Teachers saving the semester by going online
For the past two weeks, many teachers have become students learning all about online teaching platforms. They have also been working hard to adapt course outlines and figure out how to present their material online while maintaining academic integrity and continuing to engage their students.
Dawson’s Communications Office spoke with two teachers about resuming teaching online.
Johanne Rabbat, Religion
“It is an impossible task, but we are doing the best we can under the circumstances,” said Johanne Rabbat, a teacher in the Department of Religion and a Dawson Active Learning Fellow who has 20 years of experience in teaching and tutoring.
“I have missed my students and I wish we could be back in the classroom,” Johanne said. “Nobody planned this, but we are all in it together.”
The last days on campus
Johanne said that in the last two days on campus, she was already starting to think about what might be coming next with the news of the pandemic being declared by the World Health Organization. “The students were already anxious and I helped them process their feelings and we also talked about hygiene etiquette.”
Since the period of confinement began, Johanne has been in touch with her students. “I have found the students to be really patient. They have held back on sending impulsive MIO messages and are showing much restraint and patience.”
Looking forward to being back
Johanne feels her students are very much looking forward to being back. One student wrote that she is glad to refocus on school, and work less at her student job in a stressful essential service.
Johanne’s first class online will be this Wednesday. “It will be an ice breaker. We are going to play a game of Zoom treasure hunt and they are going to share an image they find funny or relaxing and use it to learn how to change a Zoom background,” she said.
Stressed about going online
Johanne is stressed about going online. She said that teachers must be easy on themselves and not set expectations too high. “Usually, a course outline takes weeks to design. We have had to overhaul our course outlines and figure out a new way of teaching in two weeks. There is a lot more to teaching than just delivering content. There is the whole motivational component.
“We are all adapting quickly to a dynamic situation,” Johanne said.
It is important to Johanne to be consistent with her students: “I feel that it is important to provide some form of stability for the students in an otherwise quite unsettling and ever-shifting climate, so I plan to meet with them regularly.”
Countless Zoom meetings
Previously, Johanne had taken an introduction to Moodle workshop but she feels much more comfortable using Lea. “I have now had countless Zoom meetings,” she said. “The Dawson Active Learning Community’s PJ Party meeting on Zoom I attended last semester really helped demystify Zoom for me.”
Coordinating class with partner’s team meetings
Another challenge is the home work environment. While Johanne does not have children at home, she does have to coordinate with her partner so he is not on Zoom while she is teaching her class. “We work near each other and cannot be on Zoom at the same time. So my partner’s team has to take into account my Dawson classes in scheduling their work meetings.”
Johanne acknowledged that she is grieving. “There are many activities I had planned for my classes that are now impossible. I miss my students and my colleagues, my lifestyle, and my freedom,” she said.
Lucky to work
“Yet, we are lucky to have work as a distraction. Even if we feel anxious, we put our feelings aside and get on with teaching. We have a great responsibility and an opportunity to reach many people. Hopefully, we will help our students weather this.”
Anick Legault, Psychology
Anick Legault, a Psychology teacher with 15 years of teaching experience, has also never taught online before even though she has been using Moodle in class for years. “When it became clear that we may close, I asked my students to download Zoom on their devices while we were in our last class before the study break,” she said.
Moodle in class but not online
Anick was already using Moodle for lectures and quizzes in and out of the class. “With Zoom integrated into Moodle, it is easy for me to transition to a virtual class and online office hours.”
Anick has a lot of experience using technology in a classroom setting but not online. “Currently, I am working with Catherine Fichten and the rest of the Adaptech Research Network team on an ECQ grant to include the use of smartphones in the classroom. I also like using a live polling app (PollEverywhere.com) on the phone, which is great for getting input from students. They may be reluctant to share openly, and using the app helps increase and deepen the participation of all.”
Communicating with students
The work that Anick has been doing in this confinement period is to prepare students for the impending online course. “I had to let them know how Zoom works. For example, they can only enter the Zoom meeting when class is on. I sent a detailed note to my students all about Zoom, letting them know they can also participate by phone if Internet fails them.”
On Sunday, March 29, Anick contacted her students and asked them to let her know if they had any issues joining her classes. “One student wrote to me: ‘I cannot wait to start!’ I have left some exercises on Moodle unhidden and some of my students surprised me by completing them last week. I think they are bored!”
From her MIO message, Anick could see that 73 out of 75 students had seen her message about the resumption of her classes. “I will reach out by telephone to the two students I have not heard from and see what I can do to help support them, and send them to the proper Dawson resources.”
Anick is grateful for the support of the Dawson community in general and especially to her department. “Madeleine Côté, our chair, has been extremely active and encouraging. All colleagues are sharing tricks and supporting each other – we rock! Teachers who are teaching the same class are meeting together to determine what they will offer as a team so that equity is respected.”
Anick’s adaptation to online teaching includes developing new smaller comprehension assignments following an asynchronous lecture/lesson on Moodle, doing more participation assignments during her Zoom online mini classes and adding some polling integrated to the Zoom virtual class. “I am not an expert with a virtual classroom, but I will do my best to help and support my students in this learning experience for all.”
Anick has two 3-hour classes that meet once a week. “We are easing into this and not forcing them to be present online for three consecutive hours. My first online course this week with each group will be to reconnect with students, try out Zoom and some of its functions/features (e.g., raising hand, thumb up, chatting, etc.) together as a class, talk about the changes made to our course, and plan for the remainder of the semester.”
Smaller groups, less time
Knowing that the attention span is not as high online as in person, Anick is thinking of dividing her classes into smaller groups and meeting for one hour with each subgroup. There is also the option of creating “break rooms” in Zoom, where students will discuss and complete mini assignments in small groups. The general idea is to keep them engaged and motivated in the lessons.
“As Rajesh Malik, my colleague in Psychology said: ‘we are living through a period like wartime’,” Anick said. “Nothing is destroyed but everything is restricted. We just want to save the semester and help our students move on.”
As a self-described “homebody,” Anick is looking at the positive side: I’m in my best place with my favourite person, my husband, and I am feeling happy despite these challenging times.”
Well-being and self-care
Anick shared how she is taking care of herself: “I am taking sun every day, and my husband and I have increased our yoga and exercise time to one hour a day. Thanks to the Physical Education Department for their great article in D News reminding us that we don’t necessarily need a gym to keep fit!
“I have also taken the guided meditations with Daniel Goldsmith, and it felt so good to connect with others in these moments of calmness. I keep in touch with my colleagues in our department with regular Zoom meetings and this way, I feel productive and energized.”