Although the shift to remote teaching over the past several months has been challenging for many faculty; several other faculty have quickly become champions of innovation, embracing this pivot, and in some cases, even supporting their colleagues through the transition. I have worked with many champions, although many are unknown, unsung heroes, supporting their colleagues. Inevitably, the attempt to quietly assist without recognition is blown, as struggling colleagues sing their praises. That is how I came to know about Emma Baggot, an electrical instructor. I do not have enough fingers to count the number of times I have heard “Emma helped me” since March, and that is only one of the reasons why she deserves to be recognized for teaching excellence.
Emma began her journey at KPU in the electrical program, which led her to live “all over western Canada” for six years as she completed her apprenticeship. Though she loved her new career, she always had a passion for learning “It is very satisfying to help another person and to see them go from a place of I don’t understand this, and it is causing me great anxiety and great frustration, to I do understand – you see the lightbulb” she beams. This ingrained passion led her to make a bold move when she returned to the lower mainland. Emma called her previous KPU instructor David Riel, who at the time, was Associate Dean of Trades. “I just got in contact with him ’cause I was saying like you know, down the road I am interested in this, and I want to get the schooling behind me, so what is involved? And he said next time you’re in town, come in, and I will walk you through it” That subsequent in-person meeting turned into an interview and, four years later, she has never looked back. “I was meant to do this,” she said as we engaged in dialogue, and I couldn’t help but agree.
Emma shines when she talks about transforming student perceptions
When a student says I didn’t want to come to this class, there are a lot of things that you can unpack there, but then they say you made it fun, and you have made me want to learn. You have changed that person’s life, because now they are looking at learning from a different perspective, and you are opening unlimited doors for them. There is a huge difference between you going to work every day and being an employee of a company, to employing people and being the owner and contractor of the company – that is a lot of work; a lot of dedication and wanting to learn. If you don’t want that, you will never reach that point
The technical training for electrical apprenticeship is scaffolded over four levels, and level two can offer an opportunity to shift that perspective. “In level three and four you have got to want this, it is hard” She recognizes that trades students may have had challenges in traditional academic settings, making it that much more difficult. “I feel like a huge part of me as an instructor is being a cheerleader because I think that you need to change your internal mental dialogue. They may have been in traditional educational settings where they were either deemed smart or stupid, and it is like no! not here! Failure is success! I know, it’s every Pinterest cliché, right? but it’s congratulating them, or asking questions, or throwing out candy” She took a chance in a foundational course and created a rewards system using gamification. She used 50/50 tickets, and when students would ask a question, they would get “Kirchhoff’s Krona.” A board at the front of the room was a visible reminder. “You needed a lot of Krona; you could dump your worst exam for the class average if you had enough.” Not only did this motivate her students to contribute in class, but as a side effect, it built classroom community “there were some students who gave up their Krona to other students if they knew they needed help. They are with each other for six months, and they are very self-directed in the shop; so, they bond with each other. They go to each other and say I was behind when she was doing the demo I didn’t’ see, can you help me? and taking control is what you need to do on the job, so getting them out of their shell is important.”
Emma is aware that community building does not merely happen “the very first day I hand out review packages, and it’s all about icebreaking activities” and, she also participates “that’s a huge part of building a community; you are a part of that community. If you are asking them to offer bits of information about themselves, you can’t ask something of your students that you would not want asked of yourself” Being a partner in learning is much more appealing to Emma than being a sage on the stage “I’m the big man running the show, this is how I learned, and it was not effective. I think, how can I change that? We must get creative and collaborate with our students,” and her collaborative spirit reaches beyond the classroom with beneficial industry partnerships. Emma has maintained connections with the owner of a company she worked with as an apprentice, who had a positive impact on her. This continued relationship has been advantageous for her students, as he hires around five apprentices from each cohort she teaches.
With four years of teaching under her belt, Emma was into her teaching groove when classes suddenly pivoted to remote delivery, which would prove challenging in the traditionally face to face trades environment.
Even before this, we had the best intentions, we met as a department and looked our goals. We wanted to use Moodle to teach online, but unless you are forced into that situation, which has been amazing, you often don’t move forward with those intentions. I feel so proud of some of my co-workers, like, this is awesome! I see you! You didn’t even know how to login to email, and I mean there’s no judgment there, but I think this is one arena where I had the benefit of youth. Usually they kill me in experience but this, I am like YES! just because of the sheer time I was born; I used to come home from high school and get on MSN first thing
she laughs and continues “when you go out into the field you don’t use a computer, of course you don’t have this skillset behind you, you never developed it because you have been out in the field. Seeing how far they have come, and how they have embraced it; it is incredible” Emma believes this pivot will, in some ways, forever change how courses are delivered. Some of the instructors in the electrical program are planning to create and share shop videos.
We will always use them; initially, it takes some effort, but once you have it, you will always have it, and it to the benefit of the students because you can’t remember everything in a day; how overwhelming! You remember as an instructor because you have done it over and over again. For students to be able to have these resources and be able to look at a class again at their own pace, I mean, it’s gonna be huge; it makes their learning experience – and that’s the whole point of what we are doing
Emma’s answer leads me to ask how her student’s experiences may have changed since moving online “I have been asking my class this at regular intervals, I wanted the feedback so that I could re-adjust course and change what wasn’t working for them and magnify what was. Initially, I used an Elmo, and they were like, please no, so I bought a little Wacom tablet, and it’s been awesome.”
Embracing this online adventure for Emma may not be as scary as it is for most. She truly has an adventurous spirit and is literally climbing mountains, conquering Kilimanjaro last year. When asked to reflect on how that experience translates into her teaching practice, she quietly contemplates, then after a moment offers “find the positives in whatever experience you are having. You have to change your mindset; whether you’re on Kilimanjaro or not, you can do whatever you want to do, that is 100% your motivation and your responsibility and no one else’s” She also says the ascent taught her about her classroom expectations “a lot of what I learned stems from expectations, I will look at a class list and be like, oh I had this person, he is so funny, or the opposite with I don’t know any of these students. If you have expectations, you’re almost setting yourself up for failure when those things don’t meet, and inevitably they never do, so just wonder.”
Emma’s teaching journey is just beginning, but her commitment to learning is far from over as she is completing her Provincial Instructor’s Diploma from Vancouver Community College
It has been so beneficial, I’m going for my capstone after this last course, and I am thrilled for it to be complete, just because you’re a good electrician doesn’t mean you’ll be a good instructor; you have to blend the two of those things. When I first started teaching, I thought this was the way to teach” she says as she draws a perfect circle in the air “what the PID has taught me is that there is no this” as she again draws a perfect air circle “it has no shape, it’s all over the place because every class is so different, you can’t assume that everything is going to land the way it landed before. The PID taught me it’s about the reflection, constantly going well this worked, or this didn’t and thinking next time I’m going to scrap it or try it this way. It’s not just going by the seat of your pants; it’s constantly questioning is this working or not? Am I going to approach this in a different way entirely?
I marvel at how relevant this epiphany is in our current situation of pivoting to online teaching.
As the interview winds to a close, I acknowledge the famous wartime poster of Rosie the riveter (Miller, 1942) that hangs on the wall behind her, and we both agree that she is a great symbol of resilience. And now, as I write this, I can’t help but think what a perfect icon Rosie is to represent Emma, and her innovative, brave, encouraging spirit; because, yes, Emma We can do it – as long as we continue to have champions like you at KPU.
Miller, J.H. (1942) “We Can Do It,” poster, produced for Westinghouse/The War Production Co-Ordinating Committee, 1942, National Archives.