Regardless of what side of the virtual classroom you’ve been sitting on, pandemic experiences have been filled with lessons. Some of those lessons will continue to shape our lives, our pursuits, and the way that we think about teaching and learning.
To create a space for Trent’s educators to reflect on this different year, the Centre for Teaching & Learning (CTL) at Trent University hosted Destinations: A Colloquium on Teaching During & After a Pandemic. The goal: to spend some time reflecting on this past year – and planning the shape of our teaching in the near and distant futures.
"Teaching is so important at Trent; and this year was challenging,” Dr. Joel Baetz, director of the CTL reflected. “It was also full of joy and creativity (alongside exhaustion and some frustration). So, we thought we should get together, talk about how it all went, and think about what kind of teachers we want to be next year. I'm glad the CTL could play a role in that process."
Teachers became learners again
The first day of the virtual event included a cross-departmental conversation about how the year went, what worked (and what didn’t) and how educators might adapt moving forward.
“This year has opened possibilities for big shifts in teaching,” said Dr. Stephen Hill, associate director of the Trent School of the Environment. “Early innovations have been around content delivery, especially new emphases on flipped learning, more organized courses, focussing more on the essential content that students should learn, using shorter recorded lecturettes with inline questions and discussion, virtual field trips, and how to provide wrap around supports for students synchronously and asynchronously.”
Finding beautiful moments along the way
Many Trent instructors also reflected on the way that the year has reinforced a sense of community and togetherness along the way.
Dr. Karleen Pendleton Jiménez, director of Trent’s Master of Education program and professor in the department of Gender & Social Justice and School of Education, shared an experience where students were creating a film project as an end of term assignment.
“One student did a stunning video, inspired by Black Lives Matter, as a black Canadian teacher candidate. The film “Are You OK? Are you ok? Are you ok?” was powerful,” reflected Professor Pendleton Jiménez. “And the quiet zoom world responded to her with red hearts spreading across the screen. That reaction feature on zoom can definitely offer moments of beauty.”
Prof. Pendleton Jiménez also saw ways that her virtual courses provided students with the connection they were craving. “It meant a lot for students to be able to connect with each other and create a strong sense of community, gratitude and heart because we were all in this circumstance together. The [Destinations Colloquium] also created a space to connect with each other – where we were grateful for each other.”
Shifting our thinking
Professor Hill shared moments of where technological engagement worked in surprising ways to create opportunities for provocative conversation. When he had offered to keep the Zoom room of his first- year Environmental Studies & Science class open for questions, he found that students stuck around not only for questions about syllabus, assignments, but also to continue conversation about a parting open-ended question he posed to the class for more than an hour.
“Teachers became learners again,” noted Prof. Hill. “This renewed empathy had benefits for our teaching, I think. I know many of us shifted how we think about exams and assessment, and I think that’s good. I also think that the elements of universal design and willingness to accommodate students has been really healthy.”