Camosun Faculty Story #21: Jana

Jana is a faculty member in the Medical Radiography, Sonography, and Certified Medical Laboratory Assistant programs in the School of Health and Human Services (HHS) at Camosun.  Jana had a particularly challenging entry into the world of complete online teaching as she was a part-time instructor last fall teaching three courses, and only had half time scheduled development to prepare those courses.  This term she is full time, teaching five courses, three of them new (although she did not know which ones she would be teaching until November of last fall). And like many other faculty in HHS, Jana is also a front-line worker, so has found balancing course creation/teaching, meetings related to the many programs she is associated with (all of which were moving online), and life particularly demanding. “So to this day, I am preparing classes as I go, and I’m up quite late on Sunday nights making sure I have everything ready because since the students are in labs Tuesday through Friday, everything has to happen Monday. So it’s been a challenge.”

As you can imagine, teaching health care courses online is tricky.  Jana spent a significant amount of time figuring out how to get her labs online, labs which ended up being condensed in time, but not in the number of assessments required (which was exacerbated by Jana losing her teaching assistant).  In addition, students produced videos of their lab skills and marking videos takes a lot longer than marking something that is happening right in front of you.  “Instead of watching students interact and marking them on the spot, they submit videos which I have to download which takes about 30 minutes (to download the whole class’s videos). Then you have to watch the videos and you have to give feedback, both of which takes quite a bit of time.”  I mentioned that the labs were condensed, which means they are face to face, but due to COVID restrictions, “instead of having eight students, we now have four students in each lab, so they’re running more labs, and giving less time for lectures.”  Having less lecture time was upsetting to some students, but “if we were to fit more lectures in, we would have to find five to six extra hours of lecture time on top of everything else.”

While Jana was comfortable with D2L, she struggled a bit with Collaborate when using her iPad, which unfortunately doesn’t play well with Collaborate.  In addition, the prep work for creating videos and PowerPoint presentations took longer with the added technology.  “Recording my presentations took about four or five times the amount of time it normally would since I’d redo them.  In addition, instead of presenting a PowerPoint, I would write everything out on a piece of paper while recording what I was doing on camera.  The students seem to really like this way of presenting notes because it was more dynamic.” But Jana found that “until recently, I was really struggling with trying to teach effectively, especially when trying to explain some of the topics we had to cover, like muscles and the cardiovascular system which is hard when you don’t have the ability to draw on a picture.”  In spite this, as well as being camera-shy, learning to deal with life interrupting her teaching (we all know the sound of construction, or the dog barking in the background…), and being in general exhausted, Jana is beginning to find her way. “Instead of having long lectures, I have mini lectures, and I integrate discussions to help break up the lectures a bit because I know what it’s like to sit there watching an hour long lecture. I don’t know if I’ve figured out a perfect balance yet – each of my classes is so different.”

One thing I found particularly interesting was Jana’s observance of the differences between the two cohorts of students she taught this last year.  Not surprisingly, the older cohort struggled more with the new mode of course delivery, being used to face to face.  “That group really loved being at school. They were a very social group to begin with and they did a lot of extracurricular activities with each other. So I think they were hoping to have that kind of experience again.”  The new group, however, seemed to adapt more quickly, something I have heard from other faculty teaching multiple cohort groups.”

Jana says one of the biggest lessons she’s learned over the past year is to “make sure to plan things if you have the time,” which is a tough one for her as she didn’t have the time to plan.  She also says that “marking online has probably been my biggest challenge because it takes more time, and it was hard keeping up with marking while trying to get my courses online for the next term.”  She advises that whatever you do, “check your technology, make sure it works, and have a backup in case it doesn’t. Have everything well organized for your students, and be clear about what you are expecting them to do. Now I create game plans, which sounds simple, but I didn’t do initially. Also, keep it simple and don’t complicate things. For example, in one class I was teaching about the cardiovascular system, and in the other one about pathologies in the cardiovascular system, so I knew that assignments could easily be confused. My solution was to create a generic template for the labs clearly outlining expectations and just changing the topics in the template each week.” That little bit of consistency can make a huge difference to busy and stressed students.

Jana does have some positive memories though.  “Students were doing some of their lab work online, for example, for the PPE labs, they gathered household items as their PPE, meaning they would put on housecoats, jackets, etc. and demonstrate how to perform PPE. Also, they practice their interactions with patients by recording themselves, making mistakes, but getting more practice and coming better prepared to the face to face labs, which is something I will likely continue.”  Moving forward, Jana also plans to continue using her iPad in the classroom, projecting her work on the screen.  She is also considering keeping a condensed lab model to give the students a bit more flexibility and free up classroom space. “The allied health programs are quite intense, especially our X-ray program. Students were coming in 8:00am to 5:00pm every day, which is a long day to absorb information, apply it and then go home and study. Going forward I will likely keep a more condensed labs to shorten these days if possible.”

All in all, I am glad Jana persevered and found some good come out of her challenging year.  I look forward to hearing how her new plans go!

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