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Celebrate the small wins

Teaching Tuesdays: Dr. Dianne Ford

Teaching and Learning

By Susan White

Dr. Dianne Ford’s teaching strategy is simple: create classroom environments that promote engagement with her students.

But getting that engagement is less simple, especially when a global pandemic hits and courses that are typically held live in classrooms are switched to remote delivery.

In the following video, the professor of information systems and organizational behaviour at the Faculty of Business Administration tells us how she has adapted her approach for each class using principles that keep students interested and engaged in the course material.

Creating engaged classes

Resources and availability, such as good nutrition and quality sleep, particularly concerned Dr. Ford when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Memorial moved to remote instruction.

She normally teaches her students about stress management and the effects of technology on individuals but with the pandemic, she doubled her efforts to encourage healthy stress coping strategies and promote mental health supports such as counselling.

But it wasn’t just for her students that she was concerned.

Managing the stress of dealing with new challenges and a quickly changing global crisis brought new levels of stress for instructors as well, many of whom may never have taught a virtual course before.

Dr. Dianne Ford smiles at the camera
Dr. Dianne Ford
Photo: David Howells

Preparing for the unknown

While she’s taught online courses at Memorial for over a decade and globally for more than five years, Dr. Ford also experienced some of that stress of the unknown when she suddenly had to learn to use Zoom.

To help mitigate that stress, she prepared by doing some research, holding practice meetings with friends and family and doing an online tutorial.

“My stressor was the ambiguity of the novelty of Zoom, so I put in some time to remove the novelty of it,” she said. “Just like going into a classroom before semester starts to acquaint myself with the lectern’s technology, this was a similar thing. That really helped to mitigate the stress for me.”

Dr. Ford recommends instructors approach preparing their courses for remote delivery step-by-step and celebrate the small wins along the way.

“Take the step you know you’ll be confident in, and then once you’re comfortable, take the next step.” — Dr. Dianne Ford

For example, instructors who are already uploading text documents to BrightSpace each week could look at doing a video that uses audio only while taking students through the course material.

Once they’re comfortable with that, the next step may be to record themselves delivering a lecture, she says.

“You don’t dive into the deep end when you haven’t learned to swim in the shallow end. Take the step you know you’ll be confident in, and then once you’re comfortable, take the next step.”

‘Keep it simple’

And, she adds, don’t worry about being perfect. Instructors don’t edit themselves in the classroom, so they don’t need to online either.

“When it comes to managing overall levels of stress, you don’t want to aim for the perfect online course. You’re not going to get there and you’re going to burn out. Keep it simple and take those small wins.”

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