Professional Profiles

CODE instructor leading the way in online education

September 01, 2012
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Barry Worsfold prepares
a course at his desk.
Photo by Nancy Fenton.

By Amy Robertson

An instructor in SFU’s Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE), part of Lifelong Learning, is demonstrating that it’s never too late to revitalize your teaching methodology.

Barry Worsfold, an adjunct professor in SFU’s Department of Gerontology, has been teaching since 1972. He’s no stranger to distance education, having completed some of his own academic work that way. Much like everyone else in the ever-changing world of Web 2.0, however, he learns and changes tactics as he goes.

Worsfold, who has also taught at a handful of other Canadian universities, joined CODE in 2002, when print-based distance education was the norm. Today, he’s not just thriving in an educational landscape where students expect everything to be online—he’s leading the way.

He’s written three CODE courses in the last ten years, and he’s always searching for ways to make his courses more effective.

“I’ve become very much engaged with distance. It’s a wonderful way to approach learning if you need flexibility,” he says. “I’ve always found SFU to be very advanced in its distance education approach. I really feel we’ve broken a lot of ground.”

Distance instructors are more creative

It’s common to say that distance education requires a great deal of discipline on the part of the student. But Worsfold believes it also requires a lot from the instructors.

It takes patience and creativity, he says, to anticipate the needs of students you may never see or meet. Classroom teachers have the benefit of continuous feedback—they can adjust their lectures based on students’ body language and questions. Distance educators must work without all of that.

They also have to devise new ways of allowing students to engage with one another. Worsfold came up with the idea of asking his students to participate in in-person exercises with others so they could benefit from the feedback.

He’s also working on other ideas to make his courses even more interactive—he’d like to start using online chat rooms and webinars, and incorporate more media, like video clips, into his courses.

“I think you can really be quite creative with that,” he says. “It requires you to have a really open mind with how you can use different media.”

Worsfold hopes to connect students and employers

In addition to building more interactivity into his courses, Worsfold would like to build a stronger bridge between students and employers by tailoring his courses—which are primarily in gerontology—to what employers are looking for.

Worsfold, who has two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and diplomas in gerontology as well as hospital organization and management, believes strongly in what he calls the medical model, which says that those who do should teach.

The model allows instructors to bring their practice into their teaching, which Worsfold has always done. He consulted for several different nursing homes until he retired in 2010, and he still keeps in touch with his colleagues.

He’s eager to keep learning, so his CODE students can keep learning—because he knows that the potential of his courses is limited only by his own creativity.