School of Interactive Arts & Technology, Technology & Society

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SIAT professor Carman Neustaedter shares what he has learned about online teaching during the pandemic

September 25, 2020

The start of a new university semester — new courses, new faces, new friends — is an exciting time for students and professors alike.

But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the critical need for physical distancing, SFU has moved to remote learning. It’s a situation that offers unique challenges and opportunities to embrace innovative teaching practices.

“Life may have changed,” says Carmen Neustaedter, professor and director of the School of Interactive Arts and Technology.  “But my teaching methods are just as effective as they’ve always been.”

Neustaedter has used a “flipped classroom” model (a teaching strategy that focuses on student engagement and active learning) for the past seven years. He says the move to remote teaching hasn’t changed his style. He pre-records podcasts and shares slides with students to listen and review. He uses the allotted classroom time to answer questions, lead activities and demonstrate technology.

“The idea is to give students flexibility to listen while at home or on the train or wherever. Students love this approach because it puts the learning in their hands in ways that match their lifestyles and learning needs.”

SFU made the move to remote teaching in March during the initial wave of COVID-19. SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence works with SFU’s teaching and learning community to support innovative and inclusive teaching approaches that create engaging learning experiences for students. In less than two weeks, CEE had moved 155 courses to Canvas, an online learning management system.

And while the situation is evolving, SFU anticipates that some remote learning will continue into the spring 2021 semester.

For some professors, the major challenge of remote learning is how to encourage students to interact with faculty and their classmates.

Computing science lecturer Diana Cukierman teaches large classes and is always searching for ways to increase participation and interaction. Among her innovative approaches, she has students vote on topics using clickers and then discusses their responses. She also starts the class by a shared doodling exercise where everyone can edit, draw and ask questions and provide answers.

“The shift to online education provides opportunities for instructors and students alike to use new tools and techniques and still maintain a personalized course,” Cukierman says.

Tyler Johnson, a fifth-year engineering science student, credits his professors with making themselves available for lengthy periods after lectures to answer questions.

“They’ve been incredibly accommodating if you want to talk to them one-on-one.”

The pandemic also presents some unique opportunities for students. Arne Eigenfeldt, professor and director in the School of Contemporary Arts, has been arranging guest lectures and masterclasses with artists who would not be available under normal circumstances.

The bottom line, says Sheri Fabian, senior lecturer in the School of Criminology, is that staying safe doesn’t mean students have to sacrifice education.

“We live in a new world in which we have to be careful and keep each other safe, but that doesn’t mean we have to compromise your learning opportunities.”