Wellness Champions: Dr. Sharon Kirkpatrick’s work prioritizing her students’ wellness during remote learning

Monday, May 17, 2021

Two pictures of Dr. Sharon Kirkpatrick's LEARN Course with section of the article written belowCreating a community within a course of over two hundred students can be difficult in the best of times and is even more challenging during a global pandemic that forced teaching and learning online. Luckily, the University of Waterloo is full of professors going above and beyond to build community and instil a sense of belonging into their courses. One such professor is Dr. Sharon Kirkpatrick of the School of Public Health and Health Systems.

In the lead-up to the Fall term, Dr. Kirkpatrick was concerned about meaningfully engaging her students, so she came up with fun ways to make her classes welcoming and interactive. At the beginning of the term, she sent out an anonymous pre-course survey that allowed students to share their goals for the course, their concerns about the term, and suggestions for ways she could support their success. The survey also asked students to suggest songs, which Dr. Kirkpatrick then compiled into playlists for chilling, reading, getting inspired, and coping. She also integrated music into weekly announcements, helping her connect with students through something she loves. Students could also feel like they were part of a community, engaging through music from a range of genres and songs that sometimes connected to course concepts.

When discussing student wellness, Dr. Kirkpatrick emphasized flexibility, which she integrated through assessment options students could choose from (e.g., a more traditional paper versus an infographic), hard and soft deadlines, and allowing students to skip some discussion weeks. She provided a clear course structure, including assessment details and dates, so students could plan and not worry about having the rug pulled out from under them. She said that being organized from the start of the term, with the help of an Online Learning Assistant, helped her feel more comfortable with remote learning, enabling her to focus on supporting students throughout the term.

When asked how she prepared herself to teach in a difficult time without compromising student wellness, she said she participated in workshops offered by the Centre for Teaching Excellence and the Centre for Extended Learning and Professional Development and did lots of reading. She also emphasized the benefits of engaging with other educators on Twitter, which greatly expands the ideas and experiences to which she has access.

If you are interested in taking a class with Dr. Kirkpatrick in the future, she will be teaching HLTH 202 - Principles of Population and Public Health and HLTH 355 - Public Health Nutrition in the Fall 2021 term.