How Do I Teach with a Face Mask?

How Do I Teach with a Face Mask?

As more instructors return to physical classrooms this fall, the university has instituted new guidance on face coverings. which mandates masks in all indoor public spaces, including university classrooms. This poses certain challenges for instructors and for students. On a basic level, when speaking through a mask, words may be harder to understand. On a more nuanced level, not being able to see facial expressions makes it difficult to read emotions and may lead to misperceptions and confusion. Instructors may find it helpful to consider ways to "up the volume” or amplify the communication in the classroom, augment classroom communication through nonverbal interactions, and maintain social connections through humanizing the classroom experience.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Teaching and learning with masks on is a new experience for most of us. As the semester begins it will be helpful to remind students of the mask wearing requirements, to let them know that at times it may be difficult for them to hear you or each other, and what changes you may be making in your class to address communication issues.

Drinking and eating in class. Students are accustomed to bringing water bottles and snacks with them. It may be helpful to remind them that no food or drinks are allowed in academic classrooms.

Include a statement about COVID-related policies and mask wearing in your syllabus and your LMS course site. Sample syllabus language has been provided by the Provost’s Office.  

If students show up in class without a mask. All students have received information about the mask requirements; however, they may make mistakes or simply be forgetful. It may be helpful to remind your class about the mask requirements at the beginning of class and how to wear the mask. You can also take a few masks from the kiosks that are placed around campus for students who forget theirs and nicely ask them to wear it. The Provost’s Office has recommended specific processes on masks and student compliance should issues occur.  

If students show up in class without a mask. All students have received information about the mask requirements; however, they may make mistakes or simply be forgetful. It may be helpful to remind your class about the mask requirements at the beginning of class and how to wear the mask. If you run into problems with an individual student, first try talking to them individually. Should a student repeatedly violate the mask requirement, let them know that you will submit a referral to the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office - Dean of Students Office.

Important note about disability accommodations. Students and instructors who are deaf, hard of hearing or who experience other speech and language challenges may need specific accommodations. Direct students, including your graduate teaching assistants, to Disability Services and pay attention to the email notifications about student accommodations you receive from that office. If you are in need of accommodations, please contact Accessible Workplace.

STRATEGIES & EXAMPLES

"Amplify" Communication in Your Classroom

Use the audio system available in your classroom. Many university classrooms are equipped with microphones and additional sound systems that will make it easier for students to hear you. If you need help with classroom audio or visual equipment, contact cts@umass.edu for assistance.

Adopt technology solutions. Present your lecture materials with real-time, automatic captions or subtitles in PowerPoint or Google Slides. These automated AI captioning services are fairly accurate; however, you may want to monitor the captioning and let your students know ahead of time that there may be errors. Faculty in Echo360-equipped classrooms may also want to provide students with recordings of class sessions as supplementary materials (Echo360 recordings also include captioning).

Watch the position of your body. Instructors in classrooms with fixed microphones may need to remain in closer proximity to the lecture podium. In classrooms without audio support, students may find it more difficult if you turn your back to them or position yourself in other areas of the room. TIP: If you routinely use a white board to illustrate materials for your students during class, consider drawing or writing on the board first and then facing your students to discuss what you’ve written.

Removing your mask. As Provost McCarthy clarified on August 20, 2021, faculty members may choose not to wear a mask during their class lectures if they can maintain six feet of distance from students in the classroom. Faculty who choose not to wear their mask should explain to their class why they are doing so.

"Augment" Communication in Your Classroom

Ask students to let you know when they can’t hear you. Acknowledge that it might be more difficult for them to hear you when you are masked and establish an easy signal for them to indicate “I cannot hear you.” For example, students could quietly point their finger at their ear.

Plan for difficulties in hearing students. Let students know what they can do to make sure others can hear them, such as speaking more loudly and slowly, or facing the class as they speak. Repeat a student’s question and briefly summarize a student’s response. TIP: Encourage students to also use the “I can’t hear you signal” if they have trouble hearing a classmate.

Make your “teaching body” bigger. Intentionally use non-verbal body and hand gestures to communicate. A simple nod can indicate encouragement and if you smile with your eyes, you can better connect with your students.

Offer alternative ways for students to participate in class beyond speaking. Here are some ideas for students to silently participate in class with you and each other:

  • iClicker questions. If you currently use iClickers, you may want to increase the number of iClicker questions to increase student engagement and to monitor student learning.
  • Use Google apps for students to contribute thoughts, ideas, and questions. Various Google applications can support engagement. These include Google Jamboard, the Question and Answer function within Google slides, and “notecatchers” created with Google documents or slides. Please contact instruct@umass.edu if you need assistance with these tools.
  • Use caution in adopting chat tools that are not fully supported by UMass (e.g. Kahoot, Mentimeter, Slack. Facebook, etc.). While many of these tools may be useful, some may incur additional costs for students and instructors, pose privacy or security issues, not provide adequate technical support for their users, or may not be fully accessible.
  • Have silent discussions by asking students to jot down their responses to discussion prompts on big papers, sticky notes or large index cards (see Facing History Big Paper: Building a Silent Conversation or The Silent Discussion: An Effective Strategy to Engage All Students-Blog Post Amy Adams).
  • Make thinking visible by engaging students with a silent Chalk Talk on the board, big paper, or an online whiteboard. If students come up to a board to write, you can ask them to come up only one at a time to keep physical distance. Remind students to maintain social distance as you engage in these activities.

Humanize the Class Environment

Create a welcome video for your course. Use the video to introduce yourself in an informal way to your students while also showing your full face. Tip: If you keep the video message general, you can use the video in multiple courses.

Create an introductory student activity. Ask students to create a brief video introducing themselves and to upload it to Moodle/Blackboard, for example, by using VoiceThread. Tip: Give students a focusing prompt, such as asking them to talk about three things about themselves that others can’t tell by simply looking at them. If you ask students to say the full name by which they want to be called in class, this will also help you learn to pronounce students' names correctly.

Use photos. It’s nice to know what the instructor and students look like without a mask. Include your photo in the syllabus. Create a presentation slide with a photo of yourself without a mask and interesting things about yourself and project it onto the screen at the beginning of the class. Ask students to create a virtual name tent with a photo of themselves without a mask on.

Ask students to customize their masks. Jason Reynolds, seventh National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, invites students to add a kind or inspirational message on their face mask. Watch his 1:45 minute video.

Have students create name tents. This helps you and your students to learn and to use each other’s names. Tip: Ask students to write their names on both sides of the tent and to add a green box on one side (I’m ready to participate today) and a red box on the other side (Please don’t call on me today). Read Cynthia Brame's Blog Post: "Big Classes, Name Tents, and Anxiety in the Classroom."

Create an agreement with your students about what to do if someone forgets their mask. How would they like to be reminded about the mask requirements?

MORE RESOURCES

Please contact the CTL with any questions or for more details about the examples shared at ctl@umass.edu.