Camosun Faculty Story #16: Linda

Before COVID hit, Linda was an Instructional Assistant with the Certified Medical Laboratory Assistant (CMLA) and Medical Radiography (MRAD) programs at Camosun.  She remembers last March’s pivot as an abrupt move “from being in the classroom and very hands-on every day to suddenly everyone going home, then trying to figure out how to teach online at the same time as learning how to use Collaborate and other tools.  At times it felt like we were fumbling our way through, but we recognized if we did stumble we would still try and give our students the best experience possible.”

But then, Linda had a break, and didn’t come back until Winter 2021, this time as a faculty member teaching online, after everyone else was settled into the new normal.  “Teaching online was a big transition for me because I’m so used to being in the classroom, gauging reactions to the material, and getting unspoken feedback from students’ facial expressions or even their postures.  But now I’m talking to a screen and I don’t get that feedback anymore which is definitely tricky. So it’s been a learning curve for me to adapt and draw students in.”  But at least the students, being a cohort, “already had a connection with each other that they could draw upon, the challenge was more about them learning at the same time as I was learning.”

Linda also counts herself lucky because the course she taught this term was already developed, and one of her co-workers mentored her in getting ready to teach the course online.  She herself hadn’t used D2L or Collaborate as an instructor, but “I sat down with her and asked how all this would work, especially labs because my group wasn’t getting any face to face lab time with me and I wasn’t sure how I was going to adapt content from in-class to online. The subject I’m teaching, radiographic principles, is quite dry, so my co-worker video-recorded me making what I call video vignettes, and each week I provided the students with a video to give them a more practical understanding of what we would be doing if we were all in the lab together.”

Aside from, as she put it, feeling like she was jumping off a cliff without knowing where the bottom is, Linda says one of her biggest challenges was feeling comfortable with the technology she was using to teach, and not panicking when there was a glitch.  But the lesson she takes away with her is that “it’s ok to stumble and feel uncomfortable with the platforms, as long as students are actively engaging with and understanding the information I’m giving them.”  But she also told me that it “sure feels good when you give a synchronous lecture and everything works out really well, and students are engaged, asking questions and giving good feedback.  Or when they turn on their cameras, and you see their faces – those little things feel really good right now.”

Linda has some advice for faculty who might be teaching online for the first time.  “Pull out all the stops and don’t be afraid to try new things. Make videos, teach synchronously and asynchronously, and draw from everything you can. If it works, great, and if it doesn’t then don’t do it that way again. And seek out other instructors who have already tried something and learn from them.”  Linda reflects on her own experience as well, saying that she is a planner (as many of us are): “I like to know what I’m going to do and what my approach will be, but it can be a stumbling block in terms of being comfortable putting myself out there. Somebody said to me it’s like you see the train coming, and when it gets to the station you jump on and it just keeps going, so just enjoy the ride.”

Moving forward, Linda says she has found that “having the ability to be flexible with how we teach has been rewarding.  In the future, I can see a hybrid scenario which I think has benefits for instructors and students.”  At the very least, Linda would like to keep using the video vignettes she’s made for her lectures and labs.  “My hope is that they can be built on and used in future years by myself and others.”  She also hopes students have learned from having to adapt so quickly to this new world of online learning. “I’d like to say to them that you always have to be adaptable, because while you can memorize the textbook, a person will walk into your workplace and not look the way you remember from the text. You have to think on your feet and adapt to who is in front of you in the moment because no one is textbook perfect – you need to think on your feet and be able to go with the flow.”

While this experience has been challenging, Linda does not feel negative about it.  “I think it’s just another tool in the toolbox. As we talk about moving back to face-to-face in the fall, maybe we consider that hybrid, where you have hands-on labs for that connection with the students, and at the same time run online sessions where they can review material ahead of time – a combination would be great.”

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