Campus Life - Kamloops  

Hatched at home and avatar physicists: Faculty of Science rolls with COVID changes

Ducks hatched by Animal Health Technology April 2020

COVID-19 has led to a share of disruptions, but it hasn’t hampered our ability to adapt and to roll with the changes. What follows are just two examples from the Faculty of Science. The first is from Animal Health Technology and the second from Physics.

Four-ever friends

Kinder is the eldest, is friendly, and loves to snuggle.  

Phoenix is also affectionate and is the largest of the four.  

Nacho and Buck love swimming and are rarely seen apart. 

They are four ducks born last month and were scheduled to hatch in one of the Animal Health Technology (AHT) labs. But with campus classes moved online, the four and their incubator found themselves in the home of AHT faculty member Erica Gray Gowans.  

“We have two teenagers who are unable to see their friends right now,” Gray Gowans said. “It was great to all sit downstairs together when the ducklings were small and watch them swim and run around. Colton, our 12 turning 13-year-old, even had them in his room for a while. During this time, I think it’s been incredibly important to see new life.”  

LEARN MORE about Animal Health Technology at TRU

Kinder entered the world on April 1, Phoenix the next day and Nacho and Buck almost didn’t make it.  

“The other two didn’t hatch for another week,” Gray Gowans said. “I wasn’t sure if they were going to hatch and I had to assist them as they weren’t as strong as the first two. I gently opened their shells for them when I realized it was taking too long. “ 

Birds an important part of the program

Wondering why are ducks in the program? AHT is a comprehensive diploma that sets someone up for a career as a Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT). RVTs are highly sought after members of the veterinary medical team. The curriculum covers a range of companion and farm animals and that includes birds. Students learn bird medicine, pathology anatomy, how to handle them, husbandry, general care and about eggs. 

“It’s an amazing experience to see something hatch and grow,” Gray Gowans said, adding that one year the class took on the challenge of hatching quail eggs. “Birds have a very efficient digestive and respiratory system and both are very different from mammals.” 

What’s next for the feathered four?

Classes are over, grades have been handed out and the ducks are transitioning out of their cute phase, now what? What will become of Buck? Of Nacho? Phoenix and Kinder?  

“They will stay here,” Gray Gowans said. “We have a little house for them and they love to explore in our garden. Our dog, Pearl, likes to keep them safe from predators. She is a livestock guardian dog, so she protects our calves and now the ducks. We had originally thought about finding homes for them, but we are so attached to the little ducks, and Pearl has really bonded to them too.” 

Virtual Physics Conference organizing committee
The organizing committee for the TRU Virtual Physics Conference held in May 2020. Left to right: Brendin Chow (SFU), Patrick O’Brien (UofA), Dominique Trischuk (UBC), Mark Paetkau (TRU), Pramodh Senarath Yapa (UofA) and Owen Paetkau (UofC).

Physicists unite for virtual conference 

In the physics department, plans were well underway to host upwards of 125 people for a regional conference this month. The Northwest chapter of the American Physical Society would attract working physicists, academics, researchers, recent university graduates and those doing graduate and undergraduate studies. Attendees would be from BC, Alberta and the US states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.  

Not holding the conference would be a loss for learning.

Instead of scrapping the whole idea, TRU faculty member Mark Paetkau and others searched for options, especially those that would be as close to the in-person experience as possible. What they chose for the May 20 conference was a virtual world of avatars and computer-generated environments.   

“We want to give attendees something a little bit novel,” said Paetkau. “When I first started this conference, the big concern was the level of interaction because conferences allow people to share their work, hear about others and make connections to enhance their research, teaching, and idea-sharing. I think it will be interesting to see a room full of avatars watching a presentation.” 

Close to 50 people presented during the week, on a range of topics, speaking for 10 to 20 minutes. Each presenter was available to answer two questions.  

Of all the reasons not to scrap the conference, one reason stood tall for Paetkau—research needs to be shared.  

“As more conferences were being cancelled through the spring and summer, there was a lack of options for graduate students and early-career physicists to present and network,” Paetkau said. “I was able to connect with graduate students in physics from the universities of Alberta, Calgary, BC and Simon Fraser, and together this group put the word out to fellow graduate students and tracked down plenary speakers.”  

Concrete teaching support during unsettled times

Members of TRU's Learning Technology and Innovations and Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning staff members

Handshakes, large on-campus gatherings, in-person classes: all postponed. When faced with a global pandemic, everyone in the TRU community who was able to, was sent home to learn and work. Alternate modes of class delivery meant instructors needed to shift gears fast—and that’s when the real work began.

But who do experienced instructors turn to for help when everything has shifted online?

From a Digital Teaching Summer Camp workshop/webinar series, to weekly sessions on teaching in alternate delivery methods, TRU staff are protecting the student experience by ensuring instructors have the support they need. And although the teams at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and Open Learning – Learning Technology and Innovations (LTI) did not expect to be doing this, they are meeting the challenge head on.

With on-campus classes not a primary option, dedicated faculty members are rapidly signing up for crash courses in everything from “So you hate Moodle?” to “Three alternatives to video lecturing” to “Academic integrity in remote learning contexts,” and more.

CELT is focused on supporting and improving the way TRU instructors teach both academic and applied subjects. Normally, their work starts with face-to-face meetings, often with the allure of snacks. Those meetings are no longer possible, but the CELT team is committed to keeping teaching standards high and supporting faculty members as they wade through the new reality of teaching and learning.

Faculty are eager to learn more

In mid-March, all in-person events planned more than a year ago were cancelled. The CELT team had become incredibly nimble in their biggest challenge to date: supporting faculty as they teach and learn though alternate modes of class delivery.

“We all come from different institutions with different learning management systems and backgrounds, but we have never put together an online course like this. As soon as this all happened, we’ve had to learn alongside our faculty. In order to do that, we’ve tried to stay a step ahead, so we can help others,” CELT Director Dr. Catharine Dishke Hondzel says.  

CELT has already seen a huge uptake in faculty participation. More than 90 faculty have registered in the May cohort of the “Facilitating learning in Moodle” course, and 33 registered in the book club. June registrations are growing as well, with dozens of faculty already having reserved a place for the four-week intensive course.

“Faculty are engaged and want to learn more, in order to create the best student experience. Never have we seen this level of engagement with curriculum and assessment design. They want students to be successful, and they are taking this very seriously.”

CELT isn’t alone in its mission to support students by helping instructors harness their full digital teaching potential.

The LTI team is ordinarily tasked with supporting the on-campus learning environment. They support Moodle services, WordPress development, professional development around digital pedagogy, online learning, podcasts, video tools and much more.

Their sessions usually draw about 10 faculty members, twice every month. At the first newly-created Digital Teaching Summer Camp workshop, they had 119 participants, and 104 for the second!

Constant support is key

Brenna Clarke Gray, co-ordinator of educational technologies, says it was all hands on deck when the pandemic hit, and it still is. The LTI team quickly drew together resources for faculty by building a support site within Moodle, creating an open educational resource called “Pivot to Digital,” and committing to daily open office hours where faculty can virtually pop in and ask questions. Maintaining constant support is a key priority for Gray’s team.

“We are really prioritizing those Moodle support tickets that come in. Faculty need to know there’s always someone on the other side of the phone. We have hit almost a 100 per cent rate of answering tickets within 24 hours and I’m very proud of that,” Gray says.

Once the immediate need of getting Moodle support dialed in was accomplished, they shifted gears and have built an impressive series of workshops and webinars running from now until June 30.

“We designed these as a self-serve professional development opportunity. Faculty members choose what’s most important to them. There’s no registration process because time is at a premium, so it needs to be easily accessible,” Gray says.

Staying safe and being kind

The CELT and LTI teams are charging ahead while keeping in mind the very real cases of burnout that can happen for faculty, staff and students in such stressful times.

“Flexibility, kindness and generosity will get us a long way. Everyone is dealing with a strange blend of home and work life and it’s really important for us to remember that our students are in the same boat. We need to plan teaching and learning around that,” Gray says.

Dishke Hondzel says keeping it all in perspective and focusing on student success is key.

“At the root of it all, we care about the students. We remember what it’s like and how hard it is balancing it all. So, we help faculty understand the student experience and build curriculum that reaches them. Building community is going to make the most difference now. Students want to know they are seen, heard, and that their efforts are valued,” Dishke Hondzel says.

For the full listing of CELT offerings, visit their website and sign up for the twice-monthly newsletter.

Faculty can contact LTI through the Moodle shell course: Support for Alternate Modes of Delivery.

Nurses are practicing, learning, and leading health research

Rose Melnyk, Master of Nursing student.

The theme of Nursing Week 2020 is A Voice to Lead, and Rose Melnyk’s voice is certainly one worth listening to, and learning from.

Rose, St’uxwtéws (Bonaparte), said she grew into nursing from a young age, and was a caregiver for her Kyé7e (grandmother), for much of her early life. Nursing was a path she felt natural travelling, and her family encouraged her journey.  

“Many of my family members are residential school survivors, so I am very cognizant of the fact that I have been afforded the opportunity to further my education as a result of the strength and resiliency of my family that survived,” said the Secwépemc scholar. 

Taking the leap to begin grad school

Rose graduated from TRU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2008, and transitioned quickly into a role within Interior Health as a frontline nurse working in a variety of clinical care settings. Eventually, she took on a leadership role as Aboriginal practice lead. It wasn’t until she learned about TRU’s Master of Nursing program and recognized increasing Indigenous scholars, that she considered a return to the classroom to complete her graduate degree. A shared area of priority in research between TRU and Interior Health focusing on co-developing an Indigenous Wellness Network co-led by Dr. Lisa Bourque Bearskin and Judy Sturm provided an opportunity to enhance her relational skills in Indigenous-led nursing research. Now, less than a year away from graduation, she is able to reflect on what this educational journey has revealed.

“Everything that I do in my practice and in my work is always done with my family, my community and with Indigenous people in mind. I do feel such a sense of obligation and responsibility to Indigenous communities with the education I have received, and to be a voice of leadership and advocacy so we can begin to see change occurring,” she said. “I think it is so important for Indigenous nurses to be uplifted and honoured for the work that is happening, and for the policy changes that are occurring because of the critical role they play.”

Including culture and ceremony in research

As part of the Master of Nursing program, Rose took on a leadership role in the development of Bourque Bearskin’s Indigenous Health Nursing research, steering the data collection efforts on the interdisciplinary research project that involved TRU nursing faculty, Interior Health nurses and physicians, and a Secwépemc knowledge holder. Already, she has facilitated two talking circles, and will organize another when physical distancing measures are relaxed and it becomes safe to do so. 

The talking circles were co-facilitated in a way that ensures a protection of Indigenous knowledge systems, and included ceremony and cultural protocols. 

“This has really opened my eyes to see how Indigenous research methodology and Indigenous-led research is essential to community. We know the historical context of research, as it has been done to Indigenous people without their consent, but this really brought to my attention the ways we can shift, and the way communities can inform the process when research is led by Indigenous people,” she said.

She hopes that by participating in this research, future opportunities will arise between the academic community, Indigenous communities, and the health care community overall. 

“I hope to be able to incorporate the results of the research into policy and action in ways that will positively impact Indigenous peoples.” 

Research investigates crisis communication during flooding, fires

Together with Dr. Wendy Gardner and Dr. Wendy McKenzie, and with support from TRU and BC WildFire Service, Dr. Michael Mehta is leading research to better understand old models of risk communication in order to create agile processes that better align with modern needs.

Dr. Michael Mehta, Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies

“We’ve seen that with wildfire and with flooding, old models of communication are proving insufficient, and risk communicators are often making mistakes because of the fast and unpredictable nature of events,” said Mehta, professor, Geography and Environmental Studies.

Bringing stakeholders together

Mehta’s research program is focused on environmental health risks, and much of his training has been in the area of risk communication and risk management. This current project, A multi-modal, life cycle approach to risk and crisis communication, synthesizes existing knowledge on the subject, and also brings together communities of stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, first responders, healthcare providers, media and others.

The interdisciplinary research draws upon the expertise of Dr. Wendy Gardner, associate professor, Natural Resource Science, who brings insights into the area of fire ecology and management, as well as wildland-urban interface fires and policy. The team is also enriched by Dr. Wendy McKenzie, senior lecturer, School of Nursing, who is an expert in disaster education in nursing; McKenzie has also collaborated on several large-scale disaster scenarios in the BC Interior.

When crisis events collide

According to Mehta, standard risk and crisis communication models apply a one-size-fits-all approach, which may prove ineffective during natural disasters that involve multiple communities and stakeholders.

“Given the complexity of modern problems we have had in the Interior, where many people are being evacuated from their communities, and many others are impacted by air pollution that travels thousands of miles, this is a very different world we are living in,” Mehta said.

“A lot of these hazards are driven by climate change, and we are seeing multiple disasters come together, with fire and flood happening simultaneously. If COVID-19 interacts with wildfires, that could even result in more fatalities. It is a brave new world of risk, and that’s what this project explores,” he added.

The project is called a “lifecycle approach” because instead of the traditional model of risk communication, which relies on a top-down method of information dissemination, this model evolves with the crisis. 

“It may be more beneficial to move toward a collaborative, people-centred approach, where people have a chance to be heard, and people have input,” said Mehta.

This project spans from April 2020 through June 2021.

More information

Dr. Michael Mehta, Professor
Geography & Environmental Studies
[email protected]

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