When Dr. Lucian Ashworth had to make the sudden switch to remote teaching in March, he stuck to a time-tested adage: Keep it simple.
Dr. Ashworth, a professor and head of the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, taught remotely for the first time when COVID-19 shut down in-person classes.
“As long as I was communicating with them, they felt that at least someone was in control.”
The period that followed was stressful, he says. But he focused on remaining in his comfort zone and staying in touch with students as everyone adjusted.
“It didn’t matter that it was not pretty,” he said. “It didn’t matter that things were going wrong. As long as I was communicating with them, they felt that at least someone was in control and that things were moving forward.”
But keeping his comfort zone in mind didn’t mean that his courses didn’t change, he says. In order to adjust his materials for online and remote learning, Dr. Ashworth asked an experienced friend in Australia for advice.
“There’s no point in not benefitting from someone else’s learning curve,” he told Memorial’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in its latest Teaching Tuesdays video.
The course as a story
With his friend’s advice and his own love of the lecture in mind, Dr. Ashworth changed his course plans for online and remote delivery.
He tries to design his courses as a narrative, he says, and builds twists, cliffhangers and pacing into his lectures. His image-based slideshows complement his narrative lectures.
To combine the tools, he recorded voiceovers for the slideshows and edited them into 20-minute segments. He also used online rooms for discussions with students.
“Both of these kind of mirror my face-to-face structure but in a new format,” he said.
Dr. Ashworth also wrote a supplement to the existing course syllabus — “a kind of pandemic souvenir edition” — that tracked changes made to the now-remote course.
“I told them that all of the deadlines had now become guidelines.”
He’s also changing some course assignments and looking at alternative assessment methods. For example, his Australian friend suggested an asynchronous poster presentation mixing text and visuals as an assignment.
“I’m a strong advocate of the lecture and therefore might come across as quite old-fashioned,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m also very interested in new technologies and use of audio-visual cues.”
He’s also keeping the students’ comfort zones in mind. He says his students already lead busy lives, with competing demands from childcare, employment and family.
“One of the most important things though, because it was such a confusing time, was I told them that all of the deadlines had now become guidelines.”
Planning for fall
This fall, Dr. Ashworth is teaching his political science course, Global Politics at the End of the World (As We Know It), for the third time.
The course looks at material existential threats to society like climate change and nuclear weapons — and global pandemics.
Once again, Dr. Ashworth is adapting the course’s existing syllabus to the realities of remote instruction. He’s breaking the course into six parts instead of the usual three and building out its narrative structure online. Lectures will be in 15-minute chunks and discussion with and between students will happen online.
“I’m trying to take advantage generally of what online teaching has to offer, but I’m adapting it to my comfort zone, which is the face-to-face syllabus of the course that I’ve used in the past,” he said.
“There’s no point in wasting a good crisis.”