Do and think differently: Arts' professors talk about initiatives developed during the transition to online learning.

Posted on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

While this pandemic has been forcing us to do and think differently, our professors at the Faculty of Arts have been preparing their classes accordingly. Here is what some of them had to say about the initiatives developed during this transition to online learning:

 

Lynne Bowker
Full Professor at the School of Translation and Interpretation

Classes being taught Fall 2020:

TRA 1301: Introduction to Translation

TRA 3313: Writing Techniques for Translators and Professional Writers I

Lynne Bowker

 

Tell us a bit about your experience:

I’m fortunate to have an MSc in Computer Applications for Education, which is essentially a graduate degree in digital learning. In addition, I’ve worked with the uOttawa Teaching and Learning Support Service for several years to develop and deliver hybrid courses at part of the Blended Learning Initiative. This set me up well to deliver a fully online asynchronous course in the Spring/Summer 2020 term. Although there wasn’t much time to prepare, I think that the course was successful!

What has been your biggest challenge in adapting to a distance-learning format?

My experience teaching online this summer has confirmed for me that the traditional way of examining students, which often involves substantial mid-term and end-of-term exams or projects, may not be the best approach with online learning. In my opinion, a more flexible evaluation model that would allow students to be assessed more regularly throughout the term, with less emphasis on just a couple of big evaluations, would work better for online learning. At present, the University regulations require substantial final exams in undergraduate courses, but it may be worth rethinking that approach in the context of online learning.

Has anything surprised you during this experience?

The patience and generosity of the students has been much appreciated! Even though an online course may not have been their preferred learning option, the students have been very collaborative and understanding of glitches as we work together to navigate this unfamiliar territory.

Where have you gone to get resources to help you familiarize yourself with this new format?

One very useful resource is the Teaching Continuity site set up by the Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS), which has lots of user guides and tutorials. Additionally, two professors from the uOttawa Biology Department (Alison Flynn and Jeremy Kerr) developed a wonderful bilingual Open Education Resource called Remote Teaching: A Practical Guide with Tools, Tips and Techniques (or in French: Enseigner à distance : un guide pratique avec des outils, techniques et suggestions). These same profs also started a campus-wide Slack channel so that professors and staff from all units can exchange ideas and learn from one another. It’s been really eye-opening to see how different people across campus are tackling the challenges of online teaching.

What advice would you give to professors offering online classes for the first time?

Online teaching requires a significant up-front investment of time and effort, so start preparing well in advance. Invest time in learning how to use the tools effectively so that you are not distracted by technical issues once the course begins. Time spent planning and preparing will pay off in the form of a smooth course delivery. Don’t delay, start preparing today! Based on my summer teaching experience, I have actually collected my thoughts and recommendations into a freely accessible Google doc (in English only) if anyone one is interested in learning from my recent experience.

What advice would you give to students taking online classes for the first time?

Embrace it! It will certainly be different from previous learning experiences, and we will probably return to in-person teaching in the future, so this might be the only time in your life that you engage with online learning. Every new opportunity that you have will teach you something. Look at this period of remote teaching as a chance to fine-tune your time management skills, enhance your information management skills, or improve your communication skills. These skills are transferrable to many other situations, so they will surely come in handy in your future career, whatever that might be!

Is there anything about online learning approach that you plan on eventually incorporating in your in-class teaching?

I’m a member of uOttawa’s Educational Games Group (EGG), which is an interdisciplinary group with members from different faculties and other units. Although the group was founded in September 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the quick pivot to online learning inspired us to create a bilingual resource to help all our colleagues to inject a bit of fun into their online teaching. If you’d like to incorporate some elements of gamification into your courses, check out: Using game-based learning online: A cookbook of recipes (or in French: Enseigner en ligne par le jeu : Un livre de recettes). Even though we developed this cookbook with online learning in mind, many of the ideas can be transported into the physical classroom also, so I definitely plan to make use of these ideas once we have returned to face-to-face teaching!

Any MVP shout outs you would like to make?

The EGG members are such a fun team to work with, and special thanks to Alex Lillo and Thomas Burelli of the Faculty of Law, who are the driving force behind the group. I’d also like to acknowledge the leadership of Elizabeth Marshman and Ryan Fraser, the co-chairs of the School of Translation and Interpretation; they’ve done a great job of keeping the channels of communication open and of working hard behind the scenes so that everything will be in place for a smooth transition into the new academic year.

Besides preparing your course load, what did you do this summer?

I was actually teaching during this Spring/Summer term, as well as preparing my Fall courses, so it has certainly been a teaching-focused period. However, I was fortunate to receive a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant in the most recent Insight competition, so I’m looking forward to launching my research project on Digital literacy and global research soon. But first, I think a few days of staycation on my patio are in order! I enjoy mystery books, so I’ll be diving into a stack of those. Maybe it will even inspire me to suggest a mystery-themed game for the Educational Games Group!

Thank you Professor Bowker!

 

Mitia Rioux-Beaulne

Assistant professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Philosophy. Researcher affiliated with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy

Class being taught Fall 2020:

Philosophie : idées et arguments

 

Mitia Rioux-Beaulne

 

Tell us a bit about your experience with the transition to online learning:

I taught a class remotely for the first time this summer, so this fall will be my second experience. The big difference with the class I am giving this fall is that this will be the fifth time that I teach it. That means I have to rebuild the class. I have to adapt it so that it can take a new form. I have to learn how to work with my own lessons and reconfigure them to fit into this new model.

One of the things that seemed to work this summer was to compensate for the low level of interaction with the students by doing closer individual student follow-up. I created more individual learning activities that let me give students frequent feedback on their work. I do more very close follow-up so that I can see what the students are doing, what they’re learning, and how they’re learning. I’m even thinking of keeping this more regular follow-up format once we’re back in the classroom.

What has been your biggest challenge in adapting to a distance-learning format?

I would say that it’s a creative challenge. We can’t rely on habitual practices and do things the way they’re usually done... We have to develop challenges that are stimulating, and develop objectives, teaching modes, and pedagogical approaches that are different from the ones we normally use. The fact that I had the opportunity to give a distance course this summer allowed me develop formulas and create activities that I never would have done in class. It’s creative work that lets you challenge yourself.

Has anything surprised you during this experience?

Throughout the entire class this summer, I felt like I had a very abstract relationship with the students. I was even thrown a little off balance, because usually I’m very present in class, very engaged. The online format gave me the feeling that I didn’t know whether the students liked the class... then, around the second half of the session, I began getting thank you emails, emails of appreciation, and I realized that the students were very much present and stimulated by the class.What surprised me the most was the students’ great ability to adapt. They have the skills to adapt to this formula, but they’re also very forgiving and they understand our challenges. They don’t mind if a professor has a few technical difficulties... It was very surprising to see how grateful the students were for all our efforts to provide them with a rich pedagogical experience.

Where did you go for resources to familiarize yourself with this new format?

I think it’s important not to get lost in an excess of information. There are a lot of things being said and written about online teaching at the moment, and the more you read, the more you come across things that are inconsistent, a little contradictory, and you end up with a head full of ideas but with no idea of where to start... so I decided to stick with my solid base, which gave me what I needed to post my content and feel comfortable. Put simply, we receive a lot of information, and we end up feeling as though we should follow certain models, but I think that what works best is to get the tools you need and make them your own, so that you can avoid feeling as though you’re trying to be someone else when you’re teaching.

What advice would you give to professors offering online classes for the first time?

The only advice I can think of is to tell yourself that your skills as a professor, the skills that you had before, your experience, are transferable to other platforms, other working methods... basically, you have to trust your own resources. The foundation is there, the students are there, and they want to learn and are ready to adapt to what you have to offer. Therefore, my advice is to rely on your strengths and use them. Everything will go better than expected once things are up and running.

What advice would you give to students taking online classes for the first time?

Actually, my advice would be the same. I would advise students to trust their capacity to learn and their professors’ abilities. We must not forget that the skills of the professors, the skills of the students are there... the pedagogical relationship is so important that it will reconstitute itself, regardless of the format that’s established. My advice to everyone is to trust in yourself, things will reconnect eventually.

Is there anything about the online learning approach that you plan to incorporate into your in-class teaching?

To avoid subjecting students to hours of online lectures, I began using other media (podcasts, YouTube, things already online), and then the students had to do activities based on that. I really liked that. It added another component to the class and I intend to keep that concept when I go back to the classroom.

Thank you Professor Rioux-Beaulne!

 

Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr
Part-time Professor at the Department of English

Class being taught Fall 2020:
three sections of ENG1100: Workshop in Essay Writing (a mandatory course)

 
Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

 

Tell us a bit about your experience:

When we made the quick pivot to online teaching in March 2020, I was very grateful that I had already taken lots of Teaching and Learning Support Service courses on Blended Learning and various tech. My course was already 20% online, so I was familiar with the key aspects of Brightspace, like drop boxes for assignments, quizzes, surveys, and assessment.

By that point in the Winter 2020 term, we were at the peer review stage of our essay-writing course, so it was not too much trouble to shift peer review to being online rather than in person.

I decided to teach again in the Summer term to field test my 100% online version of the course for the Fall. When the summer term ended, I made a few more tweaks to the syllabus and then asked my most persnickety student to go over it for me. He made quite a few more improvements.

What has been your biggest challenge in adapting to a distance-learning format?

The biggest challenge is not being in the classroom. I would far rather be in front of the students in person than be on Zoom. However, I tried to make this work for me by turning all my PowerPoints into 14 short video lectures (10–15 minutes) and a dozen or so writing and research exercises, and then meeting for 20–30 minutes with small groups of 6 or 7 students, rather than the lecture-sized group of 70.

Has anything surprised you during this experience?

I have been surprised by how much the students liked the course, which was developed as we went along without a whole lot of planning time beforehand. Several of them sent me lovely messages at the end of term, like this one: “I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for a great semester! I really enjoyed how you handled the transition to digital learning as you still managed to make the content engaging.”

Where did you go for resources to familiarize yourself with this new format?

TLSS webinars have been great and I look forward to using the Arts Café more in Fall 2020. We also now have a teaching resources group on Brightspace, thanks to our undergrad director, Jennifer Blair.

What advice would you give to professors offering online classes for the first time?

DO NOT try to lecture online. It is not the right format for this type of instruction, and it makes for inherently boring classes. No matter how charming you are in person, you’d have to be a YouTube superstar to hold their attention online.

When setting up meeting times for small-group discussion, make sure to have some outside of regular class hours for those who must work or for students joining from overseas. Nine a.m. or earlier should work for China, the Middle East, and Africa. Early evening should work for students with full-time jobs.

Make sure to offer online office hours. Mine are by appointment rather than at a set time.

What advice would you give to students taking online classes for the first time?

The onus is on YOU to keep on top of things. Get to know all the inner workings of Brightspace. Make sure to turn your notifications for Brightspace ON so that you don’t miss any messages. Keep track of deadlines and meet them. Half a year has passed now since the lockdown began, so there’s no excuse for not being able to keep up with the tech or the format. This is the new normal, for now anyway. If your Internet is unreliable for online meetings, your professor should still have ways to make the course accessible. The more you put into the course, the more you will get out of it. You can’t skim the material. These are not massive open online courses you can just drop without anyone noticing; there are still financial and GPA consequences.

Is there anything about the online learning approach that you plan to incorporate into your in-class teaching?

The small-group process has been a huge help in keeping everyone connected to me, to each other, and to the class material. Usually we would have a lecture of 70 and two discussion groups of 35, but this simply would not work for online teaching.

I’m changing the way we do peer review so that it now counts as part of the grade for the final essay. The students have found this process very useful. As one of them said, “the peer review process has allowed me to become more confident about my writing. I have always been a little reluctant and insecure about my papers and essays, and always wished for another opinion; now I feel so much better with people reading my work and helping me make it better by comments, constructive criticism, and suggestions. This process helps students develop critical thinking skills and make evaluative judgements based on the assignment’s requirements. Not only that, but it allows people to accept constructive criticism, broaden their knowledge, and open up to new perceptions. In reading other people’s essays, you learn things you would not have otherwise found the time for. Finally, it brings students closer, which is what we miss most by not being in class together. This plays a huge role in creating new friendships where everyone respects, values, and appreciates criticism and opinions.”

I’ve also completely changed the way that I mark class participation. Before, my method was partially qualitative and partially quantitative. But now I have a points formula that can be counted almost entirely by Brightspace. Students can get points for doing surveys, submitting writing exercises to their portfolio, or participating in online discussions, as well as attending the Zoom meetings. I still take attendance in the Zoom meetings and, because they are small groups of 6 or 7, I will notice if you have done the reading or not. No points for attending but not doing the reading!

Any MVP shout outs you would like to make? (within your team and/or outside your team)

My TA, Patrick, has been stalwart in shifting to this new format and in helping me to improve the course for online delivery. Our undergrad director, Jennifer Blair, has been amazing in rising to the challenge of providing all the helpful resources for online teaching that she can find and create. As well, my part-time professor colleagues have been very supportive. Special thanks to my office mate Gerry Arbach, who has been teaching at uOttawa for 49 years!! Her advice is gold.

Besides preparing your course load, what did you do this summer?

Besides teaching, I am also an editor, so I have several regular clients who keep me busy. And for fun, I am finally making the king-sized quilt I promised Amanda (my former TA, now doing a post-doc at McMaster) when she got married two years ago. Notwithstanding teaching 210 students this fall, my goal is to have it finished in time to keep her and her hubby warm this winter.

Thank you Professor Bradley-St-Cyr!

 

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