Student Background Variability

Even with our best efforts at teaching last year, many students didn’t learn quite as well as usually, not as much and not as deeply understood.  This will have impacted the students in your courses this fall, so you will have a wider range of student preparation than usual.  This is even more true of incoming freshman who had very variable high school experiences, per Scott Campbell Director of Engineering Admissions.  

MTEI is holding a panel discussion on teaching to students with a wide range of backgrounds on Friday, Aug. 20th at 3:00pm in Upson 102.  I hope you are able to attend and join the discussion.

Teaching to Include Students Struggling from Educational Disruptions due to COVID

Providing inclusive educational experiences necessitates teaching to the spectrum of those struggling through to those that excel with the material. The global pandemic has impacted many incoming first-year students' readiness for college. Some students may have finished out their senior year struggling to learn from YouTube while others had access to private tutoring. In this workshop, Elizabeth Fisher, David Williamson, and Kyle Harms will share their experiences, approaches, and strategies teaching across different skill levels and levels of preparation in their classrooms.

Please RSVP at so we can let you know if we need to move to a larger room or provide a Zoom link.

Additional Tips

  • Consider including active learning in your class if you don’t already, so students learn (again) to work with their peers. Even more than usual, students may have become used to working alone.  (Information on Active Learning tips and a workshop will come soon).
  • Expect that yourself, and/or any TAs you have, may need to add extra office hours to help students with gaps in their knowledge and skills
  • Consider marking some problems, both for active learning and for HW, as “extra challenges”  to keep the top students challenged without overwhelming students who may be catching up.   For longer active learning activities I like to use a worksheet with questions so that students can move at a productive pace for their group and have the challenge questions so they don’t get bored while other students are finishing the core of the worksheet material or activities or discussion
  • Consider whether you need to drop some optional content this semester to ensure students learn the required material well.  Spread the changes across the semester rather than hit a time crunch at the end.
  • Point out available resources such as the Learning Strategies Center (help forming study groups, time management and study skills workshops) and Cornell Health.  Encourage students to use the available resources (including AEWs where available) in all their courses.  Seeking help recovering from covid learning challenges is a sign of resilience, not weakness
  • Expect students may need reassurance that they can succeed.  Imposter syndrome may be rampant this semester.

And most of all, enjoy finally teaching in person again, even if with masks.