated about your plans, even if some parts of a plan are still in development. You can reduce their stress and increase their success by helping them mentally adjust to your new approaches in advance. (If you’re using a Blackboard site, we recommend using the Announcements function over using student email, since more students check Blackboard and the information will remain accessible in the course.) Encourage students to communicate with you about their own access opportunities and challenges. And communicate with your own colleagues, both about your successes and the challenges you and your students are facing: teams across the university are working to assemble resources, but need accurate information about community needs in order to respond.

Be realistic. Your goal is not to replicate your current face-to-face class, or to create a fully developed online class, but to use online tools to adapt so that you can support learners temporarily through virtual connections. In these first few days of our altered semester, our goal together is to help students begin to make the transition to learning in new environments. As the semester progresses, Stearns Center, ITS, and your local support teams will be available to provide additional suggestions and strategies to help you help your students learn.

Take care of yourself. Your enthusiasm for your subject, your commitment to your students, and your good humor about being a learner yourself will come through to your students and enable their engagement and success. But all of those depend on you finding ways to relieve your stress, to get enough sleep, to ensure that your own family is safe, and to stay healthy. Keep track of resources that may be available through Mason, and be sure to reach out locally to share other ideas with friends and colleagues.

Utilize the resources. At the Stearns Center and in ITS, we continue daily to update the resources we’ve compiled to help you through this challenge. We’ve expanded our team of instructional designers: professionals whose expertise blends technology and teaching strategies, and who have experiences in a range of university disciplines. If you are stuck, need additional tools, or have questions, please contact us to help connect you with available resources. Please contact the ITS Support Center in the event of a technology issue. If you have not already registered for the ITS Alert listserv, please take a moment to subscribe so you can be made aware of issues as they arise.

YOU CAN DO THIS! You’re creating a new path. It’s not an ideal situation and it’s not easy, but you’re not in this alone. If we keep our eyes on our goals and use some creative thinking, we can make it to the right destination—together.

If you have any questions, email the Stearns Center at

Thank you from the Stearns Center and ITS teams!

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