March 2021

The page features CELT Notes sent to Luther faculty members during the academic year 2020 - 2021.

30. March 2021


Good afternoon everyone -


I saw the sun briefly today outside my office window. Fingers crossed it will return for a beautiful Easter weekend. A quick note from CELT before we take a much needed break.

Several faculty members have reached out, commenting on the cumulative exhaustion of this semester. First-years are struggling with their first full semester of college and the rest of the student body is tired too. I know my own students seemed off this past week. They are showing up with smiles, but engagement is down for sure. 


Over in CELT we have been brainstorming ways to support each other so that we can all finish the last five weeks strong and intact. Most of these ideas are designed to support students, but you will find that they will also benefit you. The key here is to keep your course learning goals in mind -- but ask yourself, how can I still achieve those learning objectives, while building in a break, or reducing non-essential content, or otherwise lightening the load.


Here are some ideas:

  • We all need a break. Can you reorganize your class so that students won't have too much homework for Easter break? What if they actually had the full weekend off? 
  • Reading days and work days are a great option. Consider building one or two in these next couple of weeks. My students have a research paper due soon - the next couple of Wednesdays we'll be working on aspects of the paper in class. They'll watch a recorded VoiceThread for homework for that day, so we don't get too behind in terms of content. 
  • Reflection days -- here is a new one. Studies show that giving students space to reflect on course content helps build connections and cement student learning. Rather than meet one day, have them think about your course. Maybe they can take a walk and think about how your course connects to their life or has shifted their understanding of the world. You can have them write something -- or they can just think. In your next meeting, share those reflections with the class. Happy to brainstorm ideas with you!
  • Look at your syllabus -- is it possible to reduce content to give students (and you!) a chance to catch up? 
  • Look at your syllabus -- is it possible to eliminate content? Perhaps drop a week of lab, or a section of readings? Can you shrink the page requirement for your final paper? To repeat -- you need to hit your learning goals, but can you do that with less?  
  • If students have daily homework assigned for your class, consider dropping a few assignments. If you already do this, remind students of this policy. That will allow them to choose for themselves where their limited time <might> be better spent. 
  • Active learning is best - but sometimes you might need to just lecture. A faculty member told me this week that he had a suspicion that students weren't completing their reading to the normal level this past week -- so he just asked them who had actually finished their homework that day. Only four students raised their hand. That faculty member pivoted, threw out plans for an interactive active class session that the vast majority of the class wasn't ready for, and instead lectured for the day. Somedays that might be exactly what the students need.

My biggest suggestion is that we remember to give students agency to decide how to get their work done. This helps support student efficacy, engagement, and also supports their mental health as they get to prioritize their own lives. 

Five weeks left, friends. We got this.




24. March 2021


Good afternoon everyone! 


I made the mistake of ordering a Red Eye this morning at Impact Coffee. That's a brewed coffee with two shots of espresso, for those of you who are wondering. That's how tired I was, folks. Now I'm awake but my left eye is twitching.

Our outreach conversations with faculty have been rather definitive. We're fine. We're tired. We're hopeful. But we're tired. We're marching towards next week's break just keeping an eye on the to do list and hoping not to drop too many of the balls that we are juggling.

I hope that you've scheduled a bit of time off for yourself (and your students!) next week. I also hope you've found time to ask your classes how things are going. If they have given you any insights that may be of use to the larger faculty, please share! We'd love to hear more. 

Social Hour Connections -- Moving to Tuesday 4 to 4:45 in April

We are scheduling Social Hours for the remainder of the semester around affinity groups of all kinds. On the planning table is a conversation among faculty with young children, and a conversation with emeriti for those transitioning to retirement. If you would like us to organize another group for an informal conversation, please email Kate


Student Feedback -- Simple Things that Seem to Help

Several faculty have reported that students are singing praises of some of our course organizational tweaks that we made to ease communication in this disrupted year. 

  • Katie Structure - Erin Flater (Physics) reported that her non-majors are appreciating her Katie structure -- where she uses the  "Collapsed Topics" format (screenshot attached). This Katie structure allows her to put each week into a section and then those sections can be opened or closed by a toggle of an arrow, saving the need to scroll endlessly.
  • Check in Emails - Other students have commented that they appreciate the email check in that comes at a regular time each week. My check in email is a chatty Sunday night email that quickly goes over major deadlines, checkpoints for their research project, and outlines any syllabus changes.  
  • Assignment deadlines - maybe later IS better? -- I mentioned a few CELT Notes ago that we should consider making our deadlines 5 pm rather than 11:59 pm. Erin Flater's students commented that they VASTLY prefer the 11:59 deadlines because of their busy co-curricular life (most are music students). I wonder too if Juniors and Seniors prefer late night deadlines as they manage their time better than their first-year of sophomore classmates? 


Grant Opportunity! - Incorporating Open Educational Resources into your Fall 2021 or Spring 2022 Classes

Did you know that you can receive funding to develop or adopt free textbooks or other teaching resources in your courses? If you’ve been thinking about changing your course textbook or if you want to help alleviate textbook costs for your students, this is a great opportunity. The Iowa Private Academic Libraries (IPAL) group have received a $250,000 grant to fund the creation, adaptation, and adoption of Open Education Resources (OERs) across Iowa colleges and universities. As an IPAL member, Luther College faculty will have the opportunity to apply for funds to make or use OERs for their courses in 2021-22. Preus Library and CELT will offer support in identifying and implementing new materials. CFP coming soon. Contact Freeda Brook ([email protected]) or Holly White ([email protected]) for more information.


Faculty Burnout - Finding Balance. 

The irony of sending you all articles to read about faculty burnout is not lost on me, so if this section irks you, please scroll past. 

It would probably surprise none of you that articles on avoiding burnout are flooding my inbox. I'm sorting through them, wondering if any could be helpful as we move into month thirteen of the pandemic and disrupted teaching. I keep returning to an April 2020 article published in Inside Higher Ed by Rebecca Pope-Ruark. My number one takeaway is Strive for Balance. Pope-Ruark acknowledges that balance may seem impossibly out of reach, but offers some reflective questions that I would like to highlight. 

  • What gives you energy? What can you do to recreate these energizing activities or moments?
  • How might you design a morning routine that eases you into work at the start of your day and a late afternoon ritual that shuts down your workday? 
  • What can you NOT do? What can you put on hold for the time being so you can focus on priorities and well-being? 

Pope-Ruark ends this section by saying, "Work-life balance isn't the mythical ideal we lamented in the past. It is a necessary coping strategy right now. Take advantage of your right to put life over work now more than ever." I'm making a list of habits and practices that I've started during this past year to cope, that I'll bring forward with me into the new normal. 


ACM Antiracism Workshop - Thursday, March 25  -- Decolonizing Pedagogies: Decentering Whiteness as Method. 

No Social Hour this week, instead I urge you to sign up for the March ACM antiracism workshop, starting at 4 pm on Thursday, March 25. Register here. This session will be devoted to reflecting "on our attachments to traditions embedded in our identities as members of small liberal arts college communities. These attachments--to disciplinary training, to administrative expertise, and to classroom-based authority--often thwart campus-wide aspirations for equity and justice. We will use this time to propose an 'anti-diversity' framework that seeks to decenter whiteness and center Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) knowledges, histories, and experiences." 

I have found these ACM Antiracist workshops incredibly valuable. I hope to see you there. 


Student Mental Health - ACM Professional Development Workshop

The ACM is also offering two professional development workshops on student mental health. I'm particularly interested in the session on Thursday, April 8, which discusses ways that we can support mental health in our classrooms and curriculum. You can register here.


Happy midweek everyone,