Camosun Faculty Story #11: Zack

Zack teaches Learning Skills and Math Upgrading at Camosun, and has for over 25 years.  Since he now only teaches half time, and had never taught synchronously online (a mode which many of the students he serves really need), he found the move in March of last year to teaching entirely online very challenging.  He remarks “along with Learning Skills, I was teaching self-paced, upgrading math when COVID hit.  I had to pivot to doing almost all my teaching by phone, which was really clunky and hugely time-consuming…And doing tests online was really tricky – we wanted to keep the integrity of the test, but we had to let that go a bit.  So, we were all scrambling at first and it was a bit of a mess.”

Moving forward into planning for his fall term, Zack had scheduled development time in May and June, which he spent creating content for D2L (which he had already used quite a bit previously to COVID), and learning the complexities of Collaborate with some of his colleagues.  It was during one of these practice sessions that Zack had an “aha” moment – realizing that if he had uploaded a PowerPoint to Collaborate, students could write on it anonymously and that “students could take part almost more than they could in a regular class….I like that anonymous function. In fact, I keep thinking when we get back face to face, I would like to continue that because it allows students to participate more in real ways.”

One of the biggest realizations Zack has had over the past year is that he, and other faculty, now find themselves in the same boat as students.  He told me he took a Java course a few years ago, as a full-on student (taking exams, and everything!) and found that experience to be so valuable, because aside from learning the subject matter, he also stepped into that student experience and engaged in the learning skills he himself teaches.  That deep dive into the student experience he says helped him as an instructor, saying “if you’re teaching a support course like learning skills and you’re not relating to where they are, students may tend to discount that course.”  But not just if you are teaching support courses – “I would encourage other instructors to not to let go of their ability to be students,” and to let themselves experience that vulnerability, a vulnerability all instructors were forced to face starting last March.

One of the things Zack discovered as he moved his courses online “was that there are a lot of creative ways we can use online tools to save work, and then you can be more focused on the teaching.”  He especially appreciates the ability of D2L to support the marking of assessments, giving him more time to engage with students.  Speaking of engagement, Zack told me that he would like to have time to talk to other instructors about how they have engaged with students online.  He notes though that it’s “not just necessarily about online teaching because the online experience can be similar to the face-to-face teaching experience.”  He belongs to the Teaching and Learning Community of Practice at Camosun and loves talking about the craft of teaching with his peers, missing the face to face opportunities over the past year.  I hope that faculty will find opportunities to reflect together on the past year.

When I asked what advice Zack has for other instructors moving to online teaching, he said to first attend CETL workshops, also practice with your peers, and “keep in mind that….that you need to understand how vulnerable students can feel.  We need to remember that students can feel frustrated, wondering what’s wrong with them, especially when they’re on their own. I think that’s what scares me a lot about teaching online – students are really pretty isolated.”

Finally, Zack sees moving back to face to face as an opportunity to keep some of what he has learned and created, comparing the tools he now has available to him to a set of paint brushes (words from a fellow Camosun faculty member in Engineering) which allows him to be more creative with his teaching canvas.  We were all forced into this online teaching realm, but at the same time Zack asked himself “once I get past that first challenging part, and feel that I handle it and feel confident that I can do it, then can I move to that point where it can be fun and creative and interesting and rich?”  That is where we hope we and our students have gotten to now, and where we can begin building from as we move forward.

Camosun Faculty Story #10: Deanna

Deanna is a part-time faculty member teaching English at Camosun. Her situation is a little different from other faculty members I’ve spoken with first, because she is 50%, and second because she teaches one course, and has taught this same course for a number of years. So, when everyone had to move online, Deanna only had to convert one course, but she didn’t know for sure she was going to be teaching in the fall until early August. As a result Deanna had a choice to make: would she take her old face to face course and simply convert it to online, or would she take her colleague’s already developed online (asynchronous) course (her colleague developed it for the spring/summer term) and use that, adapting it to how she teaches? In the end, she decided to take a chance and plunge head first into something completely new and different rather than staying in her comfort zone. She worked hard last fall, but feels that the work she put in has paid off, because this term she can spend more time working on engagement with the students rather than figuring out how the course and content work. And in the future, she can “spend more time … on what the students’ need, as opposed to learning the technology, updating content, updating assignments, writing news posts – those things are all there, so I can spend the real engagement time with the students helping to move their learning forward. That’s exciting!” Deanna thinks part of the reason she has enjoyed the experience so much is that she was “not comparing everything to the classroom because there is no reason to. I’m not comparing how well the classroom version worked compared to my online version because I’m doing something completely different – it’s almost like I’m not grieving the loss of what I was doing in the classroom.”

I liked a metaphor Deanna used to describe the move online as an opportunity created from having to “rip the Band-Aid off,” of using technology to support her teaching. In the before-times, she was content to use tools like D2L as a support to her classroom teaching, but last year, she says “I was forced to embrace the fullness of the options…I haven’t embraced all of them, but the ones that I’ve embraced have surprised and delighted me more often than not” and “now that it’s a year later, I see that there is this amazing capacity for me to engage with students and for them to engage with each other.”

One of the things that Deanna notes as instrumental in getting through this was support. Support from people in eLearning and in the Facilitating Learning Online course. While she was developing and teaching in the fall, “I felt like the support was there for me as a safety net, no matter what risks I decided to take, I had the support” and was able to debrief around what was working, and what wasn’t, until she realized that she “had moved from feeling like I needed that weekly handholding to now feeling confident when I come out of trying something new.” That’s the part that makes me happy – we help faculty to find that confidence to try something new themselves!

Deanna has seen a lot of amazing benefits for both her and her students from teaching online. Even though, as she says, “you don’t have the option of relying on the five senses that you used in the face to face classroom, or on your years of experience with in-person engagement…I think that I’m engaged in a more intimate way with the students than in the classroom. It’s weird and it’s exciting.” For example, they can “write on the whiteboard in Collaborate…and they seem to love trying different colours, and shapes when brainstorming – my creative self thrives and delights that students are being creative in a new way that didn’t happen when using a classroom blackboard.”

As Deanna spoke, I was struck by her comments about her online synchronous classes and not being able to see all the faces as you would in a face to face classroom. Rather than seeing this as a negative, Deanna thinks of this as an opportunity for her and her students to take more risks in a safe environment. “A student might put something in the chat that they might not have raised their hand to say, but they did it and felt brave…. we’re doing things that are creative and innovative and I’m feeling like it’s okay to take those risks when in the classroom I might not.”

Advice for anyone moving to online teaching? “Don’t worry about the bells and whistles! Understand where you’re at, who you are, and what matters to you as a teacher, and concentrate on…how your strengths as a teacher will translate into the online environment rather than seeing something shiny that somebody else does… Just put that aside and be who you are.” And also she wants faculty who have been teaching online over the past year not to give up too quickly on this experience. “I’m hoping we come out of this feeling really open and positive about online learning.”

As to whether Deanna will continue to use these tools to support her teaching, she tells me yes! “It’s been exciting to do this and there is so much potential in it, I want to be an online teacher…In the same way that I feel like classroom teaching was something that I do and I feel really great at it, I want to get there with online teaching.”

Deanna had so many amazing things to tell me, I can’t share them all here in one post, but I want to end this piece with something she said at the beginning of our discussion that for me makes everything I do in my work supporting faculty worth it: “it’s been an incredible journey that I’m extremely thankful for.”

Thanks Deanna – I know we will see incredible things from you.

Camosun Faculty Story #9: Eva

Eva teaches in the Criminal Justice program at Camosun, and she was lucky to have scheduled development in May and June last year to begin planning for a fall of courses entirely online.  Since Eva had really only used D2L in the past for posting grades, she attended as many eLearning workshops as she could to improve her understanding of the tools she would need, but like many faculty found that getting into workshops was a challenge given the sudden influx of people needing to take them.  While this was frustrating, she also says “it was somewhat comforting to know everyone was in the same situation.”

Talking to her students at the end of the 2020 Winter term was key to Eva to try and get a better sense of what things were like for them.  One of the things she discovered was, “because [faculty] have a range of capacity, skills and abilities, students experienced [inconsistencies in course design]…So we talked about it in our department, because the feedback from students was, we want simplicity, we want consistency. So in our little group in criminal justice, we talked about how we could be more consistent with how we use D2L.”

Eva says one of her biggest challenges last year was “that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”  While trying to figure out whether to teach synchronously or asynchronously, “I scratched my head for a long time about that because I really didn’t feel like I knew the answer. I talked to other faculty who had done one or the other or both, and I also tried to reach out to former students and current students to ask, if you were given a choice, what would you choose, synchronous or asynchronous? And I got a mixed bag of responses, which didn’t make the choice any easier!”  Eventually she settled on a blend.  “What I did was have a synchronous class, usually the first class of the week, and then the second class would be asynchronous…I tend to show video clips, have discussion groups, have a small assignment that they do either alone or with a partner…some [of these would be] synchronous, [and some] relegated to the asynchronous class. I think that combination has worked well.”

Another challenge for Eva is how hard it can be to get to know students in the online environment.  In Collaborate, she keeps her camera on because students say they want to see a real human, but she often feels like she is hosting a podcast.  “It’s two-dimensional, and so feeling like you have a connection with students is really impeded.”  But in spite of this, Eva says her students exceeded her expectations with the quality of their work.  “I think because we’re hearing so much about the impact on mental health and how everyone is struggling, I thought the quality of work would be lower. But actually in the fall, when reading their papers and looking at their work, [I realized] it was really good quality work…I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, it exceeded my expectations. And that’s always a wonderful surprise.”

Eva says she is still learning lessons as she continues to teach online.  After the shift last March, she felt very anxious for two main reasons: [“first, I thought] I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can teach online. I don’t know if I can learn these tools. I don’t know if I can make this technology work.  And second, I don’t want to be off campus. I miss people. I want to be with my colleagues, I want to be with my students…But then we plodded along and it kind of came together.”  But she does still worry about the distance between people that teaching and learning online can cause.  “I worry about people losing a tiny bit of that humanity and connectivity that they don’t miss if they sitting across from other people talking in a group.”

Some advice Eva has for instructors moving online is to connect with their faculty group.  Play with the technology as well, and practice with colleagues if you can.  “I would say definitely try to get on top of all those tools and get comfortable with them. But also, I would say, especially if you’re going to teach synchronously [which can be] a little like talking into the abyss, so find some level of comfort with doing the majority of the talking, far more than you would be in class….and be mindful that [sometimes] it’s only if somebody has a question that you hear a voice or see a comment.”

Eva always asks for student feedback at the end of the term, and says she is interested to see what the students this term have to say about how the course went and what things they would like to see change.  She does say that she will continue to use the tools she has learned over the past year.  “Sometimes you’re forced to do something you don’t really want to do and you resist at first…and then you figure it out. And once you figure it out [you] see [the good]. And if we end up back in the classroom, I’m definitely still going to use [online tools] more than I used prior to COVID.”

eLearning: Spring Cleaning – Tips for Pruning Your Media Collections

With limited server space and the need to better manage our carbon footprint, we cannot accumulate volumes of media. As end of term approaches, it is time to start pruning your Collaborate and Kaltura media collections.


  • At end of term, delete Collaborate recordings from your courses.
  • If there are specific recordings you want to keep, you can download them and upload them to Kaltura MyMedia for future re-use.
  • Revisit courses from past terms and delete those historical recordings.


  • Go through your MyMedia account and delete copied or duplicate videos that you have created or uploaded but don’t need.
  • Delete any single use videos that you do not plan to use again.
  • Encourage your students to delete any videos created for the course that they won’t need in the future.

Camosun is working on a more formal data retention plan to help manage the growing volume of media. In the meantime, it is good practice to get in the habit of cleaning out your media at end of term or making it part of your annual SD plans.  Questions?  Email


Camosun Open Sustainability Project: Project Story #2

The second Open Sustainability Project story I have for you is Michelle Clement’s.  Michelle teaches in Marketing, in the School of Business at Camosun, and has been using Open Education Resources (OER) for a number of years already.  So it was a natural lead into this project – deciding to revise an existing open textbook for one of her courses.

Initially, Michelle had a different textbook in mind, but when she took a closer look she realized that someone else had just updated it the year before.  So, she decided instead that she would revise an open text called The Power of Selling.  There were many reasons for her choice:  first, it was over 600 pages long, and she really felt it needed to be streamlined; second, it was out of date – about 10 years old, and you can imagine how many things have changed in marketing over 10 years; and third, “two other people teach this course that this book is targeted for…I was just trying to think of the value for open education.”

Michelle went through the existing textbook chapter by chapter, checking content and references, making sure everything was current and correct.  “I read through, I [checked for validity] of the subject matter, and [realized I] needed to add information on privacy and social media: everything that ten years ago [didn’t’ really exist].”  She also reorganized the chapters, making sure the format was more what students were used to, writing two new chapters, adding learning outcomes where they were missing, changing all the language to be gender neutral, adding study questions, and taking out instructor suggestions which she didn’t feel were relevant for students (instructor resources are one of the things she is hoping to add back in in the future.)  When she was finished, 600 pages had become just over 200!

Michelle encountered some challenges along the way.  Finding images and visuals that are Creative Commons licenced, and specific to your content, can sometimes be difficult.  And creating your own visuals can be time consuming.  As a result, she didn’t add as many images this time around, but has plans to find/create more in the future. “If I can just create even one more [visual] per chapter, then it will make it a little more engaging than just the written word.”  Another challenge she sees beyond the revision process, is encouraging other faculty to adopt an open textbook.  This is where the instructor resources, which she is planning to add this spring, come into play – having PowerPoints, quiz questions, etc. along with the textbook is hugely helpful especially for Term faculty, or new faculty who have not taught a course before.

Michelle piloted the revised textbook last fall, adding it as a PDF file into her D2L course site.  Eventually she will move it into Pressbooks to share it back, but she wanted to see how it worked for her students, and was able to get some feedback from them during the term.  She reflects now, as a takeaway from all the work she did, that “when you write the textbook, you know it really well” which she sees also as a positive from a student’s perspective.

If Michelle could give someone advice about revising an open textbook, she says to “prepare for it to be bigger than you think!”  Of course, while it’s important to allocate the right amount of time for a project like this, be prepared for it to take more time.  She also advises to “have a really good sense of what you’re trying to do first.”  Have a plan, make sure you are consistent with your design, and keep it simple.  She says it also helps if you enjoy research – “you do need to enjoy having that meander through the library.”  Finally, Michelle also advises to enlist someone to proof your revisions, to “just have another set of eyes on it.”

Michelle says she has been, and still is, “full on open.”  She uses OER, library resources, or her own materials for most of her courses, reminding us that “you can actually teach around a topic and don’t necessarily have to teach around a textbook.”  She will be continuing her work on The Power of Selling this spring (adding images and working on an instructor resource guide), but also is considering revising another open textbook, one for Marketing 110, in the future.

Camosun Faculty Story #8: Kristina

Kristina is another faculty member who has more than one role at the college.  She is an Instructional Assistant for Psychology, as well as an instructor in that department.  And she also embraced the sudden switch to online teaching, saying “it’s something that I was really looking forward to doing, and I feel like the online environment allows students that typically don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a classroom setting to be able to shine.”  I’ll be honest with you: Kristina had so many amazing things to share about her experience, the experiences of the faculty she supports, and how she worked with and supported her students, I don’t have space for it all in this post.  But, I am hoping she will agree to share more at the eLearning Demo Fest this June 10th!

Kristina started teaching Psychology 110 online this January, after about 10 months of helping faculty in Psychology move their courses entirely online.  She also oversaw the lab components of those Spring, Summer, and Fall term Psychology courses, but because she has been assisting with the delivery of online courses and course components for many years, instead of having to figure out how to do things from scratch, she was able to look at ways to better support students and help them find their way through this unexpected new world of online learning.

Over the years of working with faculty in Psychology, Kristina has earned their trust.  When access to instructional designers in CETL became challenging due to the sudden increased demands, the Psychology faculty felt comfortable asking her how to adapt their courses for online “because [she] knew both their pedagogical philosophy and how and why they wanted to do certain things…[she] knew what their goals were.”  But as demands grew, and Kristina had to work on her own online teaching, she slowly coaxed faculty to get support from CETL.

For herself, Kristina says she almost feels more comfortable teaching online than face to face. She saw this transition as an opportunity to work on making the experience as positive as possible for her students. She did not face the learning curve that many other faculty at the college faced, such as learning how explicit instructions need to be online, how to create instructor presence, how to engage with students, etc.  One thing she noted that was different from teaching online during “normal” times however were the stress levels of students, both from facing a pandemic and having to learn online for the first time. “I bend over backwards to try and address the emotional component of learning first and foremost, and that was the biggest thing that I’ve learned in the online environment.”

Now, because of Kristina’s experience and comfort with teaching online, rather than discussing specific challenges, rewards, and lessons learned, I want to share with you some of Kristina’s approaches to teaching, and learning, online.

First, Kristina surveyed her students a week before the course started.  “I made the questions very particular to [my] course and asked them what three things they wanted me to do to support their learning – something that either worked for them previously or that they would like to try this semester.” As a result she made some last-minute changes to her course, aside from the requirements on the syllabus which she explained to her students was like a contract – something that could not be altered.

Some of the things students identified were wanting study guides for quizzes (which she created and took the time to explain to students how to create their own), wanting more time for tests (so she changed questions from knowledge-based to application-based questions so that time was no longer an issue – if students are running out of time on the quiz, they can contact her during the quiz and request additional time), having test anxiety (so she equally weighted lab assignments and quizzes and evaluated anxiety provoking topics such as statistics via lab assignments instead of quizzes), wanting flexibility (so she allowed extensions for assignments without penalty), and needing due date reminders (so she arranged for D2L to send them reminder emails and posts reminders in the News).

In addition, Kristina practices some aspects of Open Pedagogy by letting students contribute to assessments.  “I had them create application-based questions [by asking] them to develop scenario question that were one or two sentences long about a part of the brain that was damaged, and provide the correct answer [for their questions]. Then I incorporated all of those questions and answers into a Jeopardy game for them… [Finally,] I chose three of those questions out of the 40 and put them on their quiz.  I went over this activity with the students in lab beforehand to answer any questions. Then we also did a review game in class that covered the same types of concepts that were going to be on the quiz.” During the review, she asked students to share how they might approach answering the question, such as highlighting key words, drawing pictures, or eliminating response options.

And she also incorporates Universal Design for Learning principles, for example, giving students flexible deadlines. For example, when they ask for an extension, she asks “When do you think you can get the assignment handed-in? You know what your work schedule is, you know what your classroom demands are – when can you get this done, instead of me of dictating that….allowing students to be accountable to themselves.” But what she has noticed is that each time this has happened, it’s been one time only “none of them take advantage of it.” She just sees it as treating her students like adults, like human beings, saying “I’m treating [them] the same way that I would expect a supervisor to treat me.”

Within her synchronous sessions, Kristina does what she calls concept checks, where students work on problems anonymously on the whiteboard, so they feel comfortable being confused, or trying something they were not sure of.  She also gives students multiple options for responding in the synchronous sessions: microphone, polling, open chat, private chat, and writing on the whiteboard or on her PowerPoints, so again they have the choice of how they want to engage.

Kristina works hard at building community and engaging with students where they are at. She starts each class off by posting a question on the whiteboard. For example, she asked “For students who are local, what restaurants do you like going for takeout and…and for students who are not local, what’s your favorite recipe that you make at home? I do a lot of that kind of white board activity to stimulate some conversation.”  And what I really appreciated was the way she encourages students to answer questions, saying that “the most important part of participating when you ask a question is that they offered an answer. So even if a student’s completely off base with their answer, I always start off with thanking them for responding, pull out the pieces of information that were correct, and then ask other students to build on the information that was correct.”

Kristina says, by way of advice to anyone starting to teach online: “be as transparent as possible with your students. Be explicit with the students about what your expectations are and why you have those expectations. [Explain] why you’re asking them to do specific assignments, and how you create your tests, why you design them [the way you do]…Because it allows them to understand and predict how to approach work in the course. It takes out the guessing…review what they can and can’t ask for.  Do what you say you’re going to do, and if you solicit feedback, don’t tell them you’re going to do something about it, and then not follow up on it!”

Finally, Kristina says “just embrace it. It’s going to be as good as you make it … don’t fear it.  Put as much into it as you would anything else, because the return on your effort is going to probably be [more than you can imagine].”

Camosun Faculty Story #7: Robin

Robin is Program Lead and an instructor in the Community, Family & Child Studies Program at Camosun College.  He is in one of those more unique positions because he was not only teaching during the pandemic, but also supporting other faculty in his role as lead.  He also has had a lot of experience as a student taking online courses, which didn’t necessarily prepare him for the role of online teacher: “it always looked difficult to me, and wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a teacher.  [And while] that experience helped me [understand the] student perspective, it also hindered me because I had a preconceived notion of how it worked.”  But, when the college moved online, so did Robin, without a second thought.  One thing he did mention to me was how excited he is to now be part of the long history of distance education in Canada, which indeed has been around for over 130 years, moving from correspondence, to televised, to teleconferencing, and now to the Internet.  “For Camosun to be a part of that, to me really connects with what a community college should be.”

After getting through the sudden shift at the end of the Winter 2020 term, Robin says: “early on, I realized that September was going to be online and…I [realized that I] couldn’t just shift exactly what I was doing face-to-face classes to an online course, it had to be something different. So I grabbed everything from CETL (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) that I could … and just focused on getting myself and my courses ready for fall, figuring out what tools [I would need], what’s the best practice, and working on my courses.”  When fall hit, one of Robin’s big concerns was how to build instructor presence, without getting so involved and engaged in everything to the point of being overwhelmed.  As a result, he used a blend of synchronous and asynchronous modes, every three weeks having a live Q&A session rather than delivering a lot of content live.  “There were so many students who had connectivity problems, I didn’t want them worrying about that in addition to the content.”  Every Monday he added a News post describing the week ahead, summarized the discussions (rather than answering all the postings all the time), and asked for feedback from his students both in the middle and at the end of the term.

Robin says that finding creative ways of engaging students regularly is still a challenge for him.  Like so many other instructors, he still wonders “How much is the right engagement for them to be working together? How often should they be in small groups? How often should they be on their own?”  He also finds that in an online class, it’s harder to know if they are there, because “there are some students that will come to you, but there are other students you don’t hear from very often, and who when you reach out to the, you don’t hear much back,” very different from a face to face class where it can be easier to develop those relationships.  That silence in both the synchronous and asynchronous environments worries Robin that this relationship building piece is being lost.  Supporting students to navigate the online course is also a challenge.  Robin tries “to take that [support] role with students, being aware, and looking for those things that might be missing.

In addition to working with students to understand their role in the teaching and learning process as he normally does, Robin has added a new layer of explaining to students what’s going on for him, for example, why is he organizing the course the way he is, and inviting feedback so he can make adjustments.  He also says that “the online experience has forced me to consider what’s most important and how can I slow things down…to make sure students have time to grab on to what they need to grab onto. And I think maintaining that attitude in the face-to-face experience [will be] important [moving forward].”

There have been some rewards as well, teaching in this new format.  Robin teaches communication skills, and there is no doubt that being forced to communicate online has developed new opportunities.  In class “we’ve been talking about all the online skills that they have been developing and how they are related to other types of communication, how those skills parallel what they will be doing face-to-face and how important those skills are.”  In addition, Robin has felt a strong sense of equality online, for example, seeing all students being able to contribute equally.  “In the online environment, all the students are getting a chance to engage. In the discussion groups, I can see how they’re all engaging with the content, [something] I couldn’t with my 30 students in the [face to face] class.” And there is also, a sense of being in it together in the online classroom.  “Students, faculty and staff are all figuring it out together, and you want to impress upon the students that you are with them, learning with them. This is the place to experiment – that’s what learning is about here, trying things out…through the stresses of the COVID world, the stresses of online learning. [As] my favorite quote, Steven Stills says, love the one you’re with – this is where we are, and let’s enjoy it.”

Robin has a few words of advice and encouragement for faculty, saying first to remember that, “we’re pretty adaptable.”  In spite of not wanting to teach an online course before COVID, when he had to, he discovered that “we can make pretty great things happen.”  Also, “see yourself and your students as able…and remember that the important pieces of teaching, the engagement, the active learning pieces, our role in creating an environment that has both a balance of safety and challenge – none of those things have changed. They are all still there, it just looks a little different.”

Robin says he will never go back to using D2L in such a limited way again.  “I think I’ve got an understanding of the platform and the tools that I know that my students have missed out in the past because I didn’t use them. I’m sure I will continue to use asynchronous content and make sure that there are multiple ways for students to engage with the material, more ways for students to engage with material outside of specific class time.”  And in his role as Program Lead, he is looking forward to having conversations with his program faculty around what their program might look like in the future.  “I definitely think using online tools and how to create engagement through those tools [will be] part of the conversation now.  Whether we do something different or not, it’s just going to be part of our conversation.”

Camosun Faculty Story #6: Cheryl

Cheryl is a faculty member in the BSN (Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing) Program at Camosun College.  As you can well imagine, moving Nursing programs completely online, especially given some of the more practical, hands-on aspects of Nursing, would have presented a challenging puzzle.  And certainly this was the case during the sudden pivot in March of last year.  But luckily for Cheryl, after things settled over the summer, she was “fortunate to be teaching courses where there’s still significant face-to-face time. It’s changed [and compressed] face-to-face time,” so finding ways to address fewer/shorter classes by moving more material online (the program group had already built a lot of online course components into their teaching pre-COVID), and redesigning evaluations were where the lab team Cheryl works with spent most of their time.

Cheryl told me that the team “usually starts into a semester knowing how it was done last term, and we make a few minor tweaks and off we go. [But] the last two semesters since COVID, we’ve spent much of the week of start-up adjusting evaluative tools to make sense in this COVID environment with the type of learning the students are having.”  And when Cheryl says evaluative tools, she is referring to replacing students demonstrating their ability to perform a skill in the lab before going on to perform the skill on a live person in clinical practice.  “In the past pre-Covid, each student drew one skill at the end of the semester and had 10 or 15 minutes to gather their supplies and perform that skill in a reasonably safe manner. [But now,] we realized that the likelihood of us being able to have one-to-one time in-person with each student was slim to none…and we had to rethink how we could evaluate to ensure students had the knowledge, skills, and ability to provide safe patient care.”  After much discussion, the team redeveloped this assessment:  “a video skill was developed where students practice the skill, however briefly in lab, and then videotape each other in partners during lab time. [They then] take the video home and critique it. And last term [fall], they were graded on their critique of their skill.” I should note that Cheryl credits her other team members for this idea!

This was one of the main challenges the team faced, but it did not stop with the fall version of the evaluation.  They realized that just recording and critiquing the skill did not address the actual practice: developing the muscle memory of the skill. “So this term (winter), we added a second component of critiquing the actual performance of the skill and not just the student critique of the skill. While reflection on practice [is] a fabulous learning tool, we felt that there needed to be a level of competency as well.”

I asked Cheryl how the students felt about this new way of assessing their skills, to which she replied “I think it’s fairly across the board that students feel way less stress. What I’ve heard from students is, I like this a lot better than what I know of how it used to be done, because the stress before with one-to-one demonstration would not have been a true test of my ability of the skill.”  Comments like these from students, along with adding the skill performance critique, have convinced the team that they should keep this new way of assessing, something they may never have tried had it not been for COVID.  Cheryl reflects, however, that she does hope that as Covid cases settle, students will be able to return to open lab time to practice the skills in a way that is “more similar to how they practice in actual clinical settings with real people” rather than practicing at home with simulated materials.

Cheryl can’t emphasize enough how important being able to work in a team was to surviving, and dare I say to meeting the challenge of the move to online learning.  The courses she works with typically have 4 or 8 instructors teaching the same content to groups of students, each carrying a piece of the preparation and planning load, bouncing ideas off of each other…supporting each other.  That’s one piece of advice she has for someone new to moving a course online – “get help, find allies because it will gobble your time and you need other people to pitch in. It can’t be a solo kind of role that you take on.”  In addition, take the time to “talk it through and figure out what went well, what didn’t go well, and how it could be tweaked, and then bring in the experts that know and can give you ideas on what can be done to [move] forward.”  Think of Kolb’s Learning Cycle:  “experience and do, review and reflect, analyze and learn, plan, and [then] draw conclusions and plan, revising based on your assessment.”  And remember it is not going to come out perfect the first time.

And finally, Cheryl advises not taking it all on at once.  “There comes a point where we’re so overwhelmed with the small incremental layers of newness, we can’t take anything else on. So make sure you contain what you take on, because somewhere along the way we need to retain enough energy to teach students, to maintain the focus on doing the best we can for students. And if we overwhelm ourselves with what we take on, we can’t really be there for them…so dive in, take a risk, ask for what you need, be ready to put in the time, but be realistic about the workload, who’s there to support you, and how you can manage and contain it. Don’t do it all at once in one term.

I am so proud of the amazing team of Nursing instructors Cheryl works with, of how they adapted to a new, unexpected reality, and how they embraced the changes.  I am excited at how excited Cheryl is at the possibilities, and I am so looking forward to seeing what they do next in the BSN Program.

Camosun Faculty Story #5: Susan

Susan is a Statistics instructor at Camosun – you can imagine perhaps some of the challenges she faced moving her class online, especially during the panic of last March.  But Susan was prepared.  The week before the College moved online, Susan came to eLearning and got set up with Collaborate so she could try out virtual live teaching using her tablet PC (which is a huge necessity for any course where you have to write formulas and draw graphs.)  So, the following week when we all moved online, she was ready to go and able to support her students using Collaborate + tablet to finish off her term.

After that mad rush, Susan had some time to consider how she was going to teach in the fall.  To help her figure this out, she first surveyed her students from the winter term to ask them what they would like – “about three quarter to 80% said they wanted synchronous classes, and the rest of them said partial-synchronous. Not a single person wanted to have asynchronous classes.”  Then Susan attended many of the eLearning workshops offered in May and June to find out what the eLearning folks recommended.  But, the surveys and what she was hearing in the workshops didn’t always mesh and Susan was confused.  So, while she initially had decided to run fully synchronous online lectures for fall, Susan changed her mind in the middle of summer and decided to create lectures videos and so she did.

Of course, every instructor and student is different in how they prefer to teach or learn, and over the fall term, Susan found her way.  She ran fully synchronous classes for the semester although pre-recorded lectures are already available to the students in D2L. This is because during the first month in the fall, she “interviewed all my students one by one – everybody got 10 minutes with me. It [seemed] crazy [in that] first month to finish interviewing them, but it made such a difference for many of them.” She asked them what kind of support they needed, and also what mode of delivery, live or video, did they prefer, and once again most students said they wanted the live sessions.  Why?  Susan says partly because “they want to hear what other students have to say. So many of them are there to hear what questions other people [have] and they don’t want to miss out on anything.”  This term, Susan does both:  she has her live sessions and posts the recordings of those sessions after by week.  But this term, she has also discovered that different student groups prefer different modes of learning.  Her first years, mostly social science students, still prefer the live sessions, but her second years (engineering students) wanted to meet synchronously once a week only, preferring the option of watching videos on their own time.

Susan found online exams to be a particular challenge for her.  Last March, while finishing off her winter courses, she unfortunately discovered her exams ended up on a cheating site,  So, she decided that instead of worrying about cheating, or finding her exams on Chegg, she invested a great deal of time over the summer creating quizzes in D2L using randomized questions from her question banks, and working with the Quizzes tool to mitigate potential issues as much as she could.  The time investment she feels was worth it, “I would rather do a lot of work than get upset by cheating incidents.”

Susan spent a lot of time working on ways to connect her students, and to help them build community, but she finds the lack of face to face connection difficult.  She allocated participation marks for students to use the Discussion tool in D2L to post an introduction to their class and to read and comment on classmates’ introductions, and asked students to post a Profile picture in Collaborate to make their virtual classrooms more inviting. “I did a lot of things to make the students feel included, to feel supported by peers, to make connections…And when I didn’t have enough time to do one-on-one interviews, I did group interviews. So they sign up and they hear what other people are saying…so they feel that they are not alone” For Susan, supporting her students is a most important job she has as an instructor: “As an educator, I want my students to feel that it’s ok to make mistakes because that’s how they learn, but they have to feel safe [first]. I feel it’s my job to make them feel safe to feel uncomfortable while studying a difficult subject.”

Susan had a lot of advice for faculty getting ready to teach online for the first time, from preparing how your class is divided between live sessions and videos/asynchronous, to how to think about exams, to how important it is to be present for your students (using the News tool, for example), but what struck me particularly were her comments about time management.  “We cannot assume all students understand time management,” so be clear about what they should be doing every week. “I use the calendar in D2L, on top of a pacing schedule, so it pops up reminders for them, for example, your lab will be due in two days….However, do not send them too many emails – they get too many and…will be overwhelmed.”  And most of all “be accessible but have boundaries.”

Susan also noted the importance of having support and the right equipment to reduce the stress of teaching online. “One major reason that my online teaching transition went smoothly was because I have the tablet PC that my department chair obtained for us through a pilot project just before the pandemic. Another major reason is that I received sufficient supported from eLearning throughout last year; I asked many how-to questions and in turn I got as many quick and helpful responses. I also think being in a network or a community, as well as getting timely feedback from students around what is working and what’s not is important to online teaching and learning success.”

When I asked how Susan feels now about online teaching, she says she is tired, but that doesn’t mean she won’t continue to use some of the things she built into her courses moving forward. She even would like to teach another online course again!  That being said, Susan is looking forward to seeing her students face to face as well.  So, maybe this is an opportunity to explore the best of both worlds J



Camosun Open Sustainability Project: Project Story #1

My first interview for the Open Sustainability Project was with grant recipient Brian Coey. Brian teaches in Trades, in Sheet Metal/Metal Fabrication and Welding. Brian’s project was to create new and updated course materials, including student and instructor resources, as while he has used many “in-house” created worksheets and resources, they needed to be updated. There are also no textbooks which meet the needs of the program, nor is there ITA or BC provincial resources, even though 4 BC institutions in BC have Sheet Metal programs. In addition to receiving funding from Camosun, Brian was also received support from BCcampus to work on program materials with Okanagan College.

There are four Levels for Sheet Metal apprentice training, and Brian decided to take on a small chunk: starting with Level 1, and concentrating on the module for Layout, otherwise known as pattern development – “it’s our modelling of a 3D object, but shows what it looks like two-dimensionally, to start with. And that’s where sheet metal workers start, with two-dimensional shape, before working with three-dimensional objects.”

Since starting work on his project last October, Brian has completed work on the three different main processes: parallel line, radial line, and triangulation. “I’ve gone through the main common fittings in each of those three processes and completed three steps for all of them: I videotaped myself drawing on our whiteboard, and then added a written description of it to graphical animations.” Brian had initially started out working in WORD, but eventually moved all his work into Pressbooks, one of the main tools used to create open textbooks. Brian says “At the beginning of the project, I found [Pressbooks] fairly confusing, so I just stepped away from it completely and just focused on the outline. And once I was ready … within a couple hours of playing around with [Pressbooks] seriously, I got quite comfortable with it, and it was a piece of cake after that.”

In addition, Brian worked with a Graphic Designer at Camosun to create drawing animations, and also created videos of himself performing some of the various tasks he was writing about to support students who sometimes struggle with following textbook instructions. “There’s nothing like watching someone physically do something … If I try and read about [how to do something], it’s pretty difficult to follow the steps. But if I if I can watch a video … no problem… I think a lot of tradespeople are like that – we’re more visual, we’re hands-on.”

Creating materials in general was one of Brian’s goals for this project, but he was also looking to make them open for a few reasons. First, “to keep it open was really a savings of money for the students,” but also recalling “I was the type of journeyman when I was out working …[my old textbooks] were never too far away from me. So if I was at work and … got stumped on something, I had a resource to look at. Now we use YouTube videos … but you don’t know if they contain accurate information. But when you go to something that’s been vetted …, even journeymen can look it up and find the resource that can get them through a hurdle. Because it’s everybody runs across hurdles, not just our students – anyone in our trade will potentially need some help, or need a reference.”

Brian has already seen some of the rewards from his hard work. The videos he has put up on YouTube have been viewed by people from all over the world. But back in his shop, he has seen first-hand the benefits for his students. Aside from getting closer to the end goal of students not having to purchase a textbook, students now have the opportunity to watch his videos and animations in advance of coming to class, and can then go home and practice it more on their own until they feel comfortable. So much better than just trying to follow a textbook. “That’s why we teach…that’s why I do it. I want to see that light bulb in their eyes go … click!”

When I asked Brian if he had any advice for people looking to develop open course materials, he told me “I think it was really beneficial for me to have a good outline, a good plan of what I wanted to accomplish, and then I tackled that in small pieces…I would worry about just that one chapter, so I wasn’t worried about Chapter 12 yet, I focused on Chapter 1. And I got 1 exactly to where I wanted it and then I worked on 2. So, break it down and look at those little chunks. To me in at the beginning,…it just looked too big and daunting… I knew I needed the outline for the whole, but I left that as the skeleton, and then focused on the chapters individually.”

As Brian looks forward to launching his completed work so far, he is already looking ahead to doing more. Whether it’s utilizing materials already in the open, like the open Math text he integrated recently, or finding or creating more YouTube videos to support shop demonstrations, he definitely wants to keep working on, implementing, and sharing open materials.