Lynelle is the Chair of the Allied Health and Technologies programs in the School of Health and Human Services (HHS). As Chair, she has had a different experience of the past year from other faculty I have spoken to, and brings a unique point of view to online teaching because pre- COVID, D2L was already heavily integrated into the courses in her programs. “From day one of MRAD (Medical Radiography) and for every subsequent course or program in Allied Health and Technologies, our underlying starting point is face-to-face enhanced with D2L. When you take a job with us, it is so deeply integrated in the way we interact with students, it doesn’t make any sense to opt out. New faculty are trained and supported in using D2L from day one, which I think is a huge key for a minimum level of universal adoption.” In addition, plans for moving some of Allied Health & Technologies programs into a fully blended format with some exclusively online courses were already in progress, which means that this past year gave AHT a jumpstart on achieving what they’d already been planning.
But even if courses already integrated technology, Lynelle’s faculty still faced challenges. “I think the biggest challenge that we all faced, students, faculty, staff, was creating boundaries between what happens at school or work and what happens in the rest of your life, but also accepting that sometimes those boundaries can’t be rigid. This also created a great deal of acceptance and understanding from instructors for what their students were going through because during the pandemic the challenge was the same for everyone.” Another challenge was, as Lynelle puts it, that “some people and technology are like oil and water.” You have the happy adopters at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end those who prefer the way things are and are having perhaps the hardest time adapting. “I empathize with the struggle those in the second group are having, and I try and remind myself that they’re living this struggle every day and it’s depleting their resilience faster than anyone else’s.”
When I asked Lynelle about her experience, and the experiences of her faculty, of moving completely online last year, her sentiment probably sounds familiar. “Initially I think everybody wanted to vomit because, we were being forced to do something many faculty had resisted in the past. But then I think a certain percentage of faculty surprised themselves by how well they were able to do it, how well their students responded, how much they ended up liking it. They had just never given it a chance before.” As a result, Lynelle sees many rewards from the past year. “Some of the things we’ve learned during the pandemic are not new, but not everybody was there yet. But now we have an opportunity to figure out what we must maintain (for example, no student is going to want to roll back to having no D2L shell for some of their courses.) I’m really glad that this has forced everyone to the same page – keeping everybody on that page is going to be the next challenge for the organization.”
Lynelle does have some advice for faculty moving to online teaching. “My advice would be that while we did it (we did it quick and dirty during the pandemic) which proved to us that we could do it, it wasn’t the best way to do it. Now we need to take stock of the things that are working really well and the things that we should continue doing as much as possible. Faculty need to carefully consider the content pieces they want to design and how they need to design them, for example making them modular so that it’s easy to switch things out, and treat that content creation as normal course refreshing. Then get feedback from students, and revise.” But she also cautions not to be afraid of trying something new, just don’t try to do everything at once. “My advice is to just do it. If it’s bad, don’t do more of it, do something else. If it’s good, do more of it.”
And the future? Well moving more courses to online learning with blended teaching approaches for labs and practice was always in Lynelle’s plan for at least one of her programs, namely the Certified Medical Laboratory Assistant (CMLA) program. “We got such a bump – light years faster than we ever expected, and now we’re here. We’ve ripped the bandage off and now we’re wondering how we can support all our instructors who will need to keep teaching in this way. We will need better instructional spaces for them, perhaps miniature recording studios with the features they will need to create really engaging content.” Lynelle sees huge benefits for students learning this way. “Students could miss a face-to-face class because they could either watch the class later, or they simply log on remotely.” Maybe there are students from Calgary or Edmonton, or maybe students are working part-time jobs while they’re upgrading. “They can’t do that if their course schedule has them showing up in classes on Monday at 2:00pm, and Tuesday morning at 8:00am, and Wednesday at noon. But when you throw asynchronous courses or a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning with a combination of face-to-face and remote learning, sometimes you can tick all a student’s boxes.”
Both MRAD and CMLA already have some of these options. “We have face-to-face labs right now, but in some cases, students only have to come on campus once a week. So they can travel to Victoria, stay in a nice hotel one day a week for their entire program, for cheaper than it would be to move to Victoria for just one semester.” And Lynelle notes that it was the students who figured out that math! “That’s huge, especially since both programs require a certain percentage of students to relocate for their practicums anyway. So if they can arrange their practicums in locations where they would prefer to work, that makes everyone happy because employers want people that have ties to community and the desire to work in those places because they become long-term employees instead of employees that are on their way to something better. And so that’s better for the overall development of the island, not just us.”
With future plans already in motion, Lynelle is excited. “Now we have educational resources that we never had before to make all this possible. I thought it was going to take us three, maybe five years to build those resources, but the pandemic happened, and now we’re ready. That’s what education should be about: delivering the learning to students where they need it, and when they need it!”