Laurel Tien, PhD (c), Teaching & Learning Commons Educational Consultant

Leeann Waddington, EdD (c), Manager of Learning Technology and Acting Senior Manager of Education Development

As we collectively slow down and enter into the next phase of the COVID pandemic, our attention is drawn to discussions of the impact on our individual and collective psyches—and how the experiences we have had can support best practices in higher education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). So, when we (Laurel and Leeann) saw the article in the British Medical Journal (Nelson, 2020) entitled The positive effects of covid-19, our curiosity was piqued and we connected to discuss! This article acknowledges the vast health, economic and social devastation of the virus as well as discussing the positive public health effects of COVID on human behaviour (e.g., bluer skies, fewer car crashes, decreased crime). The part that stood out for us was how our global collective pause might be an opportunity for humans to question and re-assess priorities. Nelson writes: “People are now more aware that nothing really matters when health is lacking” (p.1). We wonder if herein lies the silver lining: pausing and being in relationship. And we began to wonder how this applies to us as post-secondary educators at KPU.

Lavrič et al. (2020) expand on Nelson’s discussion with three core themes: 1) changes in oneself; 2) changes in close relationships; and 3) changes in the environment and society. In discussing the first theme (changes in oneself), the authors wrote that “participants reported getting to know themselves better, learn about priorities, values, their inner strength and happiness, the importance of loved ones in their lives and about their life experiences. They experienced a greater sense of calm, a life in the “here and now”, less daily rush, less or no time to commute and fewer daily commitments. As a result, they felt more motivated for activities that they would otherwise postpone; they were more concentrated, organized and less tired at work” (p.193). While this may be the experience in our personal lives, it is likely quite the opposite impact on our lives as educators. The challenge of changing our delivery model overnight has been overwhelming; emotionally, cognitively and psychologically. That said, it seems like one of those experiences we will only view as “growth” long after the hard work and frustration have passed. In a recent dialogue with a faculty member, she said “Right now, we are all feeling the emotional ups and downs of workload, personal uncertainties, fears, you name it. If they haven’t already, in time, people will look back on this time as one of enormous growth and community, where so many really wonderful, smart, and empathetic people stepped up” (Morris, 2020). This conversation reflects the possibilities for the future of education, as reflection on the strengths and opportunities from our experiences move us forward to a new way of being.

In the second theme (changes in close relationships), Lavrič et al. (2020) share further that “participants reported that they felt more connected to others, that they established better relationships and also felt more empathy towards other people” (p. 194). And finally, in relation to the third theme (changes in the environment and society), Lavrič et al. (2020) write that “there was a feeling of mutual solidarity, friendliness for each other and good “team” spirit” (p. 194).

In our discussions, Leeann shared how she has seen each of these themes emerge at KPU. Initially, it was departmental teams working together to learn and plan for their courses. Faculty were coming together to share and collaborate on resources, requesting departmental Moodle sites and Kaltura channels to support them in this collaboration. It appeared there were more connected relationships between Faculty themselves as well as Faculty and students. Most exciting for the Commons team was faculty engagement in developing evidence-based teaching and learning practices for this new environment and their realization of how many resources were available to help them. The emails sharing appreciation, as well as the successes and challenges faculty were experiencing engaged our team to continue with tireless support.

The third theme (changes in society and environment) is also significant in education. Many see education as a structure that influences the overall development of individuals and society. How we handle the challenges before us influences our relationship with ourselves, our colleagues, our industry partners, and, most of all, our students. We are so proud of the coming together of the KPU teaching and learning community in a way that positively impacts those around us and the students we are here to support and nurture for their future education and careers.

Circling back to our question about silver linings in the COVID pandemic and how the KPU Teaching & Learning Commons can support best practices in higher education during this time of COVID, we seek to draw from these two articles for ideas. Can our global collective pause be an opportunity to question and re-assess priorities? As one faculty member reflected, the professional development she was engaging in caused her to reconsider why she was an educator, what her course outcomes are, and how she could best meet them in the current context (shared with permission).  If Lavrič et al. (2020) saw that participants in their study were noticing the positive effects in changes in oneself, changes in close relationships and changes in the environment and society–we saw all of these emerging at KPU! This, of course ties into KPU’s Academic Plan: Strategy 2.4 to “Assist educators to create more opportunities for faculty-led, student engagement in active learning and experiential learning” (KPU, n.d., p.1). This Academic Goal strives to cultivate connections through continuous interaction within and outside of KPU: “Intentional connections will be sought to provide students with more learning opportunities, enrich teaching excellence, promote research and scholarship, strengthen partnerships at home and abroad and to showcase our collective efforts and enhance KPU’s reputation.”

And so, we challenge all of us to consider potential the silver linings in the COVID pandemic. How will your challenges today result in learning growth and possibilities for tomorrow? As John Dewey writes: “There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct their activities in the learning process…”(p. 67)

References

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education (7th printing, 1967). Collier.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (n.d.). Academic plan 2023: Teaching excellence. https://www.kpu.ca/vp-academic/academic-plan-2023/teaching-excellence

Lavrič, M., Gomboc, V., Krohne, N., Podlogar, T., Poštuvan, V., Šedivy, N. Z., & De Leo, D. (2020). Concerns, positive changes, and suggestions for psychological support during COVID-19: A thematic analysis. Sociology Mind10(4), 187-199.

Miller, J. P., Nigh, K., Binder, M. J., Novak, B., & Crowell, S. (Eds.). (2018). International handbook of holistic education. Routledge.

Morris, J. (2020) personal communication with Waddington, L

Nelson, B. (2020). The positive effects of covid-19. Bmj369.

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Leeann leads the Learning Technology and Educational Consultant teams in their efforts to support innovation in teaching and learning at KPU. Leeann oversees and advances existing KPU supported educational technologies and tools to align with institutional values and current best practices. Previously an experienced faculty member, Leeann holds a Post Masters Certificate in Curriculum Design and is a doctoral candidate in the Distance Education EdD at Athabasca University. Leeann is an advocate for the culture of folio thinking pedagogy and its potential to revolutionize KPU's learning landscape.

Laurel Tien
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