Reflection of my experience moving teaching online

It’s been crazy in the last three weeks when every college and university in Ontario suddenly moved teaching and learning online due to COVID-19. I remember my last face-to-face lecture (which only lasted for less than 3 minutes): it was Friday, March 13th and I have Linear Algebra from 1-3pm. I arrived at my lecture theatre before 1pm and the TA who has been working with me for this semester told me all lectures will be cancelled from that afternoon on. I had a few students who were already in the room and I had to tell them to go home. I stayed on for a few more minutes, just in case anyone who came in late and didn’t know all classes are going to be cancelled till further notice. Back then I didn’t know that would be the last time I talked to my students in person till I don’t know when.

I didn’t even have the opportunity to go back to my office. I headed home right after. I thought grocery shopping might be a good idea so I went to a nearby supermarket. I was utterly shocked by how packed the place was so I left without leaving my car. That’s the starting point of self-isolation and social distancing.

We had the weekend to come up with a plan to move things online. There are still two weeks of teaching before final exam kicks in. I remember frantically emailing colleagues, talking with them on Slack and just refreshing university website to get a vague idea of how to carry one. Eventually here’s what I did for the courses I taught.

  1. MAT223: we have a team of 4 who teach this semester and we eventually divided up the content. This course has already been using a flipped classroom model so content wise it’s relatively easy to shift to remote teaching. However I feel the chemistry we were able to build when students come together and work on in-class activities is lost. For the week that I worked on, I provided PDF worksheet and solutions. I did not make videos, and ran online sessions as Q&A asynchronously. I’m aware how few students were there with me compared with in-person sessions.
  2. MAT202: we almost finished delivering lecture content so that’s good news in this situation. There are two of us who are teaching this course and we both run our online sessions more like drop-in office hours and did not require students’ attendance. Recordings were made and shared later on.
  3. MAT135: the course coordinator made video lectures for the rest of the semester and I helped with the subtitle. It took a lot of time for me to edit the auto generated subtitles from YouTube ( and I’m sure for him to make the videos as well) but we all knew it’s necessary work for accessibility reason. I would not recommend sudden shift from in-person lectures to video lectures if you don’t have sufficient time.
  4. Office hours: I have been running my office hours in two ways since a year ago: in person and online using Zoom. I simply shifted those in-person sessions to online. I’m glad I have experience holding office hours with Zoom and attendance didn’t vary much.

I also ran a survey with my class asking the following questions when we are two weeks into this “new model”:

  1. How are you? How is your family doing?
  2. What are the main challenges for you when teaching and learning switched to online mode?
  3. What could be done differently to improve your learning experience given the current circumstances?

Majority of my students are doing well, and they have been extremely understanding of the work we are doing. I also received so much encouragement and thank you’s which really warm my heart. The main challenge students have in common is staying motivated. It’s hard for them to stay motivated when they are in isolation, with no interaction with us and their peers. Going forward this will be my main focus when redesigning my courses (I assume school won’t be able to open doors till a long time from now).

UofT has been offering ongoing support for faculty members and instructors. I find the drop-in sessions organized by TLC really helpful: they helped me stay connected with colleagues and having the opportunity to talk to a few fellow instructors really made a difference for my mood, thus my teaching. Everyone is anxious, not knowing what’s coming and I came to peace with the fact that I can’t stay as productive as I used to be. If you’re reading this post, hope you and your loved one are doing well. If you are a student of mine, you know I’m only an email away; if you are a colleague from HE, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @xinli_w: I’m always happy to talk.

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