Learning Technology Coach Podcast

S1E8. Sustaining Services for Students and Instructors During the Pandemic: Challenges and Learning Curves

July 27, 2022 Mark Picco Season 1 Episode 8
Learning Technology Coach Podcast
S1E8. Sustaining Services for Students and Instructors During the Pandemic: Challenges and Learning Curves
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Featuring Mark Picco - Technical Communications Coordinator, Faculty of Engineering, Memorial University

The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.

Javad (00:09):

Hello everyone. My name is Javad.

Timilehin (00:11):

And my name is Timilehin.

Javad (00:13):

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

Timilehin (00:22):

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

Javad (00:30):

Plus a whole lot more. Hi Timilehin. How was your weekend?

Timilehin (00:35):

Great, great. How about yours?

Javad (00:38):

It was wonderful. Finally, it's June. Covid has been controlled well, and you know, we can finally enjoy the summer the way we used to. Are you excited Timilehin? Because I really am

Timilehin (00:47):

Super super excited.

Javad (00:49):

How much do you like road trips?

Timilehin (00:52):

You know, as a geo scientist, I can do without road trips. I have to be in the field every summer, so <laugh> have to do it.

Javad (00:58):

That's wonderful. Imagine that you're super excited to go on a road trip, but all of a sudden you realize you cannot make it. Well, that feeling was probably the story of many of us who were excited to start a new semester and meet all old friends, new profs. But then, you know, COVID happened. Last week we had this chance to talk to Mark Picco, the technical communications coordinator for the faculty of Engineering and applied science about sustaining services for students and instructors during the pandemic challenges, learning curves, and all the tricks he had to pull out from his head to bring back that excitement to students and profs. So if you're interested as I am to learn more about this topic, settle in, get comfortable and get ready for this exciting interview.

Javad (01:55):

Welcome Back to the studio. The unfortunate situation of Covid 19 pandemic has generated transformations of Canadian education system forcing instructors as well as the students to adapt into a new short time, to new social conditions and to new online learning process. We have a very interesting guest today in the studio. Timilehin, would you please introduce our guest to our listeners?

Timilehin (02:17):

Of course. <Laugh>. Thanks Javad. Well, mark Picco is the technical communications coordinator for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. It began in that role in March, 2020, and you can imagine it was just two weeks before the first Covid 19 lockdown. Previous to that, mark taught in months English as a second language program where he helped primarily pre university students improve their language ability. He also teaches engineering 9155, a course in technicalwriting for graduate engineering students. Andwell, mark, how are you?

Mark (03:01):

Good. How are you doing?

Timilehin (03:02):

I'm good too. I have thesequestions for you. You know, it's unimaginable that you resumedin this role just two weeks before the Covid-19 lockdown. And I'm just wondering, you must have had many, many challenges, but what was the first, and I mean, the biggest challenge that you had in that role?

Mark (03:25):

I think the first thing is that you're trying to learn how to work in a new role after being in another role for such a long period of time. So you have to learn the new job, but you also have to learn it in a new medium. Right. So you have to do everything online remotely. And that's not something I was really used to. I used to teach courses that had an online component. You know, you have a brightspace shell, but having a brightspace shell is something completely different than teaching everything online and doing everything online. Whether it's meetings withyour colleagues or if it's something like trying to do a workshop or even a class for another course. All of that, having to have been done online was fairly challenging in and of itself. And then the idea of being a completely new role just added to it.

Timilehin (04:15):

Absolutely. We can only imagine how you must have done a great job, you know, navigating thatperiod. I mean, gracefully.

Mark (04:24):

Yeah. I guess good is a subjective term, but I tried as hard as I could tomanage in the new role.

Javad (04:31):

Yeah. I think it was new for all of us. Following what Timilehin asked, like consideringthe alternative for no schooling, like online schooling has been an important toolto sustain a skill development during like school courseclosure. That being said, there are still concerns about online learning that they may have been a suboptimal substitution to face-to-faceinstructions. You talk about the first challenge that you faced, butcan you please tell us about the most important challenges that you have faced? Like for example, likeespecially for the courses that they had labs, because those courses are among the most challenging courses.

Mark (05:10):

Well, my role is mostly as someone who helps with their communication skills. So the entirety of my job is related to helping the students write wellto help their writing progress, to help them communicate well if they're giving presentations. So in terms of the actual labs, I wasn't involved in those, not the physical ones. From what I can gather, that whole trying to do it all online when it was something that's really visceral, really something that you do with your hands seem to have been a challenge. But nothing that I had experienced personally.

Timilehin (05:44):

Yeah. Talking about writing and making students get better at their writing, did you have any collaboration withthe writing center?

Mark (05:53):

Not really. Now the people that work at the writing center are also people who worked in my previous job, my department, English second language shut downmaybe a year or two ago. Something like probably two years maybe. Oh, yeah. And the people that work there are now the people that work at the writing center. So some of the people that also work there now work at CITL. So it seems like they've been dispersed through really just three places, CITL me in engineering, and at the writing center.

Javad (06:22):

That makes sense. Well, you mentioned CITL could you please specify more likeCITL helped you in any way?

Mark (06:31):

Well, the whole idea of CITL is crucial for somebody who's teaching any kind of course because they have to use CITL resources to establish things like brightspace shells. And surely when you're trying to deliver things remotely, you're going to run into problems. And the first point of contact is always going to be CITL. So I definitely had some issuesthat I needed to have taken care of, not ones that are exclusive to Covid-19 situations, because one of the things that international students need to do when they're applying for the acceptance into the engineering program is they have to do something called the Engineering English test. Yeah. And that test is done entirely online. It was developed before I got there. And I guess with the assistance of CITL, because the whole thing takes place in a brightspace shell, and that required sometimes troubleshooting and things like that, I ended up revising the entire test, adding an online component, which I do via WebEx. But yeah, I think at numerous points through that process, I needed CITL's help to add and remove students from courses ensure that random test bank questions were being pulled, things like that.

Javad (07:51):

About the test that you mentioned, like, I'm not quite familiar with the parts of this test, but is there any part thattestify students speaking? Because in that case, like when we are dealing with online system, like it's very difficult to have face-to-face conversation. Like did we have any, any solution

Mark (08:09):

For that? Well, the first part of the tests, and that's one that existed before I got there, was entirely written. There were three questions. They're all really two of them were really general and one was really a hypothetical situation. And when I started in that role, I reduced the number of questions from three to two changed some of the questions around, reduced overlap. Tried to make the, situations with a little bit more of a reading passage to also assess the student's ability to comprehend what they were reading. But then on top of that, I wanted them to do something related to speaking and listening. So I instituted an interview process. The interviews are nothing related to engineering at all, whereas one of the questions on the engineering English test is related to engineering. The speaking part, the basically an interview is all questions that you might ask somebody if you're just, you know, in a bar somewhere. They're just regular questions. But what I'm assessing there is their ability to understand the questions I'm asking and then give back a response that I can understand myself. And it's hope that if they can do that, they can also do the same thing when they go physically on the work site where they need to communicate with their coworkers and supervisors.

Timilehin (09:20):

Right. I know you might not be privy to information regarding student performance, pre covid, but you know, from your evaluation from two years down the line now, what would you say students challenges were? You know, how did they progress and now, you know, probably there were some, you know, challenges that students actually exhibited. You know, they came to you, told you about the frustrations they had in a particular course or in a particular program. And you know, now how would you evaluate, you know, the progression? Is it getting better? Is it getting worse or something?

Mark (09:59):

I think that in some ways it's getting better. In other ways, it's getting worse. I think that with technology, with the changes that have been required, students had to adapt and do tech technologies themselves, just like the teachers had to do it, the students had to do it too. And there are some benefits of that when you're looking at things like asynchronous teaching, sometimes courses were held asynchronously. And when that happened, the students had more of the ability to put the course inside their own schedules. So I think in some ways things like time management have improved students have become more able or had, become more able to manage the time. But at the same time, when you go back to in-person teaching, now you have a set schedule. There is no more of asynchronous teaching really going on in many cases. In some cases there are, but when now students have to go back to being dictated to, you have to be a class at this time and you have to do this at this time. And I think that that might be a challenge for students in terms of time management going from a situation where they had more control to less control. Now there's always students who are the opposite too, who really like to be told when they have to be in class and have trouble managing it themselves. Right,

Timilehin (11:14):

Right. So I was going to ask that question that, sorry. You know, you know, that, you know, we were, we were in an whole nice scenario and gradually we went back into in person, it must have been challenging for the students, but what about instructors? You know,

Mark (11:31):

I think the instructors had a difficult time, particularly if they were instructors that were not overly used to using or relying on technology for their courses. So I think that's always gonna be an issue. And for anyone, if it's even someone who's adept at the use of technology, once they're giving a new technology that they have to use, they have, there's a learning process that has to happen. For me, coming into this role, one of the things that, the very first task I was given essentially was to develop a set of online modules for students who are doing their work terms. And these are all modules to help them with their communication based assessments. So there's two written reports, a short one and a long one. There's a there's an online presentation sorry, no, there's a presentation. And then the other thing is a career development report.

Mark (12:20):

So those are the four things they have to do. They can, they have at least four work terms while they're doing their engineering degree. And for each one of those, there's some kind of written or oral component. And I, and those modules are meant to help them improve on their skills to make their presentations or reports the best that they could be. So when I was creating these modules, I had to use a new program that I'd never seen before called Adobe Captivate. Correct. It's essentially like Microsoft PowerPoint, but it allows for a little bit more interactivity. There's quizzes that can be built into it. There's interactive things you can click on or roll over. It's more interactive than a PowerPoint, but at the same time, the user interface is like, if Microsoft PowerPoint was designed for I don't know, some kind of animal who never used a computer, because none of it is intuitive, it seems like a lot of random things exist in it.

Mark (13:16):

So it was a long time for me to try to figure out how to use this properly. And that's the same for any instructor or any student if they have to use some kind of new technology. I know a lot of our instructors had to use things like Screencast-O-Matic or some components of brightspace. I know that the online rooms, the, the bongo that's there was something new and all of these things create their own challenges. So technology was definitely something and something that CITL was really instrumental in helping people overcome.

Javad (13:47):

Yeah. And I think we have license for Screencast-O-Matic for instructors and for students. It was nice that you mentioned that, you know, about adopting to the new, to the new normal, because that's actually the topic for our whole podcast. Uhum. Ummy question for you as the technical communication coordinator the way I see it, like you are kind of like a link between the students and instructors. Which side well, I'm gonna divide in two questions. The first one is like, in which side did you have more difficulties to adapt? And the second, my second question is like, which side got adapt faster to the new normal, students or

Mark (14:27):

Profs? That's a good question. So when you're looking at that kind of thing, I think that's a good way to describe it. I'm kind of a link between the students and the instructors because I helped the students with the assignments that they're creating for the instructors, who had more of a challenge, who did I have more of a challenge with, I think was the first question. Okay. And I would say I didn't have much of a challenge with either group with the instructors. I could really sympathize everything that they're trying to do because I'm facing the same kind of things when I'm trying to create instructional materials. I have to create those materials. Often using software that I've was unaccustomed to or just completely new to. So I think that I had that similarity there. So that helped.

Mark (15:14):

But for the students yeah, I think that, no there was less of an issue with students, I think because they're typically younger and they're typically more used to using new technologies. And essentially it was, it's always gonna be the instructor has to learn it first and then give it to the students to do something with it. So the students aren't really entirely learning it on their own because they have the instructor to help them, whereas the instructors are trying to learn it on their own, or they have to go to someone like CITL to ask them how to do it.

Javad (15:50):


Timilehin (15:51):

Yeah, I'm very happy that CITL came up a few times and that's great. At least people can now see, you know, how resourceful these department is to the university. And so you have mentioned that adapting to new normal required you, you know, to use new technologies, you know, and that's one big thing. Apart from these, apart from the use of technologies, what other thing would you say COVID-19 has taught you? You know, at least a positive side to the COVID-19 thing?

Mark (16:27):

I think that being lenient is something that it taught me because you find that everyone is in a different situation. And when students are coming to a classroom, they're all students. You see them all equally. You see them day in, day out, or you don't see some of them. And things like illness, you always realize that it's there, people get sick. But Covid has really said, okay, this student has this ailment. They cannot possibly complete the work in this time. So you have to get used to extending deadlines. And I think for me, I've gotten used to almost putting in the idea of needing to extend deadlines and to do things in ways that would allow for students to do it at a later date or an earlier date more often. So I think that's something that has improved. I think the flexibility of instructors is definitely something that's improved for me and I think for many others.

Javad (17:19):

Good. although on online education offers many advantages and has power to overcome traditional barriers in education in terms of time, space, and strategies. But what are the some of that disadvantages of online education or challenges that so far, like we had difficulties to overcome?

Mark (17:39):

Well, one of the things that I do regularly is give workshops to students to help them improve certain aspect of their communication skills. And that has been something that, I've done long before I started in this role. However, having to do it online created numerous issues. And I'm not gonna lie, I have seven, eight of them written down here, so I'm gonna go through each one because there were issues and it's probably best if I do it this way so they don't forget what they are. Yep. So the very first one is the idea of using multimedia objects. I used to use them all the time, used to use videos. Sometimes it's just audio. Even something like an animated gif, you know, I might, wanna put that in a presentation, but I got more wary. I got warier, I guess not a very common word, but I got warier of using any kind of multimedia object because I was worried that the students wouldn't see it the same way I was seeing it, or they wouldn't hear it at all.

Mark (18:35):

Yeah. And that's a real fright because if I have to consider what I'd prefer, do I want to put something more cutting edge or more something the students can relate to in there? Or do I wanna make sure that it works? And I'm always gonna err on the side of making sure that it works. So that was one thing. Another thing was the idea of they're not being faces. Everybody is just a name on a list of names, and it's hard to really see, does a student understand if all you're seeing is their name, their name doesn't indicate anything. Yeah. So you really have to check in more with the student than you would do normally. Another thing, this is a really weird thing, but the idea of students registering, they register for things and they don't have any intention of showing up because they want to get the recording of it afterwards.

Mark (19:22):

And that's fine. But when you're trying to plan for things like interactivity, if you're trying to plan some kind of activity inside that workshop and you have, you know, 50 students registered and then 12 show up, then it's a lot. If you're a man, if you're trying to plan for 50, then you'd never get it that number with 12. So you always have to say, I have 50 students registered, but I know 50, you're not gonna show up and make it a number much less than that. The needing to get permission to record is something that I hadn't experienced before, because if you're live and there is no recording, then you don't have to ask them permission to do that. But there's something that has come up a lot. It's something that I think maybe should be discussed more with faculty and staff and students as well, because I think there's a lot of gray areas there.

Mark (20:08):

We don't know what we're allowed to record or what we're allowed to share after we record it and who we're allowed to share it with. The screen and WebEx is not really conducive to students asking questions. It's not always obvious that there's a question there. Same goes for, for Brightspace. If you're doing it in the bongo, the bongo, I don't know if, you know, using the word the with all these technologies is great. Screen sharing is problematic because it removes a student's ability to ask a question in a way that it will be remain private. . Because if a student is asking a question, it comes up on your shared screen, then everybody can see the question anyway, whether they said privately or not. So then you might have to move it to a different screen. Two more. One is that it required a better internet connection than I had at my house.

Mark (20:56):

So when we were initially remote and I was at home trying to do it, I had 2.4 GHz internet, I had that kind of a connection, and it wasn't good enough for what I was doing, so I had to get a wireless adapter. And luckily my faculty supply meet with one, but I'm sure that's not always the case. And lastly, just technological difficulties, like a mic not working. If you're recording, you don't necessarily know that you're on mute. So you could start recording a workshop and then, you know, five minutes and realize, oh gee, I'm on mute. Nobody's heard me for the last five minutes. What are they doing there? So I think that's something that happened, I would say to almost every instructor at some point. Either they weren't recording or a screen that they were trying to share wasn't sharing or something like that was happening. You almost want to have an assistant who's not even a student in your class, just watching your lecture, at least the beginning to make sure that everything's working fine. Yeah. But those are some issues that I had personally. I'm sure that there are many others that people have had too. And I would consider myself to be someone who's good at technology. So I can only imagine what would happen for someone who kind of struggles with technology a bit more.

Javad (21:57):

I was reading an, an article a couple of weeks ago, I think it was on CBC News. It was saying about the number of cheating that happened during like the, you know, online education system. And it recorded, like, for example, Texas reported like more than 800 cases of academic fraud after faculty member noticed the students were finishing content exam in less than a minute. They were using, I don't know, like information from Chegg, like Boston University, like they also reported like so many of those incidents mm-hmm I wonder like if we have any system here to avoid the students from cheating in their exams.

Javad (22:36):

And also is it considered one of those challenges that we are still working on?

Mark (22:41):

Well, it's a lot. I would say it's a lot easier to cheat online. Definitely easier to cheat online, but I don't know exactly what's happening to prevent it or even uncover it. I do know that Chegg does work with the universities to try to prevent that kind of thing. I know in UBC I believe they had a situation where there was a final exam that was leaked online, and two of the questions that were shared online in that Chegg were incorrect. So any student who had written down those answers immediately, you know, that this student had stolen the answers or got the answers from Chegg. So I, I don't know specifically what they do, and I don't even know if there are, there was an increase in situations of cheating because cheating happened long before Covid. Yeah. Students who are inappropriately collaborating with one another all the time.

Mark (23:33):

I'm not gonna say all the time in engineering or all the time in this university, but I know it happens. It definitely happens. So they can do it online, but if you're working on a project that's an out of class project, how do you know if somebody's working out of class? And there's an another thing that's happening too, and this is something that's gonna take the academic integrity world by storm as the idea of contract cheating, where people have somebody paid to write the papers for them or to do the work for them. And I think that that's gonna be the next big challenge for people who are trying to take care of academic integrity violations in the university. And it's trying to, it's really difficult to find too. Right. So,

Javad (24:18):

Yeah. And for the last question, what did Covid teach us? And that if it was not because of Covid, we didn't know about that. Like

Mark (24:27):

Just for me, one thing that I have learned that was beneficial is that a lot of things that I've done previously in person are probably even better to do online. So one of the major things I have to do is have one-on-one discussions with students about their papers. And if you're doing that online, you now have an, an ability to share the screen with a student instead of huddling together over a computer, you're, you each have your own computer. If I'm sharing a link, I can share a link and they can go to that link and I don't have to send it to 'em an email after the, the meeting's over. People are now more comfortable in their surroundings because going into someone's office is something that makes people uncomfortable. It's a situation where it's their office and you don't feel comfortable there. So being honest or even just talking about your problems isn't always easy. Yeah. So I, I wonder now actually, if students are more or less, more likely to seek help now that it's all done online, or at least for me, it is because students don't have to leave their house and they don't have to go to some strange office to try to get help with their problems.

Javad (25:27):

Thank you, mark. That was our interview with mark, the technical communication coordinator for the faculty of Engineering and applied Science.

Timilehin (25:35):

Thank you, mark. We are really glad you came.

Mark (25:37):

Thanks for having me.

Timilehin (25:50):

Welcome back to the studio. That was our interview with Mark Picco. Such a great interview. Javad, what do you think about the interview?

Javad (26:00):

One of the real interesting thing that he mentioned was all the challenges that he overcame. Like, you know, he had, he said, he mentioned that he has to use like multimedia objects, animated gif and it was very, very difficult to use them for the very first time. And it reminded me of H5P and maybe it's a really good chance and a wonderful opportunity to self advertise for what we do in CITL as technology coaches. H5P, which is short form of HTML 5 package, is a tool that enables like instructors and even students to produce and run interactive content and object within LMS or other kinds of learning browsers or anything. So what it does like it gamify your course content and by gamification, like I, I mean applying like those game design features and like game characteristic to make like your course or the content, like really, really useful. Really, really like more interactive. And it's, it's kind of like adding some fun into a course content. So it's not gonna make it boring for a student. What about you Timilehin? What's your take?

Timilehin (27:01):

Well, like I mentioned, it was really a great interview. The highlight for me is the fact that he recognized his privilege as someone that has, you know, a good grasp of using technology in its courses and even in his role. And he also recognized the challenges of, you know, instructors or professors that do not really have as much technological experience as it does. And, you know, at this point, I really feel proud of the CITL and the learning technology coaches because their doors are always open to instructors that really need help with new technologies. And such a great interview

Javad (27:41):

Buzz. Yeah.

Timilehin (27:41):

So we just want to say a really big thank you to all the listeners at home. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Learning Technology Coaches podcast. Until the next episode, I'm Timilehin,

Javad (27:55):

And my name is Javad.

Timilehin (27:56):

Thank you.

Javad (27:57):

Thank you so much. Bye.


Episode Introduction
Guest Introduction
Instructional challenges during the pandemic
Lessons from the pandemic
Challenges teaching online
Mitigating academic fraud
What COVID taught us
Summary - Big Learning Moment!