Deanna is a part-time faculty member teaching English at Camosun. Her situation is a little different from other faculty members I’ve spoken with first, because she is 50%, and second because she teaches one course, and has taught this same course for a number of years. So, when everyone had to move online, Deanna only had to convert one course, but she didn’t know for sure she was going to be teaching in the fall until early August. As a result Deanna had a choice to make: would she take her old face to face course and simply convert it to online, or would she take her colleague’s already developed online (asynchronous) course (her colleague developed it for the spring/summer term) and use that, adapting it to how she teaches? In the end, she decided to take a chance and plunge head first into something completely new and different rather than staying in her comfort zone. She worked hard last fall, but feels that the work she put in has paid off, because this term she can spend more time working on engagement with the students rather than figuring out how the course and content work. And in the future, she can “spend more time … on what the students’ need, as opposed to learning the technology, updating content, updating assignments, writing news posts – those things are all there, so I can spend the real engagement time with the students helping to move their learning forward. That’s exciting!” Deanna thinks part of the reason she has enjoyed the experience so much is that she was “not comparing everything to the classroom because there is no reason to. I’m not comparing how well the classroom version worked compared to my online version because I’m doing something completely different – it’s almost like I’m not grieving the loss of what I was doing in the classroom.”
I liked a metaphor Deanna used to describe the move online as an opportunity created from having to “rip the Band-Aid off,” of using technology to support her teaching. In the before-times, she was content to use tools like D2L as a support to her classroom teaching, but last year, she says “I was forced to embrace the fullness of the options…I haven’t embraced all of them, but the ones that I’ve embraced have surprised and delighted me more often than not” and “now that it’s a year later, I see that there is this amazing capacity for me to engage with students and for them to engage with each other.”
One of the things that Deanna notes as instrumental in getting through this was support. Support from people in eLearning and in the Facilitating Learning Online course. While she was developing and teaching in the fall, “I felt like the support was there for me as a safety net, no matter what risks I decided to take, I had the support” and was able to debrief around what was working, and what wasn’t, until she realized that she “had moved from feeling like I needed that weekly handholding to now feeling confident when I come out of trying something new.” That’s the part that makes me happy – we help faculty to find that confidence to try something new themselves!
Deanna has seen a lot of amazing benefits for both her and her students from teaching online. Even though, as she says, “you don’t have the option of relying on the five senses that you used in the face to face classroom, or on your years of experience with in-person engagement…I think that I’m engaged in a more intimate way with the students than in the classroom. It’s weird and it’s exciting.” For example, they can “write on the whiteboard in Collaborate…and they seem to love trying different colours, and shapes when brainstorming – my creative self thrives and delights that students are being creative in a new way that didn’t happen when using a classroom blackboard.”
As Deanna spoke, I was struck by her comments about her online synchronous classes and not being able to see all the faces as you would in a face to face classroom. Rather than seeing this as a negative, Deanna thinks of this as an opportunity for her and her students to take more risks in a safe environment. “A student might put something in the chat that they might not have raised their hand to say, but they did it and felt brave…. we’re doing things that are creative and innovative and I’m feeling like it’s okay to take those risks when in the classroom I might not.”
Advice for anyone moving to online teaching? “Don’t worry about the bells and whistles! Understand where you’re at, who you are, and what matters to you as a teacher, and concentrate on…how your strengths as a teacher will translate into the online environment rather than seeing something shiny that somebody else does… Just put that aside and be who you are.” And also she wants faculty who have been teaching online over the past year not to give up too quickly on this experience. “I’m hoping we come out of this feeling really open and positive about online learning.”
As to whether Deanna will continue to use these tools to support her teaching, she tells me yes! “It’s been exciting to do this and there is so much potential in it, I want to be an online teacher…In the same way that I feel like classroom teaching was something that I do and I feel really great at it, I want to get there with online teaching.”
Deanna had so many amazing things to tell me, I can’t share them all here in one post, but I want to end this piece with something she said at the beginning of our discussion that for me makes everything I do in my work supporting faculty worth it: “it’s been an incredible journey that I’m extremely thankful for.”
Thanks Deanna – I know we will see incredible things from you.