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Pivot to Alternative Teaching Delivery Closed Out Winter Semester

Alternative delivery quickly became the buzzword in the academic world mid-March as post-secondary institutions transitioned away from face-to-face classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biomedical Sciences professor Sarah Lepage recorded videos of herself drawing out difficult concepts for one of her courses. At the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, faculty and instructors tapped into a variety of different technologies, from virtual classrooms, to recorded power points, live chats and video creation, transitioning to a new approach as students finished their academic year. 

U of G Office of Teaching and Learning provided resources and assistance, along with support in digital productivity and collaboration tools from the OVC Organizational Design team.

While the techniques varied, the sentiment and intent were consistent. Faculty and instructors wanted to ensure students received the material they needed to complete their semester and prepare for final exams, and to do their best in the process to answer questions, ease fears and mitigate stress. 

A few faculty from across OVC outlined their approaches in this pivot to alternative delivery. 

Virtual connections
Virtual classroom in Courselink was a first choice for many faculty, providing the ability to record lectures combined with an interactive format where students could ask question in real time.

While teaching online was new to Prof. Andrew Peregrine, Department of Pathobiology, he wanted a real-time format that captured the interactive nature of his lectures, while also creating a video they could watch later. Virtual classroom checked all those boxes.

“One of the neat things about the chat room function was that students were able to ask and answer some of their own questions, before I got to them, i.e. students were teaching students,” says Peregrine. 

Prof. John Barta set up two monitors with images on one and presented on the other using the pen function to highlight key points.Getting used to the new technology was a little like baptism by fire, notes Peregrine. He had to complete three lectures to third-year DVM students on the first day that on-line teaching began. 

“As soon as I uploaded my teaching file for the first lecture, each student's name appeared in individual green boxes that moved continuously all over my screen as students greeted each other. I literally could not see my teaching screen,” he says. A quick phone call to Scott Moccia in the OVC Dean’s Office, who helped faculty navigate digital and collaborative tools, sorted that out.

Prof. John Barta, OVC’s Department of Pathobiology, also transitioned to the virtual classroom approach using it to advantage for his lecture and lab sessions. 

For labs, he set up two monitors with videos, images and slides on one monitor while he presented on the other, sharing the screen back and forth as needed. For lectures, he spoke over previously prepared powerpoint slides using the pen function to highlight key points. 

“Students could get immediate feedback through the chat room or by asking questions through their computer microphone as we worked through new material in the lectures or reviewed material in the labs,” says Barta. 

These same features appealed to Prof. Jessica Gordon, Department of Population Medicine, for her lectures in Food Animal Medicine and Surgery. 

“I chose this format so that students could ask their questions in real time and I could answer them and clear up problems as they came up. It also allowed the students to come to "class" at the scheduled time to give them a sense of normalcy and community,” says Gordon. 

Real time reviews
Clinical teaching is challenging to duplicate virtually. Prof. Chantale Pinard, Department of Clinical Studies, used a few strategies in ophthalmology sessions with third and fourth year DVM students, including a voice over powerpoint illustrating different ocular conditions and previously recorded videos that students used to prepare for an online quiz Pinard created. 

She also set up virtual classroom chats to answer questions for an ophthalmology lab and a one-week virtual ophthalmology rotation. Open to any Phase 4 students, she went live for an hour every day and reviewed ophthalmology topics and cases with the students. “Again, a new experience for me and the students,” adds Pinard. 

In addition to using virtual classroom, Prof. Shauna Blois, Department of Clinical Studies, drew on previous work with an online textbook creation program, called Pressbooks, through the U of G Library. 

The previous summer Blois had created an online manual, including videos for each of the areas covered in one of her clinical teaching labs. The book is intended as a living resource that students can access through their clinical fourth year and even after they graduate. 

“I was intrigued by Pressbooks when I heard about it at a department meeting a year ago. It led to a few little projects for myself that ended up being rather handy,” adds Blois. She also is grateful to U of G’s Office of Teaching and Learning for their assistance in setting up an online classroom. 

Drawing it out
When tasked with moving seven remaining lectures online, Sarah Lepage, an adjunct professor in OVC’s Department of Biomedical Sciences, opted for three types of delivery: pre-recorded powerpoint lectures, a live final exam review session, as well as video diagrams. 

“Every student's situation has been different, whether it's trying to move houses, needing to talk to loved ones, or take some time for themselves. I thought pre-recorded lectures would relieve some of the stress to make it to scheduled classes,” she adds.

One of the courses includes a large embryology component, which can be difficult to conceptualize, she notes. Lepage decided to record some videos of herself drawing out more difficult concepts and structures. 

Prof. Janet Beeler-Marfiisi used a lit match as a symbol for too much phosphate in the blood duing a Method of Loci video for students.“This part wasn't easy, technologically speaking,” she adds. “Now I love making videos, and will likely incorporate some of these strategies in future courses.” 

Tapping into new techniques
While Prof. Janet Beeler-Marfisi, in OVC’s Department of Pathobiology, had concluded her teaching in the Systems Pathology course, she wanted to provide students with a better way to study for finals. She tapped into a technique called Memory Palaces which she herself used when studying for her clinical pathology specialization exam. 

“It works because you are actively engaging with the material resulting in deeper learning than: flash cards, making charts, re-writing/re-reading/highlighting notes. These feel like good work but don’t form long-term memories” she says. “The technique allows you to walk back in your mind to the storage location and look at each group of pictures you’ve composed for a topic. Once sufficient detail is in place, synthesis naturally happens.” 

She used Zoom to record herself doing Method of Loci for 20 clinical pathology topics and posted short MP4 videos for the students to watch – they reportedly loved it.

Students in Prof. Glen Pyle's undergraduated cardiology course created infographics to share on Twitter to communicate what they had learned. Making it social
For his undergraduate cardiology course, Biomedical Sciences professor Glen Pyle was available during class times to answers questions live, but found students preferred to participate on their own schedules. He set up an online discussion forum that didn’t require a dedicated schedule and allowed everyone to see questions and answers. He also switched testing to an at home assignment where students created social media posts to communicate what they had learned. Students created infographics and Instagram posts, as well as tweets to promote their content. “This added to the blogs already created by the class, two of which have been published by outside groups,” notes Pyle.    Students in Prof. Glen Pyle's undergraduate cardiology course created inforgaphics to share on social media. Matthew Garland's infographic on Coronary Artery Disease
Lauren Lambert's infographic about heart disease in women

Reassurance and stress management
For Prof. Jeff Thomason, who teaches anatomy to first year DVM students, guiding them through the final days of the semester and helping them prepare for final exams was a priority. Thomason, a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, modified and replaced teaching and exams materials, including access to previously produced videos from labs, organized online review sessions and set up an illustrated multiple-choice exam on Courselink.

Thomason always spends time in class, particularly prior to exams, addressing stress management. “It was no surprise to find an exponential increase in stress when the end of their year was suddenly and radically transformed,” he said. 

“I sent a lot of reassuring emails including a supportive rallying cry as I signed off each note,” says Thomason. Essentially, it acknowledged that everyone had been thrust into a scary situation, but “if we keep calm, keep working, and trust ourselves and each other, we'll get through it.”                                                                  


The Opal Otters, OVC Class of 2023, finished their first year of veterinary school and made a special Thank You video to their professors to thank them for their support during the COVID-19 pandemic.Video created by Opal Otter / Phase One student veterinarian Danielle Corso.