September 2020 Newsletter Article
Yes, COVID-19 has put a dent into everyone’s life on so many levels. In these times, I believe that it is important, more than ever, for educators to come together to collaboratively navigate through the turbulent waters of effective online teaching, especially when there are no other options available. Many university instructors are novices to online teaching, and most never dreamt, in a million years, that online teaching would be a thing – their thing.
As an advocate for First-year Math and Stats in Canada (FYMSiC), I have been pretty active, since March 2020, in my attempts to build a stronger community of practice amongst math and stats university instructors (of all levels of university math!) from across Canada and beyond.
Originally, the plan was to have an in-person, three-day, conference in May 2020 at UTM. Well, I am sure you all know how that went down – it did not. However, this presented a golden opportunity to take things online for a one-day Zoom-supported conference. We had close to 100 attendees who participated in this interactive event lasting longer than the planned 5 hours. We discussed our experiences and shared knowledge and know-how of online teaching to the immediate benefit of those who were teaching in the spring and summer 2020 terms. The conference was segmented into three major themes: online course delivery, assessments (hot topic!), and meta course affairs. Discussions within each segment were initiated by the analysis and results of the pre-conference survey that was administered to all participants.
For the first two themes, dedicated breakout rooms were created to discuss specific practice-based questions and challenges, resulting in numerous insights and teaching approaches that the participants could bring back to their classroom, and share with their colleagues.
Within the last theme (meta course affairs), we saw short 5-minute presentations, where instructors shared their views and insights as to how COVID-19 has changed their teaching and courses. As well, we had a very fruitful and wonderful talk by Ann Gagné, Educational Developer at UTM, who gave an outside of math and stats perspective on online teaching. I am sure that attendees learned a few new tips and tricks to incorporate into their teaching, along with hearing about new resources and advice backed up by educational literature. Given the success of the online conference, attendees expressed their desire for further meetings during the summer.
The spin-off of the conference was online teaching meet-ups, scheduled twice a month, starting in June 2020. Every meet-up had a specific focus, for example, educational technology show and tell, icebreakers for the first day of online class, and high school math teachers’ voices of the state of incoming students. Although the meet-ups are scheduled to be about an hour long, they routinely ran for two or so hours, because attendees had lots to say and share!
We invite the entire UTM teaching and learning community to join us in the FYMSiC community (www.firstyearmath.ca). Having a different perspective — just like the way Ann Gagné shed light at many aspects of teaching at our online conference — might help you as you navigate through the waters of online teaching and beyond. You do not need to know math or stats to be a part of the community, just an open mind in a great, supportive, and creative teaching space.
And, the in-person FYMSiC conference at UTM will happen once the waters are calm and safe to sail in. Stay positive and safe everyone. :)