Learning Technology Coach Podcast

S1E7. Building Community in the Classroom During the Pandemic: Do Your Students Feel Connected?

July 26, 2022 Kate Lahey Season 1 Episode 7
Learning Technology Coach Podcast
S1E7. Building Community in the Classroom During the Pandemic: Do Your Students Feel Connected?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Featuring Kate Lahey - PhD Candidate, Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto

The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.

Javad (00:09):

Hello everyone. My name is Javad,

Timilehin (00:10):

And my name is Timilehin.

Javad (00:12):

Welcome to the Learning Technology Coach podcast, where we talk to educators about adapting to the new normal.

Timilehin (00:21):

Here we talk to instructors about how Covid-19 affected their teaching style, the challenges they had to overcome, the technologies they used

Javad (00:29):

Plus a whole lot more. Bonjour Timilehin! Comment ca va?

Timilehin (00:38):

Cava bien merci. Et toi?

Javad (00:38):

Je vais tres bien. Do you know why? Because today's topic is actually one of my favorite.

Timilehin (00:42):

Of course. I know you teach at MUN as well, but is there any other reason?

Javad (00:47):

Indeed, because today we're gonna talk about something that I actually deal with personally, and that's related to the students engagement in Covid time when everything went online.

Timilehin (00:56):

Oh, yeah, me too. I know it's been a challenge.

Javad (01:00):

That's true. Timilehin. It was like really, really big challenge. Earlier this week, we sat down with Kate Lahey, the instructor in the gender studies department, and we had a lovely conversation about building community in the classroom during the pandemic, the ways to keep students engaged and connected. And we cannot wait to share this interview with you all. So if you're an instructor who happens to be struggling, how to keep your students involved, this episode is something you don't want to miss.

Timilehin (01:26):

Well then let's get right into it and get ready for this great interview. Let's go.

Javad (01:45):

Welcome back to the studio. Student engagement is a longstanding concern among educators. The issue became even more urgent in around March, 2020 when Canadian schools shut down to slow the spread of Covid-19, forcing many students and teachers to engage in remote learning for the very first time. Today we are joined by a wonderful guest, Timilehin, can you please tell us a little bit about our guest?

Timilehin (02:09):

I'll sure do. Gladly <laugh>. So we have Kate Lahey in the, in the building, and she's a PhD candidate at the Women and Gender Studies Institute, university of Toronto. She's also a course instructor in the gender studies department at Memorial University. She's a writer and a musician. And that makes sense. <Laugh>. Kate's work explores intergenerational trauma material and visual culture and memory in Newfoundland, as a Newfoundlandler, Kate's practice engages family knowledge and autoethnography. Well, thanks for coming, Kate.

 Kate (02:51):

Thanks for having me

Timilehin (02:52):

How are you today?

 Kate (02:53):

I'm doing pretty good. It's a bit windy, but I'm liking the spring weather we've been having.

Timilehin (02:56):

Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I just read your biography and it's really unique because, you know, <laugh>, it's not uncommon to see PhD researchers mm-hmm. <affirmative> identifying as, you know, speakers, writers, but your is kind of unique. You're also a musician. Yeah.

 Kate (03:13):


Timilehin (03:14):

So do you want to tell us more about that?

 Kate (03:16):

Sure. Yeah. I am the front person of a local band called Weary.  We're like an indie band. We're putting an album out in August, which I'm really excited about. Wow. And I'm also a board member and, and an organizer for Girls Rock NL, which is a music camp for youth. And music is a really important part of my relationship to teaching and to learning and music has really taught me a lot about the importance of mentorship and community. And having the framework for mentorship has been really, really helpful for me with teaching.

Timilehin (03:54):

Awesome. Yeah. So do you, how often do you do this? Is it like just during your free time or you really, really, really, really do it quite frequently?

 Kate (04:03):

Yeah, it's, we're pretty on the go right now. We've just finished recording, so it's a really busy time for us. Yeah, it's a busy time for us.

Javad (04:13):

And I think Timilehin, you miss something. You are also or you used to be a host in Eastern Edge Gallery,

 Kate (04:22):

A host I haven't hosted at Eastern Edge Gallery, but I've done lots of things with Eastern Edge Gallery. I've done writing. I've loved so much artwork there. I was an artist in residence there, so I've done lots of fun stuff at Eastern Edge for sure. Okay.

Javad (04:38):

Well students are now learning from homes sorounded by all their entertainment devices, probably like, I dunno, laying down on their beds, who knows? Despite all this, all these distracting environments they have to focus to learn, and that requires full commitment, engagement. How do you engage your student in the new normal? Like, what has changed after Covid hit us?

 Kate (05:02):

I think something for me that's really important is to realize that focus and engagement means really different things to different people, and that we all have different resources and tools that help us achieve focus and engagement. And it's not the same for everybody. Right. And so I think something that Covid has really taught me is that we sort of have an opportunity to use different resources, different forms of technology, different material in our, in our classrooms, different ways of enacting compassion for students that really works towards acknowledging that we all achieve focus and engagement differently. And really just doing whatever I can to, to, to help each student meet their particular needs. So that's, that's been how I've been dealing with things.

Timilehin (05:51):

Awesome. But you, we found out that you are lover of, you know, art , Media Yeah. And popular culture. And how have you been able to employ all of these in your class?

 Kate (06:03):

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's really important. I think that when we feel connected to the material that we're learning, it's easier for us to learn. I remember when I was doing my undergraduate class, undergraduate degree, sorry, I only took courses that I thought I was gonna like, like I, I learned in about my first or second year, okay. If I take a course that I don't feel connected to, even in the smallest way, I'm not gonna do well in this course. Fair. And that became sort of my strategy through my undergraduates. I'm gonna look for courses that I connect with mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, and the more interest I naturally can find connection to, the more successful I'm gonna be. And I didn't really understand why when I was younger. I mean, I was 17, 18 starting my undergrad, but that really stuck with me. And as a teacher, I think, well, what kind of forms of connection can I sort of create in order for students to access this material? And pop culture is a huge one. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And even just storytelling in general, finding entry points for students to see themselves in the material and allow the material to impact their lives, I find it's been a really successful way of engaging pop culture. Right.

Timilehin (07:15):

And then you also mentioned that you use you know, you acknowledge the fact that, you know, we use different resources. Yeah. You know, it could be different tools, materials mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but talking of technology because that's really one of the biggest things for me. Yeah. So what technology specifically did you use?

 Kate (07:33):

Yeah, so of course here at Memorial University we have D2L, which I think is a Brightspace platform. So that's our, that's sort of our, our foundational access point to students when we're, when we're teaching here. And something that really worked well for me was continuing a hybrid mode. Even when we went back to in, in-person learning it really, I was sort of like live streaming art classes through, I kept the WebEx going mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I recorded every class that worked really well. I didn't kind of go into anything like social media. I know some educators love to use like Twitter or engaged platforms that people are using, but I'm noticing a lot of students have difficult relationships with social media. Myself included, I'm always trying to break up with Instagram <laugh> and things like that. Right. So that wasn't a tool that I brought in.

 Kate (08:25):

But even like your music, you know, I start every class by playing music because music is important to me. So I wasn't using any super fancy technology, but I that was what I was, I was doing. I was keeping a hybrid mode. I was streaming, I was recording every class and posting it. I was using captioning services. You can work with the Blundon Center here at Memorial University, and they will help you understand different technologies like screen readers and, and all sorts of wonderful accessibility tools in your classroom. So I was just using the foundational, foundational stuff. I didn't have anything really cool <laugh> involved, but just staying consistent with those basics was really, really worked for me, I found.

Timilehin (09:12):

That's a lot really <laugh>.

 Kate (09:14):

Yeah. It can sometimes. Yeah. When you're trying to teach and then you're trying to record and you're trying to project it on the screen and blah, blah, blah. So Yeah.

Javad (09:20):

And it's interesting that you mentioned that students have like, kind of likea difficult relationship with social media, because to me, I thought that's, that would be opposite

 Kate (09:29):

Yeah. Form of connection. And it can be, I think. But I, I think that we see, I got TikTok for the first time in the pandemic. I love TikTok <laugh>. And I've learned so much about student life through TikTok. I mean, I am a student as well, but I'm not a 17 year old undergrad student again, you know? And so, and I shouldn't even say 17 because I have all age groups who are taking undergrad classes. And that's another thing that's important to me is working sort of across generations in the classroom. But I've just been learning a lot. I guess my point is that social media is not a neutral space, right? Yeah.

Javad (10:05):

Something that you mentioned that, and that was really interesting for me, that you, you said that you use music for your classes. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, how do you use music to engage students?

 Kate (10:13):

Well, one of my favorite mentors with teaching is Dr. Sarah Trimble at the WGSI at UofT. And I was Tee's TA about two years ago. It was during the pandemic, and I learned so much from Tee. And I think having teaching role models is so important for young teachers like me. And Tee would always play music and really fun music at the beginning of every class and would play like funny, like blonde on blonde, like birthday songs for people and stuff like that. And it just created an atmosphere where when people are sort of trickling into the classroom, there's not that awkward silence where there's like three people in the room and, you know, it's, I don't know, it just kind of created an atmosphere. And I always created a class playlist too for people so they could, you know, learn about music from me, but I could also learn about music from them and kind of make a mix tape together. It's just an, it's just music is such an easy way to connect, so. Yeah.

Timilehin (11:15):

So it looks like your students obviously have responses to your, you know, attitude of coming into the class with music. Like

 Kate (11:24):


Timilehin (11:25):

They're receptive

 Kate (11:26):

Of it. Yeah. I think, you know, I think at the, it's really hard to get to know your teachers and it's hard to get to know students really quickly, right? Like Right. Sometimes in a semester we don't have a ton of time and our class time is limited, you know, we don't, we gotta find effective ways to get to know each other. Cuz my belief is that community is a really important part of learning for a lot of people. It's not for everybody, but it is something that I wanna make available to students in my classroom. And getting to know who I am is really important because, you know, when you're asking your teacher for support and you're asking for help with an assignment, you're asking for an extension, whatever it is you might need support with, which is what I'm there for, you know, it's a lot easier to ask for that support when you know the person's personality, when you know their name, when you know that they're warm or that they're welcoming. Right. It, it just makes it easier. So to, that's just a basic accessibility point for me. And learning like what kind of music I like right, is, is a part of that. And sharing a little bit about who I am. And that's, again, a lesson I learned from Tee, you know, is to not be afraid to show who you are in, in the classroom as an instructor, because it, it makes you more accessible, I think, to students. So that's part of what music does for me, I think in the classroom.

Javad (12:39):

Well, what you said, like, makes total sense to me because I've had this experience a lot with other students that they always say that they learn the best from their classmates. Yeah. Because the friendship bond they have. Yeah. Like, yeah. So it, it makes total sense that, you know, if you can somehow break the ice and show your students that, you know, I'm a human, just make friends.

 Kate (12:57):

100%. Yeah. Yeah. And even with another thing I did in the classroom that I loved this and I, I'll always do it and I'll, and I keep doing it regardless of the format of how it's being delivered, but doing like check-ins with students at the beginning of every class, it takes like five to 10 minutes and they say their name, even though we all sort of know each other's names after a while they they're allowed to share their pronouns if they want to. They're welcome to, but they don't have to. They can tell me a little bit about how they're doing or if they don't want to, they can pass by verbally saying pass or by shaking their heads. And checking in and taking a couple of minutes for everyone to talk to each other in such a simple sort of way has really allowed, well, the feedback that I've gotten is that it allows students to kind of get to know each other a little bit more. It's a bit of an icebreaker. And I totally agree with you that allowing students to get to know each other and feel connected through the class, I think really helps their learning throughout.

Timilehin (13:58):

Absolutely. I mean, I like the fact that you are building viable connections, even not just with you and your students, but also, you know, from student to students for sure. So, yeah. That's great. So you mentioned accommodation Yeah. And then accessibility. Yep. So how do you employ these in your class?

 Kate (14:18):

Yeah, so there's lots of ways that you can employ, you know, bring in accommodations and accessibility to the classroom. I am an instructor with a disability, so I definitely bring in my lived experience as somebody with a disability. Which again, doesn't I don't know everything, but it, it kind of gives me, again, a place of connection there. Something that I always do is on my syllabus, of course, I have a section on accessibility. I work with the Blundon Center. I try and stay knowledgeable about what the current resources are. And if you're an instructor at MUN, you get letters of accommodation through the Blundon Center, for your students who have accommodations through the Blundon Center, but not every student has access to getting accessibility accommodations through the, through the Blundon Center. So, something that I've done in the past is I've had a survey function on D2L an accessibility survey where students who do not have accommodations provided in an official way through the Blundon Center can share with me anything that they want me to know about accommodations. So for me, you don't need to have official accommodations to receive accommodations. And I just try and keep that dialogue really, really open. Extensions are really important to me. Offering extensions to student, making sure that they don't feel afraid to ask for extensions. I provide a template for them in the syllabus. It's a template email that they can just copy and paste in an email to me that teaches them how to request an extension. Just things like, things like that. But generally trying to create an atmosphere of comfort where students feel that I'm approachable enough to ask for what they need and that I'm continually trying to check in with them. So it manifests in so many different ways, but it's generally, that's my attitude towards it, towards accessibility in the classroom.

Javad (16:06):

Right so you are also a student as well. Mm-Hmm. I wonder if there is any bridge between like what you learn and what you teach. I mean let's just focus on engagement. Like, do you have any key findings in your research that could apply to student engagement in your classes?

 Kate (16:21):

Yeah, I mean, so my doctoral research, sorry, primarily looks at intergenerational trauma in a Newfoundland and Labrador context. But something I've learned a lot is that, you know, trauma and intergenerational trauma are really present in culture right now. In popular culture. We've got lots of books in the mainstream. Like looking at films like, I don't know if anybody's seen the movie Red. It's like a, I think it's a Pixar movie. I don't know. Don't quote me on that. Encanto, I don't know if anybody's seen Encanto, it's a Disney movie. Like we are seeing intergenerational trauma be represented in a really mainstream way. So again, pop culture becomes like a place that I can bridge my research in the classroom. But generally I think through my own research, something I've learned a lot about myself and other people is about empathy and compassion for the human condition.

 Kate (17:17):

And that really is, is a bridge for me. But on another note, like, you know, I also learn a lot from students. So I think having reciprocity in the classroom, you know, allowing myself to be imperfect in the classroom, but also being open to learn and change and grow from students has been amazing. I had a student who's an amazing creative writer. I've had them in several courses. I had a piece of their writing on my syllabus last year. You know, like having, having that kind of reciprocity has been really wonderful for me too. Yeah.

Timilehin (17:53):

I think I really envy your students right now, <laugh>. Oh,

 Kate (17:56):

That's so nice. Thank you.

Timilehin (17:59):

Yeah. Talking about accommodation and accessibility again. Mm-Hmm. Yeah.

Timilehin (18:04):

Is there a time maybe in the past or now that you feel like some students are taking it too far and, you know, you know what I mean? You are giving them accommodation, you are trying to extend their due date, but you know, someone is not just trying to get things done. <Laugh>

 Kate (18:19):

<Laugh>. That's a really interesting question that I think speaks to like a really common viewpoint sometimes, or misconception I would say, around accessibility, which is that,is that it can be abused, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> is that it could be,taken advantage of right? By students or something, right? Uwhich for me,isn't a po isn't possible, right? So if you,are like you said, sort of like feeling lazier or want not wanna not get things done, there's a reason for that. There's something going on <laugh>, and you need the space, or maybe you need additional support too. So sometimes when I am giving extensions with students, I also always offer other supports too because,this comes down to a lot of,a lot of my perspective on Neurodivergency in the classroom. It's really important for, for me to understand how,how the classroom structure is not suitable to,is not always suitable, I should say, to, again, everybody's learning style and deadlines are really big on that, right?

Time management is really big on that. Communicating your needs, asking for the support you need, all of this has to do with access, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So in my perspective, there's no such thing as a lazy student. There's no such thing as a student who's trying to like, get one over you or trying to exploit the system, right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> I think every student is doing their best. And even if that's the vibe good on you, I'd rather, I'd rather you get what you need in this moment and, and never assume that of, of others. So that's always my, that's my perspective. Yeah.

Timilehin (20:02):

Okay. Let me just take that

 Kate (20:03):

<Laugh> I appreciate it, but I think it's a good question, and I think it's really important for instructors to think about if we're feeling defensive around that, if we're feeling like students are taking advantage of, I mean, what's even your viewpoint on the relationship between student and teachers? And I don't think that what you're saying is uncommon at all. I think that's a common view, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> is that we could be weak or, or these kinds of things. And I think sometimes when we're teaching, it's really easy to teach in the way that we've been taught before. And I think it's really important sometimes to break those intergenerational cycles with teaching where we can change and work through maybe the difficult teaching experiences or learning experiences that we've had in the past and, and try to be better and, and, and think differently about it. But yeah, that's just my view.

Javad (20:50):

That's a nice point of view for the fact for the last question that I want to mention is so we had Covid, and it's all it's almost like, you know, you're at the end of the curve. I'm really interested to know what are the key lessons that COVID did for your courses? Like, what advantages did you obtain from Covid?

 Kate (21:14):

Well, I mean, I first rephrased the question really, because I think that Covid has been traumatic. It's ongoing. It's, it's a worldwide health crisis that has laid inequality bear around the world. So I really don't wanna phrase Covid as ever possibly being advantageous for me. But I think something hopeful that we can turn to through Covid is around accessibility, right? We've seen the ways, you know, disabled students have been asking for hybrid,options, for example,in the classroom forever, and being told it's not possible. And then we've seen how it is possible mm-hmm, right? So for me,looking towards and listening to marginalized and disabled students experiences with,Covid what's needed for people with, say, chronic illness,for people who are dealing with death and grief in the classroom, right? All of these,major challenges that people have always been going through, but have been,really exposed in a collective and large scale way through Covid. Umy really big hope would be that we would not try to go back to business as usual, right? Because I think from my perspective, business as usual hasn't been great for everyone. <laugh>, right? Mm-hmm. So this is an opportunity to, for shift and for change, t great, great costs. So again, it's not advantageous, but that would be my, my hope is that we would, e would have certain changes that that listened to those, to those voices going forward.

Timilehin (22:54):

Thank you. We appreciate all of your detailed explanations, <laugh> and perspectives. I mean, we are truly grateful. Thank you so much for coming. We are really, really grateful. And that will be the end of the interview.

 Kate (23:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you. Thank you.

Javad (23:10):

You're welcome. We wish you all the best in your future.

 Kate (23:13):

Thank you.

Javad (23:23):

Wow, that was a really nice interview.

Timilehin (23:25):

Yes, it was.

Javad (23:27):

What impressed me the most, aside from her personality, that's how someone can be, I don't know, PhD, candidate, instructor, musician, what else?

Timilehin (23:36):


Javad (23:36):

Oh, I forgot about that. Writer. Yeah. What in what I dunno, what impressed me the most was how she categorized, like her engagement with the students in three levels. Like the first one was learner-learner engagement. Mm-Hmm. And she mentioned that how she makes it easy for, for her students to talk to each other to break the ice. And that was really nice. The second engagement that she mentioned was about the learner-instructor engagement and all the tricks that she was doing to keep her students going engaged. I love that. That was really, really nice. Yes. And the last one that you mentioned, and usually people don't notice, is about learner and content engagement. It's usually like, that's part that usually is forgotten because many things that, you know the engagement should be only between the instructor and the students, but content also needs to be really interested for, it's interesting for students,

Timilehin (24:27):

Right? I mean, what, what I think I like about the whole interview, in addition to what you just said, is the fact that Covid-19 could not be really categorized as being advantageous. Yeah. But then there are key lessons, you know, that business as usual would not be the best deal always. You know, and that key lessons we have learned from Covid-19 should be used, should be harnessed to make sure that some marginalized groups are actually at an advantage. That's right. Eventually. So I really loved it.

Javad (24:58):

It was great. Well, that was our interview and that was today's session. I hope you all had fun and you had all learned something. I did.

Timilehin (25:07):

Well, I did too. To all our listeners, thank you for tuning in to today's episode of the Learning Technology Coach Podcast. We appreciate that you joined in. Thank you and have a great day

Javad (25:20):

Merci beaucoup avaient tous

Timilehin (25:22):

Till the next episode. Bye.


Episode Introduction
Guest Introduction
How to keep students focused and engaged
Tools and technology to encourage engagement
Using music to engage students
Accessibility and inclusion in the classroom
Bridging research with teaching
Misconceptions about accommodation of students
Lessons learned from the pandemic
Summary - Big Learning Moment!