Considering a Little Covid-Inspired Research

So, here I am, working on my sixth and final Ontario Extend module, Scholar.

What exactly does that mean? Well, it is asking us to consider our courses, how we are teaching and what we can do to improve upon that by looking at our classroom as a research lab. It’s the “scholarship of teaching and learning” or SoTL.

This module is by far the most academic in nature and harder to get your head wrapped around.

It is asking us lots of questions about the hows and whys of the way teaching is done. Essentially, it is the 2-year-old asking, “But why?”

Good question.

For many teachers, who have been doing the same thing, the same way for years, I’m sure it is a bit of an eye-opener. I wonder, though, if they are even taking these modules. I had an instructor like that behind me in one of my workshops this past year. By the end of the night, I wanted to smack him. I really felt for his students. He was a dinosaur.

For me, new to the teaching game, (officially as I have been speaking to high schools, colleges and industry events and doing industry workshops for years,) I’m all about the, “why are we doing it this way?” I am constantly looking at the materials I am being handed to teach and my students and gauging are they getting this? Are they handing in what they are supposed to? And I have had to change things on the fly all year long.

But, COVID-19 has really thrown a monkey-wrench into things.

I am sitting in front of my computer screen talking away to my class full of students and I can’t see a single face. Yep. It’s a black screen. Nothing like connecting to your class. I can’t tell if they are getting what I am teaching or not. And they are quiet. Oh so quiet. This semester I didn’t have the opportunity to meet any of them before we got shuffled off to our homes and no face-to-face contact. It takes a lot of work to try and connect this way. And I can’t see if they aren’t understanding the material, until they don’t….as in they fail something. Or don’t hand in something.

So, that is the observational research opportunity I have seized on for the semester. How can I introduce additional tools that will provide my students with other ways of learning what they need to know beyond the traditional “prescribed” course delivery? If I can be strategic about the best learning techniques for student success during COVID-19 and required remote delivery, will it make a difference? I’ve created a plan as part of my module. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Mq2o6IhAHfsHKaLytI-WGm_0ueNUE87DMaEFM9ic3iw/edit?usp=sharing

We’re at the half-time right now, and I thought about the conversations I had with my students a couple of weeks ago about where they were at and what was getting in their way of doing well. That led to me thinking of new ways to connect that could meet their needs. Like giving them a video that outlines the biggest assignment for the semester in much greater detail, with references back to the material taken in class and some tips. I created it quickly and posted it to the class website. This lets them view it when they want to view it — on the bus ride home from work, on lunch break at work, while they are looking after their kids or two weeks from now when they need to go over the information as they work on the project. They will have me telling them again, exactly what they need to know. They can even watch it on their phone.

With the information I learn from what can make a difference in their learning, I can improve the classes I teach over the next couple of semesters. This remote delivery is going to be here with us for a bit yet, so I need to figure out better ways of teaching for my students’ success.

I also intend to share my learning with my colleagues, especially the ones teaching similar courses. Conestoga College has a fantastic Teaching and Learning team and I know they will be open to any information I am willing to share with them. And I plan to share some highlights here as well.

Only by being open to hearing about my students’ needs, what’s not working well and what could be done better, can there be the opportunity to pinpoint how I can turn teaching during this time of COVID from a wall of blackness into a new path through the forest.

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