Community-building and peer-to-peer learning

Monday, October 5, 2020

Here’s another story in a series from the Centre for Teaching Excellence to facilitate cross-institutional sharing of strategies for remote teaching.

Nadine IbrahimBuilding an engaging online community and creating opportunities for peer-to-peer learning can enrich the learning experiences that students have in a remote teaching context. Nadine Ibrahim – Turkstra Chair in Urban Engineering, and a Lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering – was one of the early participants in CTE’s Remote Course Design Essentials (ReCoDE) workshop. That workshop supports instructors who are redesigning a course for the remote teaching and learning environment. In tandem with ReCoDE, Nadine also made effective use of the Remote Teaching Templates available in LEARN. The course she redeveloped was CIVE 230: Engineering and Sustainable Development.

With the unexpected shift to remote teaching, it’s necessary to re-think instructional design, assessment strategies, community-building, and all other aspects of a course. Nadine implemented a diversity of low-stakes learning activities to leverage each student’s individual strengths, so that everyone had opportunity to excel in the remote setting.

These learning activities included quizzes, oral and visual submissions, and collaborating on a sustainability contribution project. Regarding the latter project, each student was asked to develop and share a single slide in which they applied course topics to real-life, global situations. Nadine explained that the project “encouraged students to eSustainability e-book cover.xplore sustainable cities, infrastructure, solutions, and technologies globally to generate an enriched learning experience” and that it was a “valuable opportunity for peer-to-peer learning – together, they co-created content.” The final product was compiled into a 140-page eBook for the benefit of the Waterloo community.

Following on guidance from ReCoDE, Nadine also created weekly checklists that introduced the week’s topic, learning outcomes, and provided additional resources. Course materials were released according to a consistent schedule so students always knew what was coming up. Asynchronous learning materials were typically released on Monday, a synchronous live lecture (including a Q and A session) took place on Tuesday, and the recording of the online session was posted on Wednesday. Office hours for the instructor were always on Wednesday, and TA office hours on Thursday. Having a routine for the week helped students manage their time and expectations. 

To encourage student engagement and motivation, Nadine used the Awards functionality in LEARN to provide encouraging incentives or – as she puts it – “pats on the back.” Examples of these awards include Young SeedlingEmerging SproutSoaring Sapling, and Tree Hugger. Students were also invited to join an optional weekly social hour for community-building, and were encouraged to discuss topics outside of the course, such as workspace, study habits, hobbies, and so on.

Nadine notes that the necessity of pivoting to remote teaching – though challenging – wasn’t without benefits. She says:

“Some of the strategies introduced for CIVE230 were new to the course prompted by this online environment. There was real opportunity to rethink how the course is taught and the types of assessments. I will most certainly keep many aspects of this, particularly because it was a huge upfront investment of time to create these learning experiences and will be easier to implement the second time around when it is run a year from now. This experience made me realize that online is not better or worse than in-person, but just different. In-person learning has its shortcomings as well. We can always strive to make the best of both worlds.”
Nadine will be featuring her CIVE230 course in an upcoming webinar on course development that she’ll be offering through one of the Special Interest Groups on Sustainable Engineering, Leadership and Management for the Canadian Engineering Education Association. Her webinar is scheduled for November 19, 2020 at 1:00 pm EST, and will subsequently appear at this URL when posted.