Beyond emergency teaching: support to level-up your online classes

How do you create an engaging class exhibition when you can no longer meet in person? As thousands of instructors across UBC made the sudden adjustment to online learning in March, creative writing lecturer Sheryda Warrener was faced with a unique problem.

While she had a certain level of comfort with online lectures and the odd podcast, the workshop she was teaching traditionally ended with an exhibition, allowing the students to celebrate the successes of the term and engage with each other’s work. How could she provide the same sense of community and celebration in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown?


Overcoming fear of the unknown

When Sheryda was unable to hold her class exhibition in person, the CTLT helped her set up blogs to share and celebrate their creative works online.

Fortunately, Sheryda knew she didn’t have to work it out alone. She got in touch with the learning design consultants at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), who were able to provide support including technology suggestions, models and examples. As a result, Sheryda used UBC Blogs to set up an online space where students could share their writing, supporting and giving feedback through the comments.

But Sheryda stresses the help was more than just technical – the advice incorporated teaching best practice and a meaningful understanding of how the technologies would work in a classroom setting. She found “recommendations like encouraging participation by sharing how it linked to course outcomes, and modelling the process by keeping my own blog, helped me to make the blog an integrated part of the course instead of just an add-on.”

Having that support also helped build confidence in trying something new. Sheryda explained, “What made the difference was that reassurance to know that it’s okay. This is not too much for your students to handle right now, and you can handle this. It went a long way in me taking that leap to say, okay let’s do this!”


Learning technologies that enhance student experiences

Sheryda Warrener is a lecturer in the Creative Writing program at UBC

Even after that reassurance, Sheryda was surprised with how well her students took to the new technology addition. She explains, “I assumed there would be maybe a little bit of resistance, or just a bit more of a learning curve. But they figured it out really fast.”

And although Sheryda aims to keep things simple and the number of additional technologies to a minimum, the advice she received on ensuring the new tools clearly aligned with course objectives was key to student engagement with them. “When my students see why I’ve chosen a thing for them to do, and why I’ve chosen that form, and they see the value in it, that’s a lovely reward.”


Customized support for UBC instructors

While individual support from a learning designer helped Sheryda with course redesign, there’s a broad range of help available for UBC instructors making the transition to teaching online. The Keep Teaching website offers an overview and guiding principles for online teaching — and has been accessed almost 50,000 times since it launched in March. For support with learning technologies, the Learning Technology Hub offers a range of tool guides and daily drop-in support.

And the newest offering, the Online Teaching Program, consists of a flexible pathway that allows you to customize your learning. Choose to drop directly into a specific online module or workshop on topics including designing interactive learning activities and planning online assessments, or follow the complete structured course pathway. One-on-one educational support and opportunities to practice online teaching methodologies are also available, and you can sign up for as much or as little as feels right to you.


Online but not on your own

So what does Sheryda recommend to UBC instructors working to set up a successful course for fall or winter? More than anything, she advises making connections – whether that’s with staff from the CTLT, UBC Okanagan’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, or your faculty-level instructional support unit.

She reflects, “I wish I had known that, in my first year of teaching. They will do anything to support you, and they’re there to make your life easier. There’s something of such value to know that you’re not alone and you’re not doing this all by yourself.”

Looking for support with your online teaching?

More help is available from your Instructional Support Unit, or take a look at an explainer of the resources available at the COVID-19 Support for Faculty in Transitioning to Online Teaching