Instructors find innovative ways to teach courses online

While students have been busy planning their courses for the fall, instructors across Brock University have been busy adapting and creating online courses.

Instructors have been reconsidering everything from what they are teaching and what technology they need to use, to how they will assess student learning and what they want students to get out of their courses.

“I’m completely rethinking my course,” says Assistant Professor of Classics Roberto Nickel, instructor for CLAS 1P95. “I’ve thought a lot about the ethical issues we’re facing with this cohort and the unique challenges that first-year students are facing, having been denied the last third of their final year of high school.”

Nickel says he has “thrown out” a lot of the traditional face-to-face milestones, like midterms and research essays, to focus on smaller weekly assignments that keep students engaged with course material every week. A final reflection assignment will encourage students to relate the course material to their own lives and the events happening around them.

“The goals of these assignments are to keep students constantly engaged in the course and to help them learn what I see as perhaps the fundamental skill the Humanities teach, close reading, in the absence of the weekly face-to-face seminars,” says Nickel.

Danielle Wilson, Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts, has also been thinking about assessment and grading in the online environment for her voice and acting classes. She plans to go ‘gradeless’ and involve students in the assessment of their own learning, focusing on the process of learning rather than the end results.

“Students won’t receive grades on their assignments, only feedback to engage them in the learning process,” says Wilson, who wants to help students be motivated by their own learning rather than grade expectations.

“The grade at the end of the course will be a collaborative effort between the student and the instructor that is based on their engagement in the learning process instead of focusing on achievement of a particular grade,” she says

While this approach is new to Wilson, it is a proven pedagogical practice and she hopes to carry it on when students return to the classroom.

Language instructors are incorporating innovative approaches to support student learning, including podcasting, online exhibitions, and audio recordings of instructors so students can hear and practise the language.

“A key part of learning for us is the communication and the dynamic in the classroom,” says Nigel Lezama, Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Director of the French program. “I wanted to reproduce in some way the hearing and speaking of language, otherwise it’s learning in theory. It’s all theoretical until students start using it.”

To support language practice, Lezama will have his students create a miniature film festival. Working in small groups, they will create recordings of situations, such as being at a bank or a store, and share the results with their peers. The recordings students make over the course of the semester help them see their language progress in a real way, he says.

Professors and instructors across the University are being supported by a team of experts in Brock’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) as they create meaningful assignments and engaging courses for the online environment.

“It is exciting to see the creative and innovative assignments professors and instructors are developing to truly achieve learning outcomes — not just focusing in on high stakes exams at the end of the term but things that are meaningful and impactful for students,” says Associate Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning Madelyn Law. “It is inspiring to be working with so many instructors who truly want to see their students succeed and are providing assignment that are relevant in our current context.”

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