A vision for Optometry's Class of 2020
This is an excerpt of an article originally published on the School of Optometry's website.
The “Class of 2020” may have the most appropriate name possible for a graduating class of optometrists. 2020 has been called the Year of Vision by eye care professionals around the world, and this class was set to hit the ground in the summer of 2020 with their license to practice in hand.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and what should have been the culmination of four years of intense study for optometry doctoral students was disrupted, leaving the students and the School of Optometry and Vision Science struggling to find solutions.
The fourth year of Waterloo’s optometry program is unique in that it focusses almost entirely on practical “hands-on” training. COVID-19 not only made that impossible, it also prompted the postponement of board exams in both Canada and the US and forced a detour on graduates’ career paths. Many students also cross the US border to pursue their practical clerkships, and the closing of those borders meant sudden work cancellations and quick moves back to Canada.
A gift that grows
Working on her externship in rural Oklahoma, Olivia Young had to rush to get home before the US/Canada border closed. She drove sixteen hours to return to Thunder Bay; once home, she went into quarantine.
Not one to waste time, Olivia decided to put her time to good use. She began making cloth face masks to help protect people in her hometown.
Olivia volunteers her time and all materials. Instead of payment, she asks for donations to Roots to Harvest, a local program that employs youth in sustainable food production. So far, Olivia has raised more than $4,000 for the charity.
Internships in Alberta
Zoe Stein moved to Alberta with her partner Jonah Gilham, also a Class of 2020 graduate, before provincial borders began to shut down. Both were able to find positions as clinic interns, a unique situation that some provinces offer without the requirement for completed board exams. Zoe had been waiting to hear if she would be able to continue with her residency at the School next year, one hurdle that has been resolved with residencies back on schedule!
“We have learned a tremendous amount in these past four years, and it's difficult to imagine being comfortable applying optometric techniques properly and confidently in September, after having had a 6-month gap in practice”, says Zoe. “I’m lucky to be one of the few in our class that has the opportunity to see patients throughout the summer”.
Preparing for board exams
The closing of the border found Morgan Jackson between final exams with the US National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). For students, board exams in Canada or the US are a culmination of their four years of training and require intensive review and preparation. Cancellation means a stressful extension of staying at their highest level of training and also puts their ability to start working as optometrists on hold. Morgan’s exams were postponed several times, but she was just recently able to fly from British Columbia to North Carolina to complete the final part of her American board exams.
Students who were planning to write the Canadian boards have not yet had that opportunity, but a tentative date of September 26, 2020, has now been established. In the interim, the class is working together to support each other and are collaborating online to keep their skills up-to-date. Video chat study groups are the new normal, and they have also taken advantage of the many webinars and other free online discussions available within the optometric community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Management Sciences takes a collaborative approach to remote teaching
Here’s another story in a series from the Centre for Teaching Excellence to facilitate cross-institutional sharing of strategies for remote teaching.
Since the closing of campus in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Waterloo instructors have pivoted to remote teaching as an alternative mode of instruction. The Department of Management Sciences (MSCI) was quick to react and adapt to this significant change through collaborative approaches and disciplinary strategies.
Shortly after the campus closure, MSCI’s Teaching Officer (Ken McKay) worked with others to create a forum for MSCI faculty members and others interested in helping and learning together. McKay said the forum, which was set up in Piazza, was “critical to create a sense of community.” Strategies, course materials, and experiences were shared in the forum. Mehrdad Pirnia, Graduate Attributes Lecturer, said that the collaboration fostered by the Piazza forum “has been really joyful…. We’re sharing everything, anything that is happening within the remote courses.”
As they undertook this switch to remote teaching, MSCI -- not surprisingly -- drew upon the very risk management principles they teach. Their strategy comprised three stages: being proactive with educational technologies; creating empathy; and monitoring and sharing progress.
Being proactive with educational technologies
Many MSCI instructors advocated for early preparation, setup, and testing of educational technologies before the spring term began on May 11. This action helped minimize technology issues as the term began. Early identification of support contacts was also crucial to promptly answer questions and provide additional technological support. Moving forward, MSCI aims to develop a guide that will help their instructors choose the most appropriate educational technology for different applications.
The switch to remote teaching, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic itself, created significant stress for students, instructors, and teaching assistants alike. MSCI instructors were encouraged to establish empathetic, reasonable, and realistic expectations for students when planning and delivering their courses.
Similarly, students were reminded that their instructors and TAs were also navigating these new circumstances for the first time, and doing so under time constraints. As McKay said, “we wanted to understand students, understand their problems, but also wanted the students to understand the instructors’ situation; both sides had to have realistic and reasonable expectations of the other.”
By the end of March, MSCI had mobilized student class representatives as a communication channel to relay general student feedback, concerns, and expectations and help with class polling. Early student engagement and involving students in some of the course design helped cultivate an interactive and positive learning environment.
Monitoring and sharing progress
Monitoring progress and frequent communication were critical to establish organization and structure for spring term. MSCI’s Umair Shah facilitated weekly department meetings, where collective experiences, challenges, and best approaches were shared.
In addition, a buddy system for MSCI instructors was established to provide additional peer support for those who wanted it. The MSCI department led by example by launching a course for its instructors that modelled how to build an online course, set expectations, and initiate early feedback or questions.
Shah anticipates that the switch to remote teaching may change the trajectory of future course delivery as it inspires instructors to rethink their pedagogical approach and devise innovative teaching strategies. By doing so, they turn challenging circumstances into an opportunity.
Virtual summer programs bring community together
A message from St. Jerome's University.
Summer activities at St. Jerome's University have gone online this year, bringing people in the university’s community together to participate. The new Summer Engagement Team (SET) at SJU is offering opportunities to stay connected virtually, at a time when physical distancing is keeping everyone apart.
“The Summer Engagement Team is a shining example of the passion St. Jerome's students have for the community,” noted Jamie Hall, the Residence Life Coordinator. “When residence was closed for the summer due to the pandemic, our dons Sara Al Humidi and TJ Faddoul were excited to take on a completely different role and facilitate these virtual ways to bring people back to SJU. Being able to open these opportunities up to a larger audience because they are online is a great benefit that has come from a challenging situation.”
Faddoul describes SJ as “more than a place – it’s a feeling”. He recognizes that it is the people that defines the community, and that “people can be connected virtually”. With his co worker, Faddoul is creating online programs at SJU that reach out to both current students and alumni in unique and exciting ways.
Programming is both active and passive and generated based upon information gathered earlier in the term when students were polled on Instagram. Programs are posted on the university’s Instagram account - @stjeromesuni - where suggestions for new program ideas continue to be welcomed. To date a virtual yoga class has taken place on Zoom, and Chef James from SJU’s foodservice supplier Dana Hospitality, has hosted a kombucha making lesson (a popular SJU beverage served on campus) in an Instagram tutorial called “Dine with Dana”.
To find out about upcoming programs that the SET has organized, follow SJU social media channels. The SET team will continue to provide programming throughout the summer that, as Al Humidi adds, allows people to have “the SJ feeling from home”.