Teaching in a mask? We've got you covered
As Ohio State faculty, staff and students return to campus, some instructors have expressed concern about teaching while wearing a mask. They worry about muffled voices, hidden facial expressions and the challenge of getting to know students and remembering names and faces. The Institute for Teaching and Learning team pulled from their own instructional experiences, as well as the literature, to develop the following recommendations for teaching in a mask.
Build relationships and commit to one another’s well-being with a “Safe and Healthy Charter” you create with your learners. During the first week of the semester, have students reflect on caring learning environments they experienced in the past. Ask students to describe the behaviors and responsibilities of a caring class in the context of the pandemic. Then develop a set of principles and actions for your course. Make the charter a living document by providing opportunities for feedback and revision during semester.
Take periodic “temperature checks” of how your class is doing in the face-to-face setting. For example, you might add a “How are you feeling today?” question in TopHat. Depending on responses, you may need to take some time to debrief and discuss student concerns. If teaching in a hybrid environment, you can take advantage of the reactions capabilities in Zoom to gage how the class is feeling.
Pay attention to facial expressions that are above the mask. Since eyes, eyelashes and eyebrows are still visible, work to “smize” (smile with your eyes). Help learners by reminding them to look for these cues. Consider oral communication to replace what once might have been conveyed with facial expressions. For example, use phrases like “I’m a little confused by...” or “the author’s point here frustrates me.”
Find a mask that works for you. Practically, the N-95 mask has more structure that keeps lips and mouth free from touching the mask while talking. A number of cloth masks are built with attention to form and comfort.
Masks can be dehumanizing. Consider making “unmasked” welcome videos for the course or instructional units so students “meet” you unmasked. Encourage your learners to add unmasked photos to their profile in Carmen so that classmates get to know them.
If one is available through your department or college, use a microphone. This increases volume and allows you to move more freely in the classroom or laboratory space. Encourage hand raising or collect questions via audience response (think Top Hat or Zoom chat) to improve communication.
Do you have other suggestions for teaching while masked? Tweet them out with #howRUteaching and@OSUDrakeInst.
Landau, J. (2020). How to Teach F2F With a Mask and Create Caring Classrooms. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/08/26/effective-ways-teach-person-mask-opinion
Sokal, L., & Reimann, E. (2020). COVID-19’s teaching challenges: 5 tips from pediatric care for teachers wearing masks. https://theconversation.com/covid-19s-teaching-challenges-5-tips-from-pediatric-care-for-teachers-wearing-masks-144446