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Eva teaches in the Criminal Justice program at Camosun, and she was lucky to have scheduled development in May and June last year to begin planning for a fall of courses entirely online.  Since Eva had really only used D2L in the past for posting grades, she attended as many eLearning workshops as she could to improve her understanding of the tools she would need, but like many faculty found that getting into workshops was a challenge given the sudden influx of people needing to take them.  While this was frustrating, she also says “it was somewhat comforting to know everyone was in the same situation.”

Talking to her students at the end of the 2020 Winter term was key to Eva to try and get a better sense of what things were like for them.  One of the things she discovered was, “because [faculty] have a range of capacity, skills and abilities, students experienced [inconsistencies in course design]…So we talked about it in our department, because the feedback from students was, we want simplicity, we want consistency. So in our little group in criminal justice, we talked about how we could be more consistent with how we use D2L.”

Eva says one of her biggest challenges last year was “that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”  While trying to figure out whether to teach synchronously or asynchronously, “I scratched my head for a long time about that because I really didn’t feel like I knew the answer. I talked to other faculty who had done one or the other or both, and I also tried to reach out to former students and current students to ask, if you were given a choice, what would you choose, synchronous or asynchronous? And I got a mixed bag of responses, which didn’t make the choice any easier!”  Eventually she settled on a blend.  “What I did was have a synchronous class, usually the first class of the week, and then the second class would be asynchronous…I tend to show video clips, have discussion groups, have a small assignment that they do either alone or with a partner…some [of these would be] synchronous, [and some] relegated to the asynchronous class. I think that combination has worked well.”

Another challenge for Eva is how hard it can be to get to know students in the online environment.  In Collaborate, she keeps her camera on because students say they want to see a real human, but she often feels like she is hosting a podcast.  “It’s two-dimensional, and so feeling like you have a connection with students is really impeded.”  But in spite of this, Eva says her students exceeded her expectations with the quality of their work.  “I think because we’re hearing so much about the impact on mental health and how everyone is struggling, I thought the quality of work would be lower. But actually in the fall, when reading their papers and looking at their work, [I realized] it was really good quality work…I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, it exceeded my expectations. And that’s always a wonderful surprise.”

Eva says she is still learning lessons as she continues to teach online.  After the shift last March, she felt very anxious for two main reasons: [“first, I thought] I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can teach online. I don’t know if I can learn these tools. I don’t know if I can make this technology work.  And second, I don’t want to be off campus. I miss people. I want to be with my colleagues, I want to be with my students…But then we plodded along and it kind of came together.”  But she does still worry about the distance between people that teaching and learning online can cause.  “I worry about people losing a tiny bit of that humanity and connectivity that they don’t miss if they sitting across from other people talking in a group.”

Some advice Eva has for instructors moving online is to connect with their faculty group.  Play with the technology as well, and practice with colleagues if you can.  “I would say definitely try to get on top of all those tools and get comfortable with them. But also, I would say, especially if you’re going to teach synchronously [which can be] a little like talking into the abyss, so find some level of comfort with doing the majority of the talking, far more than you would be in class….and be mindful that [sometimes] it’s only if somebody has a question that you hear a voice or see a comment.”

Eva always asks for student feedback at the end of the term, and says she is interested to see what the students this term have to say about how the course went and what things they would like to see change.  She does say that she will continue to use the tools she has learned over the past year.  “Sometimes you’re forced to do something you don’t really want to do and you resist at first…and then you figure it out. And once you figure it out [you] see [the good]. And if we end up back in the classroom, I’m definitely still going to use [online tools] more than I used prior to COVID.”