Tanis teaches in the Centre for Sport and Exercise Education at Camosun. This past year, she told me, she was not teaching applied courses, but more lecture-based courses which meant that this, coupled with the fact that Tanis also was seconded to work part time for eLearning as an instructional designer last fall, made the transition from face-to-face to online teaching a bit smoother for her.
In addition, Tanis has previously taught online asynchronously at another institution, and has used D2L to support her courses during her time at Camosun. So, last fall after the great pivot, Tanis started out teaching mostly asynchronously, using Collaborate only for office hours. Then this Winter term, she taught primarily synchronously, but she “felt really puzzled at the beginning with Collaborate. I didn’t know how it would work for me, but I was really keen to dig into it. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t done asynchronous teaching before.” While Tanis was comfortable with the technology and the online teaching side of things, she still faced challenges. One of the biggest for her was not always knowing how the students were doing. “I had no feedback. I didn’t know how they were, or if they were overwhelmed. You feel kind of alone in the world, talking into nothing. I wish I had been more proactive in getting ongoing feedback from the students.” That piece of online teaching, when you lose the ability to see student faces, seems to be what faculty I’ve talked to miss the most.
One thing Tanis has learned from teaching online is how organized it makes you become. “If you go into face-to-face class, you can just make it happen. But this last year I had my units all laid out in advance, and I created more quizzes that now I’ll be able to use again. So I feel better prepared going back into the classroom having more structure around my courses.” Teaching online also allowed Tanis to explore the notion of flipping her class. “When learning online, students have to come prepared,” meaning that she, as the instructor, no longer has to drive everything in the class. In-class can be more about the application and discussion of concepts students have reviewed online.
Over the past year, Tanis has learned to be more patient with herself and her students. “We have no idea what situation they’re in so we need to have a little bit more compassion for all of us.” And in addition to being patient with yourself, Tanis advises faculty getting ready to teach online for the first time to “keep it simple, and seek out help from eLearning and from other faculty members. Then you won’t feel so alone.” And one interesting note that came out of our conversation was how, in spite of technology barriers, we seem to have more compassion for each other being apart than we had when we were all face-to-face.
Tanis is already thinking about what her courses could look like moving forward. “I would love to keep some of it blended. For example, keeping the D2L discussion forums to give students space for introspection, and keeping some of the lectures online, leaving the labs face-to-face where students can ask questions and practice. We have to imagine that students may not want a 100% face-to-face classes anymore. They miss the social aspect of school, meeting up with their friends, but they’re not missing lectures where they’re hiding at the back of the room. So open up the social spaces, but let’s talk about how we can take the best of both worlds for teaching. I think there’s some really cool combo opportunities we could explore.”