8 cool things that happened in our (virtual) classrooms

May 10, 2021 | Campus Life
Here are eight of the seemingly countless ways that MacEwan University's faculty and students made the most of an academic year like no other.

1. Biology prof and her students found inspiration in the great outdoors


Dr. Jessica Haines’s dog Starling on one of their many nature walks.

During the fall and winter months, Dr. Jessica Haines focused on getting outside to take care of her mental health, and she wanted to encourage her students to do the same. She decided to introduce a small participation mark in two of her Winter term classes. She gave students several options to earn it, including heading outdoors to do a bit of citizen science.

“I taught a lot of first-year students who were experiencing university for the first time online and were really stressed,” says Dr. Haines. “Getting outside made a difference for me, and this was my way of trying to give my students an excuse to go outside, get some fresh air and connect with nature.”

Students could earn their participation grades by uploading photos of wild species (plants, fungus, animals) to NatureLynx (which monitors biodiversity in Alberta) or iNaturalist if they were studying outside the province. Fringe benefit? Dr. Haines’s honour students will use data from NatureLynx as they work with her on research that explores the effectiveness of citizen science.

2. Theatre arts alumni recreated emotionally charged scenarios for psychiatric nursing students


The move to learning online over the past year motivated Emily Khalema, assistant professor in the Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing program, to create a series of meaningful simulations for students that enhance their in-person clinical experiences. “It’s something that I had always wanted to do but hadn’t found the time or opportunity for,” she says.

The result was a series of powerful simulations brought to life by MacEwan Theatre Arts alumni covering everything from domestic violence and substance abuse to teenage homelessness. Drawing from her experience as a practicing psychiatric nurse, Khalema wrote simulations that reflect a range of lived experiences she has witnessed over the years. One simulation has students working with an individual living with schizoaffective disorder who had been working until they were laid off due to the pandemic.

Link“The simulation looks at how those stressors affected his life and his functioning,” explains Khalema. “The actors bring these scenarios to life in a way that makes them feel real, and that realism allows students to learn and practice ways to intervene and communicate effectively." Read more about how our theatre alumni create realistic simulations for nursing students.

3. English learners came together online in song 

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Student Teresa Wong (left) with instructor Maura Sharkey-Pryma. Wong says she looked forward to her online Learn English Through Singing classes each week and that singing together helped her add emotion and fluidity when she speaks English.

Singing with a group of strangers can be intimidating, but doing it in a new language? And online? Sounds like a challenge that Conservatory of Music instructor Maura Sharkey-Pryma and the English as an Additional Language students in her Learn English Through Singing course were up for. During their 11 weeks together, they grew more confident as they worked their way through a series of pop songs – from the Police’s Every Breath You Take to Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight from The Lion King.

Sharkey-Pryma shared her screen with students in each class so they could see the lyrics and resource materials while they sang along with a karaoke track. Students couldn’t hear each other (their microphones were muted), but the being able to see one another singing and moving their bodies in sync with the music created a visual sense of unity and collaboration, says Sharkey-Pryma.

In their final class, students showcased their accomplishments in learning and improving their pronunciation and diction by performing their favourite song for the group.

“It was a chance to really ‘let loose,’ and the camaraderie was beautiful,” says Sharkey-Pryma. “The students were uninhibited, unapologetic and confident – offering smiles, leaving encouraging messages in the chat and virtually applauding each other. Some even had tears of joy. I was so proud.”

4. Library and Information Technology students helped inform early literacy research


On the first day of Dr. Norene Erickson’s INFM 208: Library Services for Children and Young Adults class, students discovered that their classroom experiences could help inform research into the role library staff play in providing community-based early literacy experiences for families. After watching a short video, students completed a survey from Dr. Alvina Mardhani-Bayne, assistant professor in the Bachelor of Early Childhood Curriculum Studies program, and Lisa Shamchuk, an assistant professor in the Library and Information Technology program.

The survey questions, explains Dr. Mardhani-Bayne, evaluated how students thought about early literacy. Do they lean toward a reading readiness perspective (a skills-based, traditional approach to literacy based on memorization) or an emergent literacy perspective (a social approach where children have a variety of language and literacy experiences)? At the end of the course, the students were surveyed again to see if their answers changed as a result of their experiences in the course.

While they are still analyzing the data, both researchers hope their findings can help inform the training that future library staff receive. “We are looking to see if there are particular things faculty can do to prompt the light-bulb moments that help students learn about their future roles as supporters of early literacy.”

5. Design students took Amazon and The Griff by storm


Bachelor of Design student Anna Kraemer took top spot for her redesign of The Griff.

Designing and illustrating a book wasn’t just an academic exercise in Constanza Pacher’s DESN 317: Publication Design course. Five students earned bonus points by self-publishing “differentiated” editions containing at least 10 unique illustrations of public domain books on Amazon. Student-designed versions of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (illustrated by Alyssa Joe), Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie (illustrated by Kessia Cherkewick), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (illustrated by Abbey Smith) and two options for Lady Susan by Jane Austen (illustrated by Shae McMullin and Summer Shields) are all available for purchase. Pacher proudly owns a copy of each.

In the same course, students also took on a complete redesign of The Griff, the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) digital magazine. Watch for the top three designs by students Anna Kraemer, Summer Shields, Malorie Lafond, as selected by staff at The Griff, in a future issue of the magazine.

6. Anthropology students created materials for the city’s Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force


In Fall 2020, Assistant Professor Dr. Jennifer Long and her anthropology students began work in partnership with Recover, the City of Edmonton's urban wellness project, which led to creating accessible materials for the Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force.

As part of their research methods course, the students compiled and organized data that came out of the City Council non-statutory public hearing on the Edmonton Police Commission set up in response to 2020's Black Lives Matter protests. Furthermore, the public-facing documents they created helped the task force — chaired by Dr. Annette Trimbee, MacEwan's president and vice-chancellor — in creating actionable, anti-racist recommendations for the city. Read the full story.

7. Artful conversations gave students a global perspective


The second season of Artful Conversations, a podcast hosted by Annetta Latham, assistant professor in the Arts and Cultural Management program, brought industry experts, scholars, academics and students from around the world to share their experiences with MacEwan students. It has also been used in classrooms in Germany and Scotland.

Because the arts and culture sector is changing quickly, Latham wanted to provide her students with something other than another article to read. “Why not talk directly to the people who are influencing the sector?” she asked. The answer was a podcast that explores current challenges and trends within Canada and across the globe through the stories and expertise of leading arts practitioners who reflect on how they have embraced and managed the incredible changes within the sector.

Latham intends to continue the conversation, and plans for a third season are already in the works. You can listen to season two of Artful Conservations now on Spotify or iTunes.

8. First-year human resources students helped shape policy for the County of Wetaskiwin


“It was so great to be able to relate what we were learning to something concrete,” says student Jen Ruzicka.

The best way to prepare students to do work that requires judgment, foresight and a deep understanding of both business and people is to have them work closely with industry partners, says Dr. Mike Annett, associate professor in the Department of Organizational Behaviour, Human Resources and Management.

Just months into their program, first-year HR students were asked to help shape policy for the County of Wetaskiwin as part of Dr. Annett’s employee relations course. “It was a bit overwhelming at first, but it was so great to be able to relate what we were learning to something concrete, to get feedback from our partners and to contribute to something that is going to exist beyond this semester,” says student Jen Ruzicka.

Students aren’t the only ones who benefit when community members are invited into the classroom. Rod Hawken, chief administrative officer with the County of Wetaskiwin, says small organizations that can’t afford dedicated human resources personnel also take something important away. “The students really put a lot of effort into considering the options available to them and challenged me to think differently in the future. It's definitely a win-win experience.” Read the full story.



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Modified performances and events like Black History Month and Pride Week made it a semester to remember.


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