Dave is a Trades instructor teaching Metal Fabrication and Sheet Metal courses at Camosun. Like many Trades faculty, he had used some of the tools in D2L prior to the pivot to complete online learning in March 2020, but found being completely online a challenge with the hands-on nature of the courses he teaches (as many instructors will relate to).
Dave told me that the transition to online wasn’t too bad for him because he had been using online tools to support his teaching for about 8 years. What he found challenging, and time consuming, was making videos for demonstrations of various tasks and activities, since students could not come into the classroom for live demonstrations. “While moving online was easy, the amount of camera work was overwhelming because I had to edit and split and mesh and trim and review the videos for quality. It was also challenging trying to find quiet times for filming in the shop. I’d have to film in the morning or later on or a weekend, and if I tried to film during the day, I’d have to ask everybody to be quiet. And that was stressful too because everybody would be watching and listening and waiting for me to finish. But otherwise, everything was pretty good for me moving online.” In fact, Dave reflected (like other faculty) that “we needed this pandemic to force us to do something a little bit out of our comfort zone.” In addition to creating demonstration videos, Dave pre-recorded all his lessons and made “how-to” videos for all his assignments. He then was able to use his synchronous classroom time, in Collaborate, to talk to students and answer their questions.
After the initial move to completely-online learning, students were gradually allowed back into the shop for limited contact hours. “For my next course, for example, I have two weeks of online learning work on the computer, and then I have three weeks in the shop.” He found blocking like this was much more convenient for students as they didn’t have to travel to the college every day or for long hours. “It just didn’t make a lot of sense for students to travel for an hour or sometimes two, and pay for parking to do only one or two hours in the shop. I had a lot of students say they appreciated their shop time being blocked together.”
Dave found that the biggest challenge with online learning was students not having laptops or Internet access. And in addition, even when they had access to computers and Internet, they often couldn’t find a quiet space to work. “I’ve heard of people using their travel trailer in the driveway as a quiet spot for working on their courses.”
One of the biggest rewards from the past year for Dave was working with the Quizzes tool in D2L. “We created self-tests of 50 or a 100 questions, for students to review, and we can set them up so students can redo the quizzes, but only those questions they got wrong.” Dave credits having self-test quizzes available for the higher than expected averages in his classes this last year. In addition, they had the highest Red Seal average as well. “It’s not really fair for the person with the best memory to always do the best on the test. What’s important is students are understanding and moving forward. In addition to being able to do the quizzes over and over again, Dave thinks that another bonus of using the quizzes tool is that students can complete the quizzes when they have time, because they are always open and available. “Some students wake up at 5:00AM and do all their work by noon. Some students wake up at noon and they’re up till midnight. They perform best when they are ready to perform, so that was a major reward, for them to be able to complete quizzes and assignments at their own convenience. We’ve heard that a lot from the students: they were really scared of taking an online course, but found it manageable because of the flexibility it offered.” Dave told me that in the end, 1/3 of the class ended up preferring online learning, 1/3 had no preference and 1/3 preferred the classroom to help them focus on the task at hand.
When I asked him about some of his own takeaways from this past year, Dave said he learned that you really need to understand the various software and online platforms you are going to use, and take the time to set them up right at the beginning for the long term. In addition, you also need to set students up for success in terms of the technologies and what they can expect. “Make sure the students are informed coming in, and giving them the chance to experience the technology in advance so they aren’t seeing it for the first time on the first day of class. They need to have a chance to develop some comfort with the tools before they can start studying what they need to know.”
Moving forward, Dave is definitely planning to keep what he created over the past year. “Having videos will definitely complement what we’re doing in the classroom, so students watch the demonstrations before as well as after for review.” In addition he will keep the self-test/quizzes both to enhance student learning, and because he has discovered that they also “save me maybe 20 hours per course, which gives me an extra three to four days I can spend with students in the shop.” Dave also plans on building on what he created, with “more videos, more self-tests, and better content. And I guess the next thing we’ll do start using the marking rubrics on D2L, so I can have the rubric open and mark their project right there in the shop.”
Even though Dave recognizes that there are still challenges ahead (for example, how to support students with access to technology and the Internet while in the classroom), he says “to go back to the way things were before would just be ludicrous. It wouldn’t make any sense to throw away everything we’ve developed to go back to paper – that is just not reality in industry right now.” All I can say is that I am looking forward to seeing where Dave is at in another year!