“This pandemic has been a learning experience for many educators, introducing them to the world of open as they shift from traditional to online learning.”
Instructor at Douglas College and BCcampus EdTech fellow
As we wrapped up the 2019–2020 annual review, we were in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a challenging time for educators, learners, institutions, support staff, and everyone else around the world. Despite months of preparation, many educational events were cancelled. Provinces were beginning to ban international students from schools for two weeks, exams were postponed, social distancing measures were enacted, non-essential businesses were shut down, and borders were closed. While the provincial and federal governments prepared for the immediate needs of their citizens, at BCcampus we recognized the impact this would have on educators and students, so we took steps to facilitate the imminent transition to online learning to minimize stress and strain on everyone involved.
To develop strategies to best help our stakeholders, we reached out to experts and learning leaders in the world of online education to discuss the new normal for online learning and to inform our strategy to help the local sector.
With a nudge from Mary, the BCcampus team implemented the BCcampus Online Office Hours series, a safe space for educators to chat about what they needed for an effective pivot to online learning.
Self-care was an important concern for staff and students, and the fifth virtual ACE-WIL town hall session, hosted by BCcampus, explored the benefits of and necessity for self-care, with helpful tips for attendees to feel good about making themselves a priority.
Mental Health and Wellness
Over the past fiscal year, the global pandemic severely affected mental health negatively. Internally, we used multiple tools and techniques to minimize the mental stress. First and foremost, we acknowledged that this was a massively stressful experience and that it was perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed. Work, school, and home life were all impacted in various ways and to different degrees, but we were all in this together, working and learning with one another. At BCcampus we held meditation sessions and invited anyone to join in. We focused on self-care and made time for each other. And most importantly, we made sure to do our best while following the guidelines to minimize risk of exposure to the coronavirus. In order to support the post-secondary community of B.C., we had to ensure we were taking care of ourselves first.
“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake: it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
Adapting to COVID-19
One major undertaking we completed this year was the creation and launch of an online resource for students, administrators, and faculty to help them navigate the pandemic financially, emotionally, and academically. The project was funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training and complements the Here2Talk Service, a program that connects students with mental health support where and when they need it.
The COVID-19 website features information, webinars, and support resources as well as mental health supports, financial relief, ways to control the spread, and how to stay safe. Equity, diversity, and inclusion were prominent factors in the creation of the content, ensuring that the resource provided value to everyone in B.C. We have decided to maintain the website due to substantial usage, with plans to archive the resources on BCcampus.ca when the COVID-19 site is sunsetted.
Another fun activity we hosted was the Open Education Challenge series, created for B.C. post-secondary faculty and staff to generate awareness about open education and provide opportunities to apply some of the concepts. Through ten 10-minute challenges released twice per day over five days, we gave local educators a taste of open education practices that they could implement in their own classroom or program.
The open education challenge was available through multiple channels, including email delivery via Mailchimp and posted on the Open Education Challenge Series website, with linkable or downloadable video walkthroughs hosted on the BCcampus Kaltura site.
Promoting Mental Health and Wellness
We developed a pair of mental health and wellness projects to support the Ministry’s work with post-secondary institutions on several mental health and wellness initiatives, part of a government-wide approach to improve mental health and substance use services for British Columbians.
Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students’ Mental Health and Wellness includes a facilitator’s guide with handouts and a PowerPoint presentation. This adaptable training resource covers foundational mental health and wellness knowledge for post-secondary faculty and staff and ways to support students in distress. It can be used for two-hour online or in-person training or for self-study. This resource incorporates a decolonized perspective and was guided by the following principles:
- Culturally located
We are also developing a synchronous-training resource for student leaders.
“COVID-19 is a stress test for OER, and OER has risen to the challenge. We were ready, it has functioned well during the transition, and it will endure. OER is sustainable, operational, and educational, and we’re looking forward to introducing it to educators and students throughout the province.”
Manager of open education, BCcampus
The Importance of Open
Open education and open educational resources (OER) were prominent topics during the pivot to online learning, with many instructors scrambling to assemble accessible resources and appropriate materials to include in their curricula.
The value of OER wasn’t the only stock that saw a substantial increase due to the pandemic: teaching and learning centres across the province were relied on heavily to assist with the pivot to online learning. An Open First! approach at Selkirk College was led by their Teaching & Learning Institute to prioritize OER over commercial educational products, despite steep introductory discounts. “The Teaching & Learning Institute team is working closely with our instructional staff to support the adoption of more open educational resources as they design their programs,” said Rhys Andrews, vice president of education at Selkirk College. “Open offers considerable financial savings for students with substantial flexibility for instructors and is well suited for the online learning environment. While we do anticipate change in the coming months, our focus remains on excellence in education and learner success, two components of Selkirk’s strategic direction. Choosing open will help us achieve our goals.”
Privacy vs. convenience was recognized as a concern during the transition to online learning. “OER, such as open homework systems and open textbooks, don’t collect student data, and privacy is baked in,” explained Clint Lalonde, project manager, open source homework systems at BCcampus. “Commercial resources often include an analytics platform that captures who, how, and what is being used, so the data can be applied to improve the for-profit model. As educators, we cannot waver when it comes to student privacy, even during the current crisis. Hasty decisions today could lead to privacy breaches for students tomorrow, and with the current selection of OER, there’s no need to risk it.”
Responding to the tremendous demand for faculty development in online course design and facilitation, BCcampus offered Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) courses for free, which resulted in over 80 registrations for a course that normally accommodates only 24 people at a time.
While we recognize that some educators, courses, and programs may revert to in-person learning when available, we are confident that much of the wins earned through the pivot will continue to provide value for the foreseeable future.