Tips for Talking to Children About COVID-19

The following is submitted by Melissa Nolan, M.S., Director of the Nancy W. Darden Child Development Center at East Carolina University

With the very challenging COVID-19 crisis, it has become increasingly obvious to children that their everyday lives are changing. Therefore, they may have a lot of questions. Although no one expects you to have all of the answers to their questions, it is extremely important to have conversations with children to reduce their fears and anxieties.

Here are a few tips to consider when talking to children about COVID-19:

  • Be available to talk and listen.
  • Children often talk about the things that worry them during low-risk situations (e.g., bath time, dinner time, coloring, etc).
  • Be honest, open, and vulnerable.
  • It’s okay to tell them that you don’t know the answer to their questions.
  • Validate their feelings and reassure them.
  • Let them know that it’s okay to feel scared, worried, and/or sad.
  • Give them permission to feel happy, excitement, and joy. Some children will see their parents worry and feel like they are not supposed to feel positive emotions during this time.
  • Remind them no matter what happens you love them and they will be taken care of.
  • Avoid providing too much information.
  • Only answer the questions that they ask.
  • Answer questions with accurate information and avoid stigmatization.
  • Limit/monitor their exposure to online articles, news programs, and other commentary about COVID-19. Young children have a hard time making sense of what they see. Too much information can increase their anxiety.
  • Remind them of ways to prevent COVID-19 (handwashing, social distancing, etc).

Moving Your Face-to-Face Course Online

As colleges and universities across the nation are making changes due to the recent COVID-19 virus, many instructors are facing dilemmas of how to move their content online. While some have numerous resources to help faculty with this transition, others may not. Transitioning a face-to-face course online during an emergency can be scary and confusing for even the most seasoned instructor. Additional fears or discomfort with technology can enhance anxiety felt during times like this. For example at our university, we were already transitioning to a new learning management system before this emergency, therefore providing a steeper learning curve for both faculty AND students.

I attended a Quality Matters (QM) training about a year ago that was focused on methods to evaluate online courses for quality and effectiveness in order to enhance student learning. As such, I continuously receive emails with information on specific tips and best practices for online instruction. The most recent email provided a checklist for those who are using remote means to provide instruction for students. Some main points of consideration suggested by QM include:
  • Giving explicit instructions for students on how their learning environment will change
  • Being specific about expectations of communication and interaction online
  • Identifying resources for instructional and technological support
  • Creating a sense of community online
  • Providing timely and responsive feedback
The key point is to take into consideration the students’ perspective during this time. Changing instructional methodology in the middle of a semester or term has its challenges. Patience and compassion are needed because anxieties are high and students will have a lot of questions – many which might not have answers. But guiding them through this process and providing multiple means for them to succeed can help alleviate some of their concerns.

For more in-depth information on what to consider as you transition your course, see the Quality Matters Emergency Remote Checklist.

Image credit: My poor shift key by Zac Bowling CC BY 2.0

An Innovative Way To Teach Ethics

Submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

Merriam-Webster (2019) defines ethics as “a set of moral principles; “a theory or system of moral values”; “a guiding philosophy”; “a consciousness of moral importance”. When working as a family scientist, in any career setting, it is essential to remember the importance of ethics. The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) provides ethical principles and guidelines for family scientists. Before listing these principles the NCFR provides a purpose statement that reads: “these ethical principles and guidelines were developed to inspire and encourage Family Scientists to act ethically; provide guidance in dealing with often complex ethical issues; provide ethical guidance in areas that Family Scientists may overlook; and enhance the professional image and status of Family Scientists by increasing the level of professional consciousness” (NCFR, 2019). Here are a few examples of the guidelines from NCFR:
  • Family scientists are respectful of others, show sensitivity to the dignity of all humans, and avoid all forms of exploitation
  • Family scientists are not unethically discriminatory on the basis of gender, sexual, orientation, age, marital status, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, or socioeconomic status.
  • Family scientists are sensitive to the complications in dual or multiple role situations and are ethical in those roles.
So how does a teacher teach a complex subject such as ethics? Morgan (2018) suggests the use of “real life” stories from professionals in the field to add depth, relevance, and reality to the class’ discussion of ethical practice in family science. Stories have been used for many years to teach different subjects. “Collecting stories from professionals in the field can also provide us with a window into experiences and settings with which we are not familiar” (Morgan, 2018). In order to get a better idea of how to collect stories, Kari Morgan, from Kansas State University, interviewed six interviews with family science professionals. Specifically, family science professionals working in rural communities, because she knew the majority of her students would be practicing family science in rural areas. After conducting these interviews and using the stories professionals provided her, Morgan (2018) concluded that teachers will have to be okay with being vulnerable and “comfortable with being uncomfortable, to not know all the answers, and be okay with being ‘off the cuff’ or off script”. For students, the use of stories can make them feel more connected with a teacher, which leads to students opening up more in conversations about ethics.

Stories “add great depth to conversations and discussions related to ethics in family science classes” which leads to students having a better understanding of what ethics are in the family science field. Preparing students to enter the world of family science feeling comfortable and having knowledge of the ethical guidelines will strengthen the field of family science. Using stories to teach ethics can also change the way teachers think about teaching ethics. Morgan (2018) stated that using the stories she heard from family science professionals “transformed” her teaching “in ways that are hard to quantify.”

For more information read: Morgan, K. (2018). Using stories to teach ethics in family science. Family Science Review, 22(2), 21-33.

Diversity Discourse in Contemporary College Classrooms

Within the discipline of family science, issues of diversity and inclusion are (or should be) embedded within all of our courses. Consideration of differences should guide our discussions of most topics related to the study of children and families. Examples highlighting the cultural diversity (e.g., race/ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc.) and family diversity (e.g., single parent, grandparent, military, etc.) of the populations we serve are an integral part of family science education.

The nature of our current societal discourse, namely around social locations and individual differences, is oppressive to many who identify with a marginalized community. Discussions in the classroom may serve to give voice to some while seemingly increase guilt or blame in others. Managing these conversations can be difficult and may even become combative. In recognition that students bring their own biases into the classroom, instructors are tasked with finding ways to respect their students’ lived experiences while also challenging them to be open to new ideas.

After many years of incorporating ‘hot button’ topics and issues of diversity and inclusion in my courses, I have found certain methods to be more effective than others. Some of the things that I use to help guide these conversations include:
  • Experiential activities – Students continue to report the impact that these have on their level of understanding, especially when trying to understand the perspective of another. Activities such as privilege walks, identity wheels, and role plays (just to name a few) help students engage with difficult content.
  • Anonymous polling – To encourage discussion of sensitive topics, anonymous polls (e.g., Poll everywhere, Kahoot!, Plickers, etc.) allow students to provide feedback in a safer and more comfortable manner.
  • Cultural humility – With an overarching lens of cultural humility (read more here), students learn to focus on their own biases and the impact on their personal and professional interactions with others. In addition to learning about diverse populations, students are encouraged to explore their own identities and how they can use their privilege to help others.
In a recently published Family Science Review article, Niehuis and Thomas-Jackson (2019) discussed the role of instructor emotion in teaching diversity within family science. They argue that instructor emotions greatly contribute to the nature of the learning environment. The authors also provide a review of effective methods for teaching diversity and pose questions that family science departments should consider with regard to diversity instruction. To read this article click HERE.

Image credit: School diversity many hands held together by Wonder woman0731. CC BY 2.0

Students Selling Course Material Online

As instructors, we spend countless hours creating, editing, and revising content for our students. Syllabi, lectures, exams, activities, and other course material are created to support and enhance the educational experience. Although these materials are shared by current, former, and future students, they remain the property of the instructor and/or the institution.

A recent phenomenon that is challenging the notion of the intellectual property of instructor created course content is the number of online sites which offer compensation for access to course materials. Sites such as Campus Shift, Course Hero, and NexusNotes are just a few who provide compensation to students for the sale of their course materials. These sites allow students to upload their course materials for free, and then pays them a commission for each sale thereafter. They can also earn free access to content on the site with each upload. A quick search for institution and course will lead you to pages and pages of uploaded materials available for purchase and download.

Our institution recently created a policy to add to the student code of conduct in reference to selling coursework online. In order to prohibit the commercial exploitation of course material, the following statement was adopted and added to our copyright regulations:

Notes of classroom and laboratory lectures, syllabi, exercises and other course materials taken by Students shall not be deemed Student Works, may only be used for personal educational purposes, and shall not be used for commercialization by the Student generating such notes or by any third party without the express written permission of the author of such Works. Violation of University Policy may be grounds for disciplinary action pursuant with the Student Conduct Process.

It does not appear that these sites are going anywhere and they are proving to be quite popular among contemporary college students. Universities and academic programs might consider adopting a similar policy to protect the integrity and accessibility of instructor created course content.

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Strategies for Effective Mentoring

For the 2019-2020 academic year, I am honored to be a Faculty Fellow for The Office for Faculty Excellence at my university. With this appointment, I am tasked with contributing to the professional development of graduate students and faculty across campus. In addition to providing consultations and implementing educational activities, I was given the flexibility to conceptualize programming based on my own interests. With this assignment, I knew that my focus would be mentoring. Further confirmation that I was on the right track was the recent announcement for the mentoring academy offered through NCFR. I saw this as a sign that the timing was right for what I am doing at my university!

During my doctoral work and in preparation for life in academia, I had the honor of being mentored by one of the world’s most renown academic educators. This person taught me how to be an effective teacher, but most importantly demonstrated the power of having a dedicated mentor. In the years after, I searched for similar mentorship but often feel short. I yearned for other devoted and caring mentors to help me with the tenure process and to be my advocates in academia.

From my own personal quest for mentorship and the research, planning, and recruitment process for our university program, I have learned many best practices for mentoring relationships. Key factors for success of a mentoring program are systemic and dynamic in nature. They require thoughtful and flexible decision-making and collaboration with all levels of university operations. Here are just a few that I have found to be important in conducting a mentoring program for faculty or students:
  • There must be buy-in from university administrators. The university community should be supportive of any mentoring efforts in order for them to be successful. Whether they are allocating resources for the program or helping to identify appropriate mentors, administrators (e.g., senior faculty, chairs/deans, provosts, chancellors) should be involved in all stages of planning and implementation.
  • Campus collaborations are a necessity. As systemic thinkers, it was obvious that success meant our faculty development office could not work in a vacuum. Relationships with representatives from diversity and inclusion, global affairs, graduate studies, community engagement, writing success, and student affairs (to name a few) must have a seat at the planning table. They also serve as great resources for your mentoring participants.
  • Mentors must be trained and demonstrate a commitment to the process. Student and faculty mentors have identifiable skills and accomplishments enabling them to work with mentees, but many lack an understanding of how to be a successful mentor. Mentors need training on how to establish working relationships with mentees. They also need information on ways to help mentees identify and work towards academic, professional, and personal goals.
  • Mentees should choose their own mentors. Assigning mentors based on interest and/or availability is a common practice. But to facilitate a more productive working relationship, mentees must be able to choose who they want to work with. After identifying what they want to accomplish from the mentoring relationship, mentees should choose the person they think will best help them reach their goals.
  • Mentors require support too. Mentoring can be an isolating process especially for those who meet one-on-one. Therefore, mentors should be provided the space to connect with and have reciprocal supportive relationships with other mentors. Team or group mentoring models are more successful than traditional ones.
  • Consideration of diversity and inclusion. Mentoring programs should recognize the institutional and cultural barriers that exist in academia for members of marginalized communities. Recruiting a diverse group of mentors is fundamental, but often not possible. All mentors need education on the unique experiences of marginalized students and faculty, which will increase their retention, satisfaction, and success.
In future posts, I will write more about the unique experiences of participants in our mentoring program. As a result of the lessons learned outlined above (and more!), we are excited to provide a thoughtful and deliberate experience for our university community. We have been extremely fortunate to have support and buy-in from all levels at our institution, with the Provost being our biggest cheerleader! Recruitment of mentors was so successful that we had to create a wait-list for those who were interested in participating. Funding was obtained to provide resources, materials, and training for our participants. Collaborative relationships have been established across campus to support these efforts and increase sustainability of this endeavor.

Image credit: Career mentoring – Adventure Jan 24 2018_230 by Thompson Rivers. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Calling All CDFR/HDFS Alumni!

Dean Zvonkovic (East Carolina University/College of Health and Human Performance and National Council on Family Relations President) needs your help. See her message below and please respond to let her know how you have used and benefited from your family science training.

At the NCFR conference in November, I will be giving a Presidential Address. My theme will address the value of a family science perspective to broader work and personal life (as described in the NCFR Report article linked below). I am essentially “crowdsourcing” elements of my talk, and so I NEED YOU (and others!) to help me identify ways that you think a family science perspective has been useful in your life. Please share with your social networks!

Provide feedback here:

NCFR Report:

Photo credit: NCFR 2019 (see above link)

Increasing Course Evaluation Participation

Submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

At the end of each semester, students get emailed continuously about completing course evaluation forms, which often go incomplete. As a student, I know there are many different reasons why this may happen, because I too, am sometimes guilty of not filling out the evaluations. For one, some students do not know the importance of these evaluations and do not believe that professors take time to read them and look at the results. Some students do not believe that evaluations are truly anonymous.  Another reason students may not be filling the evaluations out is the lack of time they have during the end of the year. Yes, the surveys may only take a few minutes, but if a student has five classes that could be over an hour that the student could have spent studying, writing, exercising, or more importantly sleeping. Also during this busy time of year, many students just simply forget.

So how should instructors encourage students to complete their evaluation surveys? The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley (2018) has created 5 tips and explanations:
  1. Reserve time during class at the end of the semester for students to complete the survey. For me, this always demonstrated how important the evaluation is to the professor. This also allows the professor to help students find the survey in case the students are new, or the survey is located in different tabs located on a web page. My professors have stepped out of the classroom while students complete the evaluation so we did not feel intimidated and could answer honestly.
  2. Monitor the response rate to further prompt the students and provide additional encouragement. I recently had a professor email the class to let us know that only 30% had completed the evaluation and reminded us of the last day to complete it. This demonstrated that my professor really cared about the evaluation and valued our feedback.
  3. Inform students about the purpose of evaluations. Explain how universities use feedback for merit and promotion. Instructors should let students know how they have changed their courses based on student feedback. In my first year of graduate school, I heard several of my professors say “last year’s students informed of this, so I made some changes to the syllabus, let me know if you think the changes were a good idea or not.” This encouraged me to provide feedback because I felt confident that the professor would take my opinions and suggestions seriously.
  4. Make it an assignment on your syllabus. If bonus points are not an option, deducting points may be a better option to increase participation. I have also had professors excuse the last quiz or homework grade (not a high percentage of grade) if a set response rate is achieved.
  5. Provide other incentives for students: a) offer extra points to all students if a set response rate is achieved, b) use the honor system and give an incentive to students who affirm that they have completed the evaluation, or c) request a screenshot showing that the evaluation has been completed.
Family scientists recognize the importance of evaluations/surveys. It is important to use evaluations to revise courses based on students reported experiences. It is common in family science classes for professors to try new techniques, assignments, group projects, and ways of discussing topics in class, and getting feedback is important for perfecting the way a subject is taught. Once I learned how important evaluations are to professors and that they are actually valued, I made completing course evaluations a priority. Hearing examples of changes made to the class because of feedback provided by evaluations that benefited the class, i.e. less reading material, made me want to help the future students by providing my professors with feedback. If professors value and use the feedback provided from evaluations, but are not getting the results they want, trying one of the tips listed above may help.

For more information: Center for Teach and Learning at UC Berkeley (2018). How can instructors encourage students to complete course evaluations and provide informative responses? Retrieved from:

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Why/How I Round Student Grades

I just read an article in the Faculty Focus daily on the dilemma of rounding grades. This inspired me to write about the process that I use for making this determination in my courses.

First, it is important to discuss issues that some instructors have with rounding grades. Many feel that the total points that a student earns in the class should be the total points that a student will get in the class. Rounding grades therefore can provide an unfair advantage that students have not earned. Also, the idea that some students will get a higher grade based off of rounding anything that is higher than .05 seems unfair to those students who miss that mark by such small margins.

The article (found here) highlighted other issues that instructors face regarding the question of rounding grades. Initiatives to encourage college graduation in four years and students paying increased tuition to repeat courses can play a role in the decision to round grades. College is expensive and most students do not have unlimited funds or time to retake classes. Therefore the small margin between a C and a C- can make or break a college trajectory and delay graduation.

I will describe the process that I use to make the determination of whether or not to round a grade. I believe it is fair and addresses the issues described above. And the responsibility rests solely on the student, which makes it much easier for me.

My method is to use participation to determine the rounding of final grades. Each semester, I outline this process in the syllabus and discuss it with students throughout the semester. I provide the total possible points for completion of all assignments in the class and breakdown the number of points needed for each step on the +/- grading scale. Then I describe in detail the process for earning participation points.

Participation in my courses are earned in the following ways:
  • Students who actively participate during class discussions. This includes asking questions, responding to questions, engaging classmates, and volunteering for in-class activities.
  • Students who visit office hours (more than once) during the semester. This includes students who just drop by to say hello and those that have specific questions. Or those students who make an appointment outside of my identified office hours.
  • Students who talk with me before or after class. I typically arrive to class 10 minutes early to provide students an opportunity to meet with me if they can’t make office hours or have immediate concerns.
  • Students who engage using thoughtful questions or comments with guest speakers. These are students who make our class guests feel welcomed and important to the discussion.
My experience as an educator has taught me that student potential, passion, and ability is not always best demonstrated through traditional assessments. Exams, papers, homework, and presentations only tell a part of the story. Often the capacity to learn or the demonstration of that learning is not reflected by a final grade. Therefore, I find that my justification for rounding grades is an equitable method for students to earn the additional points that they may need.

Image credit: Casio calculator by Mc681. CC BB-SA 4.0

Using Interactive Videoconferencing in Family Science

submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

With the new and improved technology available today, it is no surprise that more and more careers once completed in person, are now exploring options via the Internet. Professionals and clients prefer more flexible delivery methods because of competing demands on their time. Therefore, family scientists should become familiar with and utilize such advances in technology in order to reach a wider audience. For example, interactive videoconferencing technology can be used for a variety of things: meetings, conferences, continuing education, courses, office hours, appointments, etc. While family scientists are very equipped to enter the professional world after graduating, few have had experience using interactive videoconferencing.

So how can family science programs better prepare their students for this? Law et al. (2018) conducted a research study on a family life education methods course that used experiential learning with interactive videoconferencing. The authors warn that before jumping into the subject of interactive videoconferencing, programs need to understand the concept of andragogy, the “art and science of adult learning” (Law et al., 2018, p. 35). Knowles (1984) suggested the following four principles of learning especially pertinent to adults:
• Adults must be active participants in their own instruction.
• Learning activities should be based on acquiring experience.
• Adults connect to information that has significance to their lives.
• Adult learning should be focused on problems and not content.

For this specific research study, the course and resulting workshops were delivered using interactive videoconferencing. Students spent the first half of the semester learning about family life education and preparing a session of a martial enrichment workshop. During the second half of the semester, students were given the opportunity to present their sessions with couples who were recruited from the community. The students reported that this course was “above other family science courses” and the students “felt that the opportunity to prepare and present a real workshop was ‘much more than just an assignment.” The students also commented on the fact that this course design “gave them the opportunity to apply their education to a real-life experience” and “gave them the opportunity to explore what a family life educator career would be like.”

Using interactive videoconferencing in family science courses can benefit students in a variety of ways. It allows geographically dispersed students the opportunity to have an in-class like experience without having to commute to campus. It also allows for experiential learning that goes beyond introduction to content. Finally, interactive videoconferencing provides students with opportunities to conduct classes and engage families similar to what they will see in their future professions. Using Law et al.’s (2018) research to incorporate experiential learning and interactive videoconferencing into a course is a great way to start as long as the class follows andragogy principles to ensure students get the optimum experience.

For more information read: Law, D., Fall, L., Arocho, R., Meyer, S., and Ross, K. (2018). Redesigning a family life education methods course using experiential learning and interactive videoconferencing. Family Science Review, 22(2),34-52.

Photo credit: Video conference 001 by Sarah Stewart CC BY 2.0