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Camosun Open Sustainability Project: Project Story #4

Fourth in our ongoing series on Camosun’s Open Sustainability Project, as I try to catch up with our amazing faculty project stories, is Peggy Hunter.  Peggy teaches biology, and for this project she has been working on updating and adding to her biology anatomy lab website.  “My project has been to take what was a website built to give students access to anatomy lab material, and update it.  The site will contain images of the whole collection of models and slides we use in our anatomy classes so students can study them at home. In the past, students were restricted to seeing the models and slides for three-hour labs, and then they never see them again until the exam.”  Peggy’s website has been a work in progress for about a decade, going through several iterations and hosting changes. So, Peggy’s main goal is to add more resources to the site, and improve the functionality of some of the interactions which include hotspots and self-testing elements.

“Going online with the lab resources has made me realize that there are some gaps I need to address.   For example, they are missing the skeletal system completely, which has been a big oversight.”  But it’s important to stress that this site is not meant to replace the labs.  “Looking at pictures of models and slides that somebody else brought into focus to find the perfect spot is not the same as finding that spot yourself, and looking at pictures of bones is definitely not the same as holding them in your own hands.”

Peggy’s site has been through several iterations and several domain changes over the years, and she feels like “it seems to have gone from more open to less open, curiously. It started as a website created with Dreamweaver, then Frontpage, and now is a WordPress site. In its earliest iteration, I was able to edit the site, add and fix content, etc.  But now I don’t know how to change anything myself. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t learn it, it just hasn’t been a priority.”  Once the new version of the site has been completed, Peggy would like to learn how to do more of that revision herself again, with the idea that when she retires, someone else will easily be able to take over the site.

Peggy doesn’t feel like she has enough experience working with open source to offer anyone advice about doing a similar project, but I think she does.  It takes vision, perseverance, hard work, and understanding that your work is always a work in progress to build and maintain a resource like this, and Peggy exemplifies all those qualities.  She has been incredibly patient with those of us supporting her, especially over the past few years when her site was bumped from ancient WordPress instance to newer WordPress instance, and finally to the Open Educational Technology Collaborative (OpenETC) WordPress instance.  I sincerely hope this is the last move!

Moving forward, Peggy is looking forward to improving the functionality of the site, as well as making sure people know about it and tracking usage.  “I used to get contacted by people wanting to add things to the site or asking me to add things, but I haven’t had any of that traffic lately and would like to get that back.”  But she also tells me how excited she is now.  “I’m maybe going to work for another year or two before I retire, this is something I can leave behind not as a Peggy Hunter thing, but as a Camosun College contribution to Open, something I can leave as my digital teaching legacy. I just think open-source is so cool – everything should be open-source!”

The next steps for this project is for me, yes me, to finish moving and updating Peggy’s new site on the OpenETC WordPress instance, complete with interactive H5P objects, which can be easily edited or added to as needed.  Stay tuned for more when that work is completed!

Camosun Open Sustainability Project: Project Story #3

Third in our ongoing series on Camosun’s Open Sustainability Project, and sadly delayed for an inexcusable number of months (apologies for this), is Stephanie Ingraham.  Stephanie teaches physics, and specifically for this project, she has been working on developing an open textbook for the Physics of Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy course in the Medical Radiography (MRT) program.

This course is unique, she says, telling me that it “covers some introductory physics topics like electromagnetic radiation, the structure of matter, electricity and magnetism, but then goes into topics that are specific to medical imaging. For example, X-ray production, the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter, radiographic and nuclear imaging, the biological effects of radiation, and the physics behind radiation therapy, sonography, and MRI. So though it’s designed for students in the MRT program, it covers the physics of other imaging topics too.”  And like many of the courses taught by our Open Sustainability grant holders, there isn’t a textbook out there currently covering all these topics.

Stephanie’s hope is to include not only text-based content, but also images, examples, practice problems, and homework for students in her textbook, with the idea that it could be used by courses similar to her own course, but also by courses that cover one or more of the individual topics included in her textbook – and this being an open textbook means pieces can be taken and adapted as needed.

Aside from creating a needed resource to support the course Stephanie teaches, one of the inspirations behind wanting to create an open textbook is providing access to materials for students.  “I think we’re moving as a society towards free education and more freely available information. I also know that costs are a barrier for students, so helping to reduce those costs is very important to me.”

Stephanie has faced a few challenges after embarking on this project.  “First was COVID, because that delayed everything and changed my work pattern. In the end, it wasn’t possible to take release time to work on the project when I had originally planned.” But at the same time, Stephanie sees the pivot to online learning due to COVID as also a positive, because now she has been immersed in online teaching and has a better idea how an online resource could support her students.  “The other challenges I have mainly involve designing or finding images and data tables that are exactly what I want – but that’s manageable and kind of fun.”

Stephanie tells me that while working on this project, she’s learned “the value of being organized and planning everything. Keeping lists of the open resources used, making to-do lists and schedules, all help me to stay on track.”  She also has learned the value of having a team to support the project.  “I had already started working on materials before the grant opportunity came up and working on my own was very daunting.  In the terms when I didn’t have a lot of designated time to work on the project, it has been helpful to have some regular check-ins, to hear what the other grant recipients are working on, and to learn about different tools (like H5P and Pressbooks) because that has made me more excited about the project.”

Some advice Stephanie would have for anyone wanting to start this kind of project is, “you should definitely go for it. We’re moving towards sharing knowledge for free and creating digital resources that are accessible, for example including text-to-speech options and high contrast images. There are so many great benefits in creating these open resources.”  But she also cautions to take some time to search for what is already available out there.  “See if there’s something you can start with or get ideas from to take back to your own projects.”  And ask for help.   “Maybe someone else is wondering the same thing as you, or reach out just to get some feedback on what you’re working on.”  And finally, “it’ll take longer than you think!”

What does the future look like for Stephanie in terms of open?  “To start with, this open textbook that I’m working on will ideally be used in May of 2022 when this course runs next. But that is just the beginning. I imagine revising and adding things to the textbook in the future, and there are other open resources for Physics that my department has been considering adopting. Depending on what is available, we may decide to develop more of our own open online resources in the future.”

Camosun Faculty Story #41: Michelle

Michelle is a faculty member in the Community, Family, and Child Studies (CFCS) and Mental Health and Addictions (MHA) programs at Camosun College.  She was one of the fortunate ones to have taught blended courses in the MHA program before, but she had never developed content for a fully online course until last year. “This was my first opportunity to imagine delivering a course fully online. As somebody who thrives on a lot of interaction, I wanted to offer an online course with the kind of engagement I strive for in my face-to-face classes. By using both asynchronous and synchronous tools, I think I was able to create that interaction.  However, it was a lot of work developing in both modes, trying to figure out what needed to be asynchronous and what needed to be synchronous. In the end, it’s been a year of a tremendous amount of learning and a tremendous amount of overtime.”

During the Fall 2020 term, Michelle taught “the same course to two different program groups. I always collect feedback from students throughout a course and then report back to the students on how I will incorporate their feedback into the course delivery moving forward. This time was more challenging because students communicated a much more diverse range of needs and preferences now that the course was in an online environment. Some wanted more group discussions, and others wanted longer lectures; some said the synchronous classes were too short, others said they were too long.  So finding the right balance, while also not making too much work for myself, was a challenge.”

Meeting the diverse needs of her students and offering both synchronous and asynchronous options were definitely top on the list of challenges Michelle faced.  And related to these was confidence. “At one point, students said they wanted more synchronous content, so I adjusted, but halfway through the term they commented that the synchronous sessions were too long and requested more asynchronous discussions. I did a lot of reorganizing and soon realized that I was struggling to decipher what feedback needed to be incorporated because I wasn’t confident in how I structured the course in the first place, given I hadn’t taught this way before.” But with experience comes confidence, and Michelle now feels she can speak to the students about the balance between synchronous and asynchronous and is confident in the way her courses are structured, so that “the learning outcomes will be met if do the work and ask for help if needed.”

I asked Michelle what worked well for her last year, and she told me, “I was most surprised by how having some sense of anonymity online benefited some of our discussions. I loved that students felt safe enough to disagree with the general sentiments of the class. The diversity of opinions added a lot of richness to discussions.” Michelle also used the Survey tool in D2L for the first time. “I think I got much more thoughtful feedback than I ever got collecting written feedback in person. I was able to speak to why and how we give effective feedback, which connected to the course learning outcomes and resulted in richer information. When I think about what I’m taking forward from this experience, I am confident I am a better instructor now that I am well versed in so many online tools.”

And Michelle found a surprising benefit of teaching online. “I initially didn’t believe that you could explore relational practice effectively completely online, but I was surprised how in many cases being online enhanced our ability to fine-tune our interpersonal skills. Completing role-plays online called on students to be even more attentive to non-verbal skills, attending to eye movement and how people lean in and out, etc.” In addition, Michelle found an unexpected benefit of students being on camera in synchronous sessions. “Students complete an assignment where they record themselves in a role play. Many students have anxiety about being filmed. Getting students used to being on camera early on has made them more comfortable with being recorded later on. They’re watching themselves all the time in Collaborate, so by the time they get to that assignment, looking at themselves is not so intimidating.” In fact, Michelle is going to continue to have students post introductory videos in D2L at the beginning of her courses to give them a low-risk opportunity to lose that camera anxiety.

Michelle advises other faculty moving courses online to make sure to have a clear organizational structure from the beginning. “It doesn’t need to be the same for every instructor, but students shared with me how much they appreciated my consistency. I created each asynchronous module as if it was a story, like another chapter of a book to open. Students only needed to work through one of these chapters each week. This allowed for consistency but also allowed me to incorporate different kinds of media and links. I could include that diversity of activities because there was always a very clear structure containing it all.” Michelle also learned from her experience that she needed to spend more time orienting students to the course to reduce their anxiety, especially if they are learning online for the first time.  But she notes, “students adapted surprisingly well, which is also a good takeaway: how resilient people are and how quickly we can adapt to change.”

In addition to the introductory video, Michelle tells me that her courses next term will be blended.  For example, “instead of showing videos in class, students can watch them at a time that works for them and come prepared to discuss them in-person. I think we’ve had much richer discussions because students reviewed the material in advance and had time to reflect.” Of course, blending means considering which components will work best face-to-face and which will work best online.  Michelle says, “The most interpersonally based pieces will be face-to-face, and then things like videos, self-assessments, etc., will be in D2L – in a structure similar to the one I used last year.” Some students are looking for more flexibility in their post-secondary learning, so as Michelle said to me, there are many advantages to blending your courses. “I’m going to do two hours face-to-face and one hour online. While bringing these two pieces together is challenging, it opens a lot of doors for rich learning. And now that I see what online teaching can be, I can confidently say that there’s a lot we could be doing online.”

Michelle’s final words were inspiring to me.  It was a lot of work, but “I don’t regret it by any means. I’ve learned a tremendous amount and cannot believe how confident I feel now in an online classroom.  Before this, I would have opposed a fully online CFCS or MHA program, but I see it as a possibility now. That’s been a big shift for me:  I believed students needed those face-to-face experiences, but now I feel very confident that if you design it right, you can have a different kind of richness learning these skills fully online.”

Camosun Faculty Story #40: Laura

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.”

Camosun Faculty Story #39: Judith

Judith, a faculty member in the English Language Development Department, was in the middle of teaching when we all suddenly moved online in March 2020.  Because she had been concentrating on non-teaching work for the previous six years, she had not yet integrated much D2L into her teaching, “When I had to go completely online all of a sudden, there was a huge gap in my knowledge and for those five or six weeks I was in survival mode.” Like many other faculty, she simply tried to do what she could to get students through the end of that Winter 2020 term.

In May/June, Judith was able to take a bit of a breath, take workshops on teaching online, and learn what she could to prepare for the Fall term.  “I was still in a bit of survival mode in the fall. I taught synchronously, and I was probably online with students for at least two hours of each 2½ hour class, while still being available online for that last half hour.”  As Judith became more comfortable with the basics, she slowly added more tools into her teaching, and while building her toolkit, Judith discovered she liked the options some of the tools offered to her students. For example, she began to use the audio recording feature in the D2L Assignments tool.  “Students were able to record their opinion or read a passage for pronunciation. They even could use their phones and upload the recordings. Some students didn’t blink an eye learning how to do this, while other students had a harder time, but being able to record directly on D2L helped. Then I was able to provide recorded feedback as well, which I think the students liked.”  That fall term, however, was tough. “In the fall, I was overwhelmed with so much work that again I just dealt with what I could, slowly adding more over the term. I also found the marking very time-consuming,” a frustration I have heard over and over from faculty moving from hand-marking to digital marking.  While Judith says she eventually “got used to the online marking tools, I still find them kind of frustrating and awkward.”

These were some of the many challenges Judith faced when moving everything online, but I asked what her biggest challenge was. “I would say organizing materials – getting rid of extraneous things and getting a better handle on what I had on D2L – was my biggest problem.”  In addition, Judith was teaching one course she hadn’t taught for many years, and another that she hadn’t taught before at all.  “Not only had I not used D2L much before, but I’d also not recently taught ELD 072 or 075.  Even if we’d been in the classroom, I would have had to spend quite a bit of time preparing to teach.” While organization was a challenge for Judith, she also says it was also a reward in the end. “I think I became more organized than normal because I was forced to. Every evening on D2L I made sure to tell students what we were going to do the next day, rather than being as spontaneous as I might have in the classroom. I think in some ways that made me a better and certainly more organized teacher.”

When I asked about other rewards, Judith told me she “was amazed at the students – I was amazed that I had almost no attrition. With very rare exceptions, students were there and ready to go, answering questions and participating, which makes me realize that even though I worked very hard over the past eight months, it meant something…it had a real impact. I’m sure there’s lots I could have done better, and I’m sure it was hard for the students, but they came along for the ride regardless.”

Judith will take some lessons with her from the past year.  “There’s the obvious takeaways of learning what one can do online, how we can make it work for the students. But the biggest takeaway is realizing what we can do when we need to, and that people don’t give up, they just keep going.”  Judith does, however, miss seeing her students face to face, and was delighted when she met a student she had never seen in person while on a walk one day. “Online, you still get to know people – to like them or sometimes to have difficulties that need to be worked out. You can still have great conversations, but it isn’t the same. It’s sad that we couldn’t be together in person.”

Moving forward, Judith is happy to have the organizational piece in place and to have the all course content available in one place for students.  Even after the pandemic, “I may even still meet students online, for example if somebody can’t come to my office hour. And I think I will continue to use the recording in D2L option for the courses that have pronunciation and speaking.”

Judith has some final words of advice for any new colleagues who may be teaching online for the first time.  “Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t worry about doing everything from day one. Decide what your priorities are, figure out how to do those things, and make do with what you can do.  With regards to the past year, Judith reflects, “it’s been hard, but what a great push we’ve all had, because we often don’t do things until we have to, or have the time. But it didn’t matter if you had time or not. You had to do it.  We have all done so much learning and that’s fantastic.”

Camosun Faculty Story #38: Diane G.

Diane teaches in the BEST (Academic Upgrading Building Employment Success for Tomorrow) program at Camosun College.  She started our interview expressing her feelings about moving to online teaching in March 2020:  “I think it’s been amazing adventure with wonderful surprises, and an opportunity for me, as an instructor, to walk the talk, to be congruent with what I ask the students to do because I’m doing it as well, moving out of the comfort zone into the growth zone. I’ve been really touched by their acceptance, their patience, their understanding of us as a team as we tell them it’s not perfect, but we’re moving forward, we’re in the growth zone with you. It’s been just heart enriching and also skill enriching for me as an instructor.”

Diane is grateful first of all for all the support the college gave BEST students, providing them with computers and internet boosters.  “I had some online curriculum in D2L to use which helped me when we moved online, but some of my students didn’t have Internet access or computers at home, and some only had smart phones. So I did a lot of talking and texting and emailing with that group. But by the fall, we had a tech assessment process in place and were able to get loaner laptops and Internet boosters for them. That was a huge for my teaching because I feel it’s important that everyone is on equal footing.”  And she is also grateful to her team, Val (see Camosun Faculty Story 22: Val) and their Instructional Assistant Allyson, saying “I did a mountain adventure when I turned 40, and then a sea kayak surf adventure where I was part of the team leading, and there were a lot of parallels to the move online in terms of hard work, long hours, and that team approach, as well as the challenge to discover what you can accomplish mentally, physically, and spiritually.”  In fact, I was priveleged to have all three of the BEST team, Diane, Val, and Allison, in one or more of my Facilitating Learning Online courses last year, and I can attest to their dedication to making the online environment work for their students.

Like many faculty members I’ve spoken to, Diane spent a lot of time thinking about how to connect with students during this incredibly stressful time.  “In terms of teaching, I want to be tuned into how much stress they were under so I could make adjustments to assignments, to due dates, and to whatever it was that they needed.  I didn’t want to hold them up to rigid timelines; I just wanted them to do their best and to stay connected.”  Whatever the BEST team did must have worked for students, because Diane told me that they had better attendance in their synchronous online courses than they typically do in a face-to-face class.  “People were rolling out of bed with their bed hair and logging in.”

Diane feels that having to learn online was beneficial for students in ways beyond just learning the course content.  “I believe that students need this experience of being online, meeting online, etiquette online, and learning more about being a self-directed learner, including time-management and focus skills.”  And in the past year, BEST has seen different kinds of students join the program.  “We’ve had parents, a lot of gamers, and socially shy people taking the program and attending in a strong way. Learning online definitely provides more flexibility for some students, although I think some people still miss the face-to-face for sure. But I just talked to a student this week who said he wants to go on with online learning. It’s just more convenient,” not an uncommon discovery from the past year.

One other benefit to teaching and learning online Diane mentioned was being able to bring guest speakers into classes.  “It’s so meaningful for the students – they love the guest speakers because we bring in people related to the career curiosities. So the guest speakers just need to log in, and they don’t have to drive and park and find out where the classroom is.  It’s so easy for them.”  And finally, Diane reiterated something Val mentioned in her interview around how much more easily students can share a bit of their world with the rest of the class.  “Because they are in their own space, I’ll ask them to take five minutes and find an object that’s meaningful for them, then come back and tell the class why that object has meaning for them.”

The experience of the past year was not without its challenges though.  The BEST team worked hard to hone the assessments for their courses so that there weren’t as many, so that students were not overwhelmed.  “That’s what we’re doing now. These last eight months have been a wonderful pilot opportunity, and now we’re looking at what assignments to keep, adapt, or let go, as well as how to weight them because we’re also moving to articulate the program for adult graduate credit at the BC grad diploma credit.”  And one other challenge, which will sound familiar to many, was trying to decide what pieces of the course should be asynchronous and what pieces should be, in as Diane put it, part of the “precious, precious synchronous time.”

Diane has several pieces of advice for anyone thinking of moving their courses online.  First, she recommends looking for existing online curriculum so you don’t have to start completely from scratch.  Second, get a team around you.  Third, ask students for feedback. “Every week we asked for feedback, and then at the end of the program we asked for feedback on the whole experience.”  And most importantly “don’t try to be perfect, just do the best you can and keep it simple.”  Finally, Diane wants faculty to know that “it’s going to be a fun and challenging adventure. The first round is the hardest one, and then it’ll get better.  Have faith, have fun people around you, take regular breaks, and remember that any crisis has incredible opportunity in it as well.”

The plans for BEST are to, for the time being, keep it online and refine the synchronous/asynchronous model the team has been working with.  “I hope moving forward, by keeping BEST online, we can attract people from across the province and the country. We’ve also had interest in the program from international students, which was another surprising piece, although there are not many tuition-free education and career planning programs out there.”

Update:  since this interview, Diane tells me that students from their last year’s BEST program (online!) are now enrolled in several Camosun programs this term, including Mental Health and Addictions, Mechanical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Kinesiology, and Upgrading.

Faculty Story #37: Chrisa

Chrisa teaches learning skills and supervises the Writing Centre at Camosun.  In both roles, she meets with students one-on-one, and is also invited into classes to talk about learning strategies.

Chrisa told me that initially, when the college moved all its classes and services online back in March 2020, “the biggest part of my job was transitioning the Writing Center team to virtual tutoring. Fortunately, we already were using a platform that allowed us to meet with students virtually, we just hadn’t used it that way before.”  However, there were also staff in the English Help Centre who provide learning and writing skills to students who had not used this system at all, so “we decided that we needed to get those writing consultants on board with our online booking system as well.”  Once working remotely was established for everyone, and we all remember how quickly that happened, the next question was how was Chrisa’s team going to help students, and how were students and faculty going to know that they were still available to provide that help.

“It was a learning curve for all of us, but eventually we were set up and able to reach out to students. We had a fairly quiet spring term, but by summer 2020 word was getting out, and instructors began to respond to our emails asking to be invited into their classes. Marketing our services was quite a bit more challenging in the virtual world because instructors were still new to online teaching, but by fall term, it wasn’t nearly as complicated, and once the word was out we got really busy.”

Chrisa reminded me that, in Fall 2020, I had invited her to co-facilitate some student orientations with me, where I showed them D2L, Collaborate, etc., and she introduced them to the Writing Centre and Learning Skills.  She told me “I had taken virtual courses before (including CETL workshops), but hadn’t taught online myself, and one of the best forms of instruction was when I got to shadow you and see what it was like teaching in a live real-time session.”  In addition, being an online student yourself is hugely helpful when you are, in turn, supporting students learning how to navigate online learning.

Chrisa told me her biggest challenge while working remotely was feeling isolated.  “Trying to connect with people initially felt like swimming through mud, especially when I was sending e-mails but not hearing back from instructors, which was understandable because I knew everybody was struggling at that time.”  And she was acutely aware of the challenges students were facing.  “Sometimes students couldn’t figure out how to register for an account or book an appointment, so we set up a writing center e-mailbox allowing them to contact us directly with problems or questions. But of course, someone needed to monitor that inbox because often students would contact us when they had technical issues getting into a virtual session.  If someone wasn’t checking that inbox regularly, then an hour could pass and it would be too late for that student.”

Chrisa has found many rewards over the past year.  “The first is that I feel like the Writing Center team has become much more cohesive because we are now meeting using Teams. Whereas before, because we had offices on both campuses, it was much harder to pull meetings together.  I feel that’s also true with some of the other groups I’m a part of – it’s so much easier to meet with people now and I’m sure that will continue.”  This has certainly been an observation made by others (myself included) who, in the past, had to regularly travel between campuses for meetings.  But Chrisa found another exciting opportunity in virtual teaching:  “What really struck me during one of my sessions with international students was that we can meet with students living all over the world. And they were so grateful, and so much fun, and so funny.  It was a really inspiring moment for me when I thought wow!  This has fantastic possibilities.”  And finally, Chrisa is considering continuing with her virtual in-class sessions with students.   “I’ve discovered amazing ways to engage students virtually, like using a whiteboard where students are more likely to participate and engage, because it can be anonymous.”

Some of the lessons Chrisa will take away with her from the past year include making sure to ask for help.  “I’m better at it, but I’m usually the helper, not the one that asks for help, so that’s been a gradual transition for me. Also, trust my intuition, because it’s been pretty good. And trust that people are resilient, because I’ve been amazed by the resiliency demonstrated by my team and by students. Expect the unexpected, be flexible, and be kind to yourself and to everybody else.”  Chrisa reflected that even while knowing we were all in the middle of an extremely stressful situation, most people still expected too much of themselves.  “When I meet with students, they often seem upset with themselves because they feel like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t already understand something they are in the process of learning. And I probably had similar feelings as we made this transition to online, I think I was probably pretty hard on myself. Over the past year, the cognitive load has been gigantic for everyone, and when you’re dealing with so many stressors, it’s harder to learn. It’s harder to think clearly. It’s harder to access your analytical capacity. And it’s therefore easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you.  So that’s the other lesson learned – make sure to access the support and community that surrounds you, especially when you’re feeling isolated.”

If Chrisa were giving advice to someone suddenly having to move online for work or teaching, “I’d say it’s probably going to be a bumpy ride, but you will probably also enjoy it because you will learn a ton. Make sure to ask for help, and if possible, shadow someone so you can see online teaching in action. In addition, if possible, take baby steps to make it more manageable.”  And finally, Chrisa gave some words of wisdom I really appreciated:  “take a lot of breaks, listen to uplifting music, take some deep breaths, and build in strategies to help you cope with trying to learn so much new information at once.”

Like Alison in the Centre for Accessible Learning, Chrisa is looking forward to continuing some virtual student support moving forward.  “We want to offer both options because students really appreciate that flexibility, so I’m sure we’ll offer some blended options to students and they’ll probably expect it as well.”  I can say myself with some certainty that services for students, much like classroom learning, are not going to look the same as they did before, in a good way!

Camosun Faculty Story #36: Brent M.

Brent is a faculty member in the Medical Radiography (MRAD) program at Camosun College (and yes, there are TWO Brents in MRAD!).  Because most of Brent’s courses are labs requiring students be face-to-face, when the college moved online in March 2020 he faced significant challenges, including facing a program cancellation for that initial period of the lockdown.  But Brent told me he “was lucky because as we learned more about COVID, the addition of safe-start options to the initial restrictions allowed us to adapt our lab time, meaning I was able to get some face-to-face time with the students.”

Because in-person class time was limited, Brent ended up flipping his class.  Students accessed the lecture material asynchronously, and in-class time was dedicated to questions and discussion.  Brent decided to look at it as an opportunity to try something new, explaining “our program is very intense and normally involves students being in class for full days, but because of the pandemic, I didn’t want to put pressure on them to have to show up for long hours. Therefore, this became the first time I put more ownership on the students to complete work outside of class, which was hard for me to do because a lot of what I did before was very teacher-driven.” Brent also found flipping difficult because “I love teaching face to face – that’s what gets me up in the morning: building connections, having inside jokes, and getting to know the students and how they work.”

Brent taught two cohorts last year, one of whom was new to the program.  Like other faculty in this situation, Brent noticed a difference between how these two groups reacted to the way courses were taught during COVID.  The new group, of course, didn’t know what to expect.  “We worried that we would miss something important, but in the end my colleague Sarah and I were able to trim the fat a little and concentrate on what was really needed to cover the course outcomes.”  In addition to having limited time face-to-face, class sizes were also limited due to restrictions.  “There were a total of 16 students, separated into blocks of four for the lab time, so the full class never interacted as a larger group.  In addition, Sarah and I only taught eight students each, so we each only met half the class,” and for this group, the flipped model seemed to work well.  “They had to have worksheets completed before coming to lab, and they did all come in prepared because they knew how valuable the lab time was.”  In addition, because this group had less lab time there were other activities online to make up for this, and to enhance these activities, Brent searched for a virtual simulation tool he could integrate for students to use outside of lab time.  “It was hard to find a simulation tool that would be easy to use and give you what you need. And I wanted to make sure a new tool would support student learning rather than just adding to their stress.”  Eventually Brent found a tool which was applicable to the level one students, allowing them to use it on their own time, and giving them immediate feedback as well as a certificate.

Brent worked with his other group, the one who was not new to the program, a little differently “because they already had a relationship with us and craved more face-to-face time, so I ended up lecturing over Collaborate instead of having them prepare everything on their own. I wasn’t planning on doing that originally, but it was something those students needed, and I think it went really well for them.”

In addition to addressing different cohort needs in the face of limited face-to-face time, Brent faced the challenge of plunging into a new world, not knowing “how the courses were going to look and how students were going to react to them. I wasn’t worried about the technology, but I wanted to provide a good product and be proud of it.”  But Brent told me “my biggest challenge was to keep those student relationships. I lucked out because my course was blended, so I knew we would be okay because we had that face-to-face time. But it reinforced to me how important the learning environment is, and how important it is to devote the time to working on that connection between learners and instructor.”

When I asked him about what rewards he may have seen come out of this past year, Brent had a few things to say.  “What this has allowed me to do is change. There’s a certain point in your career where you need a challenge, and this allowed me to venture outside the box, which is something we ask students to do all the time. And if you can reflect on why something new is hard for you, you can relate better to your students.  And now I’m much more comfortable trying something new, and being ok if it doesn’t work, whereas before I put a lot of pressure on myself as an instructor to get it right all the time.  Now I know that as long as we have outcomes to meet, I can change how I meet them because students will still get what they need.”  But Brent tells me that his biggest takeaway was finding out how adaptable students are.  “They did an unbelievable job, even while juggling lots of other things in the background.”

I wanted to spotlight one other experience from last year Brent related to me.  “I used Collaborate when the year-ones went out to clinical. I hadn’t met some of them and my clinical hospitals were in the north of Vancouver Island, but I was recommended not to travel at that time, so instead I had bi-weekly Collaborate sessions with them.  What I noticed was that many of these students were away from home for the first time, and were now isolated due to the pandemic, as well as learning at a hospital, which is very difficult. Having these regular Collaborate sessions allowed some of them to open up about their challenges.  I’ve known since day one that teaching is about more than just content, but this experience really emphasized that.”

Brent’s advice to others who might be moving courses online is simple:  “Reach out and ask for help. Teaching can be isolating, and it can be hard to ask for help, but there are people out there who are willing to help. I enjoyed the opportunities to work with other peer groups in the college because we had to rely on each other a little bit more. In addition, just try something new and if it doesn’t work, adjust the sails.”  Brent also advises being prepared, but not holding onto expectations or predictions of how things will turn out, because “a lot of my stress comes from our expectations.”

Finally, moving forward, Brent tells me “we’re still going to teach blended online in September. We will continue to build on our library of videos and use the simulation tool.  I might also continue to record my lectures so students can go back and review them.”  And finally, Brent ended his conversation with me reiterating our need as instructors to emphasize care in addition to content in our teaching, saying “if you take care of the person, everyone is going to learn.”

Camosun Faculty Story #35: Alison

Alison is a faculty member in the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) at Camosun.  While she does not currently teach in the classroom, she works very closely with Camosun students who register for accommodations through CAL.  When COVID moved us all online in March 2020, Alison says she “was new to CAL, and was just starting to understand the pre-covid CAL systems. So for me, it was interesting because all of a sudden I was on a more level playing field with everybody else because moving online was new for us all.”  For Alison herself, she found working virtually “promoted better teamwork in the department. We could meet so easily, whereas before, because CAL has offices on both campuses, it was always complicated to have regular meetings.  But all of a sudden it was so easy to meet, and I thought we worked extremely well together to re-invent ourselves.”

In addition to how teamwork in CAL had to change, the way CAL worked with students also had to change.  “We had to rethink every step of our processes and really consider how we were going to make things work for the students.  And by the end of last summer we had a really good system in place for meeting the needs of all students.”  Of course, there were bumps along the way.  Normally, making such huge changes to how you serve students requires time, study, talking to students, etc.  But last year, this was impossible.  Alison noted that for students for whom coming in for face-to-face appointments is intimidating, “moving to online was wonderful because this whole weight lifted from them, which opened my eyes to how we can provide a more diverse and inclusive service to everyone. I don’t think I realized fully how in-person meetings didn’t serve some students. From extreme social anxiety to physical disabilities, there are many reasons why our penchant for face-to-face isn’t convenient or comfortable for many students. Why should they have to come to meet with me face to face when we can easily do it differently?”

In terms of technology, Alison reflects that CAL had to use things differently with the pivot.  “We had a front desk where students dropped in to ask questions, and the faculty had in-person drop-in hours as well, but we had to figure out how to handle drop-ins virtually. Now, I have virtual drop-in times, so that when a student has a question, they don’t have to book an appointment, meaning I can respond to them quickly.”  In addition, Alison noted that CAL had to rethink how they provided support to students for exams.  She didn’t want to speak to that herself, except to say “CAL Exams had to do some really interesting things in terms of accommodated exams.  For example, if a student needs a reader or a scribe, how do you do that with technology so that the student is at home, while the scribe and the invigilator are both somewhere else entirely?”

Alison noted something I think many of us felt last year: how challenging it was (some days more than others) to not just have to pivot online, but to live through a world-wide shut-down, with a pandemic raging around us, while working to support students and instructors through normal course-related concerns like completing coursework, assessments, and writing exams. But in spite of all the chaos, CAL somehow “had to review all our systems and evaluate our processes, and then figure out how we were going to change them to support this completely new scenario.  And of course, sometimes we made decisions, only to later discover something that didn’t make sense because of something else we hadn’t thought of.”  I reflected to myself how we in eLearning had a similar experience: we had to make a lot of changes in the moment, without having the time to do them as mindfully as we would have preferred.

But Alison sees huge rewards coming from moving online because CAL can now offer students more choice in the ways they can interact with CAL.  “For many students the move to online was a huge gift. I worked with students who said this was what they had always wanted – for health reasons, social anxiety, or the whole realm of challenges our students face – to remove the pressure of having to come to campus for everything.  It was a huge game changer for them, and I suspect some students will be dreading the idea of having to go back on campus. I really hope the institution remembers the good that came out of last year.”

Alison ended our interview with some comments about her view on how COVID has affected the way we interact with each other at the college.  “I think it changed not just how we supported students, but about how we communicated with other areas of the college. COVID in a way has made some of our silos disappear. If you’re in this building and I’m in that building, we see each other as separate. But when we’re just a Teams meeting away from a conversation, it becomes easier to work together within the institution. So in some ways I find it’s helped working relationships, and made communicating and collaborating easier.”  Like Alison, my personal hope is that we keep all of what we learned over the past, stressful year, and continue to use the best tools to support, communicate, and collaborate with our fellow students, faculty, and employees.

Reminder of where to get help with D2L, Collaborate, and Kaltura

As we gear up for the new school year, I wanted to remind you of some important information related to D2L, and for online teaching/learning, both for faculty and students.

For Students:

For Faculty:

Wondering where to get help?  You can get help from eLearning Support, or book an appointment with an instructional designer, by emailing elearning@camosun.ca.   Check out our list of workshops and the Events Calendar on the CETL website.

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