Camosun Faculty Story #4: Bree

Bree teaches Statistics at Camosun College. I didn’t really get to know her until the great pivot last March, and during May and June when she worked moving her courses to fully online for the Fall. Bree did not really use D2L to support her teaching before COVID, but used an online homework system external to D2L for class assignments. So, moving online she was pretty much, aside from those assignments, starting from scratch.

Bree told me she was lucky to have scheduled development planned for May and June, but in order to develop two courses (in the Fall she taught two sections of one course, and one section of another), those two months ended up being “really four because I did work through the summer too, to build my courses.”

Having not used D2L for content delivery before, Bree found that one of the biggest challenges she faced was “figuring out how to translate the content that I would usually lecture into something that was a good online format…how am I going to do this so that it still gets the essence of my teaching?” And the second challenge she faced, as many of you will relate to, was time. “You are no longer just presenting a lecture. Now, I am typing the lecture, audio recording the lecture, uploading the lecture, you know, like it was taking three times as long to do one thing. So the time was a big one.”

I asked Bree if she finds now that all the work she did last term helped her with the current term (she is teaching one of the same classes this term), and she reflected on her experience from last term, working from 7am until 11pm every night, “I was exhausted and it was horrible.” But that time has now paid off and she can spend her time fixing things, creating more assessments, and teaching – because while last term Bree taught entirely asynchronously, this term, Bree has added a synchronous component to her teaching. And she does like this blended mode better because “I feel like I have more contact with the students. I feel like the students know me better and reach out to me more because they see me in those live sessions. They know my personality and I’m not just a name.”

As for rewards, Bree feels grateful to have some good work-life balance happening now. Being able to take a quick 15 minute break to make tea or load up the wood stove makes life a bit less hectic. But she also says that she misses the kind of student interaction she had face to face. “There have been students that I’ve connected with who have been sort of less shy to come on a video chat with me, and so I’ve really held onto those because that’s why I’m a teacher. I like that kind of interaction.”

Bree does have some advice for anyone who will be moving their courses online: “build carefully for long-term benefits…thinking about this as being a course that you can use again and again and again and again…spend the time thinking about what it is you want and doing it carefully and comprehensively so you don’t have a lot of adjusting to do in the future.” And also, if possible, take online courses or find some way to experience online learning as a student. Bree took some of the workshops eLearning offered last May/June and “noticed that I got bored after 5-10 minutes, just staring at a screen….When we were first learning [to put our content online], it was like we were trying to figure out how to go from an hour-long lecture to something that captured that, and our immediate response was to do an hour-long lecture (as a video recording). It makes no sense…it’s not the same.”

Would she continue to use what she’s learner and built? Bree says yes. “Maybe I would do sort of a combo of that going forward…[for example, if] somebody’s away and needs to know the lecture or watch the lecture. I could post that, or I could do the webpages as well as doing the in-person classes.” Which I consider to be the best of both worlds: having that student connection face to face, as well as providing students with flexible options for accessing course material.

Bree wraps things up by telling me that “the hardest part was having a plan. Once I had a plan, I was okay.” She had to work really hard for a while to get there, but in the end she says “I have enjoyed it. Once I got through that first term, I have enjoyed it.”

Camosun Faculty Story #3: Lynda

I’ve known Lynda for a while now. I remember back in the days before COVID, before the Nursing group moved to a brand new building on Interurban Campus (I work at Lansdowne Campus), running up to her office every once and a while when she had questions about setting up tools in her D2L course site (she primarily used the Assignment drop-boxes and posted some Content to support students outside of class time.) I would sometimes run a mini-workshop for all four faculty members in her office – ah, I miss those days.

Lynda recently “sat down” with me again to talk about her experiences moving to online teaching. She confessed, “I think at first I was terrified because … I’m not really adept at using technology…So it was quite threatening for me to have to move into an online world when we had to adjust to using D2L and teaching online. But since that time, I think I’ve done my very best to learn as quickly as I can and then apply that to my classroom.” And she definitely has!

Last March, Lynda was teaching clinical practice groups. It was challenging moving from an in-person-care learning experience to “suddenly creating whole new learning activities that would…provide students with an opportunity to apply theory in an online learning setting. So it was a challenge and we actually worked as a team. There were…probably ten instructors, all contributing ideas and trying to create learning activities.” Last fall, Lynda was lucky enough to have her clinical groups back in face to face practice, but her three-hour theory course remains completely online. “[W]e usually have about an hour and a half of synchronous class time, then I post activities or other things to … support their learning.”

Aside from having to design new strategies for moving face to face activities online, Lynda says the biggest challenge for her has been missing the non-verbal cues she relies on in the classroom, something I think many faculty unused to teaching online can relate to. “[I]n a classroom of 40, I’m watching people’s faces, I’m looking for their expressions, their body language. [I]f you say, are there any questions and nobody responds, I’m still watching the non-verbal [cue]s to see if they’ve got it or they don’t. …In the online environment, it was a real challenge…because when you ask, do you understand or are there any questions and no one responds,…it’s really difficult to assess.” One trick Lynda learned was to “establish 1-to-1 communications – I wasn’t talking to a class of 40 anonymous people. I was learning who they are person by person and connecting with them as much as I could… establish[ing] that there were people out there who were listening and maybe as stressed about being in an online environment as I was, and acknowledging that with them…And I think after a while they became more open with me because I was willing to be authentic and open with them.”

But there have been rewards too. “When I first started, I was so nervous and trying to do the best I could to create an online community for [students] and make sure I was meeting their learning needs … I think the biggest positive has been that they’ve acknowledged that they can really tell that I’m trying hard. I do regular check-ins … just to see, are they getting what they need from me? And is the learning going well? And so far, the feedback has been quite good.” But in addition to student feedback giving Lynda confidence, she also has found herself enjoying this new mode of teaching. “When I first started, I thought, I’m not going to enjoy any of this…But I think taking the FLO (Facilitating Learning online) course as well as all those little short workshops…[a]nd then working with colleagues – some of our course teams would get together and do a little practice sessions that really helped build my confidence … [A]ll these little things: after I’d done them one or two or three times and it got smoother, I think my stress started to melt away a little bit and I just started enjoying the online learning environment. And also building that sense of community which I didn’t think we would be able to do online – I think all of those things contributed to my comfort in the online environment.”

Lynda also shared some advice she has for people who might just be starting to move online. First, “really be structured with posting a news item every week to let the students know exactly where they should be in their studies and where they should be focused on in the modules. And then the second part is that synchronous approach… to be creative and provide lots of different types of learning opportunities in the synchronous sessions.” Lynda’s synchronous sessions are no longer than an hour and a half at a time, and “[r]ather than doing hour and a half lectures, [I] pre-record 15-20 minutes of content, letting them look at that independently, and then just make the online environment more of an exchange with learning activities that satisfy, rather than me trying to lecture them on there.”

Will she keep using some of the tools she’s learned to use when her classes return to face to face? Lynda says yes, especially “pre-recording [course material which] I think is really helpful for the students. And also it is more welcoming to them if they know who you are before they get to the classroom. If you can share bits of yourself with them and they start developing trust in who you are, it helps them when they enter a classroom, whether that’s an online classroom or an in-person classroom.” Finishing by noting “I’ll always enjoy them face-to-face more, but I can still connect and support and provide them with learning when we’re not face-to-face.”

I want to note that stories like Lynda’s make it sound like moving your courses online, during a pandemic or not, is easy once you get through your initial anxiety. But it’s not, and it wasn’t. Faculty here at Camosun, and at institutions all over, had (and continue to have) huge struggles and hurdles to overcome with very little time and sometimes limited support, giving up evenings, weekends, vacation, etc. to make sure they best serve their students. Developing fully online courses in a pandemic is not the model we should want to subscribe to, but I am going to keep celebrating all the faculty (even those whose stories I am not able to tell) who faced their fears and stress and made it happen in spite of it all.

Camosun Faculty Story #2: Kelly

Kelly is a faculty member teaching in the English Department at Camosun College. While she was not teaching when other instructors pivoted from face-to-face to online last March (has it already been a year?), over the summer she moved all her courses for fall into an online format, what she calls the steepest learning curve she’s faced since she began teaching.

I agree about that steep learning curve, since Kelly only really used D2L for posting grades and as a repository for some content before COVID. “I wasn’t even accepting assignment online,” Kelly notes. “Obviously it’s been a huge amount of work, [but] it’s also been really interesting to learn how to adapt that style of teaching to the content that I teach and to my style of teaching and my philosophies about connection which are a very strong part of my teaching.” And Kelly persevered, working within the new format while keeping the focus on what is important to her teaching. “It took me two months of full-time work to write what you see on D2L for each course, but I’m teaching people to be readers and writers. That’s my job.”

The brain of D2L, as Kelly puts it, presented one of the biggest challenges for her. Making edits and adjustments on Rubrics, for example, can drive one to distraction. “I spend so much time on formatting that it’s harder to develop new content.” Definitely one of the downsides to creating online content: making sure that the writing is clear, and also that visual design of pages are accessible. Kelly worries sometimes that the time it takes to put her existing content online makes it harder for her to find time to bring new research and innovation into her material.

Another challenge Kelly mentions, which will not be a surprise to anyone, is that she finds her synchronous sessions draining, wondering if anyone is out there. While attendance is high in her Collaborate sessions, “they will not use their cameras even when they have them…so that’s a bit alienating.” But she notes that the advantage to using Collaborate is that you can record the sessions for students who miss, or who need to go back and review a session. Not something you can do as easily in a face to face setting.

One of the upsides to moving her discussion-heavy courses online, Kelly says, is that she feels “connected to [her] students in a new way, and maybe a more thorough way” now. Through the online, text-based discussions, “they have to engage in the material in more than a superficial way,” which has also helped Kelly grade the discussions in a way she couldn’t before when they were more ephemeral. In fact, she says “the first time I opened the discussion and saw the level of work that was happening there, the amount of thought, I was blown away, and I still get so excited when I read those to mark them.” The students are learning without her jumping in all the time – learning from each other. That is one of the huge rewards from this experience.

The biggest takeaway from this experience for Kelly, as well as some advice she would give to new faculty, is “that if you know what your philosophical goal is with a course, you can make any method of teaching meet that goal,” but you have to know your goal first. Identify what is important to your teaching and then look for help with that, rather than asking undefined questions about the tools in D2L, etc. Ask yourself “What are your absolute must-haves of the tools that are available – really work hard on what you need and get that core down,” especially because you will be spending a lot of time planning and then getting things up and running (Kelly notes that she is grateful she had uninterrupted time for development, unlike some faculty who were teaching online for the first time in the Spring while also developing courses for the Fall.) Finally, organize your content. Kelly recommends thinking in terms of weeks instead of classes to make it easier for students to know where they are at in the course.

Will Kelly continue teaching online once COVID has run its course and classes can return to face to face? Well, yes, she hopes she can in some way. While grading assignments online is a lot of work, she has seen the benefits to her, for example, being able to check back on a student’s progress, and for students as well, having all her feedback in one place. But what really has convinced her is the learning she has observed in her online discussion forums – instead of being focused on how to get a B in class, students are more “focused on communicating clearly to other people and [responding] to what they’ve heard.” They can also go back to re-read those discussions when preparing for the next assignment, and “I don’t know why anyone would give that up!” Right now, Kelly’s vision for the future is to do exactly what she is doing now, except her Collaborate sessions will be face to face: do what needs to be done face to face, and what works online, online. But definitely some face to face because both Kelly and her students are yearning for that connection, of human faces and campus life. And that’s a nice hope for the future: the best of both worlds.

Camosun Faculty Story #1: Debra

Debra is a faculty member in the English Language Development (ELD) area here at Camosun College. I have had the privilege of working with her in bits and pieces over the years before COVID, but until last March/April, she was really only using PowerPoints and videos in the classroom, and using D2L minimally, mainly the News tool – “I was using that just to give them homework and make announcements.”

Imagine suddenly being faced with teaching completely online having not really used any online teaching tools before. It’s not a stretch of the imagination for many faculty members we in eLearning have been working with over the past almost a year. Debra herself “was certainly frightened of the technology and having to use the technology in such a different way…I didn’t have any idea how to use Collaborate, or I how to use most of the tools in D2L.” But, she overcame her fears and, coming back from vacation early, attended as many eLearning workshops as she could And most of all, she took the time to practice with the technologies, with her colleagues in ELD – peers supporting peers.

And it wasn’t only faculty supporting each other. Debra tells me that her first time teaching online went better than she expected because “[she] had done a lot of preparation and went in there believing [her students] were probably just as frightened of the experience as [she] was, and … [they] basically supported each other through the experience.” Like many faculty, Debra and her students were used to being in a face to face classroom where students “presume that you have a certain command of the situation.” But in this new world, “I knew that they really weren’t expecting me to have the same level of competence with the technology, and that took some of the pressure off.”

Debra says there wasn’t one moment that stood out for her during her first online teaching experience, but points to her students’ progress, as well as their positive feedback for her around the content and the delivery of the course as factors that made her feel good about the experience. In spite of everything, students were making good progress. And with regards to the fear of cheating which haunts many instructors during these online teaching times, she says that even though “I didn’t have the same control over their output, I did see them making progress. They couldn’t have cheated their way through to the outcomes that I saw at the end of the course. I did challenge them if I believed they cheated and I asked them to resubmit the work. But my main concerns were, are they turning up? Are they participating? Are they making progress? And that’s what I focus on.”

As for one thing she didn’t expect from the experience, Debra says she was surprised how much she enjoyed it. “Lock-down was a very isolating experience…so, having that contact with [students] every day, I felt less isolated … And I enjoyed the differences. It was a different experience and it was interesting and it was stimulating, and that’s why it was challenging.” And that challenge has, by pushing her out of her comfort zone (which is something familiar to her having done freelance work all over the world) reinvigorated how Debra feels about teaching. “I was afraid, but I decided to accept the challenge and I’m glad that I did.”

As for Debra’s vision for the future of her own teaching after everything that she’s learned over the past several months, she is currently preparing quizzes and other online materials, and planning to ”make much more use of technology than I did before…I might do a lot more online marking than I’ve done and I know I’ll make more use of technology.”

When I asked if she has any advice she would give colleagues, or any new faculty members who are suddenly having to teach online, Debra recalled an old joke: “How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time,” something a friend told her a few years ago when she faced other life-altering challenges. “I think that taking on a big challenge, that’s the only way to deal with it. If you try to envision the whole problem as one problem, the whole situation as one…it’s too much to deal with. But if you just break it down and take it a step at a time, it isn’t.” And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Supporting each other, and taking one step at a time.

Next for Debra, however, is a break. She finishes her Scheduled Development time at the end of February, and then will be off on vacation until she teaches this spring. This year I hope she gets a complete break and comes back refreshed, ready to meet her new students without panic, and with confidence.

 

 

Moving into a Brave New World: Interviews with Camosun Faculty – Introduction

March 18th, 2020. For me, this day will forever mark the day we all went home and entered a new world, an unknown world, a world where we all had to reimagine our work and home lives. None of us knew how all-encompassing this new world would be for us, yet here we are, almost one year later, still standing (or sitting, as the case may be…)

For me, the first weeks I spent in this new world are now a blur as the college pivoted and everyone moved online. Then April hit, and a new term was fast approaching. We in eLearning began to offer workshops – workshops up the wazoo. In the old world, there were no workshops planned for April, but in the end and on the fly, in the four weeks in April we ran 20+ workshops for faculty on D2L, Collaborate, Kaltura, facilitating online learning, creating online community, online assessments, and accessibility in the online classroom. At the end of every day, every day being 10-12 hours long (workshops, consults, emails…), I could not think or hold myself upright. Yes, it was exciting to help faculty and run workshops with 20-30 people in them (people now know who we are!), but exhausting. And not just because of those endless consults, workshops and emails, but also because I heard their stories. Faculty in tears trying to get things ready for spring and afraid they couldn’t do it. Faculty worried because they didn’t know where they could turn for help. Faculty up for the challenge, but not knowing how they could get everything planned to the quality they expected from themselves.

Then, the spring term began, while workshops, consults, and meetings continued to keep faculty supported, while planning ahead to the next day, week, month, and term.

I have to tell you, and I am not trying to sound trite: faculty at Camosun are all heroes. From the faculty members who pivoted into remote panicked instruction in March (believe me, this was NOT “online learning”), to faculty who gave up vacation, Scheduled Development, and other plans to get their spring and fall courses ready for online instruction (some of them developing 2-3 courses in weeks, when it takes 2 months or ideally more to develop ONE online course – I don’t have to tell you it is not a simple matter to take a face-to-face course, even one you’ve taught multiple times, and put it into an online format), to faculty who spent (and continue to spend) many additional hours every day continuing to develop their courses while they taught, while trying to support their students, who also didn’t sign up for this. And in addition to all the amazing faculty I am privileged to work with and support, I have to take a moment to acknowledge my colleagues in the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning – I am not sure I would still be here without you having my back.

And now, almost one year later, I want to tell the stories of our faculty to the world. So, I am embarking on a new series of posts where I will present interviews with some of our faculty at Camosun College. You will meet amazing instructors from English Language Development, Nursing, Business, English, Anthropology, Psychology, Statistics, Child, Family and Community Services, Hospitality, Trades, and many, many more – I am adding every day to the list of folks I will be talking to this term. I want to thank all of them for agreeing to share their experiences, both highs, and lows, with me and with the world.

Stay tuned for my first faculty interview post next week. And if you teach at Camosun and would like to share your story, contact me at schudele@camosun.ca.