Stanford Pandemic Ed Review, 2020-21

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Lessons from Teaching and Learning at Stanford During the COVID-19 Pandemic A Review, 2020–21 October 20, 2022

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Table of Contents


A Letter from Vice Provost Matthew Rascoff 3 Introduction 6 Purpose and Methods 12 Chapter 1 | Innovative Pedagogy 18 Chapter 2 | Support Structures 32
3 | Professional Communities 44 Chapter 4 | Supporting the Whole Student 56 Chapter 5 | Pandemic Learnings 66 Bibliography 72 Appendix 75 Endnotes 78 Cover photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications
Photo by Linda A. Cicero, University Communications.

Vice Provost Matthe w Rascoff

Dear Colleagues,

“Could Covid lead to progress?” This question was posed by the New York Times Magazine as the title of its 2021 issue on technology and design. Yet, while there were articles on biology, urbanism, and public health, there was nothing on education. Has the experience of pandemic teaching and learning over the past two years already been normalized? Or do we assume that all the effects of the pandemic on teaching and learning were negative, and therefore there is no educational progress to be found?

Now, with more than two years of perspective since the initial response, it is clear that many of the educational impacts of the pandemic were negative — but not all. With this review we attempt to document what occurred in education at Stanford during this period and to begin identifying which innovations may be worth preser ving and enhancing for the long term.

We use the term “emergency remote teaching” to draw a critical distinction between what occurred during the pandemic at Stanford and true online learning. Emergency remote teaching was an urgent response to a global crisis. Well-designed online learning is the product of patient “backwards design,” an intentional, collaborative process that begins with the needs and learning goals of the student. There was no time for such design during the pandemic, but there will be in the future. A s we emerge from the pandemic, the skills and confidence that instructors developed for emergency remote teaching can be translated to more intentionally designed learning experiences.

A Letter from
Matthew Rascoff, vice provost for digital education.

Stanford Digital Education, which Provost Persis Drell launched in 2021, aims to support that translation. We seek to unite Stanford’s human and technological capabilities to expand equity and access to educational opportunities. Our effort is rooted in empathetic listening, analysis, and evidence-based practices. Consistent with those values, this review offers a “first draft” of the histor y of teaching and learning during the pandemic at Stanford and aims to recognize the resilience and responsiveness of the Stanford community, including the leaders who executed the astounding pivot to remote learning with unprecedented speed; the faculty and staff who devised new ways of organizing and teaching courses; and the students who remained committed to learning amid terrifying circumstances. This review offers a variety of perspectives on the impact of different measures, while enhancing our understanding of the inequities and other challenges made more apparent by the pandemic.

Our review is neither the first nor will it be the last to address the subject of distance learning at Stanford, a university that has been at the forefront of education innovation for decades. A s early as 1969 the university was broadcasting courses on television microwave channels, and in the 1990s it was a leader in using the internet for teaching and learning outside the traditional classroom. This pioneering drive achieved a new milestone in 2011, when several professors offered some of the first Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, reaching hundreds of thousands of students worldwide. That work, and Stanford’s efforts to support it, laid the groundwork for a decade of growth in education technologies, platforms, and startups.

The pandemic presents Stanford with a fresh opportunity to continue its progress in online education. In May 2020, shortly after the move to emergency remote teaching, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne convened a task force, the Long-Term Recover y Team, to produce a report that considers what new opportunities may have arisen because of the pandemic. Issued in November 2020, the report recommendations include “building a more adaptive and far-reaching online Stanford that will help us carr y out the university’s mission more effectively through the pandemic and beyond …”

It adds: “We are engaged in a massive experiment in virtual teaching and learning. Many faculty are tr ying new ways to engage students and structure classes. There is an exciting opportunity to capture this learning, share findings, and improve our teaching practices. Work along these lines is already going on in the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Graduate School of Education, the GSB’s Teaching and Learning Hub, and elsewhere. We recommend a systematic assessment as we emerge from the pandemic that might also look outward to other institutions.”


We take seriously the call to learn from the pandemic teaching and learning experience. While abating somewhat, the COVID-19 crisis persists, and education continues to evolve and adapt. We need now to document and synthesize the early lessons. This preliminar y review is not exhaustive. It offers a glimpse into the lives of faculty, staff, and students during the pandemic’s first two years. We must continue to pay attention to all our community’s voices, especially the quieter ones, through continued listening and learning.

I would like to thank Stanford Digital Education A ssociate Director for Educational Partnerships Lisa Anderson and A ssociate Director of Project Management Cynthia Berhtram for their insightful and dedicated work producing this document Communications Director Jonathan Rabinovitz provided guidance and constructive criticism. Digital Community and Social Media Specialist Jennifer Robinson produced the accompanying website. Thanks also to Barbara Egbert for copy editing and proofreading and to Robin Weiss for design.

This paper is a beginning. Over the coming months Stanford Digital Education will share this review with the Stanford community. We hope to discuss its implications in forums that enable us to collectively map a more positive and hopeful future of innovation in teaching and learning that builds on this work. We welcome comments at digitaleducation@




In January 2020, when the earliest indications emerged that the COVID-19 virus could find its way to the Stanford campus, Stanford leadership began planning for a crisis: meeting with counterpar ts from peer institutions, convening its infectious disease team, and conducting tabletop exercises.

On Friday, March 6, 2020, amid a worsening global pandemic and a rapidly changing public health situation, that planning turned into action. Stanford Hospital announced it was treating its first COVID-19 patients. That same day, university leadership acted quickly to move the remainder of its winter term classes online. At about noon, Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs, and Provost Persis Drell called Sarah Church, then the vice provost of teaching and learning. “Can we go online by Monday?” they asked. Church said, “Let me call you back ” Within a few hours, the answer was yes. Church, now vice provost for undergraduate education, recalls meeting with Richard Webber, associate vice provost and chief technology officer in Learning Technologies and Spaces, and Steve Gallagher, chief information officer in University IT. “We wondered, ‘Could we do this?’” Church says of the unprecedented pivot to remote instruction. “It was a frantic dash to let faculty know, and then it was all hands on deck to support them.”

Over the course of the following weekend of March 7–8, faculty reworked their courses. Staff teams spent the weekend in marathon meetings, drafting documentation for students and faculty to guide them through this emergency shift to remote learning for what was initially thought to be a period of a few weeks. Soon after, spring quarter courses moved online until further notice, and the work to pivot successfully to remote instruction continued at a rapid pace. The Teach Anywhere website was created in a day, including valuable information about using Zoom and how to get equipment for remote instruction. The Center for Teaching and Learning held constant office hours for faculty for four weeks straight, and University IT’s general help email provided extra support for remote instruction. In addition to these staff efforts, Church lauds the hard work of the faculty during this disruption. “Instructors were tremendous. Often all we did was make the decisions; the instructors were the ones who made it work and did the hard work,” Church says.


Stanford’s world-class community of teachers and learners faced the emergency switch to online learning with ample resources, a deep understanding of technology, and a long histor y of academic excellence and innovation in distance education. Yet, despite the successful transition to virtual classes from in-person, the path was bumpy for many, particularly students with fewer resources.

The pre-pandemic campus experience had leveled the playing field in many ways: students slept in similar rooms in on-campus housing, ate similar meals in the dining halls, and had the same access to the internet, libraries, and study spaces. Pandemic learning removed this shared experience and brought once-hidden differences into the light. A s undergraduate students scrambled to leave on-campus housing, stark differences began to become more evident. Some students had no homes to return to outside of their campus housing. Some students’ loss of a campus job impacted their families’ financial situation considerably. Others returned to homes where they were relied on to be caregivers on top of their academic obligations.

An April 2020 sur vey of first-generation and/ or low-income (FLI) students conducted by the First-generation and/or Low Income Partnership (FLIP) found the FLI population was especially vulnerable to negative impacts from pandemic disruption. Among FLI students, 80 percent felt they faced circumstances that made academic success difficult, 60 percent felt concern about access to resources, and 50 percent had concerns about stable housing and/or food.1 Institutional Research and Decision Support reported that data collected during a spring 2020 student sur vey indicated that “roughly twice the percentage of FLI students don’t have access to an adequate place to study compared to nonFLI undergraduate students.”2 [See sidebar, p. 8.]

In July 2020, Tresidder Memorial Union outdoor eating area was closed due to Covid-19. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

Many students joined synchronous class sessions from across the globe, in the middle of the night local time, some on borrowed wireless internet. Many staff and faculty also suffered extreme loneliness because of isolation from their peers, and still others found themselves overwhelmed by new demands for education of their children and health care responsibilities for elder family members. University leadership took action to address this challenging context for teaching and learning, creating new programs for supporting academic continuity, such as shipping laptops to students in need, providing additional funds to students who receive financial aid, and other inter ventions discussed in this review.

While some instructors made a seamless transition to teaching online, others struggled to deliver course content in a technology platform they were wholly unfamiliar with. Burnout and Zoom fatigue were common as, particularly early in the pandemic, students passively consumed long lectures on computer screens. A s the pandemic wore on, instructors adapted their teaching to the pandemic circumstances and to students’ needs. Instructors quickly increased their skill in using Zoom for teaching


Survey highlights obstacles and disparities students faced during pandemic

A survey of Stanford undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree students reported a vari ety of challenges, including difficulty adjusting to online-only instruction, reduced access to resources, financial concerns, and increased stress that students said they faced in the first phase of the pandemic.

Nearly 6,000 students responded to the survey, which included questions relating to online instruction, accessibility of resources, finances, stress, and mental health. It was conducted during the spring quarter of 2020.

Most Stanford students struggled with the transition to remote learning, with nearly 80 percent of all students indicating difficulty with focusing on online instruction. Nearly two-thirds of all students reported that the way courses transformed from in-person to online presented educa tional challenges

For many students, their residence during spring quarter presented a difficult environment for online learning. Nearly half of all undergraduates and 60 percent of first-generation and low-in come (FLI) undergraduates indicated they did not have access to a quiet, productive, and private place to study Sixteen percent of all students had significant trouble with internet access half the time or more

The survey results showed that the pandemic is particularly affecting first-generation and low income students These students are experiencing greater struggle with balancing academics with other responsibilities, greater difficulty finding productive space to study, and greater financial impact. Twenty one percent of undergraduate FLI students reported a loss of income to support their families, and more than half reported an overall loss of family income due to COVID-19.

Among all student populations, the most common concerns about remote learning were losing connections to other students and the negative impact it would have on their academic experience.

The survey was conducted by Stanford’s Institutional Research & Decision Support office Every student enrolled in at least one quarter of the 2019–20 academic year was invited to take the survey; nearly 40 percent responded.

The above article is excerpted and adapted from “Stanford makes strides to improve online learning in pandemic environment,” Stanford Report, Chris Bliss, August 17, 2020 (https:// The survey results can be viewed at

Stanford Student Sur vey Spring 2020

Do you have consistent access to the following in your current place of residence?


and thoughtfully reworked their instruction, with help from newly developed resources and training programs rapidly spun up by teams across campus. These innovations, explored in this review, improved student engagement in remote teaching and learning.

In addition to the challenge of remote teaching, other issues in our society had major effects on Stanford during this period. In the summer of 2020, the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police aligned people across the countr y in a call for justice under the banner of Black Lives Matter. The movement had impacts on the Stanford community, as faculty and students made new space to discuss the impacts of racial injustice and inequality. At Stanford, a large-scale memorial to Black victims of police violence was erected at the Oval, while some students struggled to work with faculty to find space for organizing and for grief. Capturing the impact of this moment on students, a Stanford Daily opinion subheading reads, “Our friends are outside being tear gassed in the middle of a pandemic. Just please let us pass our classes.”3

The COVID-19 pandemic increased anti-A sian, A sian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) sentiment, sometimes resulting in hate speech and violence. Stanford’s community was not spared from the stress and fear caused by the increase in anti-AAPI hate.4 Hateful messaging surrounding the pandemic, such as references to the virus as the “China flu,” likely drove the spike in anti-AAPI hate crimes, with 708 reported hate crimes in the Bay Area during the first year of the pandemic.5

Many members of the Stanford community faced these issues in society with a deep commitment to addressing racial disparities, social injustices, and educational and economic inequities. Stanford groups rallied together remotely for equity and justice. The Black Lives Matter movement and the

movement to end anti-AAPI hate affected students’ presence in their virtual classrooms in a way that could not be ignored. Many instructors made space for students to share the impacts of issues in society on them and centered conversations around topics of identity and equity.

Meanwhile, some students never left campus: those who petitioned to remain due to circum stances preventing them from living and studying elsewhere safely. About 500 undergraduate students remained in spring 2020, along with 4,500 graduate students, including coterm, professional, and PhD students. They experienced a drastically different campus than pre-pandemic. Evolving plans and policies caused changes to where these students could eat and work and sometimes forced relocations of their living spaces. Staff groups tasked with supporting students’ learning tech nology needs, both remotely and on campus, were stretched thin. The staff members responsible for maintaining residential computer hardware, who supported printers and even refilled printer paper, were students who had left campus.

Starting with the emergency pivot to online teaching and learning in March 2020, Stanford’s leadership continued to innovate to find new ways to deal with the many challenges arising from the constantly changing COVID-19 situation. “We had been working on updating a pandemic plan since Januar y 2020,” says Russell Furr, associate vice provost for Environmental Health and Safety. However, that group, like so many others across the nation, did not anticipate the scale of disruption that COVID-19 caused. “We were doing things we hadn’t contemplated in Januar y,” Furr says. Indeed, these efforts required immense innovation and adaptability. Gallagher notes that the pandemic response required “a dramatic culture change, not just in terms of teaching and learning, but the campus at large” to allow for so much innovation so rapidly.


The Black Lives Matter movement had a major effect on the Stanford community shortly after pandemic measures were imposed on campus in 2020. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

University leadership met regularly with leadership at peer institutions to determine best practices, though local regulations required each institution to formulate its own policies in crucial areas like masking requirements for classrooms, the ability to conduct research, and indoor workplace capacity. “We were put in situations where we had to make decisions with little information,” Kalfayan recalls. New task forces and working groups such as the Academic Continuity Group emerged to meet the situation with the necessar y thoughtful agility

Yet, because of the evolving public health crisis, each necessar y transition to virtual learning, starting from that first two-week stretch in March 2020, happened piecemeal, sometimes at what seemed to be the last possible moment. The way the university communicated changes in policy was unavoidable given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the plethora of new and rapidly shifting federal, state, and local government regulations around COVID-19. It was not possible to avoid sudden but needed

adjustments to the academic calendar, which, in some cases, increased anxiety and eroded confidence among some instructors, staff, and students and their families. For a subset of the Stanford community, including the undergraduate class of 2024 — which was remote for its entire first year — confidence in the stability of their learning environment has been slow to return. Edith Wu, associate dean and director of New Student Programs, describes members of that class having “a lack of trust” in Stanford authorities. “Any university administrator or leadership can say something, and the students will immediately be skeptical; they will immediately not trust it,” she says.

While some first-year undergraduate students felt understandably disconnected from the university as a result of the pandemic disruption, many more faculty, staff, and students reported feeling increasingly connected to the institution due to a new emphasis on practicing compassion and empathy in the classroom. A s Church noted in a presentation to the Faculty Senate in Februar y 2021, instructors put in much extra effort to prepare remote classes, which students greatly appreciated. “Faculty and staff worked hard to find new community-building tools,” she added. “There was a spirit of shared responsibility ” Kalfayan says, for instance, that she received reports of improved attendance by faculty at academic meetings during the first two years of the pandemic. All of these developments suggest that Stanford community members pulled together and found ways to continue to provide a Stanford education despite the hardships.

There is no ‘normal’ to return to” Stanford’s pivot to an online campus was meant to last for the duration of the pandemic’s threat, initially estimated to be the remainder of winter quarter, then the remainder of the


academic year. [See timeline below.] The rapid transition to remote learning lasted far longer than that. “Nobody expected an emergency to last as long as this one did,” Kalfayan says. In fact, reverberations of pandemic-disrupted teaching and learning continue to echo — and will likely continue to do so for decades. While fall quarter 2021 brought a buzz of energy back to campus and a push to return to “normal” face to-face education, pandemic measures such as remote and hybrid classes and rules about social distancing, masking, testing, and vaccination remained throughout the 2021–22 academic year and beyond. University leadership, faculty, staff, and students are tr ying to determine which pedagogical practices from the previous years should continue and which should be let go. The entire university is looking to address the inequities brought to the fore by pandemic experiences and the protests over racial injustice. The negative and positive impact to students — to their learning, to their skills, to their well-

being — is yet to be fully understood and is likely significant, based on what we learned in our inter views.

“There is no ‘normal’ to return to,” remarked one of our inter view subjects, highlighting the lasting nature of the seismic changes of the pandemic’s in 2020–21 on Stanford, on our society, and on teaching and learning.

This review, organized around themes and stories that emerged from our inter views of members of the Stanford community, intends to weigh these impacts. We set out to create an archival snapshot of both challenges and innovations during this time by listening to stories from across our community. We hope that what we heard will help the Stanford community to understand better the potential of some learnings to be embraced and be long-lasting and to work to address the challenges made more visible by the pandemic that persist beyond it.

Academic Continuity Response to COVID-19 Pandemic End of Winter Quarter 2020 Timeline


Purpose and Methods


This review offers an over view of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning practices at Stanford, including its effect on disparities across the university’s student population. Although more time is needed to provide a comprehensive picture of the consequences of the crisis, it is possible to identify common themes that have arisen and to begin to contextualize the individual experiences of faculty, staff, and students.

The Stanford Digital Education Strategy Group, established by Provost Persis Drell, called in fall 2021 for this review. To carr y out this task, the authors conducted inter views and collected materials to chronicle and evaluate the effectiveness of policies and practices put in place to support emergency remote pandemic teaching6 and learning at the institutional level. This review documents the effects of the switch to remote education on the Stanford community, with particular attention to students from lower

income households, who often are the first in their families to attend college, along with other students who may have lacked the resources for online learning.

Much work is already being done across campus, taking stock of what we can learn from remote teaching during the pandemic. A task force established by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne produced a report in November 2020 about incorporating lessons from the university’s experience in the first phase of the pandemic. At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Teaching and Learning Hub developed a document outlining learnings and support activities during the pandemic in its Support for Online Teaching Innovations document. The Computer Science Department documented new trajectories in post-pandemic CS pedagogy in a paper submitted to a journal of the A ssociation for Computing Machiner y 7 Stanford scholars such as Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, Cheriton Family Professor and professor of physics and of education, have written about


Stanford’s response to the crisis. A universitylevel resource from the Center for Teaching and Learning entitled Learning to Enrich Face toFace Instruction distills innovations and challenges from across Stanford, presenting pedagogical practices that can continue from remote instruction back to residential, largely face to face teaching. Our learnings from inter views across campus are presented in the following pages and are intended to supplement these other works, as well as to lay the basis for further study Methods

Work for this review occurred in two phases. The first was an analysis of internal Stanford policy papers and reports and secondar y digital resources, such as recorded campus events and articles in higher education publications and on the Stanford University website produced by University Communications and available between the early weeks of the pandemic (March 2020) and the beginning of the 2021 fall quarter (September 2021). The second phase consisted of inter views with 59 people, averaging 60 minutes each, conducted from November 2021 to June 2022 by the Stanford Digital Education team with university leaders, faculty members, staff, and students representing more than 25 units across the institution. An inter view template is provided in the appendix.

Background and context for the range of pedagogical approaches and innovations considered in this project originated with Stanford Digital Education’s 2021 Festival of Return presentation, The Future of Digital Education at Stanford: Building Capacity for Empathy and Equity, in October 2021.8 Insights generated from this workshop were shared with the Online Experience Team in November 2021 as participants described what they saw as drivers of

teaching and learning innovations across campus during emergency remote instruction.

This review does not aim to synthesize the individual experiences of faculty, staff, and students from the first year and a half of the pandemic into a simple narrative. It is not intended to be representative of the shared Stanford University community experience. The authors recognize that individual experiences of emergency remote teaching may not be reflective of larger institutional trends. The purpose of this review is to collect, record, and catalog Stanford stories that will help to advance the continuing conversation about education at Stanford during the pandemic and what it means for education at Stanford in the future.

Outline of the Review

This review tells part of an ongoing stor y by offering a series of obser vations from emergency remote instruction, beginning in March 2020. Each set of obser vations, grouped thematically, is the subject of a chapter.

• Chapter I: Innovative Pedagogical Practices. Pandemic emergency teaching presented substantial challenges to instructors, but it also generated opportunities for significant transformation of students’ remote learning experiences. Many curricular practices at Stanford were reshaped to promote active, interactive, and experiential education — including more flexible classroom assessments and opportunities for flipped learning.

• Chapter II: Support Structures. Many new programs to support student learning have emerged as a result of the shift to emergency remote pandemic teaching, including expanded roles for


Purpose and Methods graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. Relationships between faculty and technology support staff have been largely strengthened, and there is new awareness of teaching support structures at Stanford overall.

• Chapter III: Professional Communities. The pandemic fostered significant growth among professional and online learning communities both within and outside of Stanford. Stanford’s impact on these communities has been far flung, informing pandemic teaching and learning practices at institutions both nationally and globally.

• Chapter IV: Supporting the Whole Student. The impact of COVID-19, at Stanford and elsewhere, highlighted inequities among students in higher education. The digital divide, including lack of access to or understanding of technology resources, has made disparities more visible and contributed to socio-emotional distress among vulnerable student populations. A new focus on empathy, support, and student well-being lessened some aspects of these negative impacts.

• Chapter V: Pandemic Learnings. Themes have emerged in what instructional innovations worked well during emergency remote instruction and in what challenges persist. In taking stock of those themes, the Stanford community may begin considering how best to move forward from the disruption caused by COVID-19.

Participant Inter views

Data and individual perspectives provided by members of the following Stanford departments, programs, and units (in alphabetical order) have contributed to the preparation of this review.

• Department of Bioengineering, Schools of Engineering and of Medicine: Paul Nuyujukian, assistant professor of bioengineering and of neurosurger y; Ross Venook, senior lecturer ; and Markus Covert, professor of bioengineering

• Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S): Russell Furr, associate vice provost

• Graduate School of Business, Teaching and Learning Hub: Alison Brauneis, associate director of Teaching and Learning Programs, and Diane Lee, senior learning platform administrator and technologist

• Graduate School of Education: Maxwell Bigman, doctoral student, and Josh Weiss, director of Digital Learning Solutions, Office of Innovation and Technology

• Introductory Seminars: Course development assistants and undergraduates Ellie Bassow Fajer, Bowen Jiang, and Alex Popke

• Language Center: Elizabeth Bernhardt Kamil, John Roberts Hale Director of Stanford Language Center and professor of German studies

• Law School: George Triantis, senior associate vice provost for research and Charles J. Meyers Professor of Law and Business


• Libraries: Phyllis Kayten, outreach and instruction librarian; Anna Levia, reference and instruction librarian; and Josh Schneider, university archivist, special collections

• Members of the Online Experience Team from units across campus under the direction of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs

• Online High School: Meg Lamont, assistant head of school and English instructor

• School of Engineering Computer Science: John Mitchell, Mar y and Gordon Crar y Family Professor in the School of Engineering, and Jenny Han, graduate teaching assistant Electrical Engineering: Jim Plummer, John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering: Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor Emeritus in the School of Engineering Life Design Lab, Stanford Kathy Davies, managing director and lecturer of mechanical engineering

• School of Humanities and Sciences: Judith Goldstein, Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communication and professor of political science; Mar y Beth Mudgett, senior associate dean for the natural sciences and professor of biology; Debra Satz, Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and The Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society; Laura Schlosberg, assistant dean

of academic and curriculum support; and Susan (Suzi) Weersing, associate dean, Graduate and Undergraduate Studies

• School of Medicine: Pauline Becker, strategy and operations director ; Peter Nguyen, learning innovation specialist; Charles Prober, professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology; and Teggin Summers, assistant dean and director of educational technology

• University Information Technology: Steve Gallagher, chief information officer, and Sean Keegan, director, Office of Digital Accessibility

• Vaden Health Services: John Austin, senior advisor for mental health and wellbeing innovation

• Vice Provost for Academic Affairs: Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs

• Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs: Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and Jagdeep and Roshni Singh Professor in the School of Engineering

• Vice Provost for Student Affairs: Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs

Learning Technologies and Spaces: Andy Saltarelli, senior director, Evaluation and Research; Makoto Tsuchitani, senior director, Learning Systems and Ser vices; Helen Chu, senior director, Learning Spaces; Kimberly Hayworth, director, Engagement and Outreach; Kailey Chen, Canvas user support specialist; Christine Doherty, lead user support


Purpose and Methods specialist; Paige Coleman, Canvas faculty support; Keli Amann, user experience specialist

• Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education: Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of physics; Julie Remold, director of evaluation; and Beth Seltzer, academic technology specialist until 2021, when she joined the Graduate School of Business as senior instructional technologist and project manager

Academic Advising Operations: Edith Wu, associate dean and director of New Student Programs Center for Teaching and Learning: Andrei Baltakmens, communications project manager ; Kenji Ikemoto, academic technology specialist; Rajan Kumar, lecturer in engineering; Michael Rouan, senior director, Academic Technology Innovation; Gloriana Trujillo, director, Faculty and Lecturer Programs; and Kritika Kanchana Yegnashankaran, associate director, Faculty and Lecturer Programs Former Undergraduate Student: Rohan Suri, co-founder of Nooks

The above list represents a small subset of Stanford and does not represent the whole of pandemic emergency teaching and learning activities and perspectives at Stanford.


Obser vations in this review arise largely from the authors’ analyses of inter views with Stanford faculty and staff members, along with information from previous reviews, policy statements, articles, and other documents pertaining to teaching and learning during 2020–21 at Stanford. While these sources allowed the authors to identify some recurring themes, the information gathered in this review is not a representative sample of the university community

To advance the understanding of education at Stanford during the pandemic, continued inquir y is needed. More inter views, particularly of students, are needed. Many Stanford units have not yet engaged in formal “post-pandemic” sur veys. We hope that this review will inspire more Stanford units to do the quantitative, as well as qualitative, assessments necessar y to develop a clearer picture of the pandemic’s effect on education at Stanford in 2020 and 2021.

Purpose and Methods
Photo by Linda A. Cicero, University

Innovative Pedagog y

Innovation from Disruption

In spring 2020, the rapid emergency shift to remote learning forced a reliance on an existing technology toolkit — one that was not necessarily the best fit for all instruction. In particular, Stanford’s existing licenses with Zoom and Canvas, Stanford’s learning management system, suddenly became the means by which Stanford conducted its core educational mission. While Canvas (owned by the educational technology company Instructure) had largely been a means of supplementing classroom learning prior to the pandemic and Zoom had rarely been used for instruction, these became the foundation of student learning and connection to the campus community. This well-established and stable technology toolkit enabled Stanford to pivot quickly to provide the teaching and learning support needed for emergency remote instruction to function — and ultimately to evolve.

While Zoom had not been used as a classroom tool, Stanford already had extensive familiarity

with the technology. For one thing, its Redwood City campus, which opened in 2019 to house many university departments and ser vices, has relied on Zoom as a business tool to bridge the seven-mile distance between its faculty and staff and the main campus. What’s more, because of Stanford’s location in Silicon Valley, it had a strong connection with the company based in nearby San Jose before the pandemic began. “A number of peer universities were struggling with bandwidth issues, infrastructure scaling, and with volume. We already had this highly scalable infrastructure with Zoom and, furthermore, a ver y tight relationship with their CEO and founder,” says Steve Gallagher, Stanford’s chief information officer.

The suddenly more prominent role of Zoom and Canvas when emergency remote education began did raise concerns among some faculty and staff. It meant that Stanford’s teaching, learning, and work were conducted in platforms developed by private, for-profit companies whose products were designed to accommodate a wide range of

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION18 1 | Innovative Pedagogy

customer needs. Zoom, in particular, is a business meeting tool not designed with education in mind.

“The pandemic amplified all the gaps that were already there, and a commercial vendor may not prioritize what you think is important,” says Christine Doherty, lead user support specialist in Learning Technologies and Spaces. Doherty cites challenges supporting the needs of both ver y large lectures and small graduate seminars using the same learning management system, Canvas. She also highlighted the difficulty of relying on vendors who may experience unexpected downtime or change functionality of their products without warning. “When something fails miserably in the middle of a final exam — you can’t take that back. It’s like ruining someone’s wedding day,” Doherty says of the erosion of trust such problems can cause.

But the university was making the transition at warp speed, and it had neither time to seek other options nor time to plan how faculty and staff could thoughtfully apply the new technology to learning. Instructors quickly needed to master Zoom and Canvas. This timeline left instructors little choice initially to do much else besides tr y to replicate their face to-face courses on Zoom. In the first wave of courses in response to the pandemic, faculty delivered the same lectures virtually that they would have in the classroom. While the problems with this approach soon became apparent, there was nonetheless an upside. Instructors’ ability to use this new technology and adapt it to instructional practices allowed teaching and learning to continue without interruption. “Moving online was scar y for us as faculty,” Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil, John Roberts Hale Director of Stanford Language Center and professor of German studies, says. “I was certain it was not going to work. I got over that in about 10 days.”

Beth Seltzer, who was then an academic technology specialist with Stanford Introductor y Studies (SIS), housed in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, noticed in her work supporting instructors that the sudden shift to teaching remotely leveled the playing field for instructors. A seasoned faculty member told her that teaching in this new modality “feels like teaching the first class you taught in grad school,” placing new instructors and tenured faculty with 50 years of experience in the same situation: both had to rebuild courses from the ground up to teach them remotely

From this newly leveled playing field, innovative learning designs emerged and promising pedagogical practices came into greater focus. A s the pandemic wore on, instructors became all too aware of students’ Zoom fatigue and understood that they had to design activities that would

For the course CS 182: Ethics, Public Policy, and Technological Change, the professors experimented with a specially designed set-up in the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater in Wallenberg Hall. Here Professor of Political Science Jeremy Weinstein lectures before the 32-foot-wide by 8-foot-high video wall, which features a tiled display of students on their device screens over Zoom. For more info, see the Stanford Report profile of CS 182. Photo by Robert Emer y Smith.

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promote learning without exhausting students from watching lectures on their laptops. A s instructors became more confident in their ability to use Zoom for teaching, they began to seize the opportunity to take different approaches to their courses. “Instructors moved from replicating face to-face course activities 1:1 to online — they learned how to adapt,” says Alex Popke, a senior undergraduate and course development assistant.

Instructors used the disruption as an opportunity to rethink their course designs from the ground up. “We’ve all been doing this for a long time, and you get in some habits. It was kind of refreshing to just start over, and it didn’t take as long as I thought,” said Graham Weaver, lecturer in management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, in a fall 2021 faculty panel.9 “I’m going to bring that thinking back into the classroom as well.”

Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, Cheriton Family Professor and professor of physics and of education, and two colleagues reached similar conclusions about the evolution of teaching during the pandemic in a book chapter comparing how Stanford and Stockholm University responded to the crisis. They wrote:

Within departments, there have been far more widespread and extensive discussions about teaching than ever happened before. Although these initially focused on the basic use of the technology, they have evolved into more extensive discussions of teaching, although more rigorous, evidence based discussions are still needed.

Another interesting outcome is the seemingly hierarchical scale of actions teachers took when faced with the new teaching situation. The first step

was to learn to handle the technology so that it would be possible to transfer teaching online. The next step was to consider and reflect upon challenges and opportunities with the new environment in terms of pedagogical value. This was clear both at Stockholm and Stanford University. From discussions between academics and academics and managers that we have taken part in, it seems the discussions have moved on from just doing teaching online to how to do it well.10

In turn, students noted that they felt more engaged in courses with instructors who responded with creativity in their pandemic course designs. The instructors who were flexible, rethought course assessments, and adapted course materials and their deliver y to meet students’ needs may well have helped students to cope better with life during the pandemic and may have helped them to continue learning, perhaps in some instances providing a better learning experience than they would have had in a face to-face class, according to several of the inter views with faculty and staff

The university is committed to making its online education capacity stronger still, but it remains to be decided how to pursue that aim. [See sidebar, p. 21.] What we have learned is that when faced with a fundamental change to the way the Stanford community teaches and learns, an initially reactive, urgent response gradually provided space for innovative and promising practices to emerge.

The improvements in teaching and learning during the pandemic that are discussed in this section are grouped in three categories:

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1. Leveraging Learning Technologies: Make the best use of available platforms to augment instruction.

2. Flexible Instructional Practices: Offer creative, flexible, thoughtfully designed instruction.

3. Creative Adaptations with Hybrid Technology: Adapt what we’ve learned to meet the needs of a changing landscape.

The following discussion offers examples of promising pedagogical strategies that emerged in the Stanford community during the pandemic in each of the three groupings.

1 | Leveraging Learning Technologies

Capabilities of Zoom

The challenges of teaching via Zoom were many: Zoom fatigue, lack of engagement, and difficulties building connections, among others. However, instructors and students discovered that Zoom afforded new capabilities that augment what is possible in the physical classroom.

For instance, back-channel conversations in Zoom chat encouraged engagement from students who might not otherwise have spoken up in class, increasing the diversity of voices in the classroom. A rich community of inquir y could be built in the chat,

President’s Long-Term Recovery Team calls for strengthening ‘Online Stanford’

A team convened by Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to consider the pandemic’s lessons about online education at Stanford issued a report in November 2020 with two somewhat conflicting findings: While “what can be done virtually has been a revelation” to the University community, “students would give anything to be back in person.”

It found: “Students and faculty dearly miss the in-person interactions of campus life, and in many ways the pandemic has reaffirmed the value proposition of residential education. But at the same time, we are discovering new ways to teach, communicate, collaborate, and deliver clinical care Some of this change will persist after the pandemic has passed. A post-pandemic Stanford should have a far stronger online presence, and it should use that capacity to respond to and realize new opportunities.“

It flags important shifts in attitudes toward online learning that occurred during the first phase of the pandemic. “ The rapid pivot to remote teaching and learning has led some instructors to recognize for the first time that online teaching is viable, and other instruc tors to become invested in creating novel, excellent, remote learning experiences,” it says. “Across the entire spectrum, there has certainly been increased awareness of and advances in online instruction.”

The report cautions against repeating Stanford’s past pre-pandemic efforts to expand online education, most notably the enthusiasm about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and calls for the University to take select steps to build a stronger and more impactful “online Stanford.” It spotlights global professional education, courses for high-potential pre-bachelor’s students, and the introduction of innovations to the classroom from online teaching during the pandemic.

“Building a more adaptive and far-reaching online Stanford,” it concludes, “ will help us carry out the university’s mission more effectively through the pandemic and beyond.”

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where students could raise questions and their peers could respond.

The simple hand-raising function in Zoom built inclusion into the classroom, removing some potential for faculty bias in which students they called on to speak. Because the “raise hand” feature lines up students’ Zoom rectangles in the order of hands raised, an orderly queue of students formed. Although this did not remove all barriers to speaking up in class, it was noted to be a helpful step in the right direction.

Classroom management in general became easier. “Zoom seemed to bring more students into the conversation. I could see them all, while in a classroom of 40 it’s kind of hard to keep your eye on ever ybody,” says Charles Prober, founding executive director of the Stanford Center for Health Education and professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology at the School of Medicine. Polling in Zoom or other Stanfordsupported tools like Poll Ever ywhere helped instructors get input or responses from large numbers of students in a ver y short time, also allowing more voices to join the conversation. In addition, Zoom breakout rooms solved the problem of students spending class time physically moving to sit near their small group partners. Breakout rooms reduced the friction in implementing active learning strategies, which are sometimes impeded by the design of physical classroom spaces.

While there has been growing appreciation of the potential benefits of Zoom, many of those we inter viewed cautioned against overstating its benefits. The 2020–21 annual report of the Stanford Language Center, for instance, offers ample details about the success of online instruction in Stanford language courses, but that does not mean that face to-face classes are a thing of the past. “Students and teachers alike report that they look forward to returning to in-person instruction,” the report says.

Organizing Course Content

Canvas is the learning management system Stanford and thousands of other schools use to host course websites, training modules, and other learning content. It simplifies a variety of tasks involved in daily course management — that includes publishing course materials, hosting videos, offering grading support, enabling students and instructors to communicate, and more. Students also use it to access course content, to submit their homework, and to work with peers.

Like Zoom, Canvas is a technology adopted by Stanford long before the pandemic; and like Zoom, Canvas became much more central to campus life than ever before because of the pandemic. To offer one example: all assignments and materials in language courses are now posted on Canvas. “Our [language] instructors have now gone to fully paperless instruction,” says Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil, John Roberts Hale

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When you have to put ever ything on Canvas, you have to be more organized. You have to design your course more thoughtfully.”

Director of the Language Center and professor of German studies. “Our students like that.”

In the 2020–21 annual report for the language center, she wrote of specific improvements made to Canvas course sites during the pandemic:

“A review of Fall 2021 Language Center Canvas sites revealed a wide range of approaches, but their facilitation of the basic mechanisms of course management were remarkably consistent. Zoom connection information was posted in the syllabus, in a message to students, or in the top page of the site, but it was immediately and constantly available to students. Resources were posted in Pages, gathered in separate folders of files, or organized into weekly or thematic Modules. Many instructors also made use of external Stanford tools like and Google Drive and they directed their students to a Digital Language Lab orientation site with instructions and practice for audio submissions. It was also clear that they followed previous guidance on challenging tasks like submitting large video files, because there was no evidence that students had any of the difficulty seen in past years.”11

Even before the pandemic, students say they longed for more consistency in course structure and design in Canvas. Despite sharing a common platform for managing course information, each instructor organized information differently and had different expectations for how it would be used in their courses. In the first wave of the pandemic, students had to learn these course-specific systems at a time when they were adapting to a new way of learning, using

new tools, in new environments. Instructors responded by building more predictability and structure into their course sites in order to make information easier to find. Seltzer noted that Canvas course designs improved, with more care given to structuring Canvas courses.

Structuring course sites can be as simple as organizing content by theme or week consistently in areas of the site where students look for course materials. “I’m designing my course with a structure, organized by week in both the Files and Modules sections of that course site. This means ever ybody can find what they’re looking for quickly,” said Victor Lee, associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, in a GSE faculty panel.

Canvas’s more prominent role led many instructors to adopt a more thoughtful approach to organizing course content. “When you have to put ever ything on Canvas, you have to be more organized. You have to design your course more thoughtfully,” Bernhardt-Kamil says.

Paige Coleman, who leads Canvas instructor training and provides Canvas workshops in her Canvas faculty support role in Learning Technologies and Spaces, confirms that faculty were interested in more in-depth knowledge of Canvas and other learning platforms. She points out that faculty attendance in her Canvas over views increased overall, which she took to be a sign that instructors were dedicated to making use of all support resources and technology available in order to design the best courses possible.

2 | Flexible Instructional Practices

Chunking Class Time

Instructors found they could not hold student attention lecturing in Zoom as long as they could

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in the physical classroom. Class times were shortened in some disciplines during remote pandemic instruction, allowing less wiggle room for covering course content. To solve for this, instructors found success in organizing class time into shorter segments that included a wider range of modalities and more interaction than a typical lecture-based class.

Christine Min Wotipka, associate professor of education at the Graduate School of Education, shared her strategy for chunking course content to retain student engagement and to counter Zoom fatigue in a GSE faculty panel on May 15, 2020. “We don’t spend any more than 20 minutes doing one thing: we’ll do a warm-up and check ins, then a short discussion, then go into breakout rooms. Breaking things up into smaller chunks, adding a lot of variety, and giving students as many opportunities to participate in different ways has become all the more important.”

Flipped Learning

Instructors needed to balance the desire to deliver a full course-worth of rigorous content with shortened class times and sharper drop off in student focus during lectures. One way they met this goal was through flipping their course designs. “Flipping” means delivering learning materials asynchronously, with students accessing and making use of course lectures, readings, and other learning material on their own, and then using synchronous course sessions for active learning, such as collaborative projects or discussions. This format allows students to engage with key course content at a time and pace that works for them and then deepen their understanding through application of their learning.

Hanno Lustig, professor of finance at the Graduate School of Business (GSB), decided

to “flip” his Finance 305 course by recording lecture content for students to watch before class sessions. He recorded 39 lecture videos at home and developed related quizzes so students could check their understanding of the material. Class time was freed up for deeper discussions and guest speakers. “It’s hard for the students — online learning during a pandemic is not what they signed up for,” Lustig says. “This is a good format, and it allows for more productive use of the class time. You lose students quickly if they’re just staring at a lecture.” He also noticed the added benefit of reaching a wider range of students with this method: novices in the subject area would be able to review content until they understood it well, while students with more experience could skim content in areas in which they’re already knowledgeable.

The Stanford CS Pedagogy Project, dedicated to investigating the field of computer science education, highlighted several case studies that drew on flipped learning models during the pandemic. In CS221: Artificial Intelligence: Principles and Techniques, for example, students conducted their learning of basic course concepts asynchronously and independently. Synchronous class time was used to provide further over view of the week’s learning topics, to allow for student questions, and to dive deeper into application of learning through collaborative problem sessions, while additional smaller, hands-on sessions helped students synthesize the course topics. John Mitchell, Mar y and Gordon Crar y Family Professor in the School of Engineering and founder of the CS Pedagogy Project, suggests that in this type of flipped model, the large group sessions helped provide students with a broader perspective, placing their learning in context.

Repurposing Video

Instructors made use of previously recorded

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video, weaving already existing content into the courses forced to be remote during the pandemic. Units with strong professional and online programs prior to the pandemic had the advantage of libraries of recorded videos, often high in production value. Similar to the flipped learning model, ongoing access to instructional videos meant students could engage with content at the time they needed it and at the right pace for them. Indeed, in a sur vey of computer science students, 85 percent said it was helpful or ver y helpful to have access to prerecorded lecture material.12

Haim Mendelson, professor of management at Graduate School of Business (GSB), integrated previously recorded video and other already existing content from his course in GSB’s online executive education program, LEAD. By using his LEAD Business Models Analysis content in his

OIT 356: Electronic Business course, Mendelson could provide clean, studio-recorded video with informative graphics to his students in the residential MBA program. He added a layer of interactivity, as well, in the form of low-stakes assessments embedded within the video using an interactive video platform.

Video management systems make the creation of reusable video repositories far easier, ensuring ongoing access and easy sharing of content despite distributed teams. The Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) supports a wide variety of learning platforms and technology tools to support blended and online learning. One of these tools is the Panopto video management system, a video capture, deliver y, and video content management tool that provides teaching teams greater control over their content. Panopto is widely used by most schools and departments

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Students in an “outdoor classroom” in November 2020. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

at Stanford, and this use grew exponentially during the pandemic as faculty migrated their courses to matriculated students online and SCPD and faculty ser ved an increasing number of online graduate students worldwide. To support this increase, SCPD scaled up its technology platforms and ser vices and created a host of online instructor guides, virtual trainings, and 1:1 consultations. Lina Piezas, SCPD’s associate director of video platforms and content distribution, noted that Stanford instructors created larger amounts of instructional media than ever before in 202013, generating a sizable librar y of instructional media available for reuse. SCPD fielded hundreds of requests for video content reuse support, with Spring Quarter 2021 eliciting the program’s highest-ever amount of content reuse.

The Department of Mathematics at Stanford took this one step further by working with SCPD to make a video repositor y of material from several courses which then could be sorted and segmented by project set. With Piezas’s help, this video repositor y has become a permanent instructional reference collection for Math 51: Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus. Students are able to view instruction of the same content by different teaching assistants, and as each provides slightly different explanations, this aids learning and retention. The math department also used this video repositor y to support the education of graduate students in the

best practices of teaching, particularly in a remote environment

Active and Experiential Learning

With respect to teaching, the pandemic definitely hit different departments differently,” says Debra Satz, Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and The Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society. “Some kinds of classes are really hands-on, and people need to be there.” Learning experiences that rely on labs, travel, or other location-specific resources simply could not happen in the way they had before the pandemic. For other courses that rely on hands-on activities for student learning, the move to remote learning required creative adaptations. Art, lab-based sciences, and materials engineering courses were among those that had to be redesigned with key learning activities for the new pandemic context.

In March 2020, Markus Covert, professor of bioengineering, was in Paris teaching his Science of Haute Cuisine when COVID-19 struck. He and his students scrambled to return home, and Covert had to reimagine this immersive, hands-on course. His students worked in their

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It was the most I've ever interacted with parents, and it was really meaningful to the parents, clearly, and to the parent-student relationship.”
Markus Covert, professor of bioengineering, on cooking labs in his Science of Haute Cuisine course DEBRA SATZ

home kitchens, with supplies shipped to them. This format had the added benefit of involving students’ families in their learning, strengthening students’ connections at home and in the course learning community. Covert himself involved his 13-year-old daughter in the cooking labs. “I reached out to the parents to encourage them to participate, and asked students to cook with their siblings or whoever they were isolating with,” Covert says. “It was the most I’ve ever interacted with parents, and it was really meaningful to the parents, clearly, and to the parent-student relationship ”

Experiential learning could increase student connection to one another as well. In ITALIC, a cross-disciplinar y Introductor y Studies program designed to engage students in an exploration of art histor y and theor y, a Mail Art class offered hands-on sessions over Zoom, during which students created works of art meant to be mailed to one another. This link between the act of creation, done virtually, and the physical, tangible object received in the mail connected the students across distance.

Mechanical Engineering offers many courses that rely on hands-on experiments and problem solving. One course, ME2: Experimental Problem Solving for Engineers, which teaches students how to effectively design and run experiments, is foundational to their learning in other courses in this discipline. It was moved online with adaptations that made use of materials and devices the students were likely to have on hand. For example, students ran an experiment studying how cream disperses in a cup of coffee.

In another engineering course, E14: Statics and Strength, students received a learning kit including common, easy-to-ship household items, including gummy bears, that would be

used to build a tower 40 cm tall with a platform for the bears. Students were instructed to develop clear instructions for how to build their tower designs. The kits were an effective way to provide students with hands-on opportunities to apply course concepts, though the students needed to have mail ser vice for it to work. Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor Emeritus in the School of Engineering and instructor of the course, shared the stor y of a student in such a remote location that they had no mailing address, making shipping a kit impossible.

While many experiential learning courses will simply return to their former structure, some redesigns were so successful that aspects of them will persist. Ross Venook, senior lecturer in bioengineering, took time with his course co-leader Kwabena Boahen, professor of bioengineering and of electrical engineering, to thoughtfully plan how their lab-based Bioengineering System Prototyping Laboratory course could unfold online. The project at the center of the course required redesign in order to be completed at home with kits mailed to students. Since the students would be designing and prototyping outside the usual lab environment, where the instructors might normally watch them work and help troubleshoot along the way, checkpoints needed to be built along the way throughout the course. The instructors determined that they wanted to provide more support through scaffolding. The students gained confidence by first building skills and then using those skills to design their own prototypes. This structure worked so well that the course redesign, and even some of the portable tools from the kit mailed to students, are still being used.

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Rethinking Assessments

For the 2020–21 academic year, Stanford’s Faculty Senate decided that there would be no final exams for undergraduates and graduate students, although the professional schools (GSB, SoM, and Law) were left to make their own decisions. Our conversations revealed that adherence to this policy was not universal; some courses continued to conduct summative, high-stakes assessments, and simply held them outside of typical midterm and final times or labeled them differently.

However, for many, this was an opportunity to rethink course assessments to be formative, scaffolded, and lower-stakes. “A lot of courses removed exams altogether, instead focusing on assessments like individual quizzes on each unit of the course, so you can check your master y and build towards your final grade,” says Bowen Jiang, one of the student Digital Ambassadors we spoke with. “This helped to reduce the stress of preparing for assessments on a single date.”

Bernhardt-Kamil’s 2020–21 Language Center

Annual Report gathered data that echoed Jiang’s obser vations about attitudes toward assessments. A sur vey of language instructors cited in the report indicated “that having fewer high stakes assignments led to more instructional time; concomitantly, students reported that smaller, more frequent assessments made them more responsible daily for classroom learning and reduced their anxiety ” The report states that these changes to instruction resulted in improved student performance.

In addition to a shift to more frequent, lower stakes assignments, assessments became more project-driven and focused on essays. In the Computer Science Department, an increase in assignments allowing revision and resubmitting was noted as well.14 This rethinking of high-

stakes assessments reduced stress for students, who struggled in timed, synchronous exams that might be taking place in the middle of the night in their local time. These changes to assessments offered more chances for students to practice, checking for understanding while opportunities remained for deepening master y, and shifting away from performance in one highstress learning assessment to milestones along a learning journey.

A challenge going forward for the university is developing strategic assessment of students’ learning outcomes at the curricular or institutional level. Most assessment occurs at the course level, to assess students’ outcomes in a particular course, or measures student satisfaction and self-reported outcomes, such as in course evaluation sur veys. Because of the gap in wide-scale assessment at Stanford and other higher education institutions, it is difficult to quantify the impact of the pandemic on student learning outcomes.

The Stanford Language Center is an exception, having developed software and implemented a system to provide such measures. It has been in use for more than a decade. While the system had to be adapted to the constraints of the pandemic, Bernhardt-Kamil says their assessment strategy has made it clear that language instruction translated well to the online environment

“Data in the AY 2020–21 report reveal that oral proficiency and writing proficiency levels are about the same as pre- and post-pandemic,” she says. “Our language instructors are consummate professionals, and they quickly adapted to the online environment.” She adds that although the courses were successful online, both instructors and teachers were keen to return to in-person classes.

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Assessments and Academic Integrity

In the inter views for this review, some faculty mentioned an increase in academic honor code violations over the course of the pandemic. In a book chapter comparing how Stanford and Stockholm University responded to the crisis, Carl Wieman, Cheriton Family Professor and professor of physics and of education, and two colleagues discuss this issue. They write that Stanford saw “a large increase in the number of cases of student cheating during COVID-driven online teaching. The increase was particularly notable in large courses which kept their exams similar to what they had used in previous years.” According to the chapter, published in May 2021, violations of the honor code occurred in the context of a larger shift away from traditional assessments. Grading in general in the first year of the pandemic at Stanford “was done by individual faculty with guidelines and was disorganized and generally tended towards leniency.” They add: “In the end, while no one was happy, there was a general acceptance that all were doing their best under unprecedented and difficult circumstances. There were no widespread complaints.”15

The need to reduce the risks of cheating led to innovation in learning assessment Some instructors developed more frequent assessments testing understanding of increasingly complex concepts in an ongoing way, while others built project-driven assessments to replace high-stakes exams. “I had to make a

cheat-proof version of the class this year,” says Covert, mentioning the redesign of his large lecture course BIOE 101: Systems Biology. His new model includes frequent quizzing and the option to take a second quiz if the first score isn’t as high as the student hoped. Each assessment is therefore a smaller percentage of the overall grade, reducing the anxiety attached to each assessment. Additionally, this helps the learners recognize learning as a journey. Covert says the redesigned assessments are “much more growthfocused.” He notes that his approach had the added benefit of reaching the students who were less engaged and helped to improve their course grades dramatically.

3 | Creative Adaptations with Hybrid Technology

A s the pandemic wore on, some in-person presence became possible, but classroom size and social distancing requirements meant that classroom capacity was limited.

A s early as summer 2020, the Graduate School of Business began performing classroom tests to design a hybrid instruction experience, in which some students would participate from the classroom and others would remain online. This work culminated in the creation of a cross functional hybrid instruction team consisting of faculty, Media Ser vices, Facilities, Academic Operations, and Teaching and Learning Hub staff. This team designed a new hybrid teaching

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When faculty tried to adapt their courses to the needs of students learning online, students felt more engaged.”
Ellie Bassow Fajer, Stanford student and course development assistant

and learning model from scratch, including technology, pedagogical best practices, scheduling, and onboarding and supporting faculty. An involved faculty training program and a recommendation that course assistants provide support ensured a smooth experience for instructors and students, resulting in overwhelmingly positive feedback from students on both the in-person and virtual hybrid experience when hybrid instruction launched in spring 2021. In the feedback that was provided to the hybrid classroom project team, students reported their excitement at being able to return, even partially, to the classroom.

Starting in the fall quarter of 2021, the School of Medicine (SoM) began piloting its "hyflex" (hybrid-flexible) program for the required courses in the MD program. With hyflex instruction, students were given the option of attending class synchronously online, synchronously in-person, or asynchronously online. According to Peter Nguyen, a medical school learning innovation specialist, the hyflex mode was most challenging for the School of Medicine Educational Technologies team. “There were significant technological and pedagogical challenges for faculty to teach to two different audiences in two different modalities,” Nguyen says. During that period, Ed Tech staff offered hands-on hyflex teaching and learning professional development, and the AV Technology group

provided in-class technology set up for the hyflex teaching modality. The School of Medicine also had student assistants in each class who could provide just-in-time assistance with small technology issues, and most classes had a TA or teaching staff to monitor and assist with the synchronous Zoom room. Student response was positive to the hyflex modality, with initial student feedback sur vey results showing 86-94 percent reporting to be satisfied or ver y satisfied with the hyflex modality. Initial faculty results showed 63 percent were satisfied or ver y satisfied with the hyflex modality. A s with GSB, SoM provides coaching on modifying instruction to match the hybrid format and also concurs with GSB’s recommendation that faculty rely on additional support from teaching assistants and classroom technology experts.

Throughout the pandemic, changes in the global health situation, such as surges in case counts or exposure among the Stanford community, have affected — and continue to affect — classroom capacity, masking requirements, and social distancing needs. A hybrid or hyflex model can help adapt to the current situation, but it requires a cross-functional and agile team. A s we write this report, face to-face instruction has largely resumed. However, some aspects of hybrid models continue to be needed as quarantines are required or other illnesses mean students should not participate in the classroom.

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The ever-changing landscape of teaching and learning during the pandemic has required an ability to pivot rapidly, with little warning, whether due to evolving health restrictions, individual student needs, or technology changes.

Instructors, along with staff teams charged with supporting teaching and learning, must keep abreast of emerging technologies and best practices and be flexible about matching the new technologies and practices with the changing needs of learners.

“When faculty tried to adapt their courses to the needs of students learning online, students felt more engaged,” says course development assistant and student Ellie Bassow Fajer.

During the pandemic, instructors and staff worked with the technologies available, doing their best to teach within the constraints of distance and technology. However, making diverse learning experiences fit into one-size fits-all learning technologies was challenging. We will need to pay ongoing attention to what is to come with the future of the learning management system. Continuing exploration into an integrated and flexible next generation digital learning environment, intended to ser ve as an adaptable, connected constellation of learning technologies, may be worth pursuing.

In the stories shared with us, we learned that course adaptations took the form of rebuilding

courses in structure and deliver y, using available instructional media, and adapting experiential learning to accommodate distance. Promising pandemic pedagogical practices were often the result of instructors and staff listening to learners and adapting learning to students’ needs. Instructors say that they believe that these steps enhanced outcomes, though there is little data available about students’ achievement. Measurement of learning outcomes in a standard way, especially across the curriculum, is not a routine practice across the university

Still, there is strong evidence from our inter views and from our literature review that instructors’ experience with technology during the pandemic has caused a shift in attitude about teaching and learning. Now that the door has been opened to widespread pedagogical innovation, instructors may be more willing to continue tr ying new things and to apply what they have learned about the new technologies to courses post-pandemic. “Ever y faculty member's eyes were opened to the possibilities of remote teaching,” notes Jim Plummer, John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering. “This is a huge opportunity for Stanford and other universities.”

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Support Structures

Novel Faculty Teaching and Staff Support Structures

Changing roles

When Stanford ceased on-campus classes in March 2020 due to COVID-19, ensuring teaching continuity became the highest priority. Professors, lecturers, and instructors had to move swiftly to online deliver y of course material. Emergency pandemic teaching required changes in — and in some cases caused serious disruptions to — traditional classroom teaching structures.

Conversations with members of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Graduate School of Business, Graduate School of Education, and other academic units reveal that Stanford instructors and staff were told to do the best they could to minimize disruption to teaching and learning. In most cases, faculty and staff were provided only one weekend to pivot to remote

instruction. Within that fast timeline, staff were empowered to rapidly develop new, innovative supports for teaching and learning. That spirit of innovation continued as ser vices were refined or built anew throughout emergency remote instruction.

Helen Chu, senior director of learning spaces in Learning Technologies and Spaces, notes that “staff were empowered to think creatively about how to respond to an extraordinar y situation” while developing new ways to support underser ved students through the pivot to emergency remote instruction and the ensuing year and a half of ongoing pandemic response.

Moreover, Learning Technologies and Spaces managed to ship laptops to students who needed them in consultation with the financial aid office; they also solved connectivity issues for students across the globe, while simultaneously supporting undergraduate students who remained on campus. “We were entrusted to use our expertise and good judgment to support


our students and instructors,” Chu says. “There existed a strong spirit of collaboration during emergency remote instruction. Ever yone was doing it together. So many people asked, ‘How can I help?’”

In addition to new programs and ser vices developed to support teaching and learning through the disruption, new support roles emerged. Many Stanford faculty reported a “blurring” of traditional faculty, graduate student, and undergraduate student roles and responsibilities. In particular, teaching assistant (TA) positions expanded in new ways. Additionally, new staff support models emerged among staff units, including teaching and learning teams and educational technology support teams. Decisions on approaches to teaching with technology during emergency remote instruction were, at times, highly localized and made ver y quickly, with input from across teaching teams and teaching and learning support staff.

Teaching and learning support models implemented at Stanford and discussed in this chapter include:

• Reimagining the role of students in the classroom as learning management system administrators, peer advisors, technology experts, and academic thought partners;

• Expanding education technology support teams that provide ongoing software and hardware support to faculty and students; and

• Acknowledging and solving for virtual classroom challenges by engaging student feedback and improving access to instructional devices (such as laptops and iPads).

New teaching support models

At the onset of the pandemic, students at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) were often called in to assist faculty who were unfamiliar with implementing distance learning modalities, recalls Josh Weiss, the GSE’s director of Digital Learning Solutions. GSE students often had to meet these new demands without much guidance, training, or resources. Beyond the GSE, graduate students across the university took on new roles as digital course designers: editing syllabi, creating assignments, and recording and posting lectures. Many had no experience or formal training in higher education teaching pedagogy or course design.

Nonetheless, in many instances, the assistance provided by students to faculty was helpful. Beth Seltzer, who was an academic technology specialist in Stanford Introductor y Studies during emergency remote instruction, recalls that faculty

A staff member monitors the Zoom connection for a Stanford class during the pandemic. Photo by Robert Emer y Smith.

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demand for teaching support emerged “basically overnight.” There was little to no time for testing, and many Stanford faculty had to lean heavily on tools in place before the crisis — typically the learning management system Canvas and the video conferencing platform Zoom — but they were often without experience in these teaching modalities. These instructors on some occasions turned directly to graduate students and teaching assistants for “technical” support in these areas.

There were also some formal faculty teaching support structures ser ving instructors. It was common for faculty to struggle with information and communications technology skills, including “setting the norms for a mediated, virtual learning environment,” says Laura Schlosberg, assistant dean of academic and curricular support in the School of Humanities and Sciences. In particular, course instructors found themselves needing to develop competencies on short notice in three principal areas to transform their in-person pedagogy to a remote learning environment: learning management systems, online course design, and virtual facilitation of quality remote learning.

Notably, not only did instructors have to learn a new platform (e.g., Zoom) to deliver their instruction, they also had to teach while monitoring chat, watching for virtual “raised hands,” and maintaining direct eye contact with their audience.

A Growing Need for Course Design Support: Going Beyond the TA

New student-centered teaching support programs began to emerge almost as soon as emergency pandemic teaching at Stanford began. Other support programs, available for decades, took on new importance and shifted direction when emergency pandemic teaching at Stanford began. The programs below highlight some of the efforts to develop new roles for students and to tap into their knowledge base.

Digital Ambassadors Program


One of the first formal graduate teaching support programs to form at the onset of the pandemic was the GSE’s Digital Ambassadors Program, which was co-created in May 2020 by Weiss, the school’s director of digital learning solutions in its Office of Innovation and Technology, and Shawn Kim, then the school’s director of special programs. “It was definitely created on the fly,’” Weiss says. “Digital Ambassadors happened because professors literally said, ‘My Zoom isn’t working, can you jump into my class?’ We realized that our faculty would need support in Canvas beyond what a traditional TA [teaching assistant] would provide.”

Anticipating an increase in faculty course support requests for the spring 2020 quarter, the Graduate School of Education had circulated an email to graduate students before the start of the term, asking for participants for a “digital support

We realized that our faculty would need support in Canvas beyond what a traditional TA would provide.”
Josh Weiss, GSE’s director of Digital Learning Solutions

group across courses” in which students would each “take care of a small group of professors and classes.” It offered modest compensation at a rate of no more than eight hours per week. Seven GSE students answered the call, and the Digital Ambassadors Program was born.

Digital ambassadors were given two primar y directives: (1) attend a weekly check-in session with program staff to get up to date on technical proficiencies (e.g., Canvas course design), and (2) maintain communication with their assigned faculty members and program super visors. Ambassadors were matched to GSE faculty based on familiarity, domain expertise, and schedules.


Centering their philosophy on “what does digital learning mean?” GSE staff quickly spun up a Canvas “sandbox” where ambassadors could practice course design skills and access digital tools. They created their own resource guides, which were regularly updated week to-week and enriched by other digital ambassadors providing peer feedback via the sandbox

“The digital ambassadors created most of the content themselves,” Weiss recalls. “After that first remote quarter, we took all of the feedback from the program, couched it into six different challenges, and packaged it into an online resource guide for faculty.”

Now boasting more than 125 articles, the GSE’s Journeys Online website describes itself as “an evolving collection of stories, findings, and resources inspired by GSE instructors’ move to the online classroom.” Teaching resources and toolkits are searchable by keyword, and online classroom recordings highlight high-impact practices for instructional teams.

“Soon, word got around, and other units — including Engineering and H&S — wanted to know how we were doing this,” Weiss recalls. “It was a huge success.”


“In our first two quarters (of operation), ambassadors were automatically assigned to faculty,” Weiss notes. “It was more of a ‘Hey, we assigned this person to help you, if you need help’ kind of a situation.” A s faculty gained confidence and competency in Canvas, the program moved to become opt-in in spring 2021.

We noticed an increase in Zoom and Canvas skills (around that time),” Weiss recalls. “Graduate students and faculty were acting as thought partners and using creative solutions to facilitate discussion and leverage digital tools in the classroom.”

Weiss reports that the program will continue into fall 2022. Its digital ambassadors are continuing to codify common practices and put them into a digestible format for the GSE website, he says, noting that they have been inspired by the Center for Teaching and Learning’s TA Toolkit. He says that in addition to graduate students in education the program has expanded to allow undergraduates to ser ve as ambassadors.

Course Development Assistant (CDA+) Program


Beth Seltzer, who was an academic technologist in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) in 2020, notes that VPUE was one beneficiar y of the Digital Ambassador Program model. “There were a lot of technical barriers, especially in the beginning, including anxiety about using Zoom,” Seltzer, now a senior instructional technologist at GSB, recalls. “There

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were teaching innovations that faculty wanted to be able to do but couldn’t because they were still working on the basics.”

A s a result, VPUE decided to create its own version of the Digital Ambassador Program in spring 2020, employing a cohort of undergraduate students trained in academic technology. “They were deployed to primarily help teach Zoom techniques,” Seltzer recalls, “and some were embedded in the classroom and helped actually run the courses.”

“Group work posed a significant challenge,” notes senior Bowen Jiang, a former digital ambassador and current course development assistant plus (CDA+) studying computer science. “A ssignments where students were expected to get together and present at the end of the course were hard. There were challenges with time zones, coordinating schedules, and ensuring people could contribute evenly. It turned out to be really difficult and didn’t always translate well to the online learning experience.”

Like the GSE digital ambassador model, the VPUE program appears to have enhanced the teaching relationship between faculty and their assigned ambassadors. According to Seltzer, “Students came into class to help with technology, and would end up providing advice and consultations — it ended up being more of a collaborative relationship.” A s such, ambassadors were provided an unprecedented opportunity to give feedback on course design.

“The student feedback coming out of courses is a need to change the course on the fly,” says Alex Popke, a senior undergraduate and CDA+ studying international relations with minors in Spanish and art histor y. “We recommend faculty give students the opportunity to speak up (such

as mid-quarter check-ins). That’s been the most successful. It’s a humanizing factor ; it shows that faculty are willing and able to adjust based on student reactions.”


With the return of face to-face learning in fall 2021, the VPUE digital ambassador model has since been reimagined under Stanford Introductor y Seminars (IntroSems) as a new teaching support structure: the Course Development A ssistant Plus (CDA+) program. The role, which is funded by the IntroSems program, provides support to faculty teaching the seminars who need assistance with course design and implementation.

Although CDA+s may be either undergraduate or graduate students, the role is a student specifically hired and trained to provide “pedagogical, technological, and logistical support,” according to the Stanford IntroSems site. CDA+ students also have discretion to accept short term digital projects, such as one off seminars or guest speakers, in addition to providing course support. Unlike teaching assistants, CDA+ roles are explicitly not permitted to take on responsibilities that would traditionally be delegated to a TA, including “grading, evaluating student work, or taking the place of an absent instructor.” Seltzer explains that the CDA+ role is to “ser ve as more of a partnership between faculty and students, and promote an equitable classroom environment.”

“The name of the new position is tr ying to direct the way we’re going,” Jiang says. “CDA+s play an important role in increasing the sense of community and student engagement in IntroSems courses through IntroSems-specific resources and activities, including course enhancement funds, equipment loans, and


mentorship meals. Our previous experience as students in these and other courses at Stanford helps us leverage our position as CDA+s to make the experience better for students.”


A recent internal VPUE assessment of digital ambassador sur vey data suggests that there was, overall, a positive response to the original program from faculty. “Digital ambassadors gave feedback on what they liked and didn’t like about the program … most said it was ‘working better than expected,’” Seltzer says. In several testimonials on the Stanford IntroSems site, faculty instructors compliment their ambassadors’ “knowledge, patience, and creativity.”

“We all started the job to help with course technologies,” says Ellie Bassow Fajer, a junior and CDA+ studying biology and music. “It’s now evolved to be a different relationship between us, the professors, and students. We offer something valuable because we have the student insight. It’s also meaningful to have these personal relationships with faculty … that’s something I’ve taken away from this program.”

Other Teaching Support Structures

VPUE and GSE were not the only units to engage students in new, technology-specific teaching support structures. In at least one instance, a student took academic innovation into his own hands, working with staff to launch an alternative platform to Zoom that is now a for-profit company. [See sidebar, p. 38.] Programs in other parts of the university also addressed the need to engage students.


The Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) expanded its learning platforms and technology tools by incorporating a digital ambassador role to “address specific needs, video capture, and technology consultation and support,” says the SCPD Learning Platforms and Technology Tools site. At SCPD, digital ambassadors assisted faculty with an expanded number of learning platforms and technology tools, including ON24, Zoom, Moodle, Coursera, edX, and OpenClassrooms. Moreover, they assisted faculty in selecting technologies to address their specific course needs and, when requested, helped them transition face to-face activities online.


At the School of Medicine, clinical clerkships (which require students to rotate through a variety of medical specialties in both classroom and hospital settings) were on hold for about a month as faculty and staff scrambled to put in

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A Covid testing stations at Tresidder Hall in June 2021. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

place a fully remote curriculum in spring 2020. Similar to other academic units on campus, SoM’s Ed Tech team found its newly expanded support role at the beginning of the pandemic challenging. Its resources remained the same, while demand for those resources increased dramatically. Unlike many other units, however, SoM has a long histor y of offering prerecorded and asynchronous content. Early on during emergency remote instruction, the School of Medicine expanded the role of its classroom assistants, who helped adapt virtual higher education and clinician spaces (including moving

in-person demos online). Resources to support remote instruction were developed, such as a YouTube channel (Zoom for Remote Instruction) and the Academic and Course Continuity website. The School of Medicine also had student assistants in each class who could provide just-in-time assistance with small technology issues, and most classes had a TA or teaching staff to monitor and assist with the synchronous Zoom room. This shift in roles and responsibilities increased support capabilities, especially when coupled with the SoM’s long-standing expertise in asynchronous and hybrid education.

Entrepreneurial students offer alternative to Zoom

Emergency remote instruction spurred a rapid cycle of innovation and entrepreneurship in educational technology At the same time, students’ ideas were crucial to course design as instructors experimented and sought to iterate on creative course redesigns in new pan demic modalities.

At Stanford, these two ideas converged in the form of a platform called Nooks Nooks is a student-developed virtual meeting and teaching platform started in spring 2020 with the intention to disrupt Zoom’s dominance through robust, education-focused features.

The technology is a unique example of successful collaboration across roles Nooks founders and engineers were Stanford students. The Nooks team partnered with Stanford staff to pilot the platform on campus and received input and support from staff in the Center for Teaching and Learning, University IT, and Learning Technologies & Spaces. Sean Keegan, director of the Stanford Office of Digital Accessibility, recalled meeting frequently with the Nooks founders to identify critical accessibility issues and design solutions to make the technology more market-ready for wider adoption.

“Stanford staff were really helpful in educating us about accessibility. Staff really stepped up to the plate,” recalls Rohan Suri, Nooks co founder and Stanford CS student.

The Stanford-organized educational technology conference and showcase ATXpo took place fully on Nooks in the fall of 2020, with great results in engagement and community building. Nooks was piloted successfully in Stanford courses in computer science, math, and impro visational thinking. Faculty held office hours and several higher education conferences took place on the platform.

Although Nooks has pivoted to supporting remote work, its initial efforts underscored an important aspect of how Stanford’s culture of innovation can work to improve online edu cation: Stanford students will be actively contributing solutions, working hand-in-hand with staff and faculty.


“All of our groups have had to grow together during this time, which has sparked a collaborative relationship,” Pauline Becker, director of strategy and operations for the medical school’s ed tech team, says. “Faculty have created entirely new roles for course staff and TA s, which creates an opportunity for a shared exploration model moving forward.” While the future of hyflex and hybrid education at Stanford is uncertain, these collaborative partnerships and flexible support roles may inform future approaches.


George Triantis, senior associate vice provost for research and Charles J. Meyers Professor of Law and Business, says that the pandemic was the first time the Stanford Law School deployed TA s on a grand scale. “It was especially helpful to have them in Zoom classes monitoring and participating in the chat,” says Triantis, “particularly because they had taken the class before.”

According to Triantis, peer to-peer engagement between law students and TA s, together with the Zoom environment, changed the nature of class

engagement. “I noticed more even participation across gender and racial groups,” notes Triantis.

Though TA s are not common at the law school, Triantis says he can appreciate their value. “The classes in my bankruptcy course consist mostly of discussion of judicial opinions, interspersed with some straight lectures from me," he said. The switch to Zoom encouraged experimentation and, whether the new strategies were successful or not, most students really appreciated the extra effort and the signal that faculty care enough to make it

Novel Staff Support Structures

Expanded teaching support structures also resulted in enlarged and improved staff support systems. A s the need to support remote emergency pandemic teaching grew, so did the resources provided by Stanford educational technology support teams, teaching and learning support teams, and administrators within individual academic departments.

For instance, a number of unit-specific online teaching guides and resources emerged for faculty, including a digital Mechanical Engineering newsletter centering learning theor y articles. “If you see a problem, you do something about it,” says Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor Emeritus in the School of Engineering. “CTL (the Center for Teaching and Learning) offered some things, but they were scrambling, too. So we said, ‘Let’s compile some of the resources that are flying around.’” Intended to give readers a shared vocabular y for teaching and learning, the newsletter provided models for how teaching strategies could be used in an

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Law Professor George Triantis speaks at the faculty senate in November 2020. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications. SHERI SHEPPARD

engineering classroom, including implementation of at-home science kits, Sheppard notes. “We were tr ying to fill a need,” she recalls, which included providing living guidelines on inclusive education in the classroom. Much of the critical pedagogical work begun in the newsletter now lives on in the form of a new Mechanical Engineering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (formed in summer 2020), of which Sheppard is co-chair

At the Graduate School of Education, a “chatbot,” or AI-driven conversation interface, debuted on the teaching resources site in May 2020. “The idea was to help people start thinking like learning designers … helping to build a framework for thinking about exploring technology tools and pedagogy,” says Josh Weiss, director of digital learning solutions. The chatbot, which simulates human language, uses a decision tree to route users through a set of commonly asked questions, such as: “How do I make Zoom breakout rooms more engaging?” and routes them to the appropriate digital resource guide. “We designed information based on a UX framework — we showed wireframes, built a beta and inter viewed people, coded, iterated, and will continue to do that [after the pandemic],” Weiss says.

Providing technology hardware to students in need also demanded new systems. Helen Chu, a senior director at Learning Technologies

and Spaces in the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, says her team faced significant challenges in providing essential hardware support during the early days of the pandemic. “We turned Lathrop Learning Hub into a FedEx shipping center,” Chu recalls, “as there was no mail deliver y on campus at this time.” The Lathrop Learning Hub and User Support Ser vices team, which had formerly relied on a robust, in-person student staff, began providing support from afar. “We were helping people find connectivity, since hotspots don’t always work Cell carriers in Botswana are different from those in Japan. We also had to figure out international shipping — basically, new types of support. New questions were being asked all the time.”

At the Center for Teaching and Learning, faculty, staff, and student applications to the iPads for Teaching and Learning Program rose dramatically, from 120 to over 500 devices. The program, which investigates the extent to which iPads impact classroom teaching and learning, is supported by the Educational Broadband Ser vice (EBS) program. “We were under a mountain of iPads,” says Kenji Ikemoto, an academic technology specialist. “Operations and logistics were huge … we were like an Amazon warehouse.” Ikemoto says that those students reporting from rural areas found the iPads to be “a lifesaver,” including those traveling outside the United States without reliable WiFi.

We intend to maintain this enhanced culture of innovating with purpose…”
Steve Gallagher, Stanford's chief information officer

University Support Structures

Starting in March 2020, best practices documentation began to appear rapidly in response to the pandemic. During emergency remote instruction, Stanford had the benefit of being able to rely on the deep knowledge of its many staff and instructors with experience in online teaching and learning. The Stanford Center for Professional Development, Graduate School of Business, and School of Medicine, among others, had long-standing and successful fully online or hybrid instructional offerings.

Learning from these programs was instructive for faculty and staff in parts of the university that did not have the same experience with online education, alongside the expertise of staff groups, such as the Online Experience Team, that supported learning experience design and academic technology for Stanford’s face to-face courses pre-pandemic. Many of these structures allowing for cross-campus exchanges emerged organically in the form of new websites, Google docs, and Slack channels.

Although the university had been planning for a range of emergency situations, and there exists deep expertise in online and hybrid education, a cohesive educational technology plan designed to address a university-wide disruption from infectious disease was not ready to implement as of March 2020.

There is precedent for such a plan existing. According to Christine Doherty, lead user support specialist in Learning Technologies and Spaces, a plan to support academic continuity through a shutdown using educational and teleconferencing technologies was drafted in

2009 because of concerns at Stanford that the H1N1 virus posed a potential threat to in-person instruction, among other harms. Documents included an aggregated list of existing resources faculty could use to teach off-campus students and alternatives for teaching using academic technology and instructional media. Notably, a section called “Faculty Resources — Technologies for Teaching During a Flu Outbreak” outlined methods for disseminating course materials to students learning while not on campus and ways to engage students in course discussions outside the classroom.

Such recommendations for teaching with technology closely mirrored recommendations made by staff more than 10 years later facing a similar threat, the novel coronavirus. The original documents, had they been more comprehensive and updated at regular inter vals in the years between H1N1’s threat and COVID-19’s ver y real impacts, might have proved a helpful starting place for a Stanford-wide instructional continuity plan. “The fact that H1N1 didn’t hit here almost discouraged ongoing planning,” says Doherty, who was involved in the H1N1 support planning in 2009 and the COVID-19 pandemic response starting in 2020. Many institutions worldwide did not build upon planning that they had started for H1N1, and Stanford was among them. “We spent time on something that didn’t happen, then just forgot about it,” Doherty says. Staff and faculty successfully and quickly developed new educational technology documentation and training materials in response to COVID-19.

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Across Stanford, schools and programs developed new roles, processes, resources, and systems to help instructors manage the challenges posed by emergency remote instruction.

On the whole, they have become more aware of student-driven learning design opportunities and staff support teams on campus. Whether these are temporar y measures — or become a lasting part of the learning landscape — remains to be seen.

For instance, the Center for Teaching and Learning has seen an increased number of departmental requests for Graduate Teaching Program workshops on course design, including how to hold Zoom discussions. Moreover, at the Office of Learning Technologies and Spaces, the number of graduate and undergraduate student requests for Peer Technology Specialists has doubled from April 2020 to now

Weiss says that it has been “amazing” to see the digital ambassador model expand across campus, but he is unsure about the program’s longevity and ability to scale if faculty request digital ambassadors with more “content-specific” knowledge. Moreover, Seltzer says that as faculty have gained confidence in managing their own learning management systems, they may step back from participation in the CDA+ program.

According to Steve Gallagher, University Chief Information Officer, the “collective

adrenaline” of the pandemic made possible an extremely fertile ground for experimentation. “We intend to maintain this enhanced culture of innovating with purpose,” says Gallagher. According to Gallagher, the pandemic required agile innovation, not just in terms of teaching and learning, but the campus at large. “We’re now even more open to experimenting — which, of course, is in Stanford’s institutional DNA.”

He identified a need to address Stanford’s physical plant in the near future. “What we want to do is greater investment in classroom spaces,” he says. “I am so excited by the investments being made by Learning Technologies and Spaces. I think this also offers opportunities for improved alignment of audiovisual standards and other supporting campus ser vices.”

“It’s about thoughtfully introducing new technologies where people are concerned about overload — I hope we can say ‘yes’ to ever ything that comes our way,” Gallagher says, noting that the pandemic required a dramatic culture change, not just in terms of teaching and learning, but for the campus at large. “We’re more open to tr ying new things,” he says.

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Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

Professional Communities


The COVID-19 pandemic was an infodemic for educators and students: the immense quantity of COVID-19 emergency pandemic teaching information made it challenging for higher education institutions to identify and disseminate resources among faculty, staff, and students. At the same time, the many digital communication options available became change drivers for teaching and learning activities, impacting professional communication practices across the university.

Over the course of the pandemic, professional knowledge communities at Stanford and beyond formed and made active use of processes of information collection, curation, and dissemination. New communication systems were necessar y due to the inherent complexity of the university ecosystem and myriad of business systems the institution needed to maintain during the pandemic, including institutional communication, librar y management, HR

management, teaching and student support, research and technology transfer support, project management and fundraising, financial support, IT support, legal support, logistics, strategic planning, and others.

This section provides insight into the structure of several Stanford knowledge communities that emerged in the process of creating, filtering, and sharing emergency pandemic teaching and learning information. These communities of practice (CoPs) have been adopted in different contexts to facilitate knowledge sharing and mutual learning among higher education professionals (including Stanford faculty, staff, and students).

Notably, within the higher education landscape, CoPs are usually applied to “business as usual” situations, in which there is enough time for the community to discuss issues and apply potential solutions. However, their application to emergency situations has been less frequently investigated.

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Inter- and intra-institutional communication challenges posed by the pandemic required thoughtful solutions. CoP and knowledge sharing strategies implemented at Stanford and discussed in this chapter include:

• Digitization of teaching and learning resources such that faculty, staff, and students have global access to pedagogical resources;

• Creation of cross-divisional institutional groups that address ongoing policy issues and broader university goals; and

• Growth of national academic networks by listening to and learning from peer institutions and partners.

The following section explores new and emerging professional communities of practice at Stanford, including teaching and learning teams and governance groups, as well as professional communities that were formed within but which now extend beyond the university

New Academic and Professional Communities within Stanford

“Welcome to Teaching Commons.”

Kenji Ikemoto, an academic technology specialist, recalls specific actions taken at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to revive the Center for Teaching and Learning’s (then) defunct Teaching Commons website, an online resource devoted to providing curated content, such as online workshops and teaching guides, for all those with teaching roles in the Stanford community

“It became this growing ecosystem,” he recalls, “turning the ‘untamed jungles’ of Stanford into a garden. Stanford is decentralized, and the pandemic showed us that there’s a lot of will to work together across department lines.”

“We had been tr ying to get traction on reviving the Teaching Commons website for a year before the pandemic,” adds Beth Seltzer, a senior instructional technologist at Graduate School of Business. When the pandemic emerged, justification for the project became obvious. Seltzer laments that it took a pandemic to show the value of a faculty-facing online teaching and learning repositor y. “We need to think more about how the university as a whole works …. internal divides within the university can make it harder for people to connect with the resources available to them.”

The Stanford Teaching Commons, which the website describes as “designed for all members of the Stanford community (instructors, TA s, support staff ) who are interested in learning, education, and pedagogy,” is organized around a set of digital resources, including teaching guides (arranged by key topics), articles (including how-tos, activities, and instructor inter views), and resources (other teaching and learning information that can be found cross institutionally). Each academic quarter during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, participating members of the Teaching Commons — including academic technology support staff, program managers, and program directors from across the institution — explored an ever-expanding set of teaching and learning questions. Ikemoto notes that these themes included (but were not limited to) “more inclusive practices, anti-racist pedagogies, mental health and well-being” (summer 2020), and “publishing content related to lessons learned, including returning to face

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to-face learning and handling hybrid, hyflex, and missed classes” (leading up to fall 2021).

Notably, the Teaching Commons is a primarily staff-driven community of practice, which Ikemoto believes has provided the community a distinct perspective. “We have partners across the university,” Ikemoto says, “but less so institutional leadership and area directors.” Though the group desires increased faculty participation, it would like to continue centering the voices of individual staff contributors.

“Our goal is to be a regional or national network,” Ikemoto says. “We [at Teaching Commons] have larger ideas for modular media and a content librar y.” Unfortunately, staff time and personnel resources have proven a significant limiting factor to moving the larger vision of the Teaching Commons forward. “It’s like moving a lake with a thimble,” Ikemoto notes. “We’ve identified a lot of goals, but we don’t have enough time to dedicate to it.”

TEACH Symposium

Another professional community of practice emerging from the pandemic is the Stanford TEACH Symposium, first held in summer 2020. Organized by the Stanford Teaching Commons, the Timely, Engaging, Accessible, Connected, and Humane (TEACH) Symposium provides a quarterly opportunity for the Stanford community to attend free, online workshops offering a place to “refresh your ideas, problemsolve, and be inspired.” Lauri Dietz, associate director of Introductor y Seminars and Faculty Development, developed the TEACH framework, which offers a structure to advance the Stanford teaching mission through collaborative and positive learning experiences.

Individual TEACH Symposium sessions are planned and led by units across the university, including Stanford Introductor y Seminars, Graduate School of Business Teaching and Learning Hub, Center for Teaching and Learning, Program in Writing and Rhetoric, and Stanford Online High School. Symposium participants can browse open session descriptions, register for workshops, and attend online talks. To help faculty and staff connect with course design resources, the TEACH Symposium developed the Teaching Commons Media Librar y (SUNet login required), which features on-demand archival recordings from previous TEACH symposia.

New Knowledge-Sharing Teams within Stanford

Academic Continuity Group

Formed in response to the first emergency shift to fully remote instruction in spring 2020, the cross-unit Stanford Academic Continuity Group was founded to address emerging COVID-19 disruptions to teaching and learning at Stanford.

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Two undergraduates meet for coffee in April 2021. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

Beth Seltzer, senior instructional technologist and project manager at Stanford GSB

“We had to rewrite all of the academic policies, and they had to go through the Faculty Senate,” says Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education and co-chair of the group. “The county was constantly changing regulations, and it was a frantic dash to let faculty know what was going on.”

Mar y Beth Mudgett, senior associate dean for the natural sciences in the School of Humanities and Sciences and professor of biology, calls her fellow co-chair, Church, the “grassroots person who pulled the group together.” Mudgett notes, “We had a bit of a leg up, since Stanford is a late starting school on the quarter system. We were able to learn from peers on the semester system who started earlier. That shared information was really important for all universities.”

“Initially it was about figuring out what we were doing. There was confusion at all levels,” says Gloriana Trujillo, director of Faculty and Lecturer Programs at the Center for Teaching and Learning and a member

of the group. “People needed communication and clarity about where to go for resources.”

Throughout the pandemic, the Academic Continuity Group worked to support members of the Stanford community in resuming activities and pursuing their aspirations, to the extent that it could be done safely and within public health guidelines. All academic policy decisions made for the coming year — which looked quite different than normal — were made by the Faculty Senate or Faculty Senate committees. This was an important principle for the group: to respect the way that policy is set in the university around academic issues.

Throughout spring 2020, the Academic Continuity Group successfully led the rebuilding of most of the educational and deliver y systems on campus, including registrar systems, the academic calendar, and classroom meeting patterns. Other key activities included an online experience subgroup, planning for (future) in-person courses, curriculum planning support, planning for the undergraduate return to campus, evaluation of the exam and honor code, sur veys and data gathering, and reimagining the summer session for 2020 and the freshman fall start. Moreover, the group led successful mitigation efforts to bring many undergraduate students to campus due to special circumstances, including home environments unsuitable for learning.

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We need to think more about how the university as a whole works. … internal divides within the university can make it harder for people to connect with the resources available to them.”

At its peak in summer 2020, the Academic Continuity Group had more than 50 members, including a core group16 of university deans and representatives from the offices of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Vice Provost for Graduate Education, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Learning Technologies and Spaces, University IT, and University Registrar. Several subcommittees had formed, addressing a wide band of topics including lab kits, classrooms in tents, grading policy changes, and Zoombombing.

“By August 2021, we started feeling less pressure as fall quarter got off the ground,” Trujillo notes. Though the group disbanded in spring 2022, Trujillo says that many institutional relationships were forged or deepened as a result of participation.

“A lot of decision-making was necessarily delegated down during the pandemic, ” says Steve Gallagher, chief information officer at University IT and a member of the group. “I hope that we permanently incorporate what worked best as we evolve our operating model in a postpandemic world.”

Gallagher spoke specifically to the effectiveness of the Academic Continuity distributed governance group, which was chaired by Church

and Mudgett. “They led and motivated a highly diverse and distributed group of campus leaders over the course of the pandemic. We were able to knock things out and be responsive to rapidly evolving campus needs. We should learn from what worked best from this experience, particularly given the many academic process change management initiatives underway or planned in the years ahead.”

Online Experience Team

The Online Experience Team was charged to get ahead of the unexpected by ensuring the continuity of academic services at Stanford, says Richard Webber, chair of the group and associate vice provost for Learning Technologies and Spaces and chief technology officer in the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs. Born out of the Stanford Academic Continuity Group, the team was formed in order to bring together faculty and staff voices from across the institution, including (but not limited to) the School of Humanities and Sciences, University IT, Learning Technologies and Spaces, Vice Provost for Graduate Education, School of Medicine, Center for Teaching and Learning, Graduate School of Education, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Continuing Studies, and Program in Writing and Rhetoric. Goals of the group included sharing information and knowledge, anticipating problems in teaching

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During the pandemic, there was a lot of organizational exhaustion…We often have the idea that ‘we need to have so-and-so in the room to make a decision’ — but so-and-so has to sleep sometimes.”
Russell Furr, associate vice provost for environmental health and safety

and learning, and engaging in collective problem solving. By April 2020, the team began meeting regularly to share information about the ever evolving COVID-19 crisis. According to Webber, “transparency in communicating the uncertainty we’re facing” was sorely needed, as faculty and staff at Stanford struggled to move from a reactive to a proactive approach.

A s institutional knowledge of the Online Experience Team grew, and as its leadership in innovative teaching and learning practices at Stanford was recognized, members were increasingly empowered to act as individual change agents within their own departments. The community became, for its members, a place to share new knowledge that was later transferred to the rest of the university. For instance, Online Experience Team members were able to share updates on such topics as academic policy changes, FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) issues (such as faculty reusing recorded class sessions), planning for online exams and remote classes, online placement exams, mask mandates in classrooms, the creation of on-campus study space resources, and, more recently, information about fall 2021 classroom shortages.

Although the Online Experience Team now only meets monthly, members continue to give unit updates, share information about ongoing academic policy changes, and discuss (among other collaborations) strategies for measuring the long-term impact of COVID-19 on student learning.

Working Across Boundaries

Stanford Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S), which worked to get the university pandemic plan up to date in Januar y 2020 with the early appearance of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, found itself central to the flow of operational and

academic information at Stanford during the pandemic.

“There was a lot of information instability,” says Russell Furr, associate vice provost for Environmental Health and Safety. “People wanted to know the plan. However, there was no most likely planning scenario to work against. The range of uncertainty was too large. The rate of transmission, the effectiveness of masks — it was [all] unknown. We had a pandemic plan that was out the window on day one because the WHO didn’t call it a pandemic for a long time.”

In spring 2022, EH&S began crafting a post incident report, which Furr hopes will provide key learnings in Stanford’s pandemic crisis response. “During the pandemic, there was a lot of organizational exhaustion, including work pressure and the pressure of never-ending change. It wore people out. We often have the idea that we need to have so-and-so in the room to make a decision — but so-and-so has to sleep sometimes. Stanford doesn't have a culture of single decision makers.”

Furr argues that distributed leadership models, such as those successfully employed by the Academic Continuity Group, are one possible command structure that higher education institutions could consider employing in similar crises moving forward. “It requires a system where people can plug in,” Furr says. “You don’t want people to feel like they need permission to do ever ything. You don’t want people paralyzed.”

Principally, Furr hopes EH&S can report on how the university responds in crisis mode, in order to enable university teams to maintain continuity. “Leadership happens across an institution,” Furr says. “It’s a network with established relationships and trust. It’s not one person.”

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Knowledge-Sharing Slack Channels

A s part of the new wave of ways to share information, Stanford witnessed an increase in the use of Slack, a communication platform useful for collaboration within and across teams. Channel participation and creation flourished as faculty, staff, and students sought shared virtual communication platforms. Seltzer notes an emergence of Slack support channels connecting Stanford community members to institutional technology support teams, academic resources, and one another. In particular, the #cop-zoom-users channel saw a lot of subscriber participation as faculty and staff helped one another learn to troubleshoot learning management systems and communication platforms. Remarkably, any Stanford community member who had a question (e.g., “are you also having this problem?”) could ask it of the community and expect a response. “At one point, Zoom product owners … were all in one

place having a conversation,” she recalls. “It was like, why did it take a pandemic to make that possible?”

Arguably, the Stanford Communities of Practice Slack workspace itself resulted in a sharp increase in the community’s internal knowledge interactions and in the activities of knowledge transfer toward departments and Stanford information technology ser vices. By sharing experiences regarding how they were supporting sudden institutional changes, asking questions, looking for mutual advice, and even telling jokes, Stanford community members engaged in a form of bottom-up organization allowing them to make a progressive selection of the “best” Slack channels to share information.

“It wasn’t just about ‘how do we go back to normal,’ but ‘how do we integrate technology into pedagogy,’” Ikemoto notes. “This was exciting to ATS [academic technology specialist] people … we had been encouraging people to do these things (like Slack back channels) for a long time.”

Looking Ahead

socially distanced

“At the professional practices level, all of us hope things like the cross-organizational collaboration will persist,” says Keli Amann, a user experience specialist at Learning Technologies and Spaces (LTS) in the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs. On the whole, she and others at LTS note that instructors and students have come to appreciate

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for the June 2021 commencement ceremony Photo
by Andrew Brodhead, University

and expect access to specific applications, techniques, and levels of teaching and learning ser vices. “LTS and Teaching Commons are still seeking the best way to discover additional emergent needs and explore the implications of them,” she notes. “It may be a combination of looking at existing qualitative research, looking at analytics, or doing more quantitative research, perhaps with IR&DS [Institutional Research and Decision Support] or the learning analytics group in LTS. We also want to make sure we have the right audiences (instructors, graduate students, and undergraduates).”

“A s a university,” Amann notes, “staff involved in supporting pedagogy appreciated the cross organizational partnerships that break silos, including technology-related Slack channels (e.g., Slack-based communities of practice, Slack-based technology support channels) that allow faculty to engage with us and each other in real time.”

“We’ll need data on which practices should continue,” Amann says. “I think we [at LTS] are more practically interested in what specific tools and technologies will persist once we return to in-person teaching.”

Stanford’s Impact on Professional Communities Beyond the University

Teaching Commons: Going Global

Notably, several teaching and learning resources produced by communities of practice at Stanford found themselves growing beyond the institution. For instance, Seltzer notes that a Google document and teaching playbook she helped co-author on Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption was initially for an internal Stanford audience, then shared through Creative Commons license and repurposed by more

than 100 other institutions of higher education. The playbook was ultimately written up in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It was a nice moment of connection with colleagues out in the world,” she says. “It was even translated into Japanese and Spanish.”

Moreover, in June 2020, Seltzer wrote a widely read article for Inside Higher Ed, “Envisioning a day in the life of a remote undergraduate student in fall 2020.” The piece was published in collaboration with Jenae Cohn, then an academic technology specialist with the Stanford Program in Writing and Rhetoric, and her article, “A day in the life of a remote instructor in fall 2020 ” During the pandemic, “people saw each other as whole people,” Seltzer recalls. “It’s an important innovation that’s hard to sustain.”17

Workshops for High School Educators

At Stanford Online High School (OHS), assistant Head of School and English instructor Meg Lamont led a charge with Kim Failor, assistant head of school and biology instructor, and Josh Beattie, a Philosophy Core instructor and director of educational technology, to bring teaching workshops to the public — specifically, videos sharing best practices with high school teachers for teaching online. “We didn’t love what others were putting out online,” Lamont says, “so we decided to create our own content.”

In spring 2020, OHS created a series of short videos, followed by a series of smaller online webinars with a few hundred synchronous attendees. From there, they worked with Stanford Continuing Studies to make an open online course in summer 2020 titled, “Teaching Your Course Online,” co taught by Lamont and John Lanier, Latin instructor. Part one of the course, which was open to the public, had 3,000 live attendees, while over 10,000 people watched the

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course asynchronously over YouTube. In turn, the YouTube series spawned Facebook groups in several counties, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, which had thousands of members.

We’ve never had that kind of reach before,” Lamont says. “It was super basic instruction — ‘How do you think about online teaching?’ For lecturers, there are so many tools online, but sometimes less is more. For us, it was tr ying to get them to understand what was out there but also reminding them that the key was still themselves as teachers and using tools that fit with their pedagogy and student needs.”

In part two of the course, OHS held two workshops limited to Stanford community members. “There, we focused on individual teacher issues,” says Lamont. “Someone would say, ‘I used to do this, but now I can’t,’ and it was us saying ‘well, you could…’ and helping people think through possibilities.” Moreover, OHS helped high school teachers think through challenges unique to local districts, such as exam proctoring and changing policies about required video in Zoom classrooms.

National Networks

The Graduate School of Business began sharing resources with peer institutions, such as Har vard and MIT, including notes on academic support models and technology design. It did this through the Canvas Business School Advisor y Committee (CBSAC), a collective of 22 business schools that use the learning management system Canvas (owned by the educational technology company Instructure). According to Diane Lee, senior learning platform administrator and technologist at GSB, the group shares information use cases, technologies, and best practices while also

working to drive product roadmaps in alignment with business school needs. “The pandemic hit, and the face to-face meeting scheduled in Boston for mid-March was canceled,” Lee says. “Ever yone was hair-on-fire crazed dealing with the pivot to online.” In summer 2020, the group began sharing approaches for designing hybrid classrooms, including at-home video recording equipment for faculty, new support teams for classroom support, hardware upgrades in the classroom, and physical classroom designs to manage instruction. “We learned a lot about considerations for returning to the classrooms, like allowing extra time between classes,” Lee says. A s a result, CBSAC was able to build new technology for coordinating in-class cohorts, such as systems for tracking absences and for assigning open seats to waiting students.

The annual Academic Technology Expo (ATXpo) decided to open registration to all institutions of higher learning. Normally, this one-day event brings together faculty, students, and staff from eight Bay Area schools: University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, Stanford University, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and Saint Mar y’s College of California. The ATXpo, which is designed so that institutions can discuss and promote effective practices for teaching and learning with technology, decided to foster new national collaborations between participants by showcasing projects, pedagogies, and practices that have supported excellent teaching and learning in the Bay Area. “There were more vendor demos, and it brought us closer with folks at other universities,” says Michael Rouan, senior director of academic technology innovation at the Center for Teaching and Learning in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

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Stanford developed software enables isolated musicians to play together in real-time despite pandemic

Live musical collaboration has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Playing together online through teleconferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype is not a viable option, due to inevitable audio and video lags.

Into this breach has stepped a free, open-source software called JackTrip. Developed by Stanford Uni versity Music Professor Chris Chafe and colleagues, JackTrip enables virtually real-time sound stream ing over the internet. In this way, JackTrip can often reduce latency — the annoying time delay in data transfer — from one geographical location to another to under a critical threshold of 25 milliseconds. While tiny, that smidgen of time is perceivable by human listeners and is enough to throw a coordinated musi cal performance out of sync.

Having gotten below that threshold on standard, home-to-home internet connections, JackTrip is now reconnecting a growing number of professional musicians, as well as music teachers with their stu dents.

“It was apparent from March 2020 onward that there was an urgent need to connect musicians who were locked down and unable to play together in the way we love to play together,” said Chafe, professor of music in the School of Humanities and Sciences and direc tor of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) He and his colleagues began developing JackTrip in 2000, when they realized that the still-fledgling internet was getting fast enough to support sending audio data, potentially empowering musicians to play together remotely.

Over much of its history, JackTrip has required advanced, high-bandwidth lines like those found on college campuses, commercial entities, and govern mental institutions. Nowadays, though, and especially after the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the develop ers of JackTrip have modified the software so that it can work effectively over the basic internet connec tions between residences. It can also accommodate far larger ensembles than in times past. “We’re now

doing JackTrip home-to-home, for ensemble sessions and for lessons,” said Chafe.

JackTrip had to undergo some significant changes to run successfully on less-than-blazing internet connections. … Numerous coders and developers worldwide have made these recent JackTrip upgrades over the last six months, Chafe said. “Up until the pandemic struck, we were generally making only incremental improvements to JackTrip,” said Chafe “But now we’ve really been working hard on JackTrip so it can benefit the community.”…

For online concert-like presentations of multiple peo ple playing together, CCRMA postdoctoral research fellow Constantin Basica meshes the audio feeds with the lagging video feeds, giving the appearance of simultaneous, rhythmic playing. Chafe, Basica, col leagues and guest musicians spread across the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland and Lithuania have taken to playing weekly Quaran tine Sessions since March.

“ Telematic performance will never replace playing with people in the same room, and then socializing and having a glass of wine afterward,” said Basica. “But I think JackTrip is a really useful tool that we’ll see more of in the years to come.”

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This sidebar was adapted from an article in Stanford Report on September 18, 2020. The complete story can be read at
Music Professor Chris Chafe

Another example of technology promoting connectedness arose from the music department. Musicians needed new technology to be able to play together, and software developed at

Stanford prior to the pandemic was suddenly in demand the world over. Through open-source collaboration, the coding was enhanced, and it became even more popular. [See sidebar, p. 53.]


Undoubtedly, those Stanford faculty and staff involved in advancing communities of practice during the pandemic appreciated the growth of cross-organizational partnerships that helped to break down traditional institutional silos.

In particular, several members of the Teaching Commons noted that, as a result of some of the tools provided by the remote teaching resource guides, instructors have become more aware of the need to be inclusive in their course designs, not just in respect to affordability and accessibility, but also in regard to access to (and comfort with) technology. Learning Technologies and Spaces and University IT are further exploring a digital accessibility partnership to develop a more robust vetting process for platform accessibility. Others in roles related to teaching and learning with technology noted with appreciation that annual technology conferences previously requiring travel and registration fees (such as the local Bay Area ATXpo and national Instructure, Zoom, and Qualtrics conferences) opted to suspend registration fees during this time. This combined with the move of these

conferences online enabled an open sharing of knowledge and information.

These changes are likely to be a positive starting point for conversations around teaching practices both within and outside of Stanford, especially concerning those tools and technologies that are expected to persist upon the return to in-person teaching. “We’ll need data around what practices should continue,” Amann notes, “as well as to get resources should continued support prove costly.” Many at Stanford say that communities of practice could be a vital source for such data. Speaking of the Teaching Commons, Learning Technologies and Spaces, and the Learning Design CoP, Amann says, “We will need to prove changes happened, that these changes were effective, and that they will continue to be effective.”

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3 | Professional Communities
Photo by Linda A. Cicero,
University Communications.

Supporting the Whole Student

Pandemic Impacts to Student Well-being

Emergency remote instruction caused disruption to academic continuity, but it also spurred creative innovations and practices that hold promise for positive change. While technology and mixed modalities led to an increased flexibility that benefited some students, many students’ well-being suffered during pandemic caused remote teaching and learning. This decline in well-being was due to isolation, anxiety, and depression caused by the health threat of the pandemic and by difficult situations at home, among other factors.18

George Triantis, senior associate vice provost for research and Charles J. Meyers Professor of Law and Business, recounted a time in fall of 2020 when the stressors overwhelmed some students in his class. “It was emotionally ver y, ver y hard for them. I’ll never forget the day the wildfires turned the sky orange. Several students were close to tears because of the accumulated stresses that they bore.” Students were left to navigate these

challenges without their familiar social and academic networks, which had been disrupted by the move to remote learning and living online. The weight of students’ concerns resulted in negative impacts to students’ learning and to their lives more generally

Students’ entire lives were brought with them to the virtual classroom in a way that was more difficult to set aside than in a face to-face classroom. In fact, many literally brought their backgrounds to class with them, and inequality became more visible. “Some of the students were obviously in ver y large homes, probably vacation homes, and some were in little rooms, or even a closet,” recalls Anna Levia, a reference and instruction librarian embedded in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), a course taken by about 95 percent of Stanford undergraduate students. “Some of them could find a private room to connect on Zoom. Others couldn’t, and would have people — usually roommates or family — passing behind them,” Triantis says.

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Not only were students’ socioeconomic backgrounds centered in the learning environment in the form of their physical surroundings on Zoom, those Zoom backgrounds were students’ daily lived experiences — experiences that were uneven across the student population and that had an uneven impact on student learning. While unequal access to the necessar y space and technology impacted students’ ability to learn successfully, it also led to faculty having increased awareness of and understanding of students’ diverse needs. “It’s one thing to hear that a student is struggling, but ver y different to be Zooming with that student and to see clearly the challenges in their living situation — it’s a big realization,” says Markus Covert, professor of bioengineering.

Because inequities were exacerbated and more visible, both in access to education and in the larger society all around us, student identity was brought into learning in new ways. The social issues that convulsed American society were also deeply felt by Stanford’s students. Those impacts were uneven, too, as many Black students wrestled with the traumatic effects of police violence on their communities and as A sian, A sian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students faced increased concerns about hate speech and violence impacting their communities. In reflecting on her support of student research and writing in PWR, outreach and instruction librarian Phyllis Kayten noticed that during the pandemic, many more students wanted to explore

racism, sexism, sexuality, and intersectionality as part of their course assignments. “George Floyd’s death happened right in the middle of this,” Kayten says. “Students’ research was focused on identity, on how what’s happening right now affects them as individuals.”

Informal student communities and word-of mouth communication channels were also disrupted. The guidance that junior and senior undergraduates once passed on to newer students — such as where to safely study late at night or what academic communities exist on campus — was not shared.

Student relationships with faculty changed, too, as opportunities for networking and cultivating relationships were lost. Without informal social interaction with instructors, such as walking to or from class together, grabbing lunch, or bumping into each other, students were missing out on connections they needed to make to advance their academic and professional careers. “The

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A student in the middle of a Zoom call in the Engineering Quad in January 2021. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

loss of connection, and the eroding of the ability to identify and build advisor relationships, has has resulted in some students finding it difficult to identify an advisor, and some undergraduates not having faculty to ask to write a letter of recommendation,” says Susan Weersing, associate dean for graduate and undergraduate studies in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Some instructors and staff felt there was an erosion of trust between students and the institution, a widespread shift in our society many told us began before the pandemic. In academia, this shift has led to an increased hesitancy to broach potentially controversial or challenging subjects — of which there were many during the pandemic. Faculty-student relationships were also changed by the increased intrusion of technology into virtual classrooms where sensitive topics may be discussed. Screen recordings of Zoom class sessions were easy to make and distribute widely

These ver y serious challenges to student wellbeing required thoughtful solutions. “Student well-being is what allows students to show up in classrooms, labs, and research settings ready to learn and engage,” says Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs. “And when students feel a sense of belonging, they are more effective learners.” Because of the importance

of student well-being to its core educational mission, innovations in solving for pandemic caused threats to student well-being proliferated at Stanford. The promising innovations implemented at Stanford and discussed in this section include these three themes:

1. Establishing New Programs for Student Well-being that meet students’ diverse needs;

2. Fostering Positive Connections Among Students and Faculty in the virtual space to ensure that students feel part of the Stanford community; and

3. Developing Inclusive, Collaborative Instructional Practices by listening to, striving to understand, and adapting to diverse student experiences and needs.

1. Establishing New Programs for Student Well being

Because students were scattered across the globe, a drastic rethinking of Stanford’s student well-being programs was required to support them. Students needed more support, and they needed that support to be flexible — to meet them where they were, when they needed it, across all hours of the day. Therapists and other

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Student well-being is what allows students to show up in classrooms, labs, and research settings ready to learn and engage, and when students feel a sense of belonging, they are more effective learners.”
Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs

mental health-care providers at Stanford pivoted to offer their ser vices remotely to students and with expanded hours. Yet laws barred many of these professionals from operating across state lines, and even those providing in-state ser vices were challenged to meet the demand. Many of the staff providing these ser vices needed to balance caregiving and work during the pandemic, so it was not always possible to be flexible in timing of sessions with students.

Well-being coaches, a new offering from Stanford’s Vaden Health Ser vices team, found increased interest in their ser vices. The program, fortuitously launched in Januar y 2020 just before the pandemic, filled a need for adaptable, flexible ser vices, and coaches were not necessarily restricted from operating across state lines. When students left campus for locations all over the countr y and the world, coaches stepped in to supplement the therapists, whose licenses were limited to practicing within the state of California. The coaches, whose practice doesn’t require a license, could meet with those students who were located outside of California, allowing students to continue receiving support no matter their location.

Data from the Institutional Research and Decision Support team at Stanford and from school- or department-run sur veys of students revealed a student population struggling during the remote learning era of the pandemic. For example, in a Mechanical Engineering Department sur vey (Week 4 Memo 2020) with 140 student respondents, 109 students offered a total of 284 words to describe how they felt in spring 2020. Of these, 207 words were negative, 65 positive, and 12 neutral, with many reporting feeling “overwhelmed,” “anxious,” or “worried.” In response to these types of troubling trends in the data, faculty and staff teams wanted to know what they could do to address students’ needs. Vaden Health Ser vices developed

workshops for departments and schools across campus to help understand students’ needs and perspectives and to provide resources that faculty and staff could share with students. Thirty of these workshops were delivered to teams from spring 2020 through fall 2021, with a total reach of over 3,400 people, ultimately including teaching assistants and parents in addition to instructors and teaching and learning teams. Each workshop was customized to the specific needs of the group attending, but they all provided attendees with a shared language to describe and define student well-being and flourishing, plus a set of practices and resources to address students’ struggles.

Vaden also reworked its web-based offerings, with an updated website aggregating resources and workshops on student well-being from partners across campus. The Red Folder, formerly a physical folder of well-being resources provided to instructors, was redeveloped into a web-based offering and linked prominently in Stanford’s Canvas learning management system.

Despite Stanford expanding the variety and modality of ser vices to support student wellbeing, some students remained beyond the reach of these ser vices. CAPS, or Counseling and Psychological Ser vices, obser ved, as has Vaden, that during the pandemic “many students deferred treatment for things that they normally would have gone to Vaden for right away,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole notes. “They were at home in a community where it wasn’t available, or it just wasn’t possible for a whole bunch of reasons.” Now that students have been permitted back for in-person, face to-face courses, she adds, “We do believe that some of the acuity of the mental health crisis we’re seeing on campus is connected to the fact that students deferred pursuing treatment and care.”

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2. Fostering Positive Connections

Among Students and Faculty

Building and maintaining connection amid the isolation of pandemic remote teaching required an intentionality that on-campus interactions often did not. “Interactions between students play a big role in learning,” says Jim Plummer, John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering, “and it’s much harder to form study groups.” In addition to changes to the fabric of the learning environment, leaving behind the campus experience meant, for many, leaving behind social connections and support networks. Informal student communities and word-of mouth communication channels were disrupted. The guidance that juniors and seniors once passed on to newer students wasn’t shared. Opportunities for professional networking and for cultivating mentor relationships were lost

Edith Wu, associate dean and director of New Student Programs, oversees orientation programming for new and transfer Stanford students. Wu saw the disruption to students’ typical Stanford experience having an immediate impact during new student events in summer 2020. “A s a university, there’s so much centered around being here and physically engaging with the community,” Wu says, lamenting crucial student supports available on campus that were missing online. For example, residential communities hold a crucial role in students’ transition to the university. Resident assistants (RA s) help new students make their way through orientation activities and share information about student groups and activities with incoming students. Because of this, the students who began their time as Stanford students in fall 2020 missed a key component of the Stanford experience—one that sets students up to succeed, Wu says.

Faculty/Student Relationships

Stanford instructors devised new ways to create connection through technology and across distance. By simply opening a Zoom class session 15 minutes early and closing the session 15 minutes after class ended, instructors were able to replicate “walking to class” moments. In this time, students could chat informally with each other and their teaching team. Instructors also added ice-breakers or discussion prompts in Zoom class sessions to facilitate student sharing and community building.

Michael Hines, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education, reflected in a GSE faculty panel:

The sort of things that naturally happen over 10 weeks, like little discussions before class and after class when people are hanging around, or catching people you know out on campus — all of that has to be much more intentional in a virtual or distance learning environment. [During remote instruction, we were] dedicating time ever y class period to briefly check in, ask people how they’re feeling, see how their weekend went, share what TV shows we’re watching, what recipes we’ve been cooking. Being really purposeful about creating that time has been a strategy that’s really worked for us.

The home environments from which instructors and students joined Zoom meetings could be more distracting and chaotic than on-campus classrooms, but those distractions led to some positive outcomes in the faculty-student relationship. “Distractions — things like pets, children, parents, or whatever — were brought up

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by the VPGE’s Faculty Advisor y Committee as a positive thing that humanizes [instructors],” says Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and Jagdeep and Roshni Singh Professor in the School of Engineering, reflecting feedback from a faculty advisor y committee she leads. “Faculty were more likely to share personal information.”

3. Developing Inclusive, Collaborative Instructional Practices

Instructors and staff who support teaching and learning made conversations about equity and inclusion a higher priority during the pandemic. The increased energy around this topic came as a response to increased need. Student identities were more visible in the Zoom classroom and were newly centered due to the social justice issues gripping the nation. The impacts of inequality were more pressing, as some students

struggled to access the basic technology and connectivity needed to learn online.

Resources for equity and inclusion in education proliferated to meet instructors’ needs. These resources took the form of workshops and documents outlining ways to build inclusion into instruction. New partnerships developed among staff groups to tackle the challenges of making online learning accessible to all, such as the Learning Technologies and Spaces team’s partnership with the Office of Digital Accessibility to develop a more thorough process for vetting and approving technologies for widespread use in Stanford’s learning environment.

Make space for the whole student

To teach effectively in the virtual environment, instructors had to get a sense of the challenges students were facing as individuals. In the remote classroom, instructors relied more heavily on

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An incoming student checks into her residence hall on move-in day in September 2021. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.

existing Stanford-supported technologies to “take the temperature” of students.

Simple sur veys allow checking in with a whole class at once. For example, a clickable world map in Poll Ever ywhere paired with the question “Where are you learning from today?” showed instructors which students were joining class in the middle of the night from a location on the other side of the world.

Sara Singer, professor at the School of Medicine and GSB, describes using one-question temperature checks at the beginning of her lectures, simply asking the students how they are doing. “It was important, I think, for people to see that not ever ybody was okay on a given day, to acknowledge that, and to let people know that wherever they were was okay,” Singer says. “It also allowed me an opportunity to invite people to talk with me offline, and some of them did.”

Kathy Davies, managing director of the Life Design Lab at Stanford and lecturer of mechanical engineering, recalls realizing she and her teaching team could not assume anything about students’ learning setups at home: access to technology, learning materials, and, importantly, due to the sensitive nature of some classroom discussions, a private space to

engage in Zoom discussions in the class. “The kinds of conversations that we’re having are sometimes conversations that we want to have with just the people we’re having them with, and not our family members or the people in [the] coffee shop,” says Davies of her courses, ME 104B: Designing Your Life and ME 104S: Designing Your Stanford. Davies and her teaching team used sur veys to discover who had access to what, in order to design the most inclusive learning experience possible, using small group discussions, but also relying on text-based discussions through Zoom chat and other technologies such as the team collaboration platform Miro.

Virtual one-on-one meetings between instructors and students, either at the beginning of the quarter or on an ongoing basis, were helpful in building relationships with students during the pandemic. Barriers were lowered to attending office hours, resulting in reports that office hours attendance increased. “I actually feel like I got a lot more help this year than in previous years,” a student commented in the CS Pedagogy Project report on pandemic learning, noting that in-person office hours with busy queues can often feel overwhelmingly chaotic.

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In my mind, the absolutely biggest change is the way that instructors started paying closer attention to whether their courses are successful for students. That will lead to many permanent changes in all schools ever ywhere.”
John Mitchell, Mary and Gordon Crary Family Professor in the School of Engineering

Authentic discussions

Creating space for authentic conversation on difficult subjects meant students did not have to leave parts of themselves at the door — physical or virtual — when they entered the learning space.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, business strategy lecturer at GSB, created what she called “share spaces” in her Zoom classrooms. In these informal discussions, students talked about their experiences during the pandemic, particularly around the social and racial justice issues that erupted in 2020. “Being there for the students outside of the small box of academia is what made my course so successful,” she stated in the Graduate School of Business’s “Connecting with Students” video

The desire to engage with students during this challenging era meant that instructors could be faced with moderating difficult discussions. The university’s increased effort to provide support for inclusive teaching practices emerged from a need to support a diverse community in learning while navigating current events.

GSB, for instance, added to its resources supporting course discussions with a guide for navigating sensitive discussions, including divisive elections, racism, sexism, or other topics that might cause a difficult classroom discussion. “Particularly in the current climate, a sensitive topic may reach your classroom whether you invite it or not,” notes the site on handling unexpected discussions. Stanford developed a university-wide resource for teaching during the 2020 election and during the related violence at Capitol Hill on Januar y 6, 2021. (GSB also developed resources for teaching during the 2020 election.) These sites remain live, as these resources remain relevant in managing

any challenging political discussions in the classroom.

Inclusive and collaborative course design

Students enjoyed a larger role in designing their own learning than before the pandemic, largely because instructors continually innovated, sought student feedback, and iterated in their remote instruction during the pandemic. Students appreciated the ability to provide feedback in these courses and benefited greatly from the instructors who were willing to adapt their instruction. John Mitchell, Mar y and Gordon Crar y Family Professor in the School of Engineering, sees this as a major and lasting impact of the pandemic: “In my mind, the absolutely biggest change is the way that instructors started paying closer attention to whether their courses are successful for students. That will lead to many permanent changes in all schools ever ywhere.”

In the Department of Mechanical Engineering, a collaboratively designed course invited students to identify their learning goals, which the course was then shaped around. “We used this model because we didn’t know what was going to work. Students enjoyed having agency in a course,” says Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor Emeritus in the School of Engineering. Building from this student-centered approach, Sheppard’s team developed resources for inclusive course design and instruction, including a comprehensive inclusive course design checklist and an equity rubric. A diversity, equity, and inclusion committee established within Mechanical Engineering during the pandemic will continue this work.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) developed resources designed to guide instructors and student-facing staff in promoting student flourishing. Flourishing as a wellness

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION 63 4 | Supporting the Whole Student

concept is defined by functioning well and feeling good. The supports designed by CTL included clear, actionable ways to encourage student flourishing through thoughtful course design. In a workshop discussing student wellness for instructors led by John Austin, senior advisor for mental health and well-being innovation at Stanford’s Vaden Health Ser vices, instructors were reminded that simply checking in with students is a powerful tool for making sure students have the support they need.

Stanford’s CTL provides a detailed plan for supporting student flourishing in remote teaching and learning in its 10 Strategies for Promoting Student Flourishing. Among the suggestions are building community — within the class and in society at large — and incorporating accessibility into learning design. Flourishing in this environment requires acknowledging

students’ needs, physically and emotionally, and providing opportunities for gaining and seeing progress along a learning journey.

Some faculty held brief, sometimes only 10-minute, individual meetings with ever y student at the start and end of each remote course to get to know the students as individuals. Faculty setting up meetings, rather than asking the students themselves to set up meetings or join office hours as needed, reduced the intimidation for some students in approaching faculty for help.

Leading students through possibly upsetting course material and discussions became crucial in the divisive and challenging climate of the pandemic. To support faculty efforts, CTL developed course material and discussions became crucial in the divisive and challenging climate of the pandemic. CTL developed the JUSTICE framework for providing a safe learning environment to learners from all backgrounds. This document provides tools for evaluating, communicating about, and supporting instruction using materials that might be upsetting to students. It includes a sample syllabus statement thoughtfully framing the use of potentially upsetting course content: why it was included, how students should approach it, and what supports are in place for students whose trauma might be resurfaced by engaging with the material.

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION64 4 | Supporting the Whole Student
Hikers wear face masks at they walk the trail to the satellite dish in July 2020. Photo by Andrew Brodhead, University Communications.


“Things like inequitable access, differences in preparation prior to college, well-being challenges, or responding to topics differently … These are not pandemic issues, they just appeared more vividly during the pandemic,” says Kritika Kanchana Yegnashankaran, associate director of Faculty and Lecturer Programs in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

The challenges students faced during the pandemic were not new and will not disappear with its end. Stanford continues the efforts initiated during (and before) the pandemic on equity and inclusion. It remains urgent, too, to listen to students’ needs with empathy and to improve student well-being. “I think of it as a huge permission slip to ever ybody on campus to care and empathize, and to bring their humanity forward in ever y interaction with students. We need to build a culture around that,” Brubaker-Cole says.

Since the return to campus in September 2021, the university has continued to provide instructors with support and resources to promote student flourishing and to empathetically guide students through challenging content and difficult course discussions. Due to the nationwide crisis in young adult mental health,19 the student wellbeing ser vices developed during the pandemic are likely to remain in wide use.

Scholars will study the long-term impacts of remote teaching and learning during the pandemic, coinciding with the growing awareness and protest of inequities. In our inter views, faculty and staff reported impacts to Stanford students such as:

• Lost learning

• Absent college-level skills in studying, time management, and librar y research

• Lack of maturity and independence that comes with living at college

• Negative impacts to student well-being such as sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse, and risky sexual behavior

While we do not have an estimate of the extent of the faculty response to these growing needs, there is no question that a shift has occurred. The pandemic raised Stanford’s awareness of problems students increasingly face and new ways to address them. We will need to track how these changes endure.

Indeed, some pandemic methods of engaging students remain. In fall 2021, Wu obser ved the students for whom she is a resident fellow as they used pandemic methods to create community: “Over Thanksgiving break students set up a Zoom room — a virtual lounge — and they were hanging out with each other, online, ever y day, and having so much fun. They were using the social things that they had learned the previous year to keep our community closely connected.”

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION 65 4 | Supporting the Whole Student

Pandemic Learnings

We have an extraordinary oppor tunity to set a future institutional digital education strategy. By taking close account of all that we have learned from emergency remote education during the pandemic, we can ensure that all students have equal oppor tunity to learn and thrive at Stanford. Here are five of our takeaways, as well as suggestions for fur ther study.



Emergency remote instruction marks a shift in Stanford’s identity.

The change from brick-and-mortar to virtual classrooms shifted the way that students engage with Stanford cultural traditions. Students no longer gathered in-person in classes and met face to-face with instructors. Their connection to Stanford was no longer grounded in the beautiful campus and the wonderful climate. First- and second-year undergraduate students missed key parts of their fall 2020 and 2021 new student onboarding experience, including (but not limited to) a loss of oral traditions once passed through

informal student networks (e.g., word-of-mouth information about study spaces, student clubs, and librar y ser vices). Moreover, the view of the residential experience as crucial to the overall Stanford experience was challenged, as many incoming students lived off-campus or at home during this time. While faculty, staff, and students continued to feel strongly about Stanford’s sense of place — and yearned to return to it — they also experienced a connection to Stanford as a virtual community.


Staff have a new and vital role in shaping instructional innovation and in building new collaborative networks.

The heavily siloed nature of Stanford’s schools, departments, and business units gave way to agile, collaborative partnerships, particularly among university staff. Communities of practice (CoPs) blossomed, Slack channels multiplied, and inter-institutional workshops, conferences, and summits increased as the need to provide enhanced teaching and learning support grew. Previously abandoned knowledge communities (e.g., Stanford Teaching Commons) were revitalized, and educational technology programs were expanded or enhanced as demand grew for technological devices (e.g., iPads and laptops), classroom technology support, and online learning design. Additionally, a new TEACH

symposium offered workshops and training on teaching during a pandemic.

Staff teams worked tirelessly to pivot teaching and learning online in response to an emerging global health crisis and to refine and iterate online instruction as the pandemic wore on. New programs and projects were led by staff, sometimes in totally new areas of work and often in cross-functional groups. Staff groups developed collaborative teams within and beyond Stanford to pool knowledge and resources about emergency remote teaching and learning.

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION 67 5 | Pandemic Learnings


The move to remote education worsened access for many students, though some saw an improvement. Increased remote instruction benefited many Stanford students, including some students with disabilities and others who prefer virtual communication to in-person communication. However, gaps in access to instructional materials, computer hardware, academic technologies for teaching and learning, adequate study spaces, and connectivity widened based on economic and social circumstances. “Some found [emergency remote instruction] to be helpful, but others found the ecosystem of stress and disruption to really undermine their ability to focus on school,” Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs, says. Students from marginalized backgrounds (including those in rural areas) struggled to obtain reliable WiFi and to access learning management systems. New programs to increase access to learning hardware were developed (e.g., the LT&S laptop loaner program and more student peer tech support opportunities), but connectivity challenges may have limited their impact.

Innovative teaching practices developed to augment Stanford instruction during remote learning (such as flipped course design, instructional media libraries, and project based assessments) hold promise for long-term improvements to teaching and learning, though they are not yet universally embraced, nor are their impacts always measured. Our preliminar y review suggests that much evaluation of the effectiveness of pedagogical practices — not just of student satisfaction, as is generally measured by processes like course evaluations — has yet to be done. That will be an important part of gauging the impacts of promising pedagogical innovations during remote instruction, especially those innovations that might be integrated into face to-face instruction. “There should be more assessment of practices,” says Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of physics, noting that the Center for Teaching and Learning has the expertise required to do such work.


The faculty-student relationship changed.

Stanford students participated in course design in new and innovative ways as faculty sought input on newly redesigned courses or, in some cases, as faculty invited students to co-design courses based on students’ own learning goals. New support models, established to supplement existing academic technology support on campus (digital ambassadors, CDA+, etc.), leveraged student technology expertise to enable faculty to adapt to remote instruction.

However, already challenging topics in the classroom were made more challenging by the virtual environment, leading instructors to avoid certain topics because of concerns about their being recorded and having remarks taken out of context. Moreover, a lack of connection to faculty caused the loss of mentoring relationships crucial to students’ continued academic careers.



A culture of empathy grew.

Our inter views indicate that compassion and empathy in the classroom have helped to improve student well-being at Stanford, as well as leading to a stronger culture of mutual respect across the institution. Instructors who took the time to demonstrate empathy (e.g., through flexible assignment deadlines or attendance policies) appear to have improved faculty-student relationships and built positive classroom cultures. Furthermore, faculty and administrators who made space for students of all backgrounds and identities in the design of their instruction and support programs seem to have strengthened trust and helped ensure that student needs were appropriately met.

Such measures may be more necessar y than ever. The pandemic has increased the mental strain on a generation of college students already reporting record levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. A s a result of the pandemic, Stanford students report increased feelings of social isolation, loss of social structure (e.g., extracurricular activities), and stress from coursework. The university responded by devising and implementing more flexible mental health ser vices (such as Vaden Health Ser vices’ virtual therapy and coaching appointments). Many students used these ser vices, and we anticipate that they will benefit from continued access to these ser vices post pandemic.


These five takeaways lead to questions that the Stanford community may want to consider in the coming years, regardless of what turns the COVID-19 pandemic may take. They include:

• How can Stanford continue the culture of academic ingenuity and innovation that shone during the pandemic?

• How do we provide digital education opportunities that enhance equity and access for students?

• Under what circumstances should faculty and academic instructors be able to teach with flexibility, using such instructional modalities as fully online, hybrid, or flipped instruction?

• Should students be afforded alternatives to attending classes in-person and have more options of alternative forms of assessment?

• What should be students’ role in course design?

• Is there a need to maintain and grow professional knowledge-sharing networks and online teaching resources such as the Teaching Commons, the TEACH Symposium, and the Digital Ambassadors program?

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION 69 5 | Pandemic Learnings


Along with universities worldwide, Stanford suffered a fundamental disruption in March 2020, forcing our community to undergo a sea change in how it communicates, collaborates, and conducts its educational mission. From a starting place of learning how to use the instructional tools needed to maintain academic continuity, we have adapted and evolved, crafting innovative approaches to support one another and to learn over great distances, continuing Stanford’s long histor y of academic innovation and educational excellence. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the university, its faculty, staff, and students devised new structures to ensure student learning flourished in the online space; found new ways to foster student well-being; and devised new systems to facilitate university decision-making and operations.

With the return to campus in fall 2021, many in the community felt (and some with great relief ) that we could “go back to normal” — undo the previous 18 months and never again have to log onto Zoom. In the ensuing months, such hopes were dashed. Two new COVID-19 variants (delta and omicron) forced a return to remote or hybrid learning. Teaching and learning strategies must take into account that continued disruptions are likely to occur in coming years, apart from the novel coronavirus. The implementation

of intentional and adaptive course design and teaching support structures is of critical importance.

Now, before we emerge into a post-pandemic world, we must identify which teaching and learning innovations to carr y forward and what is needed to ensure and enhance Stanford’s sustainability. In this review, we sought to highlight the power of the collective Stanford community in adapting to the crises in education imposed by the pandemic. There were many worthwhile advances as well as shortfalls. A s the university plans for the future, it is essential to further integrate technology as part of pedagogical innovation, as started to happen in many instances during the pandemic. We need to consider which traditional practices of higher education can continue; how they can be enhanced to achieve more meaningful, engaged, and inclusive learning; and in what select areas we need to embrace and push further new digital education approaches and tools that will provide viable and welcome alternatives to face to-face classes. These considerations will help us move effectively from emergency remote instruction to effective, equitable, and sustainable online learning.

5 | Pandemic Learnings
Photo by Linda A. Cicero,
University Communications.


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Workshops and Courses,” /workshops-and-courses


Inter vie w Questionnaire

Intro to project

Describe your unit/ department

Who do you support?

What types of roles are represented on your team?

Background (10 mins)

Pandemic Practices (15 mins)

What innovative practices in online teaching and learning did you notice or build during the pandemic?

What barriers in online teaching and learning did you encounter during the pandemic? (from your perspective, faculty, students, etc.)


What did you learn from the above experiences?

What impact did they have? How did you measure?

What conversations have you had or data have you gathered from your community about their online teaching and learning experience during the pandemic?

• From instructors?

• Students?

• TA s and other teaching staff ?

• Staff support teams?

In those conversations and research,

• What trends did you notice?

• What was surprising to you from these conversations?

• Would you be willing to share your data or notes from these conversations?

Do you have plans for additional conversations or data collection?

Evaluating Pandemic Experiences (15 mins)

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION76 Appendix | Interview Questionnaire

What would you consider carr ying forward into post pandemic teaching and learning?

In what ways could your innovations be relevant to the broader Stanford community, or beyond?

What support would be helpful in carr ying what was learned forward?

In what ways was the online pandemic classroom more inclusive? How can we carr y these practices forward?

Bringing Pandemic Learnings For ward (15 mins)

STANFORD DIGITAL EDUCATION 77 Appendix | Interview Questionnaire


1. Stanford First-generation and/or Low Income Partnership (FLIP) “What I Wish My Professor Knew — Spring 2020,” April 15, 2020, 2dq3VqLoyk5J6xDRi6yrJ__-NIF-S8/edit?usp=sharing (Stanford login required).

2. Stanford Spring Student Survey, https://tableau.stanford. edu/t/IRDS/views/ CovidPublicSurveyWorkingDraft/ PublicSlides?:iid=1&:isGuest RedirectFromVizportal=y&: embed=y

3. Theresa Gao, Christopher Tan, Eva Reyes, and Allison Tielking, “Why Are Finals More Important than Black Lives?” Stanford Daily, June 3, 2020, https://stanforddaily com/2020/06/03/whyare-finals-more-important than-black-lives/

4. “Sarina Deb, “Stanford’s Asian community calls for allyship in wake of anti-Asian hate crimes,” Stanford Daily, March 18, 2021, https://stanforddaily com/2021/03/18/ stanfords-asian-community-calls-for-allyship-in-wake-of-antiasian-hate-crimes/.

5. Michelle Wiley, “700 Anti-Asian Hate Incidents Reported in Bay Area During Pandemic — True Figures Might Be Even Worse,” KQED, February 12, 2021, / news/11859965/700-anti-asian-hate-incidents-reported-in-bayarea-during-pandemic true-figures-might-be-even-worse

6. In this review we avoid using the term “online teaching” to describe in-person classes delivered virtually during the pandemic. Well-planned online learning experiences, which are designed to be sustained, are meaningfully different from courses offered in response to a crisis or disaster, which are intended to be temporary. “Emergency remote teaching” has emerged as a common alternative term. Whenever possible, we use language to instead clarify the method of delivery (e.g., delivering courses online).

7. Maxwell Bigman, Yosefa Gilon, Jenny Han, and John Mitchell, “New Trajectories in Post-Pandemic CS Pedagogy,” Association for Computing Machinery, 2022, people/jcm/papers/Post-Pandemic%20CS%20Pedagogy%20 (DRAFT%20Aug%202021).pdf.

8. Lisa Anderson, Cindy Berhtram, and Annie Sadler, “Festival of Return — Digital Education Deck — 10/7/21,” October 7, 2021, EKWo3nwyCBObncFtDbGQ0TGQzA

9. Stanford Graduate School of Business, “Fall 2021: Returning to the Classroom,” September 2, 2021, upcoming-events/september-2-faculty-panel-returning-to the classroom/?occurrence=2021-09-02

10. Sylvia Schwaag Serger, Anders Malmberg, and Mats Benner, eds., “Renewing Higher Education: Academic Leadership in Times of Transformation,” Sweden-USA Project for Collaboration, Academic Leadership and Innovation in Higher Education, 2021, https://calieproject.files.wordpress. com/2021/05/renewal-of-higher-education_final210505.pdf

11. Stanford Language Center, “AY 2020-2021 Annual Report,” publication expected in autumn 2022.

12. Bigman, et al., “New Trajectories in Post-Pandemic CS Pedagogy ”

13. Lina Piezas, personal communication, April 20, 2022.

14. Bigman, et al., “New Trajectories in Post-Pandemic CS Pedagogy ”

15. Schwaag Serger, Malmberg, and Benner, “Renewing Higher Education,” 247–48. https://calieproject.files.wordpress. com/2021/05/renewal-of-higher-education_final210505.pdf

16. Co-Leads: Sarah Church (VPUE), Mary Beth Mudgett (H&S); Core Group: Gordon Chang (VPUE), Warren Chiang (VPUE), Helen Chu (LT&S), Shu-Ling Chen (GSE), Dan Colman (Continuing Studies), Kirsti Copeland (Engineering), Mariatte Denman (CTL), Helen Doyle (VPGE), Robyn Dunbar (Earth), Susan Eller (SoM), Steve Gallagher (UIT), Neil Gesundheit (SoM), Mark Kelman (SLS), Johanna Metzger (Registrar), Jessie Muehlburg (Registrar), Paul Oyer (GSB), Ryan Petterson (Earth), Corrie Potter (IR&DS), Laura Schlosberg (H&S), Jennifer Schwartz- Poehlmann (Chemistry), Matt Shaw (Registrar), Matt Snipp (vice provost for Faculty Development, Diversity and Engagement), Jory Steele (SLS), Eric Van Danen (VPUE), Richard Webber (LT&S), Susan (Suzi) Weersing (H&S), John Willinsky (GSE); Project Manager: Nan McKenna (UIT).

17. Beth Seltzer, “A Day in the Life of a Remote Undergraduate Student: Fall 2020,” Inside Higher Ed, June 24, 2020, https:// /views/2020/06/24/ envisioning-day-life-remote-undergraduate-student-fall-2020.

18. Sarina Deb, “How COVID-19 and Virtual Learning Are Hammering Stanford Students’ Mental Health,” Stanford Daily, December 2, 2020, https://stanforddaily. com/2020/12/01/how-covid-19-and-virtual-learning-are hammering-stanford-students-mental-health/; Mechanical Engineering Technology-Enhanced Learning Community, The Buzz, August 8, 2020, https://us19.campaign-archive. com/?u=0b770406687c9be5573d13b77&id=fe6f099d3c

19. United States Department of Education, “Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students,” 2021, docs/20210608-impacts-of-covid19.pdf


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