MacEwan University's commitment to students shows in the many ways our faculty members have been preparing to teach in the Fall 2020 term.
“Our talented faculty colleagues, with such a depth of knowledge of their individual disciplines, have also shown the deftness to embrace different sets of teaching tools to show great resilience in response to our new challenges," says Dr. Craig Monk, provost & vice-president, Academic.
Developing new online teaching skills
Since the global pandemic limited access to classroom learning activities back in March, MacEwan's Office of Teaching and Learning Services has been providing support to faculty members to help them be at their best and meet new teaching challenges. Some of those activities included workshops, an online course on teaching online courses, virtual office hours and one-on-one consultations.
"I was able to pick up various tips and tricks for teaching in a virtual environment that will actively engage students with their classmates and course content," says Lisa Shamchuk, assistant professor in the Library and Information Technology program.
Shamchuk also co-facilitated an Instructional Skills Workshop for faculty to learn more about lesson planning for virtual classes. As part of the workshop, they tried out many student engagement tools using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, which will be used to run live lectures.
"The online environment is new for many faculty and students, but by taking the time to boost my own learning in this area, I now feel confident about facilitating student learning in my virtual courses this term," she says.
Changing how we teach
Faculty development workshops are helping faculty members change how they teach their courses and figure out new ways of helping students learn in a different environment. Virtual office hours and building a classroom community through online discussion boards, chat boxes and breakout rooms are just a few examples.
Linda Cavanaugh, assistant professor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, teaches an integrated NURS 175: Nursing Practice Foundations course, which she describes as the first "hands-on" nursing course students experience. Each week consists of two hours of theory, three hours of lab work and one hour in a clinical setting.
"The focus of this course is to develop students' awareness of 'who' they are when they nurse," explains Cavanaugh. "That 'who' involves understanding the beliefs, assumptions, opinions and how all of those play a role in the care we provide."
While NURS 175 is typically delivered face-to-face, this semester theory will be delivered online, labs will be done face-to-face and online, and clinicals will be conducted in-person on campus. Face-to-face learning is part of providing context to the first-year students.
"Trying to teach the content of labs and clinicals online would have really hindered the students' integration of knowledge," says Cavanaugh. "We are confident we can still begin developing critical thinking skills they can bring into second year."
Adopting new methods
Dr. Ross Witherell is a master of good timing. Two years before COVID-19 shut down campus, the chemistry lab supervisor had reached out to MacEwan's eLearning Office to develop videos and online chemistry lab modules to help students prepare for labs or see what they missed if they were unable to attend a lab in person.
A busy term meant shelving the project for several months, but when the pandemic hit, Witherell saw the perfect opportunity to revive it. He invited eLearning staff and his fellow lab instructors, Dr. Japhet Irangu, Laurie Amundson, and Dr. Lioudmila Badalova to help film chemistry experiments. (He also credits chemistry lab technicians Terri-Ann Alton and Jeffery Witty for their crucial work in setting up and re-setting the labs for filming.)
Filming, editing and organizing the videos is a big undertaking – most experiments involve four or five videos that range for five to 20 minutes in length, but a single CHEM 101 experiment has 30 separate videos.
"There really is no replacement for in-lab experience, but we were faced with the prospect of having to do the best we could in lieu of in-person labs," says Witherell. "The thing is, we had already decided a while ago that we wanted to make videos of just about every aspect of the labs anyhow, so COVID really just added another purpose for getting the videos done."
Adapting classroom space
Neill Fitzpatrick, assistant professor in the Bachelor of Communication Studies, says he could teach students in BCSC 426: Video Production through an online learning environment, but it would be like trying to teach someone to drive a car without letting them get behind the wheel.
"BCSC 426 is designed to teach the students about the 'inner workings' of a television/broadcast production studio and control room," he continues. "The students need hands-on experience with the studio cameras, lights, video switcher and more to effectively understand how to operate them."
To help students understand how an interview or newscast is prepared and produced, Fitzpatrick will be physically teaching in the studio — and following all the proper precautions.
Though there were discussions about postponing the course until the new year, faculty members decided to go ahead. "We're confident we can make it a safe learning environment for everyone involved," says Fitzpatrick.
In the production studio, the space will be marked to ensure proper physical distancing. In the control room, the positions will be spaced farther apart to do the same. The students (and instructors) will also be required to wear masks at all times. Part of the introduction to the course includes proper cleaning and sanitizing of the equipment and the workspaces.
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The 15-person class has also been divided into two cohorts. One cohort will split between learning in the control room and learning in the studio while the other will spend time in the "newsroom" classroom, writing stories and preparing to go on camera. The two cohorts will rotate every two weeks to minimize the number of students interacting, but also to ensure each student learns every skill.
"I've also designed the final month of the course to be online only and focused on writing skills for television, radio, podcasts and documentaries," says Fitzpatrick. "This way, if there is a second wave of COVID-19, we can quickly and effectively pivot to better protect the students."
Focusing on soft skills
In addition to adapting to new ways of teaching, one faculty member in the School of Business is taking a new look at the importance of soft skills.
"For effective communications, body language, voice and eye contact speak volumes," says Frank Saccucci, associate professor. "However, when online, I only have one 'voice,' and therefore I'm placing effort on how to pace and fluctuate the tone of my voice, use my hands on video, and never talk longer than seven minutes before having the students do something and taking it up on the white board."
Reaching out and staying connected
Allan Wesley decided to reach out to the first-year students in his FNCE 113: Introduction to Quantitative Decision-Making students in mid-August. "They face enough uncertainty because it is a math course," says Wesley, an assistant professor in the School of Business. "They don't need to worry about the new ambiguities related to delivery."
So he made his course materials available to the students ahead of time, directing them to basic math material and problems to help them understand what basic math skills they should have. He also made lecture videos available and set up his own website and YouTube channel so students can access the course in whatever mode they're comfortable with.
"They can — and many have — started preparing so they won't experience 'math shock,'" he says.
Connecting with faculty members and other students is a vital part of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, so assistant professors Lisa McKendrick-Calder, Susan Carlson and Leanne Topola are hosting a Blackboard Collaborate drop-in session ("Connection, Care, Build Community") for students to connect with each other.
"Connection is missing without the in-person experiences, and we wanted to find ways to help students meet new people and build community," says McKendrick-Calder.
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