Camosun Faculty Story #43: Carl

Carl is the Chair of, as well as an instructor in, the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at Camosun.  While I talked to Carl almost 2 years after we all moved to online teaching, he remembers it well. “Having to suddenly shift into an online world for those last three weeks of the semester was very challenging. Fortunately, we already had existing relationships with our students, but one of my concerns was making sure students came to the synchronous online classes.”

Carl’s program is designed to be a face-to-face program, which is not surprising given the nature of the hospitality industry.  “What we do is interact with people, and the types of learners attracted to our program are face-to-face learners. In addition, they’re typically very young learners coming into a two-year diploma and during that first semester they are also learning how to learn, so the challenge was finding ways to keep them engaged.  I think all of us were quite surprised at how engaged the students were and surprised that attendance was in some ways better than face-to-face classes because of the convenience created through online learning.”

Fortunately, Carl had scheduled development time in May/June 2020 to redesign his fall courses for online delivery.  “It was really about rethinking our courses and creating plans B and plan C for the fall.  We had time as a department to step back and say, okay, how are we going to get ready for this?”  Carl counted himself fortunate as he was going to be teaching our Post Degree Diploma students a third-year course in Fall 2020. which meant “because of the nature of a cohort program, I already had an established relationship with those students. Students were very familiar with my expectations about how I teach so my work was more about adjusting expectations for the online world.  For example, considering how to be accessible to students for online, and how to bring in guest speakers (as I normally do) to enrich my class.” 

While Carl feels that he was able to achieve what he wanted to when he moved to online teaching in the fall of 2020, “for those in the department teaching first-year classes it was a different experience. I know some of our learners were struggling with being self-directed and engaged in their first semester in the program.”  Luckily, they were able to run some of their lab classes in person, so faculty could spend time building relationships and giving students more in-person support to help them succeed overall.  Creating a community of learners online was one of the challenges Carl’s program faced. “We try to create a family of students in our program, and then beyond our program, we have graduates who are very connected to our program and often hire our students for work terms. I think the biggest concern I had was that we would lose some of those relationships, lose that larger community as a program.”

Being online, however, proved to be an asset when bringing in guest speakers. “Because we were using Collaborate, our guest was able to speak to the students from Tofino and talk about her property, whereas in the old world, she would not likely have been able to come to Victoria.  I would not likely have delved in that world had it not been for that shift to online learning and being able to bring the outside world into the classroom, I think that was very powerful.”  Carl took a few additional risks with Collaborate to engage with students. “I use a lot of team-based exercises in my classes and while I was worried about recapturing those, I was able to replicate them using breakout rooms, which surprised me.”

Like other faculty, one of the lessons Carl learned moving his courses online “was a reminder that you need to have a very well laid out curriculum and a clear vision of what your course is going to look like.  Then, you need to consider what tools, what pedagogies, to use to deliver that course and engage with student in the online environment, rather than reverting back to your face-to-face pedagogy.”

In addition to adding remote guest speakers to his in-person classes, using Collaborate, Carl told me one of the tools in D2L he will continue to use is the Checklist tool.  “Checklists have been a lifesaver.  They really help your students stay focused, especially when they have multiple courses, and students agreed when I asked them for feedback.” In addition, Carl discovered the Discussions tool in D2L.  I don’t think students are huge fans of it in some ways, but online Discussions help keep students focused on the course material and create conversation. There is nothing in those discussions that is not in my assessments, and when in person, I even allow a little bit of time in class for them, after a lecture, to go to the computer lab and respond to a question in a discussion,” which can help clarify the connection between the discussions and the rest of the course.

Carl has some advice for faculty moving courses online.  First, “think of it as an opportunity rather than a threat because it’s a chance to add to your skill set.”  Then it’s about finding comfort in taking risks and being humble and honest with your students.  “I think it’s okay to feel uncomfortable because it puts you more in line with the student perspective which helps build rapport. Whether you’re teaching face-to-face or online, it’s all about how you create that relationship with students in the first few weeks of the course.”  In addition, learn how to be flexible.  “Don’t be afraid to being those curve ball moments into the classroom for students to see firsthand. I think that helps build capacity, strength, and resilience, all those things we want our learners to be ready with when they go into the workplace.”

Moving forward, Carl does see room for online courses in his program, specifically with some of the Business classes students are required to take.  “One of the positive outcomes of these COVID years is the addition of choice to how students can access courses. Students are now able to make more informed choices about whether they want to be in a classroom or whether they want to be online and having more options is good for students.”

Carl’s final words to me spoke to new directions for his program and the college.  “We shouldn’t be afraid to reinvent ourselves as instructors, as teachers, don’t be afraid to make a leap in a new direction, because it’s all possible.  Two years ago, I would never have imagined that this is where we would be, faculty who never intended on delivering courses online, now online instructors.”

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