Guidelines, recommendations, and frequently asked questions about inclusion and student well-being for continuity of learning.
Policies, Guidelines, and Recommendations
- Virtual Study Groups – Guidance for Instructors (DOC) - Guidance and resources for the use of study groups to foster student connections and student success in learning.
Frequently Asked Questions
Review the following frequently asked questions about inclusion and student well-being. For additional information, read all frequently asked questions.
Inclusion and Student Well-being
Starfish is a critical tool to use during this situation. Instructors can raise flags about any student in their course, and those flags can be viewed by assigned academic advisers, who use those flags to triage outreach.
The Starfish “How-To Guides” have in-depth information about how to use this tool.
Instructors teaching during a world-wide pandemic and within a country experiencing anti-racism activism will undoubtedly have students in their class who are experiencing distress. Teaching students while being aware of their traumatic experiences is referred to as trauma-informed pedagogy. Consider the using some of the following strategies to help:
- appropriately validate their experience
- acknowledge the difficult time they are having
- offer an alternate time to discuss their distress
- be willing to end the class and consult with campus resources for next steps (i.e., Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Student Disability Resources (SDR), Student Care & Advocacy)
- email to express support and how you are also adjusting to the new reality (i.e., humanize yourself)
- make yourself available to engage with them; hold multiple office hours throughout the week to accommodate varying schedules
- let them know that you are empathetic and understanding of the current situations
- briefly summarize some concepts taught in previous classes to help refresh students
- openly discuss concerns and fears regarding COVID-19 if students want to engage
- try to introduce positivity and use encouraging language with students, while still acknowledging the difficulties of current events
- help students connect with mental health counselors or other University support as appropriate
What equity issues are students facing that I should be aware of in order to be sensitive and inclusive in my class?
Do your best to consider the possible circumstances that students and their families may be experiencing right now. Approach students with care and concern. Build flexibility into your course to assist students who are facing any of these situations or others:
- housing and food insecurities
- inadequate access to healthcare while facing health issues
- attempting to learn in an environment non-supportive of LGBTQ+ students
- prevalence of COVID-19 in their racial/ethnic communities
- the need to quarantine or isolate for an extended period during the semester
- the need to leave campus to care for an ill family member during the semester
- grief from the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 and fear for their own health
- grief from the loss of loved ones to police or other violence and fear for their own safety
- involvement in Black Lives Matter and anti-racism activism, and added health risks of participation
- the need to care for younger siblings or to work while completing their studies
- difficulty concentrating in their home living environment
- technology and connectivity challenges that make participation difficult
- limited access to the kinds of disability accommodations that were available on campus
- anxiety from constantly changing U.S. government regulations restricting international travel and study
- concerns about anti-immigrant sentiments, and fear of backlash and violence toward International students
For support addressing accessibility concerns that students with disabilities may encounter in the remote learning environment, faculty can schedule one-on-one consultations by filling out the Accessibility Consultation Form. The Accessibility Team can offer assistance with accessible digital course materials, lecture technology, Canvas, captioning, or any other accessibility questions.
Accessibility Training for Instructors webinar sessions are also available via Zoom for faculty to learn how to develop and transition summer courses to a remote environment. Log in with your Penn State Access Account on the Learning Resource Network website to register for these sessions.
One of my students is experiencing extenuating circumstances, such as financial insecurity, academic concerns, etc., due to COVID-19. How can the University support them?
Support resources differ based on your campus:
- University Park students who are experiencing unforeseen circumstances because of COVID-19 can be referred to the Student Care and Advocacy office.
- World Campus students can view Care and Concern information to access resources.
- Students at other Penn State campuses should check their campus Student Affairs website for Care and Advocacy contact information.
For many campuses, you will find a report form that the student can complete, or that can be completed by you on behalf of the student. Additionally, students facing financial insecurity may complete the Student Emergency Fund application form.
The Sponsored Relations Office in the Office of Global Programs has been working with all of Penn State’s partner sponsoring organizations. They have been instrumental in informing sponsors about the University’s response to the global crisis. They are also keeping an inventory of specific program requirements set by sponsors. Students should be encouraged to contact the office at email@example.com.
During this time, you may be working with students that are experiencing distress for a variety of reasons. Although you are not meeting with students in person, you may notice changes in behaviors (such as failing to complete class assignments) or receive direct communications from students that indicate their distress. Use the Red Folder for your campus to identify and respond to the behaviors appropriately. This tool can help you determine an appropriate level of concern, ways to respond, and referral resources at your campus. If you are interested in learning more about ways to recognize and respond to students who may be experiencing distress, a brief on-demand faculty development course is available called OL 1200: Responding to World Campus Students in Distress. While it was developed to respond to World Campus students, the principles may be generalized to apply to all students.
How can I help students promote their overall health and wellness to assist with coping during this time?
Many aspects of students’ lives are in flux right now. Encourage them to practice self-care and positive coping strategies. They can utilize resources provided by Penn State Health Promotion and Wellness to learn strategies and discover engagement events they can participate in to connect with other students.
What Penn State University Libraries resources are available to my students (and me) during this period?
The Penn State Libraries is committed to supporting teaching, learning, and research during this time of remote and online instruction. Explore the Remote Resources for Penn State Library Users to see what is available to you and your students.
How can I as an instructor help ensure students are connected to the online courses and have the resources needed to finish classes?
Starfish is a critical tool to use during this time. If you know students who are not connecting to your online course, please use Starfish flags to alert academic advisers so they can reach out and support these students.
Webinars designed to provide critical information to faculty and staff about inclusion and student well-being.