Leta is a faculty member in the Dental Hygiene program at Camosun. The sudden pivot in March 2020 from face-to-face to online was a challenge, especially when Leta notes “I’m a person who can usually switch gears quite easily in situations I am familiar with, however, anything involving a computer is not intuitive to me and therefore takes time and repetition to learn how to navigate. Plus, while I knew there was support available, with everything going on, I didn’t have time to pursue it.”
Leta told me “when we had to fast-track right away last March, we were survival mode. Even in September, after everything settled over the summer, I was reluctant to try anything new because it was such a learning curve for me. In addition, in our program we are stretched to the maximum with our curriculum, so having to learn how to manage new online tools was too much.” Leta ended up teaching mostly synchronously, getting ongoing feedback from her students. But she feels her students struggled with the online format. “My classes are 2 ½ hours long which is long time to be sitting in front of a computer trying to stay engaged. And after my virtual class, they had to run off to campus for their clinical course. So I know they were signed in, but I don’t think they were always engaged.”
In addition to the stress of moving to online teaching, and the logistics of students having to move from virtual classrooms to face-to-face clinics daily, Leta expanded a bit on challenges she faced last year around student engagement. “I teach clinical theory which integrates everything students have learned in their basic sciences courses, dental anatomy, etc. Usually we would have a lot of discussion in class, but due to the amount of content in the course, and the complexity of discussing questions online which can be time-consuming, we’d always be rushing through the class. Sometimes I would have to talk for the full 2 ½ hours and it became difficult to build in that engagement.”
In spite of all the challenges, Leta did have some good takeaways from her online teaching. For example, “using the D2L quiz tool was great, because my courses have so much heavy content that can be hard to evaluate appropriately.” Leta is excited because, while the program is required to run in-person midterms and finals to meet accreditation requirements, the quiz tool allows her to provide low-stakes evaluations for students which she is planning to incorporate when she moves back to face-to-face teaching.
One of the lessons Leta learned first-hand last year was that “you can’t follow your regular in-person style when you’re teaching, which I knew, but I didn’t really understand how different the modes of engagement were between teaching in-person and teaching online.” Leta says she would have liked to have learned to use additional tools to support her students, like the Discussions in D2L, but found she “was not confident enough to both learn new tools and ensure that I could engage with students appropriately. It was just too much to wrap my head around while in the middle of doing it.”
Leta advises anyone moving their courses online to connect with CETL and eLearning for workshops, consultations, and one-on-one help. She said she found the online tutorials especially useful “because while some people are great at remembering things. But I find a step-by-step tutorial that I can refer back to really helpful.” A good reminder for us in CETL to provide help in as many ways as possible!
Moving forward, Leta wants to work with D2L quizzes, and to explore the Discussion tool to support students outside of class time. “I want to incorporate more quizzing, because students don’t always ask questions until they’ve failed a midterm,” so having more options to test their knowledge will be useful. “And I think discussion boards will give them more options to comment on or ask questions about content outside of the class.” Leta also sees D2L as an option to provide students with content if she is unable to teach for a day. “I could provide them with an asynchronous class so we don’t get behind in the schedule and then we can discuss the material in person later.” Finally, “one thing that was nice last year was I could meet with students virtually outside of normal office hours. They were in their own space and I didn’t have to worry about privacy,” since Leta works in a shared office space. The virtual environment also allowed Leta to share her screen with students, so they could more easily go through their exams, etc. “I could see continuing with virtual office hours because we need to support our students however we can.”
Leta’s final words are to remember that “doing your best is good enough. As educators, we always strive to make it better, but if you do the best you can, students will still learn and engage.”