Camosun Story #54: Lizzie

Lizzie is an Instructional Assistant (IA) and tutor for the English Language Development (ELD) program.  Her main role is to tutor ELD students, working with them on their coursework and understanding their textbooks, etc., but she also orients them to their program and helps them register and apply for funding.  Prior to March 2020, she and her colleagues provided this support exclusively in person, but when everything moved online, Lizzie says “we went completely online suddenly and had to adapt quickly to the technology that became our only way of communicating with students.”  And adapting to the technology meant that Lizzie and her colleagues had to gain access to the various tools bring used to support students, namely D2L and Collaborate.  Fortunately, D2L was already in place [*although I will note that not all instructors in ELD were using D2L at that time*] and instructors gave us permission to access their D2L courses so that we could help facilitate their classes.”  But students faced many challenges beyond learning online. “Many of our students are not technologically grounded and even before they set foot in their online classes, they had to register remotely, complete assessments, purchase their e-books, etc.”  

When the world shut down, everyone in ELD’s Assessment and Registrations areas, as well as the IAs, were all on deck getting students into their classes. “Then once they were in their classes, they had to learn how to study online. Many of them were relying on phones, and you can imagine how difficult it is to do a tutoring session or to conduct a class with students who were using their phones.  But even when laptops were made available for the students, they had to learn how to use those.”  But while initially many ELD students were not prepared for online learning, Lizzie said that learning how to use all this technology has some positive results for them.  “By the end of one semester, students had acquired new skills with technology and remote learning, and I think a certain independence came with that.” 

Lizzie’s previous experience with D2L was limited to supporting students who came to the Help Centre looking for help navigating their D2L course sites, so the learning curve at the beginning of the pandemic was steep.  “We realized quickly how useful it was for us as IAs to have access to D2L course sites. Because students often struggled to communicate what they’d been learning in class, we found it very helpful to be able to directly access the support material instructors were providing their students. Eventually, we also connected with textbook publishers so we could also access students’ e-textbooks as well.”  And then to interact with students, the IAs used Collaborate.  “We initially also used WC Online (which was already in place for upper-level courses), but we found that it was challenging for the lower ELDs students to learn yet another tool. So, since instructors were using D2L and Collaborate, it made more sense to meet all students in Collaborate.”  While the IAs are no longer supporting students online regularly, Lizzie says that she has met with at least one student who was unable to attend in-person classes for a few weeks, so she met with her in Collaborate which meant the student could keep up with her classes when otherwise she would have had to withdraw. 

Once Lizzie and her colleagues were set up with, and got to know, the technology, they still faced some challenges.  “We book 30-minute appointments with students, but those 30 minutes were often devoured just getting the technology to work, sometimes to the point where actual tutoring time was reduced to ten minutes or less.”  And once IAs were in Collaborate with students, they needed to learn how to “communicate effectively in order to help them, to show them how to look for their classes, or how to register for the next class. There were many obstacles just trying to convey information to students.”   

I asked Lizzie if the number of appointment requests increased during the pandemic, but she thought the number had actually decreased, saying “I think students were burned out. They’d been sitting in front of a computer all morning with an instructor. They had homework that they had to do. They had families running around in the background. And at the end of the day, they were shutting down. It would’ve been nice if we could have met with students after the kids had gone to bed, but that wasn’t possible.”  And Lizzie felt that same exhaustion. “At the end of the day, I was like a zombie. I think it does something to your neural synapses sitting in front of a computer all day.”  Lizzie is happy to be seeing students in-person again, “but I wouldn’t say we weren’t effective as tutors during the remote period. Some students really rose to the occasion and took full advantage of our services, but sadly there were many who were lost on the way.” 

I asked Lizzie if she felt there were any moments that stuck with her from when she was supporting students online.  “I think it was just having regular conversations with students when they didn’t want to be looking at the textbook.  I think that they had a strong relationship with their instructors, but they wanted some connection with a person other than an instructor. Many students were feeling so isolated (many had just arrived before the pandemic hit and were missing their families back home) so those moments of just talking about what they were doing over the course of the day were important for them.” 

When I asked what lessons Lizzie might have learned during the shift to online teaching, she, like many others I’ve talked to, said “I know that it can be done, that it is possible if we work as a team.” And not just within ELD, but also with CETL and others supporting the move online.  “I think before there was a sense that when you work in a specific area, you don’t really have any connection with the rest of the college – you exist in your own little world. But this opened up the world of Camosun.”  In addition, Lizzie says keeping a sense of humour was important, as well as being open to anything coming your way. “Things can change on a dime so go with it, be kind, and take your time. If you feel like you’ve had enough then just step away for a little bit – go outside for a walk or pet the poodle between appointments.” Wise words to make sure you look after yourself so you can help others, whether during a pandemic or not.  

When I asked Lizzie if the IAs would keep using the technology they learned, she said yes, especially D2L, saying “I never realized how vital it was to tutors. Now we create materials at the beginning of the term and ask instructors to post them on D2L, so students know who we are and how to access us.  We see the same students over and over again, but I know there are many more who just need a little push to come in, so if there’s more IA presence in D2L, then they’ll maybe reach out a bit more.” 

But she would like access to even more technology to support their in-person work as well. “When we did orientations before COVID, we would use a flip chart, and every semester the students would file in and we would point to the flip chart showing our hours, etc.  But this semester I was tired of the flip chart and ready to hit the 21st century. So, we set up a big screen TV (because we don’t have a projector in our orientation space), plugged in a laptop, and ran our orientation that way.” 

Lizzie had a few final words about the experience of the last two years, and where she is at now. First, she sees that students are now open to the possibilities remote learning can offer. “Even with all the obstacles they faced, I think many of them came to appreciate the flexibility of learning from home – they didn’t have to catch a bus or take two buses to get to class every day.” And finally, “there are many opportunities out there, and you have to be open to them, and there are people to support you and get you through pretty much anything.  All of us, all the colleges and universities, have been through the same things, and while we have lost a lot, we’ve also gained a lot.”    

Camosun Story #50: Tia

Tia is a Student Navigator at Camosun.  If you didn’t know it, there are two Student Navigators in the School of Access (as part of the Assessment Centre), and they do amazing work!  Tia tells me that Student Navigators “help students who have difficulty working through Camosun’s processes or finding information. Sometimes they need help with admissions, registration, financial aid, accommodations, or counseling, myCamosun and our website. They could be a new student, a registered student, or somebody who has been here with us upgrading, or taking College level programs.  We help students navigate to all the college resources and sort out myCamosun.”  What is important to Tia is that “students don’t have to wait.  We answer our phones and texts and get right back to students, where other service departments are often too busy or short-staffed to do this.”  What I liked most was Tia’s description of how Student Navigators build strong and lasting relationships with the students they support.  For example, “I’m working with students in their second or third year of a business degree, students who I might have helped get into Sheet Metal eight years ago, so we have a connection. They know they can text me and get a quick answer. They’ve got a connection to somebody at Camosun.” 

I asked Tia what it was like for her back in March 2020 when we all suddenly moved to remote work.  “When we were sent home, I grabbed a laptop from IT and picked up a second monitor. Then I asked for a cell phone because we spend a lot of time on the phone with students. Our amazing admin team in the school of access made all this happen almost seamlessly.”  Tia also discovered an unanticipated benefit from moving support online: “for the first time in years, I felt safe. We work with a lot of people who aren’t necessarily ready to be at Camosun, and suddenly I felt I could deal with anybody because I was safe at home behind the screen.”  She also echoed what I am sure resonates with many others: “I’ve worked at the college for 32 years and I have never been that busy.” But she told me the main source of the increased demand was for upgrading which “skyrocketed with people stuck at home, wanting to finally get their high school diploma.” 

Unlike many faculty, Tia didn’t have to adapt to new online systems to communicate with students – she used email, phone, and texting, commenting on how much young people like to text.  For Tia it was simply about communicating.  Communicating with the student, with registration, with departments, and about being available and “confirming to the student that we are here. You can’t walk in and see us, but we’re here for you. And making sure, even if you didn’t have the answer, you always got back to a student, letting them know when they could expect to hear from you again.”  Tia said that the average phone call with a student was around 45 minutes because they had so many questions, but it was easier to give each student complete attention “because I wasn’t trying to serve anybody else. I wasn’t having to get up and get a key for somebody or get somebody the stapler or load the photocopier with paper. My focus was totally on that student or their parent.”  

Unfortunately, Tia notes that we did lose some students during that time online, “those students that looking for a day program, who might come into the Help Centre to spend the day working on the computer puttering away at some upgrading. We lost a lot of those students because they didn’t understand how to pick up a laptop or a WIFI hotspot, and then didn’t have anybody at home to help them with that laptop.”  But Tia did say that those students are beginning to come back, although “we don’t have the same amount to face to face we used to – they’re coming back but it’s different.” 

Tia mentioned a couple of challenges to me which speak to the complex world post-secondary institutions now find themselves: first, not enough services going back to previous in-person availability. For example, services like Financial Aid (currently only at Interurban) and Registration (currently only at Lansdowne) now have limited in-person hours for students because they have moved much of their service online, which is great for some students but can be challenging for others. “Now if students need Admissions and are at Lansdowne, they have to use an iPad to talk to Admissions at Interurban” which can be challenging if the student is having a financial conversation in a space where others can hear them.  We have to remember those students taking courses in the evening, those with jobs that don’t allow them to take breaks during limited registration hours to talk to someone, students who find using technology challenging (for example scanning documents), or students who are new and unsure of how to navigate Camosun’s systems.  That ability to walk in and talk to someone in person is something we probably don’t want to lose. 

As for the second challenge, there seems to be a disconnect between what students are wanting and needing for online courses, and what some Schools are adding as options.  Because of a reluctance to offer high-school equivalent math and science courses online, Tia has found herself having to send students to other institutions where they can take those courses in a mode that works with their busy lives.  “We’re asking a student to come to Lansdowne five days a week, two hours a day to get a Math 12 course. And many of these are high achieving students – they know what they need and are just trying to get admission requirements out of the way so they can take our programs like Nursing, Sonography, Radiography, etc.”  One thing we need to remember as a college now is that not only do many potential (and existing) students have jobs and families, and many don’t live in Victoria anymore and we will lose (and have likely already lost) those students if we can’t find ways to be more flexible. 

One other challenge Tia mentioned was how assessment for entry to Camosun changed when we all moved online. “Students used to do their assessments in person, but we couldn’t do that anymore and we didn’t know when or if we could move back to in-person.  The folks in Assessment worked really hard and brought in Examity (an American company) to support online assessments, but students suddenly had to pay $25 US to take a Math or English assessment.” In addition, at the beginning there were a lot of challenges with the system (for example how the booking system worked – students would book time to receive a voucher which they used on the Examity website to book the time for their assessment…confusing)!   But again, the Assessment Centre group persevered to make the process clearer. “We fielded many, many calls and questions from panicked students, but now the system is smooth, and students have the choice to come to campus or complete their assessment online. The staff in the Assessment Center are brilliant.” 

Through all the challenges, Tia has found some rewards.  “For me, it’s the relationships we’ve built with Financial Aid, Admissions, and Registration – I really feel like we’re working as a team. While there was reluctance to have Student Navigators in the beginning, now we have a good relationship, we see real value in what everyone is doing, and we are working well for the betterment of the student. That is a huge win for me.”  And associated with this is that by moving a lot of support away from in-person, we “got rid of a lot of paperwork. We used to ask a student to fill out a piece of paper and take it to their instructor to sign it so that they could get into a class after the add drop date. The students were running all over the place with this piece of paper, but they were intimidated to ask an instructor. So now I can just talk to the instructor and ask them to send Registration an e-mail giving permission and boom, it’s done. There’s no paperwork and the student hasn’t had all that stress.” Another win that is being kept moving forward.  

Tia works hard to advocate for students, and one of the lessons learned from the past couple of years is that if you keep advocating you can make changes that better support students trying to get into Camosun. I would add that if you listen to students, you can find new ways of doing things – ways that might push you out of your comfort zone or challenge existing systems, but that address student needs. “If we’re going to survive as an institution, we need to listen to our customers. For example, an evening course shouldn’t start at 4:00PM – an evening class shouldn’t start until at least 6:00PM. Especially if you’re asking them to come to campus.  If this is a student who leaves work at five o’clock in Langford and is supposed to be an evening class at 4:00pm, it won’t work for them.  Don’t have a Biology class that has students on-campus two days a week at 9:30AM, and two days a week at 2:30PM. Who can fit that into their schedule?  We need to work more at being student focussed.”  To which I would reiterate Tia’s earlier points about services and online course offerings.   

Tia’s advice for anyone finding themselves pivoting to online support services?  “Just help each other. If someone asks you questions, do whatever you can to help them succeed in their job.  I’m all about the sharing.  If you learn how to use something, show somebody else. That’s my big takeaway, especially when we were working remotely without those coffee room chats. Just share information, attend workshops where you can, and hear other people’s perspectives. And be patient, be kind with each other, and have confidence that you will learn it, even if you might not get it today.”  

Reflecting on where we are today as a teaching institution

I was originally planning to write a reflection on the amazing faculty interviews I conducted over the past year and to look a bit at where we are all at now, almost 2½ years since we moved online due to a global pandemic.  But last week an amazing thing happened.  Our virtual Teaching and Learning Community of Practice had a record number of participants and an amazing conversation.  Why you ask?  Well, I could posit many reasons.  For example, many of our faculty have more time and bandwidth now for discussions with colleagues, especially if they are on scheduled development time.  But what I think really sparked interest this time around was the topic chosen for this particular day and time:  student disengagement.

The article that sparked the conversation, sent in advance, was from The Chronicle of Higher Education and is called A ‘Stunning’ Level of Student Disconnection:  Professors are reporting record numbers of students checked out, stressed out, and unsure of their future. And after 2 and a half years of online, kind of in-person, fully in-person (except for the students who are sick at home with COVID or mental health issues) and faculty exhausted from bouncing back and forth, who could be surprised by this?

Some faculty I’ve talked to were so excited to get back to the classroom after being forced to teach online for a year and a half (we are talking “back to normal” last fall), but that excitement didn’t last for all of them.  Students were bouncing in and out of classes with a variety of concerns, the Centre for Accessible Learning experienced record numbers of accommodation requests, and faculty were left, often on their own, to figure out how to support students to learn the material and emerge with some success.

This, I believe, sparked the record attendance last week.  I even spoke to another faculty member who was very disappointed to have missed the conversation (he had another commitment at the same time).  What I wanted to share in this post were some of the things faculty needed to talk about.

  1. Students don’t seem to learn as well online as they do face to face – whether this is true or not, do we do a good enough job of preparing them for the realities of learning online and teaching them the skills required to be successful in online delivery?
  2. Technology is distracting (and some is designed to be distracting) and addictive, but there is an expectation of being able to bring in and use technology in the classroom.
  3. But technology is sometimes necessary to support students and enhance their learning – how do we find the right balance?
  4. There is a perception that students are not engaging in in-person classes – one faculty member said she related to a quote from the article where a student said, “I want so badly to be active in my classroom, but everything still feels, like, fake almost.”
  5. There is a disconnect when students come to post-secondary from high school – is it just the COVID grads? Do we need to provide more formalized learning skills courses for new (or all) students?
  6. Student absences are disruptive to the flow of the course and faculty are struggling with how to engage with all students whether they are present or not.
  7. Do we do students a disservice by accommodating them endlessly and not holding them to account for deadlines? Are faculty spending too much time teaching basic “adulting”?
  8. It’s not just students. Faculty (and I would add support staff as well) feel disengaged and like they have lost the ability to concentrate fully.
  9. Some faculty feel like they have lost the ability to teach.

In my opinion, based on many, many conversations with faculty, and hearing from them in the Community of Practice, faculty need more opportunities to talk about their struggles and questions and experiences, as well as space to brainstorm ideas on how to address student disengagement and faculty burnout – to hear from others what they’ve tried (both what worked and what didn’t).

But in addition to peer-to-peer engagement (with both faculty in their programs and outside), faculty also need opportunities to engage meaningfully with administration around their experiences over the past 2½ years. Only then can we work together to build potential solutions. If we are to support students where they are at, and where they want to be (and listen to their needs for more flexible options to fit their lifestyles – and let’s be frank:  if we don’t listen, some of those students will go elsewhere and can we really afford that given the fiscal restraints we are all facing in post-secondary in BC?) we need to support faculty AND the other folks at the college who support faculty and students.

Coming back was not coming back to “normal”.  That ship has sailed, and we need to negotiate a new world, not bury our heads in the sand and hope to pop up back in 2019.

NOTE: I want to thank my colleagues in CETL and the facilitators of the Teaching and Learning Community of Practice for their comments and editorial suggestions for this piece.  We are stronger in community!

Camosun Faculty Story #48: A conversation with Monique and Deidre about redesigning the BEST Program

In the midst of the amazing discussions I have been having with faculty over the past year and a bit, I was hearing stories of the BEST (Building Employment Success for Tomorrow) Certificate program at Camosun College, a seven-week tuition-free program.  You may remember BEST from reading Diane G’s and Val’s stories – both faculty members in the program (and we mustn’t forget their third member, Allyson, the Instructional Assistant for BEST.)  Well, I knew from previous conversations with colleagues that the BEST program had gone through a program review right before the pandemic hit, and I wanted to hear from Monique (a fellow Instructional Designer in eLearning) and Deidre (an Educational Developer in the Curriculum Development and Program Renewal unit) about their experience with the BEST program review.  Now, full disclosure: I interviewed Deidre and Monique quite some time ago, and since then the BEST program has been “discontinued,” but not really – it will be reappearing under the name Education and Career Planning Certificate Program soon, but with the same amazing faculty and dedication to meeting learners where they are at.  

And meeting learners’ needs led to discussions around how best to offer the program: continue with in-person or explore blended and online modes, and online became a strong contender.  Deidre and Monique recalled that the impetus for taking the BEST program online came from a desire to reach more people.  “The conversation sparked out of a desire to drive up enrollment – could it be offered in a different delivery format that would encourage people who were working, etc.  They were looking at ways to reach more people because it’s the only program of its type.” 

Of course, moving a program online can be met with trepidation and BEST was no exception.  “There was real fear about going online because the program is community-based and takes a very personalized approach, including one-on-one coaching.” But the BEST faculty were curious and keen to explore what opportunities online might bring. As the program review started, “we were starting to develop online components, not necessarily for full online delivery, but more of a gentle start helping them to become receptive to a hybrid approach.”  But then, March 2020 hit and any options involving in-person instruction flew out the window. 

Luckily, as noted, the BEST group had already begun to develop online materials, and in addition an already vetted open resource was available through BCcampus.  But while content wasn’t much of an issue, Monique told me that “the challenge was that each module of the program generated its own D2L course with students enrolled in each of those courses discretely. So, we had to merge those courses right away, then fit them into a larger framework within D2L.”  Rebuilding the courses into one whole was an overwhelming task within the sudden shift to online, but the team jumped in and started working.  “We merged the courses and they worked on a course map to guide students through the online materials.  Then because it’s such a short program, they surveyed students every Friday about how they were experiencing the program, and every week we would meet and tweak the program.  Then for each following iteration of the full program we would make more substantive fixes.”  And those weekly meetings continued for the duration of the pandemic.  Finally, last June, they were able to take a breath and redevelop the program into a week-by-week structure to make it easier for students to navigate in the online format. 

What Monique and Deidre really wanted to emphasize for me was the team effort of the BEST group.  “They divided and conquered and were open with each other, always giving constructive feedback. I would say they were high performing. It was nice because Allyson is very technical, so she understood the need for a structure and version control, while Diane really grabs onto the vision of the program, and Val is the cheerleader.” 

Once BEST settled into its new online mode, the program review process had to be picked up again, which happened in May 2020.  At that point, Deidre says, “they had to decide whether to articulate at the provincial level which had implications for the learning outcomes. There was discussion about how to structure the program and we landed on four courses (there used to be five) which felt better in the overall structure. Then we spent a lot of time redeveloping the learning outcomes and identifying which courses they wanted to include.”  And by May, the group knew that students were embracing their online instruction, which helped inform the program review going forward. 

But while BEST emerged as a seven-week course with four modules, the way students complete the program is not by doing one module at a time, but by working on all four modules simultaneously.  As Monique put it “if you’re doing labor market research, you’re doing it for the full seven weeks, not just in two weeks. The content all needed to be integrated as a kind of spiraling curriculum.”  And as Deidre pointed out, “BEST isn’t a typical program in the Camosun sense of the word, and while I think we ended in a good place, it was not a linear process to get there.”  

One of the things that has made the revision of BEST a success is the support from leadership, specifically the Dean and Associate Dean of the School of Access.  “All the pieces were aligned going through the program review cycle – in addition to Curriculum Development, they brought eLearning in at the beginning of the review process and had leadership behind them all the way. They ended up with the right people on the team.” 

So now, we have a tuition-free, seven-week program with four discreet modules, operating as one course using open educational resources, and taught entirely online. But Deidre reminded me that “they’re not teaching a subject; they’re teaching people confidence building and self-belief.  They’re teaching about growth mindset and all those intangible things like self-leadership. I think it’s amazing that that they’re able to build this community online in a safe place for people to share and grow.” And in only seven weeks. In addition, Monique adds that the BEST team “worked to Indigenize the curriculum as they went. Because the Indigenous ways of learning are how you build community, representing the core values of the program which is about developing from the inside out and building community where everyone has a story and grows at their own pace.”  

Monique and Deidre reflect that the biggest reason BEST was challenging to put online was this emphasis on building community along with the personalised development piece, the pieces that make BEST a transformational and life-changing program for students.  But by taking a risk, BEST has opened its doors to many more students than it could have reached by remaining a solely in-person program.  Deidre says “The BEST team jumped off the boat into deep water and they swam. They more than just swam; they did the butterfly. They didn’t just dogpaddle, they were doing backflips off the high diving board.”  Their dedication to the BEST program’s underlying principles, to trusting in others to guide them into the online environment, as well as working with students to get feedback on what was working and what wasn’t as they trialed the online course, has created a solid foundation for success.  

Camosun Faculty Story #47: Sue

Sue is an instructional designer and one of my colleagues in eLearning (part of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) at Camosun.  I wanted to speak to Sue so she could tell me, and you, about her experiences supporting faculty when we all moved to online teaching in March 2020.  On a personal note, going back in time to when we in eLearning were working long hours helping faculty and students navigate this new world brought back feelings not just of exhaustion but also of the excitement we felt as our faculty colleagues began to see first-hand the benefits of online teaching, something we have known for years.   

One of Sue’s passions is accessibility and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  In fact, she was a co-author (2015) of the BCcampus Accessibility Toolkit.  Sue tells me that while eLearning had offered some workshops on accessible design and had some accessibility tools available in D2L (namely ReadSpeaker) prior to March 2020, when everything moved online “challenges around accessibility hit people like a brick wall and I think we had one of our greatest teachable moments possible for digital accessibility.  We saw more awareness around issues students were having enhanced by the fact that faculty themselves didn’t have the right infrastructure to teach online.  That shared lived experience, of a sudden lack of access impeding your ability to do something, well you can’t manufacturer that.”   

Sue also reminded me that we had enabled another online accessibility tool just prior to the pandemic, BBAlly (aka Ally) which we turned on across D2L in June 2020.  “We were barely through wrapping up the pivot term when we turned BBAlly on across the system and as a result, I have had way more interest in accessibility workshops and learning about UDL skills since 2020.” But the accessibility tools we had incorporated into our D2L system turned out to have a broader impact, beyond, for example, simply converting text-to-speech.  “We learned that Textaid was also a great asset for our language programs. Faculty teaching Japanese, Spanish, and Korean were able to use TextAid to support some spoken and written assessments that they had struggled to do even before COVID.” 

In addition to accessibility tools, our streaming media service, Kaltura, had only been enabled for a year or so and “we went from barely having started to use it to an exponential production of videos, which quickly shone a light on the poor quality of auto-captioning in services like these. While many faculty recognized that this bad video captioning needed to be fixed and wanted to do that work, they were overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of tears, by the work this added to their already heavy load. That was the motivation to rattle the cage for some professional captioning support.”  And now, we have access to a captioning service, REV, to assist faculty with their video captions in Kaltura.   And as Sue notes again, good video captions are not just useful for people with hearing impairments.  “You can watch videos in locations where you have no sound capabilities, students have access to a searchable transcript for study purposes, etc.”  

In terms of assessment, Sue recalls faculty struggling with assessment methods that would not work in a fully online environment.  Instead, they needed to ask “what if I provided more options for students to be able to complete the assignment? What if instead of a time-based test it was a take-home exam? Some Faculty were looking at their assessments with fresh eyes for the first time in years. Coming up with alternate assessments exemplifies UDL by exploring flexibility in the way we get students to show they’re engaged.  I think that this focus on alternative assessments, in one of the biggest shifts to UDL we’ve seen.” 

While Sue wonders how much less stressful the move to online teaching would have been if content had been built with accessibility and UDL in mind, she says, “there is no going back from the spotlight on accessibility and the awareness that’s been developed around the tools to support accessible design. I think we raised the baseline a bit, and while we’re still going to have new people who are not there yet, I’m confident that most faculty can, and will, use these tools without the trepidation they may have had before.”  

When talking a bit about rewards Sue has seen over the past two years, she tells me “I am more aware of the multi-dimensional challenges each individual student is dealing with because I’m dealing with them more myself too.” This also means that while she had to press pause on the UDLProject she was working on pre-COVID, “these past two years have provided much additional material for that project that I couldn’t have even imagined.” And building from that awareness of what overwhelmed students were experiencing, well she found herself supporting faculty who were similarly overwhelmed from trying to support those students. “I had to meet faculty members where they were at, trying to make things work for that individual in the moment realizing they were just keeping their heads above water. So, if I can help you to achieve this thing that’s more important than even you know at this moment, let alone how you would do it in the future, well, like any new language you learn the vocabulary, then you put the words together, and then start to build sentences. When you talk about accessibility and UDL, you can find a point of entry and then build thoughtfully from there. I think the way we were all meeting faculty where they were at was in many ways a UDL model of support.” 

If there was one shining moment for Sue, “I think coming out of this we have forged a tighter bond with our colleagues in the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) and that we now have the foundations from which we can continue to build a model of collaboration in our teaching and learning community. We are all committed to creating good online learning experiences for students and faculty, and because we work with so many different groups, we’re in a position to influence change. So having CAL be more of a partner, for me, that’s amazing and is a model other Post-Secondary Education institutions should take note of.”  And what really resonated for me was Sue’s comment that, as a result of increasing online options at the college, “we’re a three-campus college now and we in eLearning sit mostly on this third campus. We need to make sure that we are supporting students and faculty fulsomely and accessibly in this third campus environment.”   

When I asked Sue what some of her biggest lessons learned over the past two years were, she tells me “What I have gotten out of the past couple of years is confidence that in our team we have a range of skills and experience.  There are so many skills we need to be current with: technologies, pedagogy, inclusive education, accessibility, decolonization, open education, etc., that each of us alone can’t possibly know it all.  So, it’s a huge asset to have, say, a colleague who is deeply focused and committed to bringing open education practices, examples, and opportunities to the college. I can both participate in those and continue to develop my expertise so I can work with faculty, but I don’t have to be the expert in everything to recognize expertise and to draw on it.” 

Advice Sue has for anyone faced with moving to online teaching echoes what so many other faculty have said:  “Work with peers, connect with folks who have been where you are, so you are not recreating the wheel, try something small and build your confidence in lower stakes moments, and don’t feel afraid to reach out and borrow ideas from people.” We reflected a bit on how learning to teach online is similar to training for a marathon: you do it gradually, upping your mileage as you go.  “Of course, March 2020 was like running a marathon with no training, multiple times.  But in normal times, take it slow.  Oh, and get a good chair at home for all your online classes and meetings!” 

I wanted to end with Sue’s reflection on where she feels we, as eLearning and CETL, are now as a team. “We as a unit no longer face concerns about feeling left out because of being on different campuses, because we have a more universal place for us and faculty we work with, in this new, third campus.  I also have deeper relationships with faculty, some of whom I had worked with very little before, and I feel like I have a much deeper awareness of what’s going on in different parts the college than I ever did before. Even amongst our CETL community I feel like our communication and collaboration is stronger.” Our third campus has enabled and supported this enrichment, so we need to respect and nurture it going forward. 

Camosun Faculty Story #46: Rob

As you may have noticed, I’ve been posting a few stories from faculty talking about their experiences of moving suddenly to online teaching back in March 2020.  But teaching online was not new and uncharted territory to all faculty teaching at Camosun.  Today I bring you some highlights from an interview I had with Rob, whose training company has partnered with Camosun for the past 10 years to deliver a Project Management Certificate program through Contract Training.  Rob has a degree in Adult Education, and is also a fellow instructional designer, and it was a lot of fun talking to him about his work as both an instructor and an ID. 

Rob and his instructors “teach everything from technical skills to interpersonal skills, to how to think at a strategic level,” and they teach using the full spectrum of modes, from fully in-person to fully online asynchronous, and everything in between.  Rob himself “started off designing and developing computer-based training, electronic performance support systems, and what we used to call web-based training back in 1994/5. My Master’s specialty was in online learning and performance, and I’ve also been designing and developing curriculum for online delivery for over 25 years.”  I found myself realizing that I have also been working in online learning design for the same amount of time as Rob, and we reflected on how much has changed since when we started this work back in the nineties. “It’s gone from very text-heavy, to some videos and audio, to full multimedia with the ability to focus more on tailoring the type of instruction to the knowledge or skill to be developed. We use video for more prescriptive processes and skills and reading to build a more fundamental knowledge base, all while using asynchronous approaches to provide flexibility in the delivery, and synchronous interaction to provide direct feedback to students. So, it’s a much more robust environment today compared to where we initially started.” 

I asked Rob what he thought of the concern cropping up since COVID forced almost all education online, that online learning is lesser quality than in person (which, as IDs, we had hoped had been put to rest years ago.)  He explained that we first need to move beyond our biases, that is “the propensity for adult learners to fall back into their historically established learning environment. Every term, I still have students telling me they prefer in-person learning, but then they tell me they had more interaction in our online environment than they have ever had in a classroom.”  Thinking about why that is, Rob reflected that “when they’re in the classroom, they’re not talking to other students, but are focused on the instructor-led approach that typifies many classrooms, and they often think that online learning is just watching videos and reading. What they don’t understand is the instructional design that’s associated with developing instructionally-sound curriculum.” Most information is out there on the Internet, but learning is not just about finding information. “What students don’t see is the preparation, activity design, testing, and modification that goes into building an engaging online course,” and our job as instructional designers is to help faculty understand how instructional designers, curriculum developers and technology support staff can help them create those courses (something we didn’t necessarily have time for when courses moved so suddenly online in 2020.) 

When talking a little bit about that design for engagement, Rob says “the first thing we do is establish contact with students. The moment we engage with them to keep them on track they realize that they are being supported, that their instructor is there to work with them, and that they are not just one of 500 students that the instructor doesn’t know. The second is to build in collaboration as one of the requirements and teach them why collaboration is important in the learning process, building it as a bonus for them so if they collaborate more, they will learn more.”  Remembering Rob’s earlier point, that adult learners tend to want to learn the way they have in the past, all this engagement and collaboration sometimes “requires a period of cultural change for them to feel like they’re being supported, to build up to an interactive dynamic between students and instructor.” And that’s where that huge investment in up-front work to contact students, to set expectations, to build collaboration, and to follow-up pays off: when students start to engage. 

I wanted to see if Rob had noticed an uptake in his online courses post-COVID and was a bit surprised when he said that while there was a jump in enrolment at the beginning of the pandemic, but “by September 2021, a year and a half in, we saw a substantial drop in enrolment.  While we are still studying why it happened, one of the things we identified through feedback was that people were tired of meeting and learning online,” something I am sure many people reading this can identify with. This past term, enrolments are back up, but Rob tells me he will “need a longer period of time to study if this fatigue might have an effect long-term.  I think it’s been beneficial for people to have had the experience through the pandemic of recognizing that it is possible to engage, to have interactivity, and to learn online.”  I know I hope faculty and students, once fatigue fades, will embrace more online teaching and learning now that they know what is possible. 

When I asked Rob about some of the rewards he’s experienced teaching online all these years, he says “I think it’s difficult to separate the rewards from teaching online from the rewards from teaching in general. From my perspective as an adult educator, it’s about helping adults learn. The reward I get from helping an adult learn, whether it’s online or in the classroom, is the emotional satisfaction of seeing someone develop a skill or knowledge, and to feel that tingle up the back of your neck when they get it. I think teaching online means that I’m able to help people that might not be able to access a course, because of timing or geography or personal situation. And I think the greatest reward is that online teaching broadens out accessibility to a subject that I’m passionate about.” 

In addition, Rob has heard from students that being able to work with people from all over the world through an online class is hugely beneficial and rewarding.  “Students have said that interacting with people who are completely outside their bubble has been very valuable to them because they never would’ve experienced the people that they’re interacting with outside their local area. It gives them access to a new perspective and the ability to share and learn from each other that they wouldn’t get in a traditional classroom.” Often as a result of that greater diversity, Rob says there is more interaction in the online classroom, “students are intermingling with people with whom they may never have spoken if they were in a classroom, because you tend to gravitate towards the person sitting next to you. But when you’re online, you can establish relationships with anybody and everybody because you have that flexibility.” 

I asked Rob what kind of advice he gives instructors teaching online for the first time, and he said “I want them reach out to the students more because I think one of the biggest challenges is that, while students have a reason for showing up at that course, they can also feel alone in the online environment. If instructors reach out to students and create a relationship with them, it’ll be better for the students because they’ll see there’s somebody there. It’s not just a computer teaching them, but there’s actually a flesh and blood person behind it.”  And in addition, Rob wants his instructors to see that teaching online does not have to be hard.  “Start by recording a question-and-answer session – that’s a learning opportunity.  Then when we use technology like collaborative document creation, that collaborative document can become instruction – that can become a reusable tool for future instruction. We might be building the plane while it flies, but that course material can be reused and improved.” There’s no need to be intimidated by online teaching if you keep it simple and build from there. And of course, find yourself an instructional designer!  “Just call us. Send an e-mail to us. We’re here!”  

Looking forward, Rob tells me that he “would like to see online learning become more integrated with the way people work through micro-learning and just-in-time learning; and there is an opportunity for the academy to provide a foundation for this learning; to constantly supplement it with online in-the-moment micro-learning performance support. I think this is where online learning needs to go, but I think we’re still a long way from that.”  There is so much information out there already, but how do students know what is accurate or useful? “I really think that our profession needs to evolve to provide both foundation and practicality, and practicality needs to be in the moment. For instance, even if all you want to do is build a schedule for a project, you have to understand concepts and other contextual knowledge which is the foundation that still needs to be structured as a comprehensive program. But then, in the moment, when you are ready to build that schedule, you should be able to access with a micro-learning tool immediately.” 

One final thought from Rob: “I think there will always be room for face-to-face, virtual instructor-led synchronous, and instructor-led asynchronous learning experiences. And after the past few years, maybe people can settle into their preferences and recognize the benefits of each.” 

Camosun Faculty Story #45: Bev

Bev is a faculty member in Psychology at Camosun.  She started our conversation by telling me she and her department colleagues had been using D2L to support their students before March 2020. “D2L is a big part of reinforcing what is taught in the classroom: posting news items and lecture notes, and encouraging students to monitor their grades, assignments, etc.”  Even with this familiarity, “When we transitioned, the biggest challenge was trying to keep student course engagement and connection, especially students who find questioning and talking freely in-person challenging and now their faced with working completely online.” Bev was thankful she already had developed a good rapport with her students. She emailed students of concern, encouraging them to meet in course collaborate, and offered flexible office times for them to do so.

May was fast approaching, and since Bev would be teaching in May and June, she needed to find a way to get ready. When students registered, for May/June courses, they were registering for face-to-face delivery. “I didn’t have a ton of time to get ready. Fortunately, I relied heavily upon our instructional assistant in Psych who is well-versed in online delivery.”

In April, Bev surveyed students about their online experience, access to technology, and what their living situations were like to help her think about how to set up her course.  “One of the things I had to be mindful of was their home environments. Many of them were sharing, for example, a one-bedroom apartment with four or five other students.”  Knowing the challenges her students would be facing, she worked hard to build in engagement, utilizing the breakout rooms in Collaborate, for student-student interaction and she set up discussion posts for supporting peer connections. A three-hour scheduled face to face class was now a three hour collaborate session, using break out rooms. “Collaborate and breakout rooms were as a new to them as they were to me, so I continually asked for feedback on what was working and what wasn’t working for them.”

Bev was using the synchronous environment for discussion and elaboration, and D2L as delivery of information; by the end of spring semester, she found herself flipping her teaching.  “I realized toward the end of June that my role as an instructor had changed. I was not delivering the content as much as I was elaborating on the content, meeting with students, addressing their questions, and building on the content in a number of different modalities, while students were more in control of navigating the course content on their own.”  What Bev found most valuable that spring was working with her two colleagues who were also teaching then.  “We would meet regularly and brainstorm what was working. It really helped when I was feeling overwhelmed or challenged, and this networking with colleagues became as important to me as networking with my students.”

Bev told me that by the time fall rolled around, “I was feeling less overwhelmed and really inspired because I realized all that this online environment could do.” She polled her students again in June around how the delivery methods worked for them and “was surprised with the results. Even though they said they thought it was intense, they liked the week-to-week engagement.”  Now, Bev faced a new challenge for her fall interpersonal communication course with a lab component. Her challenge was how to incorporate the experiential learning piece, “a lot of the skill development requires sitting together face to face and practicing the skills. Skill demonstration by me in a face-to-face class was replaced with videos downloaded in Kaltura from YouTube, uploaded in course media, and embedded throughout the lecture modules.

Additionally, Bev had about 11 students registered with the Centre for Accessible learning with a variety of accommodation needs.  “I was trying to get my head around how the online delivery can support students in meeting some of the course objectives, while at the same time address a few unique accommodations.”  To help her navigate the wide world of online accommodations and accessibility, Bev reached out to instructional designer. “She helped me not only design the course, but she also implemented BBAlly, which measures level of accessibility. This accessibility report includes a course percentile score and graphs areas for improvement. For example, I use a lot of images in my teaching, and I had to go back now and describe the images, put captions in the videos, etc.”  This work was eye-opening for Bev, because it “made me realize how much I assume that students understand given instruction, in classes face-to-face. I went back to what I had already set up in my D2L course and integrated more instructions. For example, I would put assignment instructions not only in the assignment itself, but also in a number of pertinent places throughout the D2L course.”

During the fall 2020 and winter 2021, Bev found very few students, in her asynchronous course, attended virtual office hour.  “I wondered if they were overwhelmed with everyone still facing isolation. Given their need for socialization, and the extent this process was lacking, links to various support services were incorporated into my course outline and flexible office times increase my availability to students.”

In addition to these challenges around connection, Bev found many rewards through teaching online.  In particular, “I saw the lock down as an opportunity to focus on my own learning, and it was also a refresher from face to face – being able to look at what works in a face-to-face environment and try to incorporate that into the online environment.  An online environment offers so much more than I expected, beyond my expectations.”  In the end, Bev says that “there’s a fine line between being a learner and being a teacher. And for me, it’s a circular process.  I’m thankful to have had this opportunity, this challenge, and at this time in my career, to discover what technology can do. I’m thankful I feel more connected to students now than I did at the beginning of the pandemic.

As to what advice Bev has for new online instructors?  “Identify what’s important to you in your course, where your strengths lie as an instructor, then reach out to others when faced with challenges. Remember that you’re not alone: whatever challenge you think you’re facing, expertise is available, and you do not have to face the challenge alone.”

Moving forward, Bev says she is sold on online learning.  In fact, when she was back teaching in person last fall, Bev found herself, wondering: “can I do this again? Can I be in a face-to-face situation?  Can I be as strong as I felt on the online environment?” And she discovered the online and in-person teaching/learning works together to support students. “I keep things pretty much as they were in a completely online environment.  I use BBAlly to measure the accessibility piece, and I think supporting diverse learners in an online platform with this piece is what I’m really sold on.”

An example is the communication skills course taught, fall 2020, is kept fully online to reinforce the in-person delivery.  “I tell students that the course basically is in D2L. I will be demonstrating some skills in class, but everything’s in D2L. I outline the advantages of coming to class, and do not penalize them if they don’t show up – I’m not measuring them based on skill participation in class. In this way, the class environment enhances the online environment.  I no longer see me as the deliverer of content. I see myself as the manager of content, more importantly, the monitor of student progress and the supporter to students ‘academically.”

Bev ends by telling me that she thinks there will always be a place for in-person learning. “The human connection is the piece that we don’t get online, for that we need face-to-face. In terms of the instructional piece, I don’t think we can afford to only deliver content face-to-face. I think we’ll lose too many students. How we see learning ongoing needs to be outside the four walls of the classroom and outside a specific timeframe. Face-to-face to me is just one modality – it’s a very small piece.”

Camosun Faculty Story #44: Kari

Kari is a faculty member in the English Department at Camosun College.  When the pandemic moved everyone online back in March 2020, Kari, who was teaching four in-person courses, says “at the beginning it was all panic and we just did what we could. But there one thing that happened despite that panic: we, in the English department, started supporting each other in amazing ways.” 

Finally, the winter term was over, and the summer term arrived.  While several English faculty members, including Kari, had scheduled development (SD) leave, there were three or four others who had to teach online with no prep time at all.  But they were not left to flounder on their own and their colleagues on SD stepped up to support them.  Kari related one example of that support: “Michael Stewart was teaching English 163, so I and two other members of the English department read and watched all the material in his class. Then Michael and the three of us created videos of us analyzing and discussing the course material, which Michael then posted on his D2L site for his students.” 

At one point as well, one of Kari’s colleagues sent out a cry for help asking for someone to co-create a lesson with her.  “So, three of us got together and created a lesson which I’m also using now because it is on a topic covered in multiple courses.”   But this co-creation of materials was not just a boon for faculty, but also useful from the student’s perspective.  “Because I’m still using some of those videos in my in-person class, using them as extension materials, students have the opportunity to watch experienced readers engaging in dialogue, building on each other’s ideas, disagreeing, and then finding understanding. We modelled discourse and disagreement, and how you can move through that to come to understanding, I think, from the student’s perspective, was really rich in building their understanding of these concepts.”  Another interesting outcome of this collaboration was that faculty members were essentially coming into each other’s classes reading each other’s course materials and discussing them, and Kari says she is grateful to have been a receiver as well as a giver within this context.  “On one hand, it’s important to have the academic freedom to do the things we want to do in our classes, but on the other hand, we don’t normally ever go into each other’s classes. We don’t ever see what other instructors are doing and seeing each other in action is a great way to learn.  This opportunity has helped us get a better sense of what other instructors do in their classes and how other they approach topics in our field.” 

One of the challenges Kari faced preparing for teaching online back in 2020 was that there is “a difference between taking an in-person class and throwing it online, and actually designing an online class, because it takes a long time to put together a well-conceived, well-supported online course.” And in addition to trying to create good online courses without adequate time, Kari told me that “the biggest challenge for me was not being able to put a face and personality to the students.”  To try and build some community, she set up online co-writing sessions with her students. “I said, I’m going to be online and I’m just going to do my thing, so you can come do your thing. Some of the students did come to those sessions which I think was valuable for all of us because I was able to interact with them directly.  It really brought home how much, for me, teaching is about interactions with people and watching them build community amongst themselves.” 

One lesson Kari has learned from moving courses online and working with students struggling during COVID-related stress and absences is that flexibility is important for both teaching and learning. As a result, she is now flipping her classes to leverage the best of both the online and in-person worlds.  “I’m saying to the students, all materials are online, and when you come to class, we’ll discuss the material and do writing exercises. Then when they do come to class, we are having great conversations, and doing in-class writing exercises and a lot of peer work because those are the things that you can’t do as effectively online.”  What Kari is also excited about is that flipping the class “gives students more autonomy. They can decide how much further they want to go with the material, if they want to learn more.”  And in addition, it opens the door for them to learn from others, including Kari’s colleagues.  “Often when students come into your classroom the only person they learn from is you, but this way they learn not only from you, but also from each other and from other instructors.” 

Kari has some advice for faculty moving to online teaching.  “First of all, ask for help. There is a lot of help available both institutionally, and within the department. And second, if you’re teaching online, keep it simple. Ask yourself what are the key things the students need? How can they achieve them? And finally, make sure to communicate with the students in whatever way you find most helpful.  What I do with my online students is I send a note on Fridays telling them what’s coming up the next week. And then on Monday I say, hey, welcome to this week.” 

Moving forward, Kari tells me “I feel like I would like to get better at figuring out what’s best online and what’s best in-person and taking advantage of both.” In addition, now that courses have moved back to a mostly pre-pandemic teaching mode, Kari and her colleagues are looking forward to building on the kind of collaboration that evolved over the past two years, creating course materials that can be used by many instructors. I know I am excited to see that, while the English department already had a strong culture of collaboration prior to COVID, it was further strengthened through the common goal of designing and sharing good online activities.   

Camosun Faculty Story #42: Pat

Pat is a Math instructor at Camosun, teaching courses in the Technology and Engineering Bridge programs at Interurban.  She said that teaching online was both familiar and new and unexpected at the same time.  “I have been teaching with a tablet for maybe 10 years now, so that was not new.  And while I thought that using Collaborate would be difficult, it actually went really well.  Oddly, I think helped me the most was attending the e-learning workshops on D2L. I didn’t end up using much D2L, but watching people use Collaborate was really helpful – I was learning about the tools that were being used to talk about D2L instead of about D2L!  In the end, Pat used a combination of Collaborate, some D2L, and also her own website which contains archival material from all the courses she’s ever taught.  “Moving online pushed me into finally doing that massive amount of work getting weekly homework up online for my students.”  But she also ran into those insidious online tools students can access that provide solutions to math problems, which she admits is not only a challenge for us here at Camosun, but for math departments across Canada.

One thing that surprised Pat was how much students wanted synchronous sessions. “They really wanted a feeling of interaction with me and the other students, although they didn’t typically turn on their cameras on (and I don’t require them to).”  Very different from her normal face to face classes.  “I usually have a pretty rowdy classroom, but here I was mostly talking to my screen with the occasional reminder that there were people listening to me, which was really isolating and kind of lonely to be honest.”

Pat says she learned a lot about her teaching over the past year.  “Because I was doing a few synchronous sessions, they became the highlights reel, and I ended up tossing out a lot of material that I don’t actually really miss, which is going to change what I do when we go back in person.  That laser focus of where I can put my effort has been really interesting and kind of transformative. Will my in-person lectures in the fall be the same as they were a year ago? No, they won’t.  What will they look like? I don’t know yet, but I’m pretty sure they will be different.”

One challenge Pat mentioned to me was a term I hadn’t heard before, but made perfect sense to me (and I am sure to all faculty over the last year).  “What was most challenging about the fall semester, at least the first month, was decision fatigue.” Decisions about online testing, like “what online tools do you allow and don’t allow? What instructions do you give students? How do you prepare them for it? How do you make sure that they understand the differences between an open book and a closed book exam? Do I just tell the students the instructions, or do I email them as well? And then beyond the testing piece: “How am I going to run my courses? Am I going to have a final exam? What do I do in my Collaborate sessions?  How am I going communicate with students? What are my office hours going to look like?  How do I get the wording (for everything!) just right?”  And related to the decision fatigue Pat faced, fighting exhaustion so she could work with what she called vigilance tasks, those tasks where you have to be at the top of your game, where you can’t be distracted, was also a challenge. For example, “marking tests is a vigilance task. If I want to do my best job marking and be fair to students, I can’t do it when I’m distracted or overly tired because I will make mistakes and not be consistent across the entire class.”

Moving forward, Pat is considering what she will keep from everything she learned last year.  Aside from continuing to work on changing the focus of her lectures, “I am considering having some Collaborate office hours at the end of the day. Email is okay if they send me a picture their work, but sometimes the math notation is so elaborate that being able to do handwritten work with them would be really helpful. “And for students who can’t make it to class, particularly in this time of COVID, having the ability to watch something later is really important. And that is why in my ideal universe, my classes would have videos of examples so that students could go and absorb some of the content in different ways.  Having those multiple modes to support student learning is so important.”

Takeaways from Camosun’s First Blended Learning Conversation Café

On November 4th, 2021, a group of 20 Camosun faculty and staff got together for a conversation about blended learning – what works well, what can be challenging, and what are some solutions and considerations. I wanted to share with you some of the key takeaways from these conversations.

First, however, here is Camosun’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)’s current working definition of Blended Learning:

A form of hybrid learning which blends in-person and online instruction and where all students generally follow the same mix of online and in-person activities. In some cases, particularly when traditionally in-person courses are moved to a blended model, online activities may replace some in-person activities. This practice is variously referred to as blended, hybrid, or mixed mode, and has important consequences for scheduling and registration procedures.

The first question we posed for open discussion was: What are the best bits (tools and strategies) from your online teaching experience during the pivot that you want to or are carrying forward this year when teaching in-person or in a blended environment?

Leveraging existing and supported tools (for example, in Camosun’s case, D2L tools). These tools provide both transparency around how learners are being assessed, as well as organization and consistency for both learners and instructors.

Providing learners with multiple content modes (text, images, audio, video). Content like this can be reviewed as many times as learners need to. Videos or audio could contain interviews or discussions between subject matter experts, allowing learners to listen to two seasoned readers modelling critical analysis, discussion, exploration of material.

Providing learners with the opportunity to work on content before coming to an in-person class discussion, problem-solving activity based on the content, or question and answer session, in a flipped classroom model.

Designing activities so that they can be done at home in case students can’t come to class (which is definitely an issue these days when students and instructors cannot come to class if they are sick.)

Bringing in guest speakers, either live into the classroom via videoconferencing, or via videos embedded in a course site.

Having learners create content to share and discuss with their colleagues, for example creating a short video outlining an assignment, checking their understanding of the assignment and explaining their work, why they know what they know and what they’ve learned, or having student teams use discussion boards to share their work with other teams.

In smaller groups, we then discussed the following questions: How could a blended delivery model support your students? What do we need to consider? What might be the challenges of a blended learning model? Potential solutions?

Benefits

Blended learning can make education more accessible, encouraging Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and recognizing the diversity of learners and instructors including the diversity of preferred modes of learning/teaching. It can accommodate students who prefer to learn on their own but also students who don’t have the best access to technology and provide flexibility for instructors and students with busy lives.

Blended learning can add options for students who are perhaps reluctant to speak in an in-person class, who need more time to consider questions before volunteering answers, thus broadening course participation, creating more opportunities for interaction, and supporting more collaborative learning.

Blended learning aligns with student expectations and the skills and experience needed in the current (often blended/ always technology assisted) work environment.

Challenges

As an institution we need to create/use consistent definitions for terminology – online, synchronous, blended, asynchronous – as well as acknowledging the different perspectives of students, faculty, institutional services, and administration around these terms.

Because it can be labour intensive to develop a good online or blended course, we need to provide faculty with funding and/or release as well as dedicated support. There can be a steep learning curve for faculty and students both for teaching/learning online and for using the technology. And additionally, access to technology and support can be limited for some students meaning that some aspects of the online component of a blended course may not be available to them.

We need to consider decision-making processes when deciding to run a course in a blended format. Faculty need the ability to structure the classes to what is best for student learning while recognizing the complexities of scheduling logistics between online and on-campus can be tough.

We need to reflect on changing technologies and institutional attachment to specific platforms and software, while ensuring those platforms don’t define our pedagogy but rather support what we need for teaching and learning.

We need to manage learner expectations by ensuring they understand that online courses or course components are not necessarily self-paced, and that the flexibility afforded by blended learning options may require learners to learn additional time management skills.

What’s next?

The participants in our conversation café are looking forward to continuing the conversations next term, and in the meantime, we in CETL will be sharing the key takeaways with our CETL team and leadership at the college, along with some recommendations for future discussion.

Want to know more about how we in CETL are supporting Blended Learning at Camosun? Contact Emily Schudel (schudele@camosun.ca)