TRU Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Month: June 2021

Using Canoe Paddling as an Analogy to Reflect on the past 16 months of Teaching in the ESTR Program at TRU

Photo taken from

By Christina Cederlof

In outrigger canoeing, when your boat flips, it is called a huli. Hulis happen suddenly. There you were, giving it your all, paddling towards the finish line, and bam, all of a sudden you are in the water. The water feels shockingly cold; waves toss you about, and it is disorienting. Immediately, you must take stock of your team. Is there anyone trapped under the boat? Injured? With everyone accounted for, the paddles and bailing buckets need to be assembled as soon as possible, or you will literally be going down the river without a paddle(s).

The March 2020 pivot was a lot like a huli. And, because there was additional uncertainty—initially we were told practicums would continue—my students and I were in the water, treading for two weeks until it became clear the practicums could not continue as businesses were shutting down due to the pandemic. I was told to find a way to get us to the finish line of that academic year, and so I did. I assembled a rudimentary craft, and our binding material was the strong community we had built over the year. This kept us meeting regularly in the Big Blue Button, and our final class was a celebration during which everyone told each other what we appreciated the most about each other. The experience reinforced for me the importance and strength that comes from building community.

The summer of 2020 was, well, an exercise in boat building. Clearly, I needed to build a different boat. With my comfortable F2F boat not able to do the job, I started to build a new boat using a model about which I had limited knowledge. I did have incredible boat building guides, though, by the names of Carolyn Ives, Matthew Stranach, and Brenna Clarke Gray. I attended a lot of building seminars to get ideas and to start building my new boat. With a boat built enough to float, we started the year.

My first task was to teach my students how to get into the boat. This involved phone calls, individual video conferencing sessions, and sometimes a referral to IT Services to download the software they needed (Office 365). Once in the boat, very quickly the students (and I) needed to learn how to paddle this new boat. For the students’ fall practicum, this also involved getting parents or, in some cases, grandparents, to help coach their paddler to develop transferable skills while in their Covid-safe bubble. In the end, the students (and I) became comfortable with our new boat (Big Blue Button, Moodle, online Office 365, as well as some online courses in Customer Service); I want to acknowledge fully the continued support I received from my boat building guides (Carolyn, Matthew, and Brenna) throughout the year, a much-needed safety boat that motored alongside us. The past 16 months were very much a time of building the boat as we paddled, and had it not been for my support team and the dedication of the students and their parents, we would not have made it to the finish line.

Now, as I look to July and August 2021, I am faced with the need to build another new boat. I am not convinced that this boat will be anything like the boat I had before the pandemic, even with the return to campus. For one, I have changed as a paddler.  And there were successes resulting from paddling the boat of 2020-21. Some of those involved the students needing to be more independent and, at times, digging in to learn a new stroke or enlisting others to also learn that stroke with them. I also appreciated that the craft held all our learning in it and thus it was easy to refer students back to a stroke development they needed more practice on. It was all in digital form, so we saved a lot in photocopying (cost and paper waste) and so helpful for all to say, “it is still in Moodle.”

What will the 2021-2022 boat look like? I cannot see it being anything but a hybrid of the two boats I now have some knowledge of how to build and paddle (F2F and online). We are preparing ourselves for a return to normal, but normal has changed. This summer I will build my boat again (and I will take a much-needed rest). The boat (Moodle shell) will look a lot like the boat of 2020-21, but hopefully I will be able to demonstrate the strokes and cheer my students on in person.

I am proud of the work that was accomplished in 2020-21, and while I knew I was a capable F2F boat builder and coach, I learnt that I could be a competent online boat builder and motivator as well. While this past year has been described as the one like non-other and the one that tested our resilience, this coming year will test our trust in is the danger really gone (?), and we will need to be brave.

Holding on to What We’ve Learned

By Matthew Stranach

Photo of Matthew Stranach

Matt working during COVID. Photo credit: Alicia Ashcroft

I would like to thank the CELT team for the opportunity to contribute to this blog, as well as for all the work they’ve put in to support our community over the past year and a half. While we are not out of the woods yet, the landscape in front of us does appear to be changing— particularly as we prepare to return to campus for the fall semester. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my experiences in this blog!

At one point early in my undergraduate years, I was looking at a potential career in journalism. I volunteered as a reporter with the local public access television station, and hosted a music show on the university radio station! While life and my career had a different path in store, I thought it might be interesting to frame this post in such a way as to answer the “five w’s + 1 h”; namely: who, what, when, where, why, and how. This will also keep me on track— I sometimes have a tendency to go on rambles, as readers of Mondays and Fridays might attest!

Who—  My biggest takeaway here is to be kinder to everyone. Without being twee about it, our lives have all been profoundly disrupted by this pandemic. Truly, you never know what somebody else has gone through or is going through. I am hoping we carry this sense of— looking out for each other— into whatever is next, particularly as we move back into a face-to-face situation.

What— I think the biggest “what” that I can think of would be “flexibility” and “innovation”. In my tech coordinator role, I’ve been inspired by the determination of colleagues on my team and across the university under all circumstances to make it work— even if the “it” was sometimes hazy! Again, I am hoping these habits of mind can follow us back to the physical campus. In many ways, I think we are going to need it!

When— This is tied closely to my next answer, but for me “when” speaks strongly to synchronous and asynchronous modalities. I’ve seen lots of amazing experimentation with virtual formats which try to make optimal use of time— and I hope that active asynchronous learning activities will still have a place after we have returned to campus.

Where— I think maybe above all else, our sense of physical locality as it pertains to teaching and learning has been thrown into flux since the pandemic began. I am as excited as anyone else at the prospect of physically interacting with colleagues and students again— but I hope that the physical classroom may be seen more purposefully as a tool in the teacher’s tool kit, rather than an a priori variable.

Why— I feel like we’ve all had occasion to question our purpose as educators over the past year. And I believe this is a good thing! I am looking forward to re-engaging with the physical campus with a renewed sense of purpose.

How— A huge question! And the answer will be highly personal to the individual teacher and students! The LTI team remains ready and available— and augmented with new faculty members!— to assist as you make decisions which are best for you and for you students. I am happy to engage with individuals further on this: please send me an email! CELT is also available to help; you can contact the team here!

Again, many thanks to the entire CELT team! I have personally benefitted tremendously from your programming and from the harder-to-quantify but incredibly important kindness and patience and creativity of everyone on your team! Kukwstsétselp!

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