Camosun Faculty Story #28: Maureen

Maureen, a faculty member in the English Department at Camosun, had not used many online tools, including D2L, to support her teaching in the past.  So for her, the pivot to online was “from zero to hero, because I really was starting with zero!”  Also, initially Maureen “didn’t have a computer, had no printer, no equipment.”  Luckily, Camosun provided her with that infrastructure very quickly, and then she just had to learn to use it all for her teaching.  Maureen also noted how because everyone had to pivot at the same time, students, faculty, administration, “that synchronization of all of our efforts towards one goal made for as smooth a transition as possible for the students.”

As you can imagine, Maureen faced many challenges as she moved her courses online.  She told me her biggest challenges was her fear “that because of my inexperience, it wouldn’t work, that I wouldn’t be able to connect in an interactive, interesting, stimulating, thought-provoking way with my students the way I did face-to-face. Trying to keep that active learning environment alive was one of my biggest fears and challenge as well. Or maybe the challenge was to overcome that fear.”

She overcame her fears, however, by attending workshops and reviewing CELT resources containing “tips and things to watch out for, as well as other things you could do once the basics were in place. Then I was able to consider what I could reach for, to try that next skill. I really liked the building block approach, which got me started and built my confidence.” In addition, Maureen was able to take a step back and look at her course from a student perspective.  “I realized that certain things would have to go, and worked on the clarity and organization, by always looking at things with a student’s point of view.”

Unlike some of her colleagues in English, Maureen decided to teach synchronously with some D2L support.  “The core material was in D2L: PowerPoints with voice-overs, videos, links to readings, as well weekly instructions.  Then I would have one Collaborate session a week which was very helpful. Students who attended those sessions tended to do better: they were more engaged and more connected with the class. I also used Collaborate for my office hour and individual meetings, which was nice because students could load their documents in Collaborate and then we could look at things together.”  Teaching synchronously, however, doesn’t always mean you see your students.  For Maureen, the day when students started turning on their cameras made her feel “like I had overcome the hurdle of connecting with them. You have to overcome that feeling of being so exposed, and for them to trust the classroom space, as well as me and each other, was really encouraging. I felt like we were all together on this adventure, creating it as we went along.”

Maureen told me that she also appreciated being able to meet students when they needed to meet with her, rather than being bound by specific office hours on-campus.  “Even by appointment, meeting times are dependent on when students are on campus, and when I am on campus. Having the online learning environment available adds some flexibility, and makes for much richer meeting opportunities.  We can see each other face to face, I can look at their work and give feedback. So having roving office hours, being able to quickly help students, I really enjoyed that, and I would like to keep that even when we go back to face to face.”

Maureen’s advice for faculty moving courses online? “Sign up for the workshops, and if you have a question for the e-learning team, ask it. When you have a question, even if it’s small, ask it because it will keep coming up. And another thing I found useful is repetition, doing things over and over again. Like learning anything else, practice makes perfect.”

After teaching online this past year, Maureen has learned some new skills to complement her face-to-face teaching.  “I’ve always used course packs, but now I love the flexibility of being able to just make changes when I need to.  Using online content allows you to be ultra-current, and to be responsive to students’ questions using the Discussion forums.  In addition, Maureen has found having students submit their assignments in D2L has allowed her to give feedback in more ways.  “For every assignment I can change it up so that it looks different, to get them thinking about it in a different way. I will definitely keep online assignment and marking as one option for them.”

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Maureen if she would teach online again, and her answer made me smile “: I found out that I love both: I love face-to-face, but you know what?  Online was pretty fun too, and I would like to get better at it.”

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