In order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many programs and courses across BCIT recently made the transition to a temporary online format. We asked Chemistry Instructor Jennifer Wolf and Computing Instructor Ishita Dwivedi, to share some of their remote teaching experiences.
“Within the span of a few days, the whole landscape changed,” recalls Jennifer, who’s been a Chemistry instructor in the School of Computing and Academic Studies since 2014. “During the spring break, we received an email from our department, preparing us for the possibility of moving our classes online. But as the holiday went on things changed rapidly and soon the decision was made to transition classes online.”
Deviating from traditional face-to-face teaching
“My main message was that I want to try to make myself as accessible as possible, and that students can always reach out to me. I expressed that we’re basically thrown into the deep end and that we don’t know how to swim. My students’ felt the same, too. It was nice that we could exchange thoughts, rather than just continuing where we left off, not only from an academic standpoint, but also from a psychological point of view.”
Ishita Dwivedi who teaches Computing at BCIT agrees that communication was key, including weekly meetings within the Program.
“What really helped was preparing an action plan and maintaining an open communication with my peers and students.” She also found that the mechanism was really important. “Using the right tools for classes, and a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all communication with students helped ease a lot of initial confusion.”
Jennifer says that transitioning to remote teaching made her switch up her style of chemistry instruction. “What I discovered to be really useful – and this is well researched in teaching pedagogy – is deviating from the classic lecturing model where I explain all the theory to my students. Instead I give them a 20-minute video beforehand that explains the concepts. Then in the virtual classroom we can discuss the material much more in depth” explains Jennifer.
“As a result, I think the new format actually increases their comprehension. I’ll probably integrate this method of teaching into my regular classes in the future.”
“I think the new format actually increases their comprehension” – Jennifer Wolf
From wet labs to dry labs
Although it seems that online classes seem to work well when dealing with theory, isn’t there a lot of practical work involved while teaching a subject like chemistry? “Yes there is,” confirms Jennifer, “but I’m fortunate that my class only had two lab sessions left. And there are ways to turn a wet lab into, what we call, a dry lab, where students can manipulate things on the screen. It’s not ideal, but it certainly works well for the mean time.”
All things considered, Jennifer seems to have come out of this transition relatively unimpaired. But what about her students? How do they feel about this whole remote learning situation?
“They’re very accepting of the situation, and they’ve been very patient with me. I’m very surprised that since we shifted to online, I’ve had pretty much a full attendance in the virtual classrooms,” shares Jennifer.
“The biggest challenge I faced was deciding between asynchronous versus synchronous course delivery,” says Ishita, who was dealing with a very different kind of ‘lab’ coursework. “Since my courses need a short lecture before the students start working on the computing lab, a completely asynchronous model didn’t seem the best fit.”
“What worked best was a combination of both synchronous and asynchronous course delivery: the students attend a live short lecture, then work on the lab offline.”
Ishita also feels like the new measures have rolled out successfully. “My students seem to be adjusting quite well with the changes. Considering we’re going through a pandemic, I think the students are doing a really good job moving to online learning.”
“I think the students are doing a really good job moving to online learning” -Ishita Dwivedi
Students seem to have adjusted well – could this new learning paradigm be the way forward? “For most of our instruction in the technology programs at BCIT, nothing can fully replace traditional face-to-face class time, including student group work, lab work, and discussions. But when faced with the necessity of removing that in-person contact, we can make it work,” says Jennifer.
Ishita feels that she’s learned a lot in the past few weeks: “from the importance of face-to-face communication, to the need to find the perfect tools for teaching, to how strong we are as an Institution and as a society. By prioritizing our own and our students’ health and well being, we can come out of this quarantine strong together.”
BCIT is committed to offering applied education in a format appropriate to the unfolding global situation. The institute continues to offer courses and accept applications.
(Thanks to Youri van Vliet for writing this story and Jennifer Wolf for the opening photo.)