Author Archives: Patrick Culbert

An Online Field Course: Establishing an Asynchronous ‘Presence’

Because my upcoming course will be almost exclusively asynchronous (due to a 15-hour time difference), I’ve been exploring how to establish my presence in the course. After the COVID-19 pivot in my spring courses, I posted weekly announcements in which I gave course info but also wrote frankly about the challenges we were facing. That seemed okay, but it was really just maintaining my existing relationship with students that had been established in the face-to-face portion of the semester. Continue reading

An Online Field Course: Synchronicity

You’ve probably already seen 27,000 posts about teaching synchronously vs. asynchronously, so I’ll contribute post 27,001!

Though I already make heavy use of our online learning management system (currently Canvas at UBC), prior to the COVID-pivot, I’d never taught an online course, and I hadn’t even considered the terms synchronous and asynchronous in a teaching context. In this post, I’m not going to discuss the details or advantages of each approach, as others have already done that quite well (see this solid, concise breakdown from the University of Waterloo). Rather, I’m going to reflect on my own experience.

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Can you move a field course online and teach it to students 8,000 km away?

I teach a field course that I absolutely love. Last fall, I was approached about trying to replicate part of this course in an online format. I thought that was a horrible idea. I said that moving a field course online negates absolutely all of the strengths of field instruction.

Eight months later, here we are. Given [waves hand around] all this, I have to answer the question: Can you move a field course online and teach it to students 8,000 km away?

I think the short answer is still no, but I’m going to give it my best shot anyway.

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An American in China Part 2: My Teaching Practice

Now that I’ve given some context about my teaching in China, I can talk about how I adjust my teaching practice when I teach in China (and when I teach Chinese students at UBC).

The foundation of my teaching practice is compassion and empathy for my students. This doesn’t mean I don’t hold my students to high standards, but I consider the background of my students and teach with kindness, fairness, and respect. I recognize the incredible challenge of learning in a foreign language and in a very different cultural context. This perspective serves my ultimate goal, student learning. Continue reading

I’m going to learn their names

Okay. That might be an overly optimistic goal, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m bad with names. Depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten, I periodically call one of my children by the other’s name. Last semester I had 225 students between two classes. These were new classes for me, so I was mostly concerned with keeping the ship afloat. I knew there was no chance I would learn 225 names, so I made no concerted effort. (I picked up a few names, but only students I had frequent interaction with).

Frankly, it was a bit embarrassing. I could recognize many of my students, but I didn’t know their names. I recently attended UBC’s graduation. I recognized many students (and they recognized me), but few names came to mind.

I need to do better.

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Okay. I was wrong. I’ll use a microphone when I teach.

I’m stubborn. If I’m shown to be wrong, I’ll freely admit it, but I require a high standard of evidence. I teach a class of 175 in a large lecture hall. I don’t use a microphone. I don’t want to use a microphone. I have a strong speaking voice. I can project. I don’t need a microphone. Speaking unamplified feels more natural to me. It’s like I’m having a conversation with my students. When I use a microphone, it feels artificial. It feels too formal. I feel like a megachurch preacher or a TED Talk speaker (not in a good way) lecturing at my students.

I am wrong.

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Two-Stage Exams for English-Language Learners

Twice a year, I travel to China to teach intensive 2-week forestry courses (in English) to Chinese undergraduates. Students face several challenges in this learning environment, but English-language ability is the biggest. (I’m not criticizing the students’ abilities. It is simply a key component of the learning environment. I have utmost respect for students taking a course taught in a foreign language.) Students in my courses have a wide range of English abilities. For students with decent English skills, learning in a foreign language introduces extraneous cognitive load (translation efforts use some cognitive bandwidth, leaving less available for learning). Unfortunately, students with marginal English skills simply miss or misunderstand much of what I say when I teach.

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