Dude, where’s my classroom?

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Editor’s Note: The 2019-2020 academic year was unlike any other in NBCC’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic brought changes to every aspect of our lives, including the way we learn. Respiratory Therapy student Connor Moore was one of the thousands of NBCC learners who finished their academic year in a virtual learning environment, and instructor John Doucet was one of the hundreds of NBCC instructors who demonstrated tremendous adaptability and dedication to students. Below is their account, in their own words, of what learning was like in those early days of the pandemic.

Connor’s Story:

As someone who thrives in a classroom environment, I was intimidated to move from in-class to virtual learning.  However, my instructors at NBCC helped make it a seamless and enriching experience.

The biggest challenge I faced was virtual testing.  I missed my pencil and scantron sheet, having a quiet environment in which to focus, and reliable internet.  Thankfully, my instructors did a fantastic job of showing their support and understanding.  They kept communication clear, allotted extra time for tests and would reopen tests for students who experienced problems with their internet.  This was especially important to me as I lived in a remote location and had very limited internet access.  It was stressful at first, but many of my instructors sent inspiring emails that shared tips, resources and perspective.  They were always behind us, encouraging us forward.

As I slowly start to prepare for my national exam, which I will take online upon graduating, I realize that the quick change to the new blended delivery was a blessing in disguise.  I learned how important it is to stay open-minded, adaptable and patient when working online.  Not to mention, I acquired the skills to manage my time properly and work productively in any space.

The most stressful challenge that took a toll on me mentally was travel. I felt helpless as it was completely out of my control. Upon the move to virtual academic delivery, I made the choice to return to my parents’ home in Northern Ontario. After three months passed, and summer was drawing nearer, no one had any idea of when travel and border restrictions would lift. Trying to gather the proper documentation, navigate a route through many COVID checkpoints, all I could do was cross my fingers that I would be considered essential travel entering each province.

Reflecting on how resilient, hard-working, and compassionate my instructors were through weeks of converting material online, continuously replying to student emails and questions, and never doubting us in the process — it makes me confident I have chosen the right career, and that I could get through any obstacle in my path.

John’s story:

On Friday, March 13 at 4:36 pm, NBCC suspended all in-person classes for the following week due to COVID-19. Although this announcement was expected, it still created a somewhat stressful weekend for yours truly. Fortunately, the Respiratory Therapy program was able to resume classes on Monday, March 16 at 8:30 am – via a virtual approach.

Since I had never taught a virtual course, I was somewhat intimidated by the new approach. I can only imagine how some of our learners felt. The level of stress and anxiety some of them feel during a “normal” academic year would no doubt pale in comparison to this sudden development.

As an educator, one of the more challenging aspects of this approach was going to be the inability to physically see my learners. During an in-person delivery, I often use a learner’s reaction to content as a means of determining if the concept being discussed is understood by the group. This lack of visual cues would mean adopting a different approach to content delivery. The recorded live virtual classroom provided me with a great opportunity to pause throughout the lecture and ask the learners if they understood the content being delivered. I believe this approach provided my learners with a richer experience than a simple voiced-over PowerPoint.

The live virtual classroom proved to be an invaluable tool throughout the Winter and Spring terms. I was able to engage with my learners daily and provide them with immediate access to an instructor.

Overall, despite my initial reservations, the online approach turned out to be a success for both me and my learners.

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