Through consultations and conversations across the sector, we learned that students, faculty, and staff are still struggling with COVID-19 at home and online. To help folx develop strategies to be resilient and effective during and after the pandemic, we have facilitated a series of supportive webinars, which have led to the spontaneous development of a powerful community of care and compassion.
Post by BCcampus’ editorial team
With the abrupt and immediate conversion to online instruction, the world of teaching and learning in B.C. was faced with a massive volume of decisions to make in a seriously condensed timeframe. Through conversations and consultation with students, student services providers, faculty, and staff across the system, we identified a need, and saw an opportunity, to facilitate a series of webinars to provide consistent support and guidance for faculty, students, and staff. To date, we’ve hosted 27 webinars focused on adapting to COVID-19.
“It has been such an inspiration,” shared Robynne Devine, project manager at BCcampus, “to see folx in the sector initially showing up as attendees to these webinars, and then actively contributing to the community as peer supporters. It’s been amazing to watch and makes me proud to be part of such a giving community.”
“One of the biggest challenges across the system,” explained Duane Seibel, principal consultant at DKS Consulting, with 30 years of experience in post-secondary institutions in B.C., “is that faculty didn’t sign up for this. Faculty, by and large, accepted positions so they could teach face to face with students on campus, and they have comfort and ease with that mode of education. Most were ill-prepared for the immediate shift to remote delivery of their courses.”
“Through these sessions, I’ve learned that there are faculty and staff across the province who care deeply about their students and want to do the best they can,” said Duane. “We’ve had participation and faculty from almost every institution across the province, willing to take information back to share with others. We’ve had visitors to our webinars from across the country and around the world, and we’ve learned that everyone is struggling with the same things.”
Creating a Culture of Care
“Nobody will remember the content from the first week of school, whether it’s online or in-person,” shared Brenna Clarke Gray, coordinator, educational technologies at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and webinar facilitator. “In-person, we’re distracted by all kinds of things — a BBQ in the quad or a band playing at the student union — and when we’re online, we’re learning all these new systems, which causes a cognitive overload just to navigate the space. But what students will remember from this week is whether or not they felt they were being set up to learn. Whether they felt there was a community there, and that the instructor cares if they pass or fail. The social environment we build for students and the presence we bring to our classrooms, that’s what my co-facilitator Ian Linkletter and I were focused on bringing through these webinars.”
“Everyone feels like they’re in this alone,” continued Brenna. “Yes, we’re the first to ever do this in a pandemic, but we must recognize that there are over twenty years of research on teaching and learning online, and how to do it well, and there’s even more information on how to create community and how we enact care. Most of the information is the same, whether you’re digital or face to face. You don’t have to feel alone. There are great resources and support available. Our goal was to have people come into the webinars because they want to learn specifically about care and community, and from that, find some facet of learning online that fascinates them. If instructors can feel excited about the mode, then students don’t have to feel so scared of it.”
A Space for Dialogue
“I was really impressed with how everyone came with great questions,” said Brenna, “and my favourite moment in the series was during a multimedia session – how to incorporate audio, video, and H5P into your online course – where a participant shared that they weren’t able to get H5P working on their site, and someone else helped them sort it out, right there in the chat. To me, that really spoke to the spirit of the whole series of workshops. People coming together who are clearly very invested in their teaching, in their students, and wanting to do the best job possible.”
“I was pleasantly surprised by how willing people were to have some really hard conversations,” shared Brenna, “including some of the ethical ramifications of various educational technologies being used across the province at different institutions. It was nice to speak frankly about the use of proctoring services or plagiarism detection software, and what is troubling about those tools. I was surprised — and delighted — at how open people were to hearing about the ethical side of ed tech. I think it’s a conversation that gets forgotten a lot of the time, as we tend to focus on what tools are handy and accessible, and what they offer instructors, so the conversation tends to be about workflow and convenience. We don’t talk often enough, or publicly enough, about the costs. Having a place where people were receptive to that was nice.”
The webinars are now available through the BCcampus COVID-19 website. Also available is a document compiled by co-presenter Ian Linkletter from the University of British Columbia (UBC) filled with sources and resources shared by the participants in the webinar series.
“Through sitting in on these webinars, I’ve learned that we need to adjust what we expect from students during COVID. Their lived reality — parenting from home, working from home, learning from home, sharing devices, sometimes with aged technology or a lack of access to bandwidth — means we have to think outside the box to ensure we’re giving everyone the same opportunity and access to education. Ian and Brenna did an admirable job of sharing tools and resources in their sessions while modelling care and compassion in their tone and delivery of the content.”
—Duane Seibel, principal consultant, DKS Consulting