Laura teaches in the English Language Development program at Camosun.  Laura considers herself fortunate that when the pivot to online teaching/learning happened back in March 2020, she was on scheduled development leave so had time to prepare for complete online teaching in May/June.  Laura reflects that the Spring term went quite well in the end.  “I think we were all a bit nervous, but students and instructors were quite accommodating and kind to one another through all the challenges.”  While Laura ended up teaching three courses she had never taught before, she reflects that “in some ways it was better because I just planned how to teach them online from scratch, rather than having to transition a face-to-face class to completely online.”

Starting back in May 2020, Laura taught, and continues to teach (since she is still teaching online), mostly synchronously for her courses but using a flipped classroom model.  D2L houses the course pack, her course assignments, and her weekly News posts, which let students know what will be happening in the synchronous sessions.  After working on her online teaching strategies throughout the spring and summer, Laura felt much more comfortable teaching online last fall.  “I was teaching the same classes, and it went well. I changed some of the content, but did not really adjust the teaching style. During the synchronous classes, we’re together for the first hour to hour and a half going over work that students prepared during the previous class, and for the second part of class, they’re working in small groups on the activities they need to complete in preparation for the next class. By having them stay in their study groups for longer periods of time, with me visiting the groups, they can focus more deeply and really immerse themselves in the tasks. This also reduces the potential for cognitive overload, which can occur virtually when being moved around too much and switching tasks too frequently.”

While her online classes continue to go well, Laura has definitely had some challenges with teaching online.  First and foremost, troubleshooting technology issues can be challenging, although she noted how supportive she found college technical support to be in getting through those issues. However, she told me that it was frustrating to develop strategies to build and maintain engagement with all students.  “Prioritizing engagement and making the learning experience meaningful and interesting are my objectives, but also my greatest challenges online.”  During her first term teaching online, Laura made adjustments to how she taught and assessed her classes to support engagement.  Because she had students working more independently, she decided to mark those independent tasks as complete or incomplete and connected them with a participation mark. “Those tasks are required, and if they aren’t completed, then a participation mark disappears. Students are allowed to miss three over the term, and this could be because they are busy that week, or they do not want to complete that task. While most students understand the value of feedback for helping them succeed in formal assessments, some students need that extra bit of incentivization to complete these informal assessments, which will ultimately help them be more successful in the course and beyond.”

Laura tells me one of the rewards from the past year and a half was discovering how convenient and time saving it was to have all her content, as well as all her assignments, on D2L. Aside from students having access to all the content to review when they want to, “I have students looking back from their early to later assignments and they can really see their growth.”  She also uses the Discussions tool more now.   “Students make weekly discussion (journal) posts about literature that we’ve read. And when they go back and look at their first journal to their last journal, it’s so motivating for them to see how much they’ve developed.”  And finally, Laura has seen how moving online can be much more inclusive and accessible, “I record all the Collaborate sessions, so students can watch them if they missed a session or need additional clarification on something – that ability to go back and review is key.”

Laura also discovered that changing her teaching style and handing over more responsibility to her learners was another big reward for her.  “They now need to preview more content before class, for example, watch a video and do some reading on a topic.  Then, one group is responsible for summarizing and presenting that topic to us. Giving them the opportunity to lead the class can both deepen their learning and engagement, and they like taking responsibility for that important intellectual work. This involves not just answering comprehension questions but presenting key content areas to the class with me supplementing, clarifying and correcting the areas that they require additional support with.”

Laura’s advice to other faculty moving their courses online is that “everything takes longer than you think.” In addition, she advocates carefully considering the cognitive load on students where they are not only learning content and developing skills, but also learning online tools and learning to learn online.  “In a class, I have students doing fewer tasks, but I try to maximize what we get out of those tasks.”

Moving forward, Laura plans to keep using D2L so students both have access to the course content and know what they need to do in advance of coming to a live class, whether it’s online or in person.  “The Cognitive Load Theory also explains that if we don’t know what to expect, then we worry, and this limits what we can learn. Teaching students how to learn and how to use the technology are also key aspects of reducing negative cognitive distractions and developing successful online teaching and learning.”