Diane teaches Massage Therapy.  And yes, I know you are thinking, how on earth do you teach Massage Therapy online?  Well, it wasn’t easy, but Diane and her group adapted to the sudden pivot, and now are working in a new world of blended.  New to them especially, because as Diane informed me, massage therapists are not known for their computer savvy!  But, nonetheless as, overnight, everyone was “thrown, not even into the deep end of the pool, but into the ocean, the community pulled together and said, here we are. Let’s do this!”

Since a Massage Therapy program requires hands-on learning at some point, the program group had some thinking to do.  In the spring, Diane says “we split the term into two blocks of 7 weeks, and front loaded all the courses that wouldn’t require hands-on learning.  We were basically teaching like you’re laying tracks while the train is coming towards you.” Then later, when they were able to go back into the classroom, they moved into some blended learning “which just took a little bit of the edge off, allowing us to figure out where the cracks were and put the glue in, so to speak, getting feedback from students of what they were requiring and what their challenges were as we went so we could begin to be more intentional and thoughtful in how we integrated some of the tools.”  How did they do it?  Well, Diane credits two things:  first, support from CETL and eLearning, and second “the community of educators worldwide, understanding how much we’re all struggling and supporting each other.  Also, taking workshops on D2L, how to build community, etc. – not just the technical how-to’s, but also how to create a meaningful learning experience for the students.”

Like other health-related programs, Massage Therapy has a cohort model, which means Diane has been seeing differences between the cohort that had to move online suddenly, and the cohort which started completely online from the beginning.  “We had a second-year cohort who already knew each other, but who struggled with the pivot. But the cohort who started in the fall seemed to adapt better – it was the only mode they knew.  I think they actually enjoy a lot of things about online learning.”  And Diane noted, that the students certainly seemed to embrace the blended model once it was established.

Aside from moving a hands-on program online, Diane says that one of her biggest challenges last year was the learning curve: “you’re developing your course, learning the technology, teaching and putting the course online all at the same time. I think if it had been one or the other, it would have been ok, but putting those altogether was really challenging.  In addition, I think the biggest challenge was how to make an online course a meaningful experience.  Especially in the synchronous classes.  For some students, my class might have been their third online lecture in a row.”  Diane had experienced so-called Zoom fatigue herself in CETL workshops.  “If it went too fast I got lost then that was it:  I was done. I think as we move forward, the experiences of the past year will make us better teachers.  It will certainly make me a better teacher, to be much more focused, have guideposts along the way, and work in shorter blocks of time instead of 50 minutes straight of me talking.”

Over the past year, Diane said she was able to work on being more intentional with her teaching.  “One of the things that I was able to do, with the help of D2L, was to organize and standardize my classes, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.  Such a benefit to learners, to come into a course and to know where to find everything, to know what to expect, to make it crystal clear for them. And that’s what I’m looking forward to keeping, so they have a map of every course, of every week.”

In addition, Diane says “I’ve always thought that health care and education are mirrors for each other.  What we model in our patient care, in respect and safety and consent and all of those things should also be part of our learning communities. And I think that online teaching forces you to be intentional in creating respect, safety, and accessibility, and to consider how we can make our courses more transparent, meaningful, and authentic for our students, which makes me excited for the future.”

Diane also noted how online learning provides opportunities to “students when they are not faced with the pressure of sitting in front of the other people. I found that some of the reflective writing that some students did online, or some of the questions they would ask, surprised me.  Not everybody thrives in the face-to-face classroom, and I saw where having an online option, where students can take information and integrate it in their own way, was really powerful.  I was shocked, seeing that quiet person at the back I’ve been trying to get to, how giving you a little space really allowed you to flourish here.”

With regards to advice for anyone getting ready to move their courses online, Diane says to let go of perfectionism, stop beating yourself up, and “have patience and be gentle with yourself. Take it step-by-step and ask for help.  Also, remember what it feels like to learn something new, and to be vulnerable and overwhelmed – this is how our students feel all the time. It’s stressful to learn things new, especially when you’ve got a lot going on in life.”

Finally, I asked Diane how she was envisioning the Massage Therapy program moving forward.  She told me “I’m shocked and surprised because originally wanted to throw my computer out the window and stomp on it as it hit the ground. But when I started working on standardizing everything, organizing everything, streamlining my courses, I became really excited about what other tools I can explore. So a resounding yes, I will use online tools to support my teaching moving forward, and I’m excited to add them to more of my courses.”  In addition, her program is looking at moving more courses into a blended model.  “Some courses are already, and we are discussing of what other courses could be blended, considering the student experience.  Certainly, for some students, the accessibility of not having to come to campus all the time is an important consideration.”

Diane’s final words were encouraging to me, given everything we have been through over the past year and a half:  “I don’t think I can stress enough the surprise of how much I embraced online teaching, and I really look forward to doing more and learning more!”