Teaching with Face Masks

For Fall 2020, face coverings are required for both instructors and students, as per the provost’s guidelines. Using face coverings in the classroom will likely pose certain challenges. Some of them are listed below, along with suggested workarounds.

1. Masks May Muffle the Volume of Your Voice. 

  • At beginning of class, perform a sound check, asking the face-to-face and/or online students if they can hear you.
  • Use lavalier mic, if available in the classroom.
  • Make an effort to speak louder.
    • Project “from the diaphragm.”
    • When speaking, envision aiming your voice at the back of the room, keeping your chin up.
  • Make an effort to speak slower.
    • If necessary, mentally. Insert. Periods. After. Each. Word. (This is particularly relevant for ESL interactions.)
    • Aim for less content, or break the material into mini-lectures.
  • Make an effort to enunciate.
    • Exaggerate movements with lips, jaws, tongue.
  • When you’re speaking, it's more than just your words that communicate. Your voice typically provides things like tone, animation, and energy. You might need to amplify these things when your mouth is covered.
  • For English-as-a-Second-Language speakers:
    • Consider practicing difficult words ahead of time.
    • If you have difficulty understanding a question from a second-language student, ask the student to rephase their question.
  • If students appear lost, rephrase instead of repeating what you said. Do not lower or raise your mask.
  • Repeat student questions in your own words. This ensures both face-to-face and online audiences can hear, and that you’ve understood the question.
  • Have key terms written down for students to see.
    • Write it down on the board. Use large, block letters (not cursive).
    • If using a PowerPoint, include critical terms on slides.
    • If face-to-face, avoid talking while writing on the whiteboard. (Note: classes with dual audiences should avoid the whiteboard unless online students can see it too; otherwise use the Teams whiteboard.)
  • Check for students’ understanding.

 2. Masks Obscure a Large Portion of Your Face.  

  • It’s often more difficult to understand what someone is saying if you can’t see their lips.
  • Facial expressions are less visible.
    • To make up for this, use your words or appropriate hand gestures.
    • Exaggerate your facial expressions; for example, smile with your eyes.
    • Make the extra effort to build rapport and get to know your students.
  • There is a decreased ability to recognize students and learn names.
    • Print out the USF photo roster from Canvas to use in class, but recognize its limitations (such as outdated photos).
    • Assign a Flipgrid discussion (or use another video introduction tool) BEFORE the first day of class. This could be used for First Day Attendance.
    • Have students use name tents (either ones that they create or that you supply).
    • Implement a seating chart. Keep in mind that you may have rotating students, depending on the course delivery method.
    • Take a photo of the class in their seats, from the faculty perspective, but only with complete student agreement.
      • An alternative would be to ask students to upload a selfie wearing a mask to Canvas and assemble into a seating chart.

3. Masks May Fog Your Eyeglasses.

  • Choose a mask with shapable metal around the nose or one that is contoured closer to the face.
  • Use medical tape to secure the top of the mask.

4. Masks Can Seem Confining. 

  • Acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation during the first week of class.
    • Let students know that you will make the best of this new situation. It's going to be a learning process for everyone.
  • For longer classes, take actual breaks in which students can go outside, drink water, etc.

5. Masks Can Communicate the Personality of the Wearer.

  • Masks are essentially a piece of clothing. Avoid commenting on student clothing, as even compliments may be misinterpreted.  
  • Under most circumstances, even provoking/antagonistic messages printed on masks should be ignored, but consider their effect on other students in making the judgment call.