Jim teaches in the Automotive Trades, which as you can imagine was a tough program to put entirely online. But his group, there are three of them, worked hard to put everything together, in spite of not having used online technology, like D2L, to support their courses in the past. When I asked how they did it, Jim explained how they reached out to eLearning for support, and then they and the 3 instructional designers they worked with set their goals. “We could have spent a lot of time dwelling on what you can’t do, but we didn’t do that. We really concentrated on where we were, where we needed to be, and how we were going to get there.”
In addition to having to create a lot of material from scratch – videos, quizzes, content – and learning all the technology they needed to use, the team faced many challenges, as did their students. One of the on-going challenges has been connectivity: “it’s very difficult teaching a group of students when three or four of them are glitching out all the time.” But in the end, Jim says that they recognized that they were all in the same boat. “Students are really quick at adapting. They would help each other, and they were also teaching me, which I would acknowledge. Then we’d have a laugh about that – humour was a great thing to bridge those gaps and we acknowledged the bumps in the road and tried to make it a fun place to be.”
Jim remembers as he made his videos, having to let go of being perfect. “I was trying to do them in one take because if I didn’t, then I’d have to edit them, and I didn’t have time. I was burned out and exhausted from learning of all the new technology. So I would do one take, and do the best I could. It was funny when things didn’t go right. For example, I did a pressure washer demo and the breaker didn’t work, and then I get the power to it and the water was turned off. All these little real life things happen, so I’m rolling my eyes and laughing. But it was okay, because it was more authentic – here you are on camera and the water doesn’t turn on and the cutters don’t cut. Anyway it turned out that those things were actually good because the students would laugh and talk about how they loved it when it didn’t work. So that was one of those unexpected things.” I also loved Jim’s description of a game called “Name that Thing” where he would show his students some kind of auto part on camera, and whoever got the name of it right in the chat would have their name put in for a draw, a kind of light at the end of the tunnel for when they could all be together in the same space again.
Aside from allowing his personality and humanness to show in his videos, Jim also learned to be more flexible in terms of the schedules for his classes. Some days would go quickly and a test could be earlier, but other days he needed to spend more time with the content, or perhaps change a shop day into a theory day to make sure everyone was feeling comfortable with the material before moving on. “I used to teach with structured time blocks in mind, but I’ve learned to not do that online, which makes it better for everybody.”
As for advice for instructors new to online teaching, Jim says to try to view the course and the online teaching experience from the student’s perspective. “Don’t assume what they know or don’t know, take your time, smile and be authentic. Remember that it’s okay for you to make mistakes, and that things are going to happen that are out of your control – you can’t prepare for everything. Just be okay with things that are going to happen that you can’t be ready for.”
Jim says he is going to take many of the things his group has created and the tools he has learned to use into his face to face classes when they return. He likes the calendar in D2L, and has created a lot of quizzes – the quizzes tool he especially found made testing and keeping tests up to date much easier. As well, all the videos the team have created will definitely remain part of the courses so students can review them as they need to. “I made about 30 videos which students can watch first, and come to class more prepared. Now when we meet, it’s going to be better overall because we can focus on other things. I can’t see us going back to the way we taught before, not at all.”
In the end, Jim says “if we want to say there’s a silver lining [from this past year], I think we will end up with a better program, and with something that’s probably more relevant for young people. It forced us to get a little bit more in line with the times, which is good.”