It’s nearly ten months into a global pandemic and higher education faculty are understandably overwhelmed. Seventy-six percent of higher ed staff say their workplace stress has increased since the onset of COVID-19.1 Of this number, 43 percent say their stress stems from an increased workload. The ultimate question is: how do you meet the needs of all students, without burning yourself out? We asked nine expert educators from our #ProfChats panel for their techniques on delivering impactful learning experiences without sacrificing mental wellbeing. Here’s what they had to say.

Top Hat’s 2021 Online Teaching Toolkit gives you everything you need to save time in course prep and delivery. Get free access today.

1. Think outside the box when it comes to student engagement

Variety is the spice of life. Mix up lectures with opportunities for group work and even guest lectures. Small changes add up, suggests Jasmine Roberts, a strategic communication lecturer in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University.

Will students benefit from a particular assignment or reading? Your department colleagues can help you make that call, so says Courtney Plotts, National Chair of the Council for At-Risk Student Education and Professional Standards.

Not all elements of face-to-face learning can—or should—be translated to your virtual classroom. Jennifer Honeycutt, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Bowdoin College, suggests taking a close look at your learning objectives and planning both independent and group activities around them.

2. It’s okay to prioritize mental health

While course readings and assignments will solidify concepts, your empathy towards students will ultimately make the difference in today’s learning environment. Jasmine Roberts underscores the importance of student wellbeing.

The classroom won’t be an enjoyable space to teach or learn if both you and your students are overworked. Lee Skallerup Bessette, Learning Design Specialist at CNDLS, suggests letting go from time to time.

Give your students a leg up. Paula Patch, Senior Lecturer in English and Assistant Director for First-Year Initiatives at Elon University, suggests building in enough time to help students get through activities during class—versus on their own.

Get student feedback to ensure your teaching practices are relevant and impactful. Tazin Daniels, Assistant Director at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, shares a solution you can easily implement in your course.

Balancing a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous delivery in your course, plus blocking time for yourself during the week, can help prevent burnout. Thomas Tobin, Program Area Director for Distance Teaching & Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shares an article by Flower Darby focused on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

3. Seek out support from your institution

Support systems in higher ed often trickle down. Seek out resources from your faculty leaders, which you can then pass onto students, suggests Jennifer Honeycutt.

Strengthening professor-student connections has become an essential part of online learning. Courtney Plotts shares her tips on how university administrators can support faculty—which you can also use to support your students.

Like students, many instructors would appreciate clarity around their expectations. Before you support your students, get clear with your faculty leader on what you need in order to thrive professionally, as Tazin Daniels notes.

Follow @TopHat on Twitter for more tips and strategies related to online learning and teaching.


  1. McCormack, M. (2021, January 15). EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Stress in the Workplace. EDUCAUSE.

Tagged as: