Getting ready for online teaching

04 Sep 2020

Mount Allison faculty, staff embark on virtual, on campus instruction this fall

It will be a first day of classes like no other in Mount Allison University’s history. With nearly half of the University’s classes being offered online this fall, faculty and staff members have been working over the past several months to prepare to teach their students, wherever they may be.

Onlineclasses_Fall2020“It’s been a really exciting, and different, summer,” says Dr. Andrew Nurse, who teaches in Canadian Studies and is also the University’s Purdy Crawford Professor of Teaching and Learning. “We are looking forward to welcoming our students back to school and using new technologies for teaching and class discussions.”

Mount Allison is offering courses in three different formats this academic year: online (scheduled and unscheduled classes) as well as classes with on-campus elements, including lab and studio components.

While many changes have been made to the University’s physical space to accommodate classes, labs, and studio activities safely, students will also see a number of changes for online content.

“Students are going to see a lot more content and interactive features on Moodle,” says Keagan Hawthorne, the educational technology consultant in Mount Allison’s Computing Services Department. “Instructors from across the University have been making use of the platform’s full range of activities, including more ways to present content, connect with their students, and encourage student contributions virtually.”

Moodle and Microsoft Teams will be the two primary media used for online courses.

Women’s and Gender Studies and Canadian Studies professor Dr. Krista Johnston will be teaching all her classes online this term, including two introductory courses as well as an upper-year seminar in WGS.

“I have organized my courses for both lectures and small group discussions, with no more than 20 students in a group,” explains Johnston. “I want to create the same sense of community that we would have in a traditional class, wherever my students are joining me from. In a field like women’s and gender studies, students are learning social concepts that will make many of them question some of their core beliefs or societal views. It’s important to make space in the class for this type of interaction, no matter what the format.”

Johnston will be pre-recording lectures and posting them to Moodle throughout the term. She will use the class meeting time to check in with students and facilitate small group discussions and assignments.

Sociology professor Toni Roberts has also moved his classes online for the fall term. Roberts teaches courses in sociology of youth, digital sociology, and environmental sociology.

“I chose to design my classes for online, asynchronous delivery to ensure they are as accessible as possible,” says Roberts. “There a lot of misconceptions about online learning, but I think it’s really important to build and maintain a classroom community, even if you can’t all physically be in the same space.”

Roberts will also be using Moodle as his main teaching platform and has been taking advantage of specific features in the technology to ensure student participation in class.

“The H5P technology in Moodle allows you to embed questions within your lecture for students to answer,” he explains. “This kind of feature helps keeps students engaged in the material and accountable when taking a class online.”

Roberts is also co-chair of the Maple League’s Teaching and Learning Committee and played a key role in this summer’s launch of the Virtual Maple League Teaching and Learning Centre (V_MLTLC). The centre organizes regular sessions on online teaching and learning for Maple League faculty and staff members as well as students. Workshops and presentations from the member schools — Mount Allison, Acadia, Bishop’s, and St. FX — are continuing throughout the term.

The first day of classes, both online and on campus, is Tuesday, Sept. 8. Students should contact their instructor about specific meeting requirements if they have questions or concerns. Academic advisors are available to assist with any schedule changes through the Registrar’s Office (regoffice@mta.ca).

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