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Student discussion

Teaching Tuesday: Dr. Stephen Decker

Teaching and Learning

By Melanie Callahan

Dr. Stephen Decker intends to stay true to his teaching philosophy – identifying real-life applications to what’s learned in the classroom – even as he moves into remote teaching this upcoming semester.

Dr. Decker, an assistant professor in Grenfell Campus’s School of Science and the Environment, will teach a wide range of courses in the fall, ranging from first year to fourth.

Real-life examples

He says he focuses on practical examples and “bringing it home,” because he gets frustrated when university education is sometimes criticized for being too far removed from the real world.

“Anything we talk about in the textbook, even if we’re talking about the development of geographical thought – these big, philosophical disciplines – in my mind it’s really important to bring it down to, ‘What does this really mean?'” he said.

“If you’re sitting around the decision-making table and need to figure out caribou management in Labrador, how does this relate? How does this matter to real life examples?”

The move to remote learning is forcing Dr. Decker to consider how he will incorporate real-life examples through video lectures.

Normally, his academic teaching would be complemented by anecdotal retelling of real-world problems and issues. How does one replace storytelling? One method for Dr. Decker will be to add hyperlinks to videos and articles that provide context for the information in his lecture.

An unexpected surprise: Student engagement

Initially, Dr. Decker says he struggled with facilitating student engagement in the remote environment.

While teaching a Kickstart course (select courses offered remotely to new students during the summer months), he says he quickly learned that remote learning may, in fact, be more conducive to student discussion than a traditional classroom setting. Learn more in the video below.

Dr. Decker says that it’s “tough” to get feedback and engagement from students – especially from first-year students.

“I had expected students to have their video on and we’d chat, but that’s not the case at all. They don’t turn their video on,” he said.

“Now, when I throw out a question they write their idea or comment or question in the chat box. It’s not too much investment for them, they don’t have to put themselves out there. Now when I toss out a question, folks actually respond, which is quite cool.”

Learn from others

Although Kickstart provided Dr. Decker the opportunity to get his feet wet with remote learning and the Brightspace learning platform, he says he still has lots to learn and continues to benefit from others’ experiences.

“The School of Science and the Environment has been having weekly Online Rooms discussions about teaching online. Some folks that are further along have been sharing information and that’s been really valuable,” he said.

“I think we’re struggling, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are working in this pandemic situation and it’s okay to break down those barriers that may have existed between faculty members and it’s okay to ask someone for help.”

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