How do you ensure your students are really learning in your class when you can’t see them, they’re in different time zones, and they aren’t physically present in the labs where you would have been able to observe if they were understanding the objectives of your course? Faculty members across McGill – and indeed the world – are pondering those questions as they prepare to teach remotely for the first full semester next fall.
Dr. Chris Buddle, Associate Provost and Professor in Natural Resource Sciences, captured it succinctly in a video addressing these concerns: “How do we make the content exciting but also accessible and simple?” Especially when taking into consideration the challenge of the variable quality of the internet for students worldwide.
To ensure that students have access to a comprehensive selection of tools, teaching methods and experiences, faculty are attending weekly webinars and collaboration events to help each other build the most innovative and interesting courses possible.
Simply teaching three-hour-long weekly lectures on Zoom (a video conferencing site that McGill uses) is unacceptable. Lecturers are finding creative and novel solutions to engage students and ensure they get the same high-quality learning experience they would receive if they were physically in class together.
Here are examples of how three Macdonald Campus academics are adapting their courses to enrich the student experience:
Maureen Rose – Food Fundamentals (NUTR 214)
Senior Faculty Lecturer Dr. Maureen Rose teaches the Food Fundamentals (NUTR 214) course, which usually includes four hours of labs and three hours of lectures per week. One of the ways she is adapting her lab will be with at-home food experimentations such as making bread, making butter, working with stabilizers, emulsions and foam, preserving methods such as pickling and drying, and preparing foods by different methods. “In all cases, sensory evaluation will be part of the experience. Within each category of food, students will be given some choice of what to prepare, to allow for differences in available food items and kitchen equipment. There will be a focus on various cultural foods in all categories. Each time students will submit a video or photographs and a sensory evaluation summary,” she explains.
Dr. Rose also described other changes to the course, including a survey before the class begins to get to know them a bit and see what facilities and equipment are available to students. Another activity will be marketplace research. “Students will investigate products in their local store, market, or restaurant and present to their groups (in breakout rooms on Zoom) on the origin of the food, how it is used, nutrient value, etc.”
Grant Clark – Ecological Engineering (BREE 518)
Associate Professor Dr. Grant Clark is no stranger to teaching students to work effectively in diverse groups of remote colleagues using online tools. For the past five years, he and Dr. Tom Franti at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have collaborated on a unique joint course, where students are assigned to teams with classmates from different academic levels and backgrounds from both universities.
The groups are tasked with “designing a system for a specific geographical location, and which uses living organisms to provide services…The project site, the development process, and the system specifications are all documented using an online platform called Miro.™ Miro is a virtual display board on which students can post images, text, documents and videos and which has a suite of tools for organizing activities and communicating among team members,” Dr. Clark explains.
“Tom and I guide the groups through team building, design and documentation activities. The students often find it challenging to coordinate with their remote partners and to work effectively together on Miro. Tom and I firmly believe, however, that the skills they acquire are increasingly important in a world where coworkers are frequently far apart and where the virtual workplace is becoming the norm,” he affirms.
Left: An example of a design project preview board entitled “Montreal Urban Fishing Pond” created in Miro for BREE 518 – Ecological Engineering. Each icon can be examined close up to view the text, data, photos and other elements within the platform. (Provided by Grant Clark)
Right: A close-up view of one of the fish icons from the design project preview board describes the ecological characterizations of the “Montreal Urban Fishing Pond” in Miro. (Provided by Grant Clark)
Alice Cherestes – General Chemistry 1 (AECH 110)
Miro is just one resource that lecturers are using to add value and interactivity to remote courses. Senior Faculty Lecturer in Bioresource Engineering Dr. Alice Cherestes describes an app that she will be using both for remote teaching in General Chemistry 1 (AECH 110) and next winter on campus for General Chemistry 2 (AECH 111).
“Labflow is a platform that allows for both virtual labs and in-person labs, and this is one of the reasons why I have chosen this platform… From the point of view of technique, they will follow the same procedures they did when they were on campus.”
Dr. Cherestes adds, “They will watch videos of different techniques. We will have little quizzes for them to understand what the safety measures in the lab are and what kind of techniques we’ll use during the experiment, and then when it comes to conducting the experiment, they will actually have to interact with a simulation.”
5_mobile_screenshots Labflow: Examples of screenshots from within the Labflow application that will be used by students in AECH 110 – General Chemistry 1 for remote teaching and AECH 111 – General Chemistry 2 when students return to campus. (Image from Labflow – Catalyst Education: www.catalystedu.com/labflow)
Opportunity to engage
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused educational institutions to rethink how we operate, it has also provided McGill with an opportunity to engage students using different platforms. This approach will improve students’ technological skills – which are increasingly required in the workplace – and asks students to use the environment they live in for learning activities, whether it is observing the biodiversity of physical environments or analyzing foods in their local grocery store or market.