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Creativity in the online classroom

Classics professor Barbara Reeves holds excavating tools as she sits on an orange Kubota tractor.
In her first-year archaeology class, Barbara Reeves (Classics) has travelled all over Kingston filming herself talking about archaeological methods and procedures in interesting locations. (Supplied photo)

With the ongoing pandemic, professors and instructors in the Faculty of Arts and Science have had to rethink the ways they connect with students. Several courses have been adapted to the new world of online learning including redesigning the use of textbooks, using Zoom technology for performances, and exploring archaeology virtually.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the landscape of education across the country,” says Barbara Crow, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science. “Not only have many of us learned new technologies and pedagogies, it has also been challenging for faculty with uneven access to WIFI, parenting with small children, parents in long term care and the longer hours to learn. They have also found new and innovative ways of delivering their courses and course materials. I continue to be amazed by the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of our teaching and instructional design teams, and I am always pleased to hear and share their stories”

What follows is just five stories that show how our educators are enriching the student experience in unique and creative ways:

Barbara Reeves (Classics) brought a unique teaching twist to her first-year archaeology class. She travelled all over Kingston filming herself talking about archaeological methods and procedures in interesting locations.

One week she introduced excavation tools while standing in front of a fake ruin in a friend’s backyard. Another week Dr. Reeves discussed survey techniques next to an abandoned railway track in farmer’s field. In other weeks she filmed in city parks, in front of construction sites, and on Queen’s campus. In each case she sought out an interesting location to support the learning of that week’s material.

“Both the students and I really enjoyed the result and I think such videos will now be part of my teaching even when we return to the classrooms,” says Dr. Reeves. “I feel there is too much focus on the problems and difficulties with remote teaching so I’m hoping we can counter that with some good news stories such as my own.” 

The Dan School of Drama and Music commissioned librettist Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and composer Afarin Mansouri to write a mini Zoom opera specifically for students in Colleen Renihan’s Music Theatre Ensemble. These students are experimenting with ways to capture online, aspects of community, co-presence, and immediacy that are valued in live music theatre. 

"This is an incredibly difficult time for performing artists but rather than simply press pause and wait for some semblance of normalcy to return, my students and I are leveraging the possibilities of the digital space to re-imagine our preoccupations with liveness, co-presence, and immediacy,” says Dr. Renihan. “Guided by these industry professionals, we are discovering what remote collaboration and performance can look like for music theatre in this new space."

The Department of Psychology recently redesigned PSYC100 with the aim of bringing contemporary and rigorous insights to students in such a way that promotes access. As part of this redesign, PSYC100 now uses a free Open Access textbook, with chapters written by leading experts across the world.

The course instructor, Meghan Norris, along with her undergraduate and a number of graduate teaching assistants, create rapport through weekly booster videos designed to address common facts from the course discussion board in the previous week. PSYC100 also uses informal check-ins through onQ to see how students are doing, and to look for ways to tweak the course to meet the needs of students studying all over the world.

Isabelle St-Amand (French Studies) is currently developing a course for the French for Professionals Certificate, titled Indigenous Arts and Contexts. This ASO online course is intended for distance students who are professionals working in relation to Indigenous arts and contexts (artistic and cultural organizations, education, government). It is designed to provide learners with the oral and written skills necessary to accurately understand and effectively engage with Indigenous arts and contexts in the workplace.

“The innovative aspect is how the course offers students multiple encounters with Indigenous artists who produce work in French, in an Indigenous language, or in translation, and with the diversity of course format (video recordings, film previews, short texts, interviews, etc.),” says Dr. St-Amand. “The course was developed with great care to maintain connections I have developed over the years with artists and organizations from the Indigenous arts community, to showcase and to reflect their work and vision. It could be described in some ways as an effort to Indigenize the French language for students studying it as a second or third language.”

In the Dan School of Drama and Music John Burge used Feedback Fruits Video for asynchronous preparation of a fall-term course on Mahler Symphonies, in which the class prepared ahead by watching videos that he had annotated with commentary and questions. Dr. Burge noted that because Feedback Fruits is available in onQ, it was an easy matter to select YouTube videos for this purpose. Additionally, any marks generated from the activity were connected directly to the onQ grade book and it was simply a one-click process to publish the grades.

“Mahler Symphonies are between 60-90 minutes long and with so many great performances of these works on YouTube, it was easy to feature a different orchestra and conductor for each Mahler Symphony,” says Dr. Burge. “The annotated videos included multiple choice questions drawn from that week’s assigned reading or by asking comparative questions with earlier symphonies. You could easily use Feedback Fruits Videos to increase student attention to any course’s video content and I will certainly be using it again in the future.”

This article was first published by the Faculty of Arts and Science. If you have an example of innovative and creative teaching techniques within the Faculty of Arts and Science, email anne.craig@queensu.ca for inclusion in the Faculty of Arts and Science’s monthly feature.