Because of the pandemic, Quest switched to remote learning in March, and we’re going to start Fall 2020 the same way. Our faculty are exceptionally dedicated to teaching, and quickly adapted to deliver the same personalized, immersive classes for which Quest is known. We caught up with Dr. Mai Yasué, Geography Tutor, to reflect on her experience with remote classes this spring.

Q:  Which classes did you teach remotely this Spring?

A:  I taught Question Block in March, and because the pandemic hit in the middle, half the class was in-person and half was remote. I also taught Exploring the Ecological-self, an Experiential Field Course where we usually camp in a wilderness setting for 12 days. That course needed to be changed into a remote learning format.

Q:  What was similar and what was different about teaching remotely?

A:  Question Block is always fairly independent, so it was an easy switch. We would usually have met a couple more times as a class, however, and students had lots of phone calls with me and each other. They shared feedback on Question plans via Messenger on Teams and other modes of communication. They had to do their Question presentations online rather than face-to-face. These were impressive and Quest students took on the challenge of working with a new format.  

The calls were similar to the face-to-face meetings we would usually have, except there was a greater emphasis in figuring out how each student was doing emotionally and logistically as they navigated the pandemic. I’d ask things like: “How are you feeling? How is your home environment? How is your wifi-connection? Do you have social support?”

From there we’d got to: “Last time we talked you were excited about that book you’d found. Where are you with that? What else have you read since then?” Professors in 100-student classes at large schools aren’t able to provide this level of support no matter how much they want to.

The Ecological-self course was a much greater change. That class teaches students to become more reflective about how their social and biophysical environments influence how they think and feel. We talked a lot about the context created by the coronavirus, and discussed topics such as screen-time and wellbeing, as well as how to explore and experience their local environment through walks in their neighbourhoods or just sitting in a natural place. 

Instead of 3 hours of class a day, we typically had 2 hours and then sometimes a more relaxed meeting 7-8 pm where we talked online with guests or reflected on books or experiential exercises. I had a lot more activities — such as drawing — that did not involve the computer. The final assessment was a field journal that included reflections about the course (which they took photos of and sent to me).

Q:  How do students take part in active and inquiry-based learning with remote classes?

A:  It’s largely the same. In my in-person classes a significant portion of time is spent in “pair-share” or small group discussions, and we could still do that. 

Q:  What was the biggest challenge in teaching remotely?

A:  For me, the biggest challenge was to manage the amount of time the students and I spent in front of our screens. I am thinking about strategies to limit how much reading and writing is done at the computer.

Q: What were some of the benefits of remote learning?

A:  In my Ecological-self class, typically it’s just us in the wilderness talking about the papers we’re reading. In the remote version, I brought in an amazing range of guests, including a therapist who did part of his PhD on spending time in nature; an alum who had worked in nature therapy for troubled youth; an Indigenous scholar and professor of environmental justice; a professor of restorative justice and nature-based therapy in incarceration; and an alum who works in a support role for women escaping household violence.

Through these calls, the students could see the value of the lessons that they were learning and how they relate to the outside world. I was also able to bring a much broader set of perspectives than my own and ensure that the class had significant Indigenous perspectives and voices (a perspective I do not have).  The online format can be awkward, but there are also benefits.

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