By Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz, Supervisor, Instructional Design, TLS
March 2020 was a month when our lives abruptly changed. While still busy with our everyday tasks of teaching and supporting faculty and instructors in their teaching, Prof. Anne Trépanier (School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies) and I were well aware that our colleagues and friends at educational institutions in Europe had already started facing challenges that were rapidly approaching Canada’s doorstep. Europe is my original home where I earned my first university degree, and Anne has spent the previous four years teaching online and doing research in Europe.
Tuesday, March 10, during the last week that Carleton University would conduct classes on campus before the shutdown, Anne and I met to discuss the urgent matter – our colleagues in Italy and other parts of Europe were experiencing emergency school closings and had to immediately migrate to teaching online. Many had no experience with this mode of teaching and they were crying for help, confused with all the information they could find on the internet, not knowing where to even begin. We had to do something. We scribbled the first quick outline of the topics, themes and tips we could share “from our heads and our hearts” (I still keep those first notes!).
The following day, we met again in Anne’s office to continue developing the ideas. My manager supported my immediate shift of efforts, knowing too well the urgency of the situation in this unprecedented moment. However, none of us knew that we were also just a couple of days shy of shutting down our university campus and that it was the last time Anne and I would see each other in person for the next six months and counting.
On Friday, March 13, Carleton closed its campus doors to thousands of teaching staff and students due to a global pandemic. Our ad-hoc project that started at the coffee table mid-week had migrated to our homes on both sides of the Ottawa river, right across from each other. At the same time, our family lives were abruptly changing. On Thursday evening, Anne’s mom moved from her senior residence to the family home; rooms were to be reallocated between children and grandmother. That same week, my husband got a notice that a co-worker in his office has been exposed to COVID-19. My children learned that Friday was to be their last day of in-school classes, until further notice. Many balls were in the air as Anne and I exchanged endless emails, text messages and video calls, made decisions on the go, and supported each other every step of the way while juggling family challenges and uncertainties. Nevertheless, we agreed not to stop until we finish.
By the wee hours of Monday, March 16, we finalized every aspect of the project – we settled on five topics, wrote video transcripts and created all the presentation slides in English, translated all the transcripts and slides into French, and recorded all the videos, despite impossible-to-avoid technological challenges ( I recorded videos in English and Anne in the French language). By 3 a.m., all videos were ready and posted on YouTube and Kaltura, and the bilingual resource – Jump-Start Teaching Online – was ready. Anne and I were both ready to drop and we spent Monday sick and completely exhausted, but content with what we accomplished (for some reason, it is almost always like that when we work together!).
We soon found wonderful volunteers, including some family members, who translated and recorded all the videos in German, Italian and Spanish, so the video resource currently exists in five languages. The Saarland University, Germany, posted the videos on their online teaching support page, STLHE included them under their Keep Teaching / Designing Online Courses section of their website, and they’ve been included in the Association internationale d’études québécoises’ resources page. Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) has also included the videos in their resources for teaching online and in their Course Design Express cuLearn page.
The first 1,000 views happened rather quickly, and in the months following, the YouTube and Kaltura videos have been watched for a total of almost 6,000 times in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Croatia, USA, Canada and more.
We are all truly in this together. Being able to help our colleagues around the world with our knowledge and experience, and pulling off such a project in a matter of just a few days with only our four hands and timely support and understanding by TLS and the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, is a true testament of the power of collaboration when sharing a common vision, and a reminder that every individual has a role to play in facing and fighting this global pandemic challenge.
Anne and I will certainly remember March 2020, and not just for the pandemic, but for yet another fruitful project made possible by shared goals, professional respect and feeding on each other’s ideas and energy. This is the best present we could have exchanged for our quarantined two-days-apart late March birthdays (yes, both Aries – now it all makes sense, I suppose!).
• Anne and Maristela designed the online course, Introduction to Quebec Society, back in 2012, utilizing the then-new Carleton LMS Moodle, and have since presented about their experiences and findings in the field of online teaching, learning and course design at several conferences coast-to-coast, including two very successful presentations at the World Conference in Online Learning (ICDE 2017) in Toronto, where Anne flew in from Italy to present with Maristela. Their conference paper Online Hunting, Gathering and Sharing – A Return to Experiential Learning in a Digital Age was published in the International Review in Research in Open and Distributed Learning in 2018. Since that first online course, Anne went on to teach more courses online, and Maristela designed numerous online courses for many Carleton faculties and departments, taught and consulted many Carleton instructors about e-Pedagogy, and continued publishing on the topic. In 2019, Anne won a prestigious D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning.
• Colleagues in Europe were very grateful for the Jump-Start teaching Online video resource, and many sent messages thanking not only for the useful tips about teaching online for the first time, but also for the reassurance, empathy and encouragement they say were communicated through the videos.
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