Jessica is Program Lead for the Early Learning and Care (ELC) program at Camosun. Even though her main role throughout the past year (you know the one) has not been teaching, she has had a lot of experience teaching online having started her career with Northern Lights College (in Prince George) in a fully distance ELC program and then Northwest Community College in Terrace ( now Coast Mountain). These initial experiences, reaching remote northern communities, many of whom were Indigenous, through distance learning means that for Jessica, concerns about the value of online teaching and learning simply don’t worry her, although she does admit that face to face teaching is a favourite mode for her.
One thing Jessica said that particularly resonated with me was how technology works, or doesn’t, and the impact it has on students and instructors. “While distance platforms have improved and I’ve seen the progress that’s been made, some of the experiences this fall with implementing or trouble shooting the technology were very replicate of teleconferencing or video conferencing technology from the past. The same barriers and challenges [pop up] whenever we introduce a new piece of technology, and the frustration this last year was very similar.” And all this leads to the same frustrations Jessica encountered in the past, that faculty encountered this last year “I struggle when I can’t support a student in the way that matches the high standards I have for myself.” Just as an aside, while Jessica was talking about how similar challenge with technology are now to 12 years ago, I kept hearing a line from that Talking Heads song, “same as it ever was.”
But courses in Jessica’s program were not new to D2L, in fact all of the courses have D2L sites, and faculty in ELC have all used D2L tools in one way or another, and a couple of the courses were already being delivered online before Covid hit. Because some components of the courses had already been designed for delivery in an online format, “that really helped us decide what courses we could teach online, [and because] most of the instructors really like having a synchronous option because otherwise they find it’s hard to engage the students who aren’t engaging, they could add a synchronous option if they wanted to.” But of course, moving completely online was still challenging. “We also have a practicum component, but we paused the practicum because the field was putting a pause on additional adults joining programs.”
Some of the faculty in ELC have also been collaborating on their online course development (before and after the shift last spring), sharing the load of developing content and creating the design and set up for it in D2L. Jessica note “I think when you can collaborate, it’s great because we don’t all have skills that the other one does,” and supporting the strengths of each instructor, and building capacity through collaboration and embracing different ways of creating and designing content she sees as a positive. “Different faculty, different approaches – I think it’s the multiple ways in which you can engage [that really works], although I’ve also seen that could also be a barrier for some.”
Collaboration and support are a couple of the big takeaways from the past year for Jessica, especially “the opportunity for mentorship of new faculty and faculty who have experience and the opportunity to share resources,” while at the same time being mindful that not everyone has the same interest for collaboration and sharing. “I think that’s something that I learned with this other experience I had that I made a lot of assumptions. [For example,] don’t assume that everybody has the same understanding of what online learning is, how they would do remote or distance learning, or what’s important for them.” I certainly understand how easy it is to get caught up a passion for online learning!
Jessica has some advice for instructors moving online: “I would say definitely attend a couple of workshops so you can see different styles [of online teaching] and find a point person [in eLearning] if you don’t know where to begin and just walk through your course shell with them. If you can, [ask other faculty] to be put into their master D2L shells so you can start to see other people’s styles because then you know what you’re drawn to.” In addition, Jessica recommends considering what balance of synchronous and asynchronous will work for your courses and students. If you have a course that is very interactive, completely asynchronous may not work for you. “Think about that contact with students and what you’re comfortable with, and think about what things are really important for you.”
Finally, “try not to think of online as being limiting. It could be really freeing if you can change your mindset.” One of Jessica’s mentors (and she does highly recommend finding a mentor who you can bounce ideas off of) “was the first person who taught me that, for a student, it shouldn’t matter how their program is delivered, their experience should be the same. So just because I did my education online and you did yours face to face classroom, it doesn’t mean that one or the other is any lesser – they’re still the same quality education.” What’s important is what you value in your teaching. “What’s important to you? Is it important that you develop some skills and are confident being independent? Do prefer to work with a team that you can rely on? Is it that you are interacting and engaging with your students?” Whatever your values, concentrate on those.
The ELC program will continue to not only use online tools to support face to face courses, but also to deliver courses completely online, as well as to develop more online learning opportunities (or as Jessica prefers to call them, multi-mode or distance rather than “online”) through support from the Ministry of Advance Education. As faculty embrace the option of multi-mode teaching, working together when possible to share the load, and find new ways of engaging with students in the program, Jessica sees a future program that includes a wide range of options for students attending courses from across the province.