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Issue #6: Week of December 21, 2020
In this Issue: One Thing That Worked: Part 1
I’ve written this part of Teaching Notes about eighteen times now.
Standing at the end of this year and getting ready for the next (on the Winter solstice of all days), I’m having trouble finding the right balance of relief, optimism, frustration, and satisfaction. It’s tough; I’m a bit overwhelmed.
So, as a balm, I have been thinking about Mary Oliver’s poem, saccharine but true with its reminder that “the world offers itself to your imagination.” I have also been thinking too much about Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.” This interview, too, with Robin Wall Kimmerer, has been on my mind; she is an Indigenous botanist whose starting point is, “why is the world so beautiful?”
Today, though, I’ve been mulling Edward Hays’s words for the solstice: “How the shadow lengthens over our small planet,” so we must, in all we do, “find hope in the lights we have kindled on this sacred night, / hope in one another and in all who form the web-work of peace and justice that spans the world.”
That’s a good wish for this time of year.
I have a couple other wishes for you, too.
One: I hope that when I send out this note, I’m flooded with auto-reply messages, indicating that your marking is done and that you’ll be back in a couple of weeks, ready to jump into the Winter. But for now, your feet are up, for a well-deserved rest.
I know there is marking to be done, grades to tabulate and verify, and courses to plan. Please, please, please try to find some time for yourself and your loved ones. You need it; they do, too.
Two: I’m guessing you’re tired. I am; I also I hope you layer that sense of exhaustion with equal doses of satisfaction. What you’ve done is some kind of incredible.
You took time out of your summer, earlier than usual, to think about teaching. You put research plans on momentary hold – or learned how to do them while also learning how to use Zoom or set-up Blackboard or run a discussion board.
And then the Fall term arrived, and you leapt into your courses. There must have been some rocky moments; but you handled those. You kept going. And you found ways to show care for your students and their learning.
And that’s how at the CTL we want to end this year: by recognizing your hard work and your good success. We sent out the call for you to share one – just one – thing that worked this year, and geez did you respond. In fact, we received so many wonderful stories that we have decided to split them into two editions. We’ll end the year with this good selection; and we’ll pick up the new year with some more success stories.
For those of you who sent something in, thank you. I hope you’re warmed by the small glow of this spotlight. Thanks for sharing your good work. I’m deeply impressed.
I also know that there are many more examples out there – stories of kindness and generosity; stories of responding to students’ need; stories of finding creative ways to help students do their labs or their essays; stories of hope and uplift. They’re in all of our courses; and I hope that you take a moment to bask in that memory.
One Thing That Worked: Part 1

Kristy Buccieri, Sociology
“Data Analysis is a third year course that introduces students to the field of statistics. There are a number of calculations that they learn and are expected to apply by hand. In preparing this course I took my standard Power Point slides and turned them into shorter pre-recorded lectures. Students were able to see the slides and hear the voice-over as a video. I know from teaching this course in person that students appreciate having ample time to take notes, particularly when writing complex formulas. I was concerned that students might find the video moved too quickly and they would get caught up playing with the forward / backward buttons trying to copy notes. I decided to try a very simple approach - at the transition point when one slide was about to progress to another, I added a ten second timer. It is a small circle that appears on the top corner of the screen and counts down for 10 seconds. Students then have time to choose whether to let the video play through (if they ardone copying) or hit the pause button (if they need more time). My sense was that this would help students follow the lectures, record the notes, and not lose the flow.
At the midpoint I asked students for their thoughts on the course, and I included a question about the 10 second timer. Of those who responded, 95% thought it was helpful or the 'best thing since sliced bread.' I have decided to add the timer to my winter term courses as well (although adapted to be a shorter 5 second timer). This approach may not work for all lecture types but is useful in ones where students are copying a lot of very precise information.”
Sabine McConnell, Computer Science
“What my students really found helpful this fall was me setting the course entry page to the current module each week. No clutter, no searching and the first page they see each week is a high-level overview/summary of everything for the week including readings, tests, and deliverables.”
Sally Chivers, English and Gender and Women’s Studies
“If I had to pick one thing, it was always always always believing in and trusting the student. I pulled an analogy from Ultimate Frisbee, a self-refereed sport, where there are spirit rules. Those rules ask that you always assume other players mean well and want to play with good spirit within the rules. So any conversations that ensue are about interpretation and finding a way forward, not about who's right and especially not who's at fault. I agreed to every extension instantly, I reworked requirements for anyone who asked, I didn't deduct any late marks. This meant that I didn't have to track requests for extensions, or play the heavy. I could just assume that late assignments were on their way and get on with focusing on more important issues. Even though I taught entirely asynchronously, I felt that I got to know my students better and connected more with them than I have in years, and this approach has to have been part of that. Feedback forms that are coming in are indicating the same – they felt connected and that there was community as well as support.”
“I have found it helpful to think of my remotely delivered courses as being more about skills development than about taking in a high level of content.  By distilling my lectures into module pages where shorter videos were embedded into written text, I was able to get my main point across and allow my students to digest the content at their own pace.  The midterm exam results show that they were getting a similar amount out of the course as previous students had in the face-to-face version of the same course.  This was very heartening.”
Stephen Hill, Environmental and Resource Studies/Trent School of the Environment
“I don't think I slept a minute the night before the first Zoom class with ERSC 1010H. I was nervous about how things would work. We stumbled through the first class with usual attempts at engagement like polls, word clouds and break out rooms. I REALLY wanted to have some engagement in a large digital class. And, mostly, it seemed to go fine but this “engagement” was on my terms.
But at the end of the first class, something really special happened. I’d just sent the students to break out rooms to discuss something and told them that when they were done, class was dismissed. But if they had questions, come back to the main room and they could ask them. I was expecting a digital analogue of the typical first class experience of students lining up at the front of Wenjack theatre to ask about course mechanics in the hurried minutes while one class leaves the theatre and the next class enters. Instead, with the luxury of not being rushed out the door, about 40 students just stuck around on Zoom. They largely forgot I was there and started to just talk with each other about their hopes and fears for the environment and the term. The session lasted almost an hour past the end of class
So the “thing that worked” was something I didn't plan or imagine. I guess I'm going to try to give students space to just be together and not stand in their way.”
Ann MacLeod, Nursing
“For our Community Health nursing virtual practice, one of our partners, Extendicare Port Hope, wanted students to tailor communication targeted towards essential caregivers coming into the long-term care facility to care for loved ones. They wanted realistic ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus when planning a visit.  The students discovered who their target audience was and developed a video and presented it and discussed during the facility virtual family council town hall, posted it on their web site and created a handout distributed at the front door when they do screening.”
Michael Classens, Trent School of the Environment
“I had students in my community food systems class organize webinars (yes, more webinars...) But it worked well! They featured various local food systems advocates, small restaurant owners, and farmers reflecting on how Covid has impacted the local food system. The assignment was meant to provide an experiential learning opportunity reflective of the ways in which community organizing is (at least partially) being done during Covid. There was a very short article written about the assignment – featuring a student and partner at Seasoned Spoon – in Trent news.”
You can read more in the news story on the Trent Website.
Abeer Omar, Nursing
“One thing that worked was checking on my students who were struggling with the course assignments due to personal circumstances: connecting with them and helping them in time management greatly impacted their performance. If the professor understands the challenges students face during the lockdown and how their mental health is affected, students will overcome those challenges and perform better. I am so proud of my students who address their fears and weaknesses and did very well in their studies. Remember that struggles shape your future and make you stronger.” 
Tugce Ellialti-Kose, Sociology
“When designing the syllabi for the two courses that I taught in the fall term, diversity was one of the key criteria that informed and shaped the modules’ content, along with the value and relevance of the assigned materials. For every module, besides the weekly readings that constituted the foundation for that module, I assigned a sample of documentaries, short videos, op-eds, and/or podcasts to enhance the comprehension of the material in a consistent and engaging manner. Considering the “screen fatigue” that has become so common since the beginning of the pandemic and the challenges of remote learning for students, I made use of podcasts as a genre that students were able to listen to anytime and anywhere (without having to be in front of the computer to complete that particular module component). Based on the feedback that I have so far received from my students as well as my observations of students’ engagement with the podcasts in their “low-stakes” assignments, I can say that “podcasts worked.” I am glad that I chose recently produced podcasts, through which students were able to find the connections between the conversation/discussion in the episode and the material we covered in that module and better the grasp the “relevance” of many sociological concepts, theories, insights, and arguments we discussed during the term for daily life and contemporary societies we all live in.”
Now THAT is a great way to end the term. Congratulations, everyone.
We’ll look forward to working with you in January. We’ll offer support for those Winter-term courses; we’ll also start thinking about what it’ll look like when more of us are back, teaching on our campuses. We also have some projects to continue (teaching fellowships, Wickerson awards, teaching awards) – and a few conversations to bring forward (on assessments and Indigenous pedagogy).
We’ll see you soon. Thanks for sticking with us (for this long note! and for the long months moving our courses online!).
With my very warmest wishes,
Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning
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