After a year of online learning, two Brock University students are reflecting on a reversal of roles and how it has improved their educational journey.
Cody Ellis and Teshawn Smikle have both completed their fair share of courses, but last spring and fall, the pair were part of a new co-op project organized by the Faculty of Social Sciences that gave them the chance to instruct their instructors.
With the colossal task of moving almost every course at the University online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, instructors were in need of assistance. Dean of Social Sciences Ingrid Makus and Associate Deans Dawn Zinga and Kate Bezanson mobilized and funded a group of students to complete their co-op work terms assisting with the transition.
For Ellis, a third-year Psychology student, this meant a summer of creating online forums in Sakai for Psych 1F90, one of the University’s largest courses, and working directly with instructors to increase their proficiency online.
“It was a bit intimidating at first to be teaching my instructors,” she said. “But they were very receptive and learned lots of new ways to operate in an online learning environment.”
Zinga said the instructors were happy for the technical support and new ideas the students contributed.
“So many instructors appreciated the student perspective and it created amazing new paths for teaching and learning,” she said.
While the project benefitted Brock’s instructors and students, Ellis said the co-op work term was helpful for her own learning as well.
“I honestly didn’t expect to get a co-op work term due to COVID,” she said. “Not only did I get workplace experience, the role also helped me to prepare for learning in the pandemic and to get ready for online classes myself.”
Once Ellis and four other summer students finished their work terms, Smikle, a Master of Social Justice and Equity Studies student, and another group carried on the process in the fall.
“A lot of professors don’t have as much experience in technology and the online world,” said Smikle. “Having the chance to help them and share our perspectives on what would work and what would not was a very unique position to be in.”
Along with online course assistance, Smikle and the fall cohort also worked directly with students to help with essay support, outreach events and other activities to alleviate student stress.
“It was a great feeling knowing I could help students feel less stressed,” he said. “I wanted them to know someone is there for them, and it’s always good to be a friendly face.”
Zinga, who was recognized as one of Brock’s Outstanding Co-op Supervisors for involvement in the project, said the students played a pivotal role in getting the University ready for online learning in an uncertain time.
“We are so proud of them,” she said. “We were in a situation that was evolving daily, and the students had to tolerate a high degree of uncertainty. We shifted regularly with both teams as the pandemic and the needs of the Brock community were shifting. But it was their versatility to keep being energetic and outgoing individuals during these circumstance that made them succeed.”
Though their co-op roles are now complete, both Ellis and Smikle are thankful for the next steps the work terms have helped them to take.
For Ellis, this means beginning to chart some of the necessary steps to pursue graduate studies.
“My co-op helped me create connections with a lot of professors who I can consult when I write my thesis and helped me to find a position as a research assistant,” she said.
Meanwhile, Smikle is ready to begin his career.
“It gave me a lot of experience with how to navigate work in an online setting,” he said. “With the virus, a lot of work is going to be moving online, and I can now set myself apart by showing that I can confidently adapt and thrive in the online world.”
Along with Ellis and Smikle, the following students also took part in the Social Sciences Spring/Summer and Fall Co-op work terms: Eddy Su, Thomas Carvarzan, Lita Dayarm, Nicolina Andric, Vithugavy Rakulan, Jessica Foster, Haran Raghavan, Doren Otung and Edward Akuako.