Making meaningful work in the midst of a global pandemic

Alexandra Kale was one of 300+ Waterloo co-op students hired by the University this spring to support the enormous shift to delivering courses online. Here, Alexandra tells us about her experience. 

Working in creative arts is always full of surprises. My experience working primarily in theatre has shown me the importance of expecting the unexpected. As a stage manager, I have had to fix costumes, replace lost props, handle venue cancellations and so much more. Others working on creative projects will undoubtedly have similar stories of unanticipated obstacles they faced.

That being said, no one could have predicted the challenges faced by the global community this past March. When the University closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of co-op students did not have a placement. Many of us were left without a light in the dark.

The first flicker of hope for us came a month after the pandemic began. The University announced they were hiring more than 300 students from across all faculties as either Senior Online Learning Assistants (SOLA) or Online Learning Assistants (OLA). Both roles involve assisting professors to create course content suited to online learning this Fall. My role as a SOLA also involves a managerial element as peer leaders for a group of OLAs, working alongside their faculty supervisors.

Becoming the digital content experts puts all of us a step ahead as the world moves evermore online.

The beginning of the term was full of rapid changes. Over a period of a few weeks, I went from unemployed to learning university policies to training others online. I was then leading a group of fourteen OLAs and working with them to shape their work term. This process of mentoring and answering questions increased my own knowledge about the process of course design. Becoming the digital content experts puts all of us a step ahead as the world moves evermore online. Our expertise also eased the minds of the professors we supported, especially those who were apprehensive about the change in their course delivery.

Alexandra Kale working at deskOnline learning is a daunting world that all of us are diving into headfirst. We are all working toward creating an engaging experience for the students studying this Fall term. A sense of camaraderie has emerged between the co-op students, professors, and supervisors as we work toward this massive goal. There is a deep-rooted understanding that our work will be in the hands of students mere months from now. The Arts community at the University of Waterloo has banded together to make a significant change – and it’s working.

Across the three teams I am working on, the OLAs and I have worked with over 30 professors on their Fall courses. We have created assignments, edited content, redesigned course layouts, and creatively solved a variety individual challenges faced by each professor. We were able to utilize our unique perspective as students to advise professors on which online approaches will be best for their students this Fall.

We know our work is meaningful, which is an incredible opportunity for a co-op student.

Each and every one of us has made an impact on what academics will look like for Arts students and instructors. Though our names may not be on some of the content, we will know the significant impact we have had. We know our work is meaningful, which is an incredible opportunity for a co-op student. I am looking forward to utilizing the skills of digital design, leadership and teamwork from my time as a SOLA as I move forward in my Arts career.

Even though I never imagined myself as a Senior Online Learning Assistant this Spring Term, I could not have asked for a more supportive environment. This term has shown the Faculty of Arts at its best – adapting, improvising and incorporating a student voice. Showcasing the collaborative, creative and resourceful nature of Arts as a whole is the ultimate result of this term long experiment.

If you or your organization are in a position to make a difference, please consider hiring an Arts co-op studentRead more about how Arts students give back through co-op.

Story images courtesy of Co-operative Education and Alexandra Kale.