Bow Valley College instructor finds inspiration in challenge
The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot, including COVID-19 and world-wide quarantine measures. Mid-March, educational institutions throughout Canada and around the world made the swift transfer to online learning. For Bow Valley College, this meant that faculty were tasked with reimagining their content delivery to a virtual environment with a week’s notice. This was an adjustment for students, faculty, staff, and leadership.
Raj Brar recalls this period of change. As an instructor with the Chiu School of Business, a single parent, and a student working towards his master’s degree, he recognized the importance of grounding himself and searching for any positives given the circumstances at hand.
On the instructional front, he embraced learning systems that he had not yet experienced, including MS Teams, Respondus, and Flipgrid; all software that students would soon experience as well. He feels that learners that have experienced such adjustments can illustrate their resilience and adaptability to prospective employers.
As a single parent, Raj recalls the limited opportunities that he was able to explore with respect to pursing a graduate degree. The primary barriers that he faced were mandatory campus visits and residency requirements, as well as childcare constraints. For this reason, he recognizes that the adjustment to our virtual classroom environment allows for additional universal learning opportunities. Learners can now attend virtual sessions without facing barriers such as additional childcare costs. This shift to online learning has also promoted online exam invigilation procedures. This provides additional pathways for learners that may have had issues in the past with respect to visiting physical testing centers.
With public-health measures in effect in Alberta, Raj found an extra five hours in his day due to the pause in his commute from Airdrie and in his daughter’s after-school activities. With the extra 25 hours per week, Raj was able to complete his master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (with a dual major in Work, Organization, and Leadership and Adult Education) in mid-July — a program he had been scheduled to finish in April 2021.
“This is actually an ideal time to complete your education,” Raj says. “Though I understand that there might be some learners that are considering taking a year off from school, given the social distancing measures in effect, this might actually be a wonderful opportunity to pursue personal development.”
Raj notes that this doesn’t only apply to full-time learners, but to individuals that might want to take a class or two and can now access a larger selection of courses online.
While Raj makes multi-tasking look easy, he does acknowledge that at first the changes due to the pandemic were overwhelming. But he quickly found ways to adjust to the new normal, such as defining his online office hours for learners, and finding new routines to share with his child. He also adapted his teaching methods to fit the online environment, including reducing lecture time and adding activities, and breaking his class into different channels for group work.
His advice for any other instructors who are adapting to remote delivery is to take the current situation as a learning opportunity.
“Embrace the positives while acknowledging that it's okay to realize that you're going through an adjustment yourself,” he says.
“As a facilitator, we act in a leadership role. For this reason, it is important to embrace change ourselves, and be positive about our evolving learning environments. If we're positive and excited about trying new strategies and techniques, it will likely foster a constructive and pleasurable learning environment for our students as well.”