Getting Back to Face-to-Face Learning: Challenges to Address with Students

As many colleges return to offering primarily face-to-face courses in the fall, what will this transition mean for the instructors and students taking them? Will we just wave a wand, and all will be normal again? No, we all recognize that it is impossible to simply “return to normal” after so many changes with the pandemic. What we can do is devise some strategies to deal with issues that have arisen during the pandemic to make the transition easier.

First, recognize that for many students remote learning did not work as effectively as in person contact. They may not have mastered important content and skills, thus being less prepared to move on to courses requiring that foundation. Anxiety and mental health challenges have affected many college students during the pandemic, and those entering college as first year students are not exempt from those same challenges. We must be sure to provide students with information in the syllabus and in class regarding academic support and counseling services that are available to them, and that they have information early on regarding developmental courses and other academic resources to help them review or build skills. The number of students lacking essential skills in many subject areas has grown (Salzman, 2021). Emails and meetings to check in with students to determine how they are doing will be needed, and such meetings and emails might need to be more frequent than they were prior to Covid-19 (Miller, 2021).

Second, group work face-to-face might be a bit of a challenge as social skills and comfort levels may have been affected by the pandemic. Students (and instructors) may need time to re-acclimate to group settings, particularly interactive ones. Proceeding slowly and keeping groups small may assist in this transition. Students may need to “step away” periodically to re-orient to a communal setting. Beginning with icebreakers and having prompts available on Canvas discussion boards can assist students in getting started with discussion in the classroom. Provide clear instructions and a focus for students. Make sure each group has a leader to moderate group sessions. Informal groups can be very helpful as well, enhancing social skills outside of class. Encourage every student to find a study partner that they can review material with or get notes if they do have to miss class.

Third, recognize that engagement will be more difficult than it was prior to the pandemic and remote learning. Many students may have become used to sitting in the back of the room, either physically or virtually, and not participating. Prompts that focus on having students prepare ahead of time will help in this process. For example, assign each student content in the text or a relevant article to cover, having them lead discussion. Require “entry tickets” to class each week (with participation points given) where students write what they learned from the previous class and what questions they still have as well as what they hope to learn in class. This can serve both as a formative assessment tool and as an engagement tool.

Fourth, recognize that students have become very accustomed to using digital tools like chats and discussion boards. There is no need to eliminate or stop using these tools in the face-to-face classroom. We can continue to use them to augment and facilitate in class learning. The chats and discussion boards are good strategies to keep discussions going and reinforce learning outside of scheduled meeting times (Miller, 2021; Salzman, 2021).

Fifth, use Canvas to organize and disseminate content and assignments to your students. There are templates in the Canvas Commons that you can use to populate your course with a modular/weekly format. Provide brief introductions and rationales for assignments so that students can connect them with content and their learning.

Finally, be flexible and recognize that there are still many issues that might come up for students, including the anxiety that often accompanies transitions. Don’t eliminate the electronic and digital tools you have been using; rather use them to supplement the class. Students want to use discussion boards and have content available online for review (Miller, 2021). This can enhance the face-to-face experience as well as set the stage for interaction.


Miller, M. (2021). 5 teaching practices to keep from remote learning - Ditch That Textbook. Retrieved from

Salzman, A. (April 29, 2021). UNL students will need to readjust to in-person education for fall 2021. Retrieved from UNL students will need to readjust to in-person education for fall 2021 | News |

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University.


Anne Bucalos, Ed.D.
Vice Provost, Professor of Education, and Director of the Faculty Development Center
Bellarmine University
Louisville, Ky

Janice Poston, Ed.D.
Instructional Developer in the Faculty Development Center
Bellarmine University
Louisville, Ky