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Concordia professors get creative as courses move online

‘We’ll learn from experience’: The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is adapting to new pedagogical challenges
March 23, 2020
By Kelsey Rolfe

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Like so many educators confronted with COVID-19 closures, faculty in Concordia’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics were suddenly faced with a very large task. They needed to bring nearly 100 course sections online in just one week so that students could continue their studies from home.

The department mobilized quickly to help faculty members get access to the software they need to deliver lectures virtually. And professors have gotten creative with how they plan to deliver lectures when classes resume today, says Cody Hyndman, associate professor and chair of the department.

Still, everyone is expecting a few hiccups.

“It’s been tough. It’s been a challenge. And I’m really proud of the way our staff and faculty have stepped up,” Hyndman adds.

“What we’ve been focused on this past week is getting classes ready so the students can finish the term as normally as possible. We’re still going to have to make some adjustments as it goes on and we’ll learn from experience. I hope it goes well, but I think people understand it will be a difficult transition.”

The faculty spent the week thinking about how best to deliver course material to students in a way that’s interactive and thoughtful. “We’re not just throwing up a bunch of notes and saying, ‘learn it yourself.’ We want to maintain a relationship with the students.”

From the blackboard to the screen

Some professors have filmed video lectures, and others have found a way to augment slideshow presentations with notes and narrations to replicate a real-life lecture as closely as possible. Some are also using data visualization.

“With mathematics, we can do a lot on a blackboard, so you have to figure out how to translate that to an online version,” Hyndman explains. “Given the short timeframe, it’s pretty impressive what they’ve been able to do.”

He also notes that introductory-level classes with many students will require a different approach to teaching than higher-level courses with smaller numbers of students that typically allow for more personalized attention. Professors with multiple sections and teaching assistants for the same course also have to make sure there’s fairness across the sections.

“We’ve been in contact with TAs and people who support what we’re doing with tutorials,” Hyndman says. “We’re going to have to make compromises, but we want to provide a uniform experience to the students.”

The department is also standardizing all its software, following Concordia’s suggestions, to make sure the courses are accessible to everyone. For courses that require access to proprietary software that’s only available in the classroom setting, professors are currently working on solutions to connect students to it in some other way.

Faculty members plan to move office hours online as well, by using virtual meeting options such as Zoom.

“Everybody is putting the students first,” Hyndman says. “We have to remember that they’re probably as stressed as we are about this situation — maybe more.”

Concordia’s campuses and libraries are currently closed, and courses have moved online as of Monday, March 23. Follow along with
updates and information on COVID-19.

Learn more about how the Centre for Teaching and Learning is helping faculty transition courses to online delivery, including live webinar training sessions



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