Wide array of options this spring in the Social Sciences

When Dennis Soron first agreed to teach “Health, Healthcare and Society” in the upcoming spring/summer session, the current COVID-19 crisis wasn’t even on the horizon.

Yet the topics in SOCI 2P26 — including social determinants and inequities in health, population health and social experiences of illness and health, among others — have never been so timely.

“The course is designed to provide students with a broad overview of sociological approaches to health and healthcare, with a particular focus upon issues pertinent to contemporary Canada,” says Soron, Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Sociology. “In light of the current situation, I will do what I can to foreground topics such as epidemiology, elder care, workplace health and questions of individual versus collective responsibility, and provide concrete tie-ins for student debate.”

Soron is one of many faculty members across the Faculty of Social Sciences and Brock University adapting to a spring/summer session that will be fully online.

“Instructors and teaching assistants in the Faculty of Social Sciences are stepping up to provide spring/summer course offerings in a wide array of innovative formats that demonstrate our commitment to serve students and carry forward the Brock experience in a safe, COVID-19 compliant way,” says Ingrid Makus, Dean of Social Sciences.

The breadth of offerings across the Faculty is as rich as ever, with topical courses on working animalsabnormal psychologyenvironmental lawthe economics of thedrugtradekids and sportsforensic linguistics, and even the role of the superhero in American culture.

Courses have also been added or expanded to increase availability for students, including existing online offerings such as “Introduction to Environmental Sustainability” as well as courses typically offered on site, such as “Land, Body, Sovereignty – Indigenous Perspectives.”

For some, the transition from in-person to online courses presents a particular challenge. In the case of the Vancouver Field Course led by Professor Mike Ripmeester in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. How does a field course take place when travel is out of the question?

“Field courses are a well-established tradition in the discipline of Geography,” says Ripmeester. “One of our early luminaries, for example, Carl Sauer, encouraged geographers to ‘get their boots dirty.’ Today, field courses provide students with the opportunity to observe the ways in which the concepts they learn in lecture play out in actual places.”

To ensure that students have the credits they need to graduate, Ripmeester — who has not taught online before — is rolling up his sleeves to master software and devise creative substitutions to build a similarly immersive virtual field experience.

“I am hoping to preserve some of the experiential aspects of the field course,” Ripmeester says. “I have been looking at creating Google Earth Tours, using online tours to complement lecture material and meshing all of that with some kind of lecture delivery platform.”

It sounds like a tall order, but the prompt actions and creative solutions employed across the Faculty when classes were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March have given instructors several models to work from.

In the Department of Applied Disability Studies, for example, graduate students studying Applied Behaviour Analysis saw their 150-hour practicum cut short, but since the course already offered a combination of in-class lectures and discussion with online work, the transition to full online delivery was a success.

Assistant Professor and Clinical Coordinator Julie Koudys reflects that the process was made easier because of the Department’s ongoing relationship with ITS, which has helped support virtual training experiences for community members in the past.

“The challenge in switching to fully online courses for graduate students is to develop meaningful opportunities for students to engage with peers, the instructor and the course content in a way that respects different student learning styles,” says Koudys, who tries to incorporate a variety of engagement activities to ensure that students can participate in a meaningful way via technology.

“A three-hour synchronous class can easily include some instruction, large group discussion or debate, break-out “chat rooms” for small group structured activities and opportunities for individual participation in different formats like pop-up questions or one-minute essays.”

For more information on spring/summer Social Sciences courses, please visit their web site.

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