Video lectures, online slides, and Google Docs just some of the tools being used as flexibility, adaptability, and compassion stressed as key
When UVic announced earlier this month that the university would be transitioning away from face-to-face classes beginning on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instructors had to think fast. Not only would they have to completely change how they taught course material, but in many cases assignments would also have to be modified and their deadlines changed. Instructors were given until March 19 to communicate to their students and department chairs what their plan would be for the rest of the term.
While this might seem like an insurmountable task, as normally instructors have months to come up with course plans instead of days, several expressed to the Martlet that the university has lessened the burden and eased the transition through flexibility and easy-to-use guidelines.
“I am impressed with the flexibility the university has shown and speed with which resources have been shared,” said Sara Humphreys, an assistant teaching professor in UVic’s Department of English. “Has it been perfect? No, but no emergency response is and that’s what we are looking at.”
In a statement regarding UVic’s transition away from face-to-face learning, UVic President Jamie Cassels recognized that with the breadth and diversity of courses being taught at UVic, a one size fits all solution would never work. He instead urged instructors to determine whether learning outcomes for the course had been met, and if not it would be up to the individual instructors to decide what the best course of action would be for them and their students — whether that be video lectures, posted notes, or PowerPoint slides.
In terms of assessment, Cassels listed some ideas, such as changing the weight of certain assignments, adjusting the format of final exams, and adding new components to make up for others. Ultimately, however, he stressed that it would be up to the instructors to decide what works best for them.
The university has also launched a site called “Teach Anywhere” through the Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation (LTSI) website, which provides resources to instructors to help facilitate their transition online. Split into sections, this site teaches instructors how to use CourseSpaces, launch a Blackboard Room, and deliver tests online and answers frequently asked questions that instructors may have.
In addition to the resources provided by the university administration, instructors have relied on the support of their colleagues. For Humphreys, the collaboration amongst members of the university has been nothing short of impressive.
“I have been impressed with how supportive instructors, the university, LTSI, and Faculty Association has been,” she said. “I can only speak for my small corner of the university, but from my point of view, I think things have been handled well, considering the unprecedented nature of what we face.”
As the course coordinator for English 135, which this semester has an enrollment of around 830 students, and is being taught by 23 instructors, Humphreys has been able to glean the challenges some instructors face and has offered them marking and instructional support.
To make the experience more manageable for students, she suggested instructors implement asynchronous learning. This allows students to do their assignments or readings when they choose, instead of forcing students to log in at a specific time, which might not be possible for them especially if they are now in a different time zone.
While some instructors, like Humphreys, are still in the thick of things in terms of coordinating and teaching courses, others have already wrapped up their classes, albeit a little early.
“I haven’t had to transition anything online,” said Patrick Boyle, associate professor of jazz studies and ethnomusicology. “Students had enough material submitted already in my courses to base a grade on so my courses are effectively over and done with. One course currently has an outstanding written assignment that students can submit any time until April 3.”
While most instructors seem to be making it through this troubled time, the real challenge will come in the summer semester, when all courses will be offered online for the entire semester. If online delivery continues in the fall semester, the challenge may only grow with a greater number of students and course offerings.
Before UVic’s announcement that the summer semester will not involve face-to-face instruction, the best way to proceed was the subject of heavy debate amongst UVic instructors on social media. Some said a mixed form of online and face-to-face instruction would be best, while others said that the university should go fully online and invest in a better learning management system than CourseSpaces.
In the end, the challenge brought by the transition online has surely been felt by all UVic instructors, but with the help of the university and their colleagues, most seem to be making the best of it so far.