Developing interactive instructional materials with Lumi was an interesting – and often challenging – experience. BUT, Lumi eventually won me over, despite a few glitches and frustrations. I’m quite happy with the interactive videos and games created so far, and look forward to exploring more.
Overview of Course in Development
The online course I’m developing is Compressed Gas Safety, a blended/hybrid course intended for UofR engineering graduate students, research staff and supervisors (professors or Principal Investigators/PIs). There may be the occasional and slight deviation from this demographic, in that a few lab instructors need training; there are also occasional 5th year undergraduate students who complete their capstone projects in our research labs.
Participants will complete the basic mandatory Chemical & Lab Safety training (including WHMIS) and an online general safety orientation before attempting the Compressed Gas Safety course. Participants must also have a designated lab for their research. (We simply do not have the resources to provide the in-person component to students who are just curious or just have a general interest, but no intention of using the actual training). The course starts with an online/asynchronous component, in which they learn hazard identification, safe handling techniques, emergency procedures, etc., and ultimately complete a safe operating procedure (SOP) for use in their research. This is followed by an in-person hands-on training session in their own lab with their own supervisor. Students must submit their completed in-person training checklist (signed by the supervisor) in order to receive a certificate of completion. I provided the course rationale previously, with my course profile and ADDIE template posted on our EC&I 834 blog…
Before reviewing the Week 5 readings and videos, my first-instinct answer to “what forms of student/student-instructor interactions do you plan to implement” would have honestly been NONE! The course itself is online, asynchronous, with on-demand enrollment all year, and very brief. At only 2-3 hours long, it’s unlikely that two students will be “online” at the same day and time to facilitate interactions. Participant feedback from past safety courses was also very unfavourable towards synchronous teaching. (Perhaps my target audience is primarily introverts, and/or from cultures that are uncomfortable challenging instructors or other students as noted in Teaching in the Digital Age. Professors are also often uncomfortable taking the same classes as their students.
In any case, after reviewing the readings and videos, I can see that there is exceptional value in these interactions. How I can effectively introduce them into my own course is still a bit of a challenge, given the course format, enrollment situation and audience; I want the interactions to work towards the learning objectives and be seen to have value. Given that this is a blog post, I’m very much looking forward to feedback from my classmates – surely there are some great ideas out there!
Once approach I can take (which is admittedly out of my comfort zone) is introductory videos. I can certainly relate to Michael Wesch in his video Make Super Simple Videos for Teaching Online. Like him, I am very uncomfortable in front of the camera. However, I do see the need to personalize my online class, for the class itself and for my role as Safety Coordinator in general. My past online instructors at Columbia Southern University were required to post an introductory video, and in many cases, this was the only ‘personal’ interaction (even if it wasn’t actually interactive). Too often, I get to know our graduate students via name and email alone. An introductory video with some personal facts and my connection to the class would hopefully encourage other students to post the same introductory videos, or at least feel comfortable reaching out in other ways. Individuals could record videos of themselves on FlipGrid (still to be explored), or possibly Zoom or simply with the video feature of smartphones, whichever ultimately aligns best with participant needs and UR Courses:
This would go a long way towards encouraging students to reach out to me if they have problems with the class, other problems beyond the class, or to simply say hello when we see each other in the hallways or labs. Relationships are a critical part of safety culture, and we have clearly missed these opportunities in prior course offerings. Video introductions should also encourage students reach out to each other, especially among those in the same engineering program or lab. A introductory survey to ask students about themselves may have similar value, as suggested in Building Community in an Online Course.
Another approach I will attempt is a forum of some kind, either on Discord or within UR Courses. (Engineering students tend to be quite fond of Discord, however I’m unsure whether the older generations may be uncomfortable with this. I have not yet used the UR Courses forum feature, so this remains to be explored as part of my decision making). As part of the course, I can encourage participants to post questions on the forum, ideas for discussion, case studies that they may be aware of, and so on. I’m unsure at this point whether to make it mandatory; brand new students with little experience might not have much to contribute. More experienced students and professors may be leery of disclosing anything that could look unfavourably on their research group or disclose research “secrets”. Perhaps there will just be encouragement with an explanation of value, or perhaps there may be bonus points for participation. At the very least, a student completing the course by themselves would still benefit from questions posed by past participants. To help ensure the content is meaningful and engaging, I would post targeted prompts, rather than leaving the content open-ended. I would also establish clear goals, monitor content, and add additional probing questions where needed to clarify posts and perhaps encourage deeper thinking. Much like the course itself, I would focus on critical thinking, using existing engineering skills to anticipate what went wrong or what could have gone wrong, how to prevent incidents, and so on.
The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science already has a list of guidelines for online student interactions, much like described in Teaching in a Digital Age. In terms of my own interactions with the students, I intend to regularly monitor the forum (whether Discord or UR Courses) and provide feedback as needed. Direct contact with me will be available through UR Courses email or university email. In-person office hours and location will be posted in UR Courses, as will drop-in Zoom times (these are commonly used by student advisors). While I hadn’t considered this previously, 6 Strategies for Building Community in Online Classes emphasizes opportunities for real-time meeting. Visits in-person or on Zoom could also be arranged by appointment as needed.
Of course, throughout the online component, feedback will also be given directly to students in terms of their short and long answer questions in each module, and ultimately, the final Safe Operating Procedure (SOP) that is progressively developed by each participant. Participants will be strongly encouraged to not proceed to the next module until the first module is graded by the instructor (or perhaps the course format will be set up to force this). The intent is to provide feedback when needed, and ensure the SOP development remains on track.
Upon completion of the online asynchronous component, students will proceed to the in-lab instruction with their research supervisor/professor. As much as possible, to encourage interactions and peer-to-peer learning, professors will be encouraged to provide this instruction to several students at the same time (at least where schedules allow; this depends entirely on how many new students need training and when they arrive). At minimum, professors will be asked to include a senior student in the lab session, as this may be more comfortable for the participant and they may benefit from that interaction at least.
Ultimately, the value of the course as a whole, including the peer interactions, will be assessed (particularly early in the implementation) through course feedback surveys, interviews with attendees (those who participated well and those who did not), feedback from professors, and so on. If participation is poor in terms of peer interaction and engagement, it is hoped that course feedback (and possibly ideas from other blog posts) may yield some new, more effective techniques. In large, the value of the overall course effectiveness will be assessed through compliance monitoring of compressed gas safety practices. Much data already exists (pre-course implementation) that will help assess if training helped solve the identified performance gap.
The University of Regina currently has an excellent Chemical & Laboratory Safety (CLS) non-credit course, which includes WHMIS. (This is the “Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System”, which high school instructors may be familiar with). The course is blended or hybrid, in that the online theory is presented asynchronously online; this is followed by a 2.5 hour in-person classroom session for hands-on activities. Sessions are limited to 12 participants due to classroom size. We do mock chemical spill cleanup, mock chemical storage exercises, and practice donning and doffing personal protective equipment. The best and most entertaining part is a fire simulator, which realistically simulates the use of a fire extinguisher:
CLS is mandatory training for anyone using a chemical lab – no lab keys are provided until we see that certificate! Training is renewed every three years. The participants can include MASc and MENG students, PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, and principal investigators (PIs). The Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science also has a mandatory general safety orientation online, which supplements the CLS training.
While the CLS training is worthwhile and necessary, it is still just a general introduction to most lab hazards. Training does not go more in-depth due to instructor limitations, limitations on classroom availability, lack of a “training laboratory” on campus, and feedback from participants (who really wants longer training?) Current practice leaves the burden of lab-specific hazard training to the supervisors (PIs). However, in some ways, this might be setting up the PIs and students for failure. Students enter the lab not really knowing what questions to ask or what to be concerned about. They are ill-equipped to develop adequate safe operating procedures (SOPs). PIs are certainly subject matter experts (SMEs) when it comes to their own research, yet we’re unfairly assuming the PIs are experts about all hazards. We’re also unfairly assuming they have the required resources and skills to pass along to their lab users during their site-specific lab orientations.
Question of the week:What are my experiences and perceptions related to blended learning and or technology integration in my professional context?
When I began my career in occupational health and safety, safety training was strictly a synchronous, in-person event in a classroom setting. Technology was limited to power point presentations and a few videos. While this afforded many opportunities for the necessary hands-on activities, much of the time was spent passively listening to lectures about theory and safety regulations. This presented numerous challenges, primarily the amount of time required for such an in-person event. Attendance and resulting safety compliance was often poor, as it was nearly impossible for a full-time student or professor to find eight consecutive hours for training purposes. Such an approach often did not meet the diverse needs of students; many spoke English as an additional language. Classes consisted of first-year students with no prior knowledge of the subject matter, along with professors who may have completed the training numerous times in the past. There was no recognition of prior knowledge, and no possibility for students to learn at their own pace.
Welcome to my blog (my first!) for EC&I 834, “Designing for Online and Blended Learning”.
A little about me….well, I am not a school teacher, unlike most of my classmates. (I have four daughters, and have nothing but the utmost respect for you all! You have one of the most difficult jobs out there in my opinion.)
I started out my career as a research chemist, working in various industries and then in the UofR’s Greenhouse Gas Technology Centre. Workplace safety was such a significant part of my experiences in industry, so I decided to pursue formal education in Occupational Health & Safety. Eventually, through distance education, I obtained a certificate from Toronto Metropolitan University. (I had young children at the time – kudos to my classmates who are juggling these priorities now!) My employer recognized my efforts, and a new position was created for me: I am now the Health and Safety Services Coordinator for the Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science.
With my new position, I decided to pursue (again) more formal education. This time, I obtained a Master of Science in Occupational Health and Environmental Management. This program was also entirely online, from Columbia Southern University in Alabama. I also completed two online graduate courses from Tulane University in New Orleans, within the public health program.
So how did I end up a student in the Faculty of Education?