Campus News Faculty Spotlight

Building camaraderie despite social distancing

Tiffany Washington (Photo by Laurie Anderson)

Splitting up her class and using good communication is working for Tiffany Washington

Teaching during a pandemic means that many instructors moved from traditional in-person classes to a hybrid of in-person and online. Hybrid instruction opened up many possibilities, and Tiffany Washington, associate professor at the University of Georgia School of Social Work, found her solution in pods.

“It’s been a great experience. I feel like I’m connecting with my students. It’s not as stressful as I thought it would be. We show a lot of empathy and grace and are making it the best it can be.”

Washington broke up her “Social Work in Health Care” class into small groups of five to six student pods and gave them names affiliated with the course material: hospital pod, hospice pod, home health care, etc. She teaches the class in a hybrid format, and different pods rotate either in-person or online.

Small groups work

The pods provided an efficient way to segment the class into small groups for exercises and projects throughout the semester.

“Now that we are partway through the semester, I can honestly say the students love it,” Washington said. “They identify with their pod and seem to enjoy the camaraderie that it allows.”

Before the semester began, Washington also revamped her syllabi, taking the typical static document and segmenting it into easily digestible sections before uploading them to eLC, UGA’s teaching management tool. She also leaned on eLC to organize different parts of her course with a section for weekly schedule, assignments and more. Before hybrid learning, she did not rely on the tool as much.

“I found it was easier for the students and me to organize and access the syllabus with smaller areas of focus,” Washington said.

Energizing her students

In addition to format changes, she also built in extra time for students to connect at the beginning of each course. Once everyone logged into Zoom, Washington muted her audio and camera and stepped away for five minutes. She encouraged students to use the time to discuss whatever they like and decide if they wanted to share it with her or not once she returned to the course.

“The students seem energized by this opportunity to connect. It sets the tone for a productive class experience.”

Not everything has run smoothly this semester, though. Washington experienced a persistent cough earlier in the semester. Following university policy, Washington received COVID-19 testing and could not come to campus for a few days while waiting for results. Luckily, she was negative.

“I told my students that the word of the semester was ‘flexibility.’ When I couldn’t come to classes in-person, we switched to strictly online and adjusted assignments as needed. While it is not easy to make last minutes changes like that, sometimes you have to do what is necessary to keep everyone safe.”