Emergency Transition to Distance Education – A Math Teacher’s Story
In May 2020, Patricia Lapointe, pedagogical advisor at Cégep Limoilou, interviewed (at a distance!) 2 teachers from her college about their experience with the emergency modifications that had to be made to their courses in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These teachers come from 2 different disciplines and work in different contexts.
You will find here the testimony of Geneviève Gagnon, a math teacher. Also consult the testimonial of Andy Van Drom (modern languages).
What didactic reflection led you to the pedagogical strategies you chose?
In my case, the decision as to whether to teach in a synchronous or asynchronous format was easy to make.
I was already teaching a course in synchronous mode with the Online Business Management cohort, so it was natural for me to continue in this mode. It’s true that having virtual appointments set in the schedule makes it easy to supervise the students.
For my Remedial Mathematics group, we were in the process of implementing a flipped class project before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since my students were used to watching theory capsules at home, the asynchronous mode was better for them; the transition would be more natural. The difficulty with these students would be to ensure personalized follow-up, as was possible in the flipped class during face-to-face lectures.
How do you choose the right technopedagogical tools to achieve your goals?
I consider the right digital tools to be those that allow us to easily adapt our teaching (our materials, our teaching strategies, our way of doing things) to online teaching.
Many teachers already have interesting teaching materials and activities and it is relatively easy to transform these materials for use online. For example, we can:
- add audio to a PowerPoint presentation
- use the document sharing features of OneDrive
- create workshops between students in virtual classrooms
As far as I’m concerned, a good technopedagogical tool is one that allows me to improve my teaching and remain comfortable with my pedagogy.
What are your students’ reactions to these methods?
Like many other instructors, my students were worried they would be able to successfully complete the course at a distance. However, by reminding them that they were already used to this approach and by trying to boost their sense of self-efficacy, most of them reacted well to the change in teaching methods.
What’s your favorite application or digital platform that you would like to share?
I discovered Genially thanks to the workshop given by Andy Van Drom in October 2019.
Andy Van Drom and Andréanne Turgeon led a workshop on behalf of Profweb based on the dossier they published in Profweb: Digital Tools to Support an Inclusive Approach.
Genially is a tool similar to a PowerPoint type presentation, but with much more interactivity between the user and the presentation. The teacher can create interactive presentations or activities with scenarios that are not just linear. There are several presentation or game templates available in the free subscription to the site.
Presentation (in French) designed for her students by Geneviève Gagnon using Genially
What advice would you give teachers who are new to digital tools?
I would suggest going step by step, avoiding trying to test several different tools that do essentially the same job. A lot of time can be wasted creating accounts, exploring the tools and platforms available. I myself have had the impression of “running like a headless chicken” on some occasions when it came time to choose a platform for e-learning.
It is more efficient to choose a tool that seems to suit us and make the most of it, even if it means watching a few “tutorials” on YouTube to fine-tune our grasp of this tool.
How do you meet the challenge of distance learning in your professional reality (without labs or equipment)?
Some courses are easier to teach at a distance than others. I would say that mathematics can be taught relatively well at a distance but following up with students can be more difficult.
The mathematical notations aspect is a challenge. Despite all the digital tools in place, pencil and paper is still the best technology (yes!) for learning mathematical reasoning and vulgarizing it.
Most math teachers [at Cégep Limoilou] have a tablet that allows them to write as they would on the blackboard, but students don’t have this equipment. The exchange of approaches is therefore slower, because it involves taking pictures with a smartphone or using an equation editor.
So, I’m learning to interact with my students in a different way. I feel like I’m interacting with them like we would on a social network: several very short messages that go to the essential with exchanges of photos and emojis.
The second significant challenge is plagiarism and cheating on evaluations. In mathematics, one can indeed ask “good comprehension questions” in exams, but there will always be an aspect of mathematical reasoning to evaluate. With the technological tools currently available (Microsoft Math, Photomath, etc.), a student can, for example, take a picture of a math problem and get the process for solving it.
How do you deal with balancing telework and personal life in your own situation?
This is the challenge of the hour! Although telework allows for some flexibility, many will admit that teleworking with young children at home brings its share of challenges.
I have felt a lot of frustration at not being able to be both a full-time professional available to her students and a mother who educates and entertains her children in times of pandemic. Eventually you adapt and manage to balance work, children, and physical and mental health.