As the fall semester at Memorial University approaches, many students are preparing to start their online and remote classes from remote locations.
Dr. Scott Neilsen especially appreciates the challenges those students face, because he will teach from a remote location himself.
‘Probably better prepared’
Dr. Neilsen, an assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology, is the only Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ faculty member based at Memorial’s Labrador Institute in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
He is also the co-ordinator of Memorial’s Indigenous-Aboriginal Studies certificate program. He teaches courses from Labrador for both the St. John’s and Grenfell campuses.
“My experience in teaching is a bit different from most faculty members,” he told Memorial’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in its latest Teaching Tuesdays video.
“In some ways, I was probably better prepared when the pandemic hit.”
Value of online discussion
Working with a poor internet connection isn’t new to Dr. Neilsen, who has taught online and remotely for about five years.
He lives in North West River, which doesn’t have fibre-op internet. It’s easy for him to keep in mind that his students might have similar limitations.
But even in areas where internet access is slow or unreliable, online tools are important for keeping in touch with students, Dr. Neilsen says.
“I’ve always used discussion posts in terms of my online classes.”
Discussion forums are an important tool for replacing some in-classroom discussion that would normally happen between the professor and students.
“I’ve always used discussion posts in terms of my online classes for replacing that type of conversation that I would have with students in the classroom.”
Some students seem more hesitant to have informal conversations in his simulcast, multiple-location courses because of the technological requirements, he says. Online discussion offers a new opportunity for that.
“There are some students who are more than forthcoming in the classroom setting and like to answer questions and speak out loud,” he said.
“Others are uncomfortable contributing in that setting. But those students still have valuable contributions to make.”
As well, making space for discussion online and during lectures levels the playing field. It’s something he plans to continue doing for all his classes.
While his own switch to all-remote teaching was relatively painless, he says that wasn’t the case for everyone at Memorial.
Overall, Dr. Neilsen thinks Memorial managed the transition well – particularly the careful consideration demonstrated for Labrador and the recently established School of Arctic and Sub-Arctic Studies.
“It has some unique situations that can’t be dealt with in an ad-hoc way or a pan-university way.”