Well, it’s almost September, and things are almost as confusing now as they were last fall. Probably it’s safe to say they are more confusing in many ways. But what is not confusing is reflecting on the stories told to me by Camosun faculty about their experiences moving all their courses online last year. In this post, I wanted to take a bit of time to remind you about those stories, and to reflect a bit myself on what I heard in these stories.
To say that I am inspired every day by faculty at Camosun is, while perhaps sounding a little cheesy, putting it mildly. The work I saw faculty do to support their students last year, however, went above and beyond every day, and makes me wonder why we aren’t celebrating them more widely across the institution, as well as across the province. Because, I am sure that Camosun’s stories are not the only ones of excellence in the face of adversity. Alas, I am at a loss some days as to how to get the word out more widely.
But, that aside. I wanted to share here some of the highlights from these stories, as I presented them at last spring’s ETUG workshop. Note I’ve opened my ETUG PowerPoint presentation for viewing if you want to have a look. I think, since there is so much to unpack from the stories, I will stick to letting you know the top seven main themes, as I see them, in this post. I wonder if you will find yourself in any of these themes.
First theme: Everyone is exhausted. I said this back in June, and I still say it now, even though many faculty have had some vacation over the summer. This last year took a lot out of everyone, and it really seemed to hit folks in the Winter 2021 term. Fall 2020 was about adrenaline, and Winter 2021 was about wanting it to all be over (even if they were enjoying some of what they were doing).
Second theme: Everyone has a metaphor. Ok, I confess that this was a fun one. But so many people had vibrant ways to describe what they went through. Like Debra’s “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Or Deanna and Lynelle’s “this was an opportunity to rip the bandaid off.” Linda’s “last year was like jumping off a cliff without knowing where the bottom is.” Chris’s “it was like a tightrope walk over a live volcano.” Diane’s “overnight we were thrown into, not even the deep end of the pool, but into the ocean.” And Chrisa’s “it was like swimming through mud.”
Third theme: Everyone appreciated a chance to reflect. I don’t know if you have had a chance to talk to anyone about last year, but many of the faculty I talked to had not, and they thanked me for the opportunity to laugh and cry and talk about their fear and triumphs.
Fourth theme: Everyone has learned more about themselves. As educators, as human beings, the whole gamut. They’ve learned that it’s ok to not be perfect. That they are more resilient than they thought (as were their students). That they don’t have to be afraid to ask for help, even though it’s hard to admit you don’t know something. And that it’s ok to be vulnerable, to be human, and to take risks.
Fifth theme: Everyone has embraced (mostly) change. They’ve learned new things, things many said they would never have learned without this shove. They’ve discovered new things about their teaching, as well as about their assumptions of student learning. They will all keep something from the past year. And they all learned it was ok to let things go, and re-evaluate the priorities for their courses.
Sixth theme: Everyone tried new things they will keep using. I already said this in the fifth theme, but I think it bears repeating. Nursing has discovered a new way (and less stressful way for students) to do skills tests. Many faculty will continue to provide students with video lessons, skills demos, etc. Some faculty embraced using online quizzes, and many discovered the Assignment dropbox for “paper” assessments. Online office hours in Collaborate are an option now for students who can’t come to campus for a regular in-person time, and some faculty want to use Collaborate in the classroom to allow for anonymous engagement with the Collaborate Whiteboard. And the list goes on and on…
Seventh theme: Everyone put themselves in the shoes of their students. Faculty overwhelmingly noted that they felt like they were experiencing what their students experience every term, being vulnerable and learning new things, and they discovered that compassion, taking risks, and being vulnerable are things they can be and do face-to-face too. They discovered that many students like learning online, or at least its flexibility, and while building relationships online can be harder, some found that students felt more connection when they could be more anonymous. They discovered that access to education is complicated. Faculty and students experienced challenges with access to the technology (and the understanding of how to use it), but at the same time, moving online opened doors to students who may not have come to face-to-face classes. Finally, faculty were afforded a rare glimpse into students’ lives, and vice versa, bringing a whole range of possibilities (bringing music and art into the classroom) and privacy implications (other people in homes, personal space) to the classroom.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short reflection on the stories I’ve collected so far. There is so much more I want to talk about, but baby steps, right? Stay tuned for more. And if you have any questions or want to talk to me about this project, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.