faculty features

Martin Laba: What I'm learning about remote teaching

February 15, 2021

In this series we share the reflections of faculty members who are discovering new teaching insights from and about remote teaching. Here’s what Martin Laba, an associate professor in the School of Communication, within the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology had to say:

On what he’s learned

I have certainly learned that remote courses are not online/distance courses—remote courses are not developed, designed, or delivered as online courses which of course, were designed specifically for online delivery and teaching. What "remote" has meant to date is the retrofitting, often inelegant, of in-person courses for remote delivery. By necessity, this transition to remote has taken place in an abbreviated time frame and instructors are needing to summon all of their creative resources to adapt to new needs and demands of remote teaching.

On just being himself

My own in-person teaching style, crafted and honed over many years, has been a key influence in how I teach remotely. It serves as a foundation for my approach and elaboration of remote teaching. Instead of a comprehensive reinvention and technological elaboration, I have tried to keep it simple and abide by principles and practices I have established in my in-person teaching. This is premised on the notion that there is much in in-person teaching that can drive and even elaborate remote teaching. I have also been influenced, and have benefitted enormously from informal discussions with my colleagues on the travails and challenges of remote teaching, ultimately gleaning insight and wisdom from their experiences. None of this is to suggest that we simply simulate in-person for remote delivery; on the other hand, we must not lose the values, techniques and rich and compelling immediacy of in-person teaching.

On what students have taught him

I have polled my classes informally, and in general, Zoom (and other platforms) don't quite cut it for a quality learning experience. While this might be a matter of continuing to explore and innovate in the art and science of teaching remotely, it is also a matter of the profound loss of the interactive quality and richness of in-person learning environments.

On the other hand…

Remote teaching allows for substantial scheduling flexibility for meetings and consultations with students and class project groups, and this can and should be carried over when we return to in-person teaching.

On what his biggest mistake was in remote teaching and what he learned from it

My biggest mistake was to focus far too much on technology as a solution rather than as an adjunct and tool for teaching. As well, in my initial experience, I attempted to create a more complex technological foundation than was needed. I envisioned a blend of synchronous and asynchronous delivery, and this variation in approach didn't always work.

On the lesson it took him the longest to learn


On what a student had to say about what they’ll keep doing after the pandemic

I have learned how to schedule my time a bit more effectively as doing classes via Zoom has cut down on my commute time. I have also learned how to set up a routine/ structure in which my learning can happen in the best way. Being at home for class can sound really appealing, however, the distractions are endless, from the TV to family, or even to just doing a class in your bed in your PJs. So the skills of having to create a workspace and really making myself be fully attentive during an online class can be transferred over to my career options post-grad and post-pandemic. In addition to this, I think I have also learned to take up some space and time of professors and TA's with questions during their office hours, which was not something I felt I needed to do when classes were in person.

Priyanka Krishna
A student in Applied Communication for Social Issues

Martin Laba is a recipient of an Excellence in Teaching award at SFU.

Like what you’ve read? Have a suggestion for a faculty member we could feature because they have insights that are leading to a new way of looking at things? Let us know by sending your suggestions to: vpacomms@sfu.ca