Submitted by Selkirk College
Selkirk College math instructor Kerri Webb has a passion for solving puzzles and this one is a doozy.
Webb has spent her teaching career passing a devotion for getting to the right answer onto students. As she prepares for the fall semester at the Castlegar campus, Webb has joined her team of colleagues to solve how to best deliver post-secondary education in the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s overwhelming, but this is a giant puzzle to solve,” says Webb, a member of the Selkirk College faculty since 2017.
“We are taking the techniques that used to work in the classroom and adapting them to what works in the new environment. It’s exciting because I am building into my courses what I should have always been doing. There are elements that will continue when the in-person environment returns and will make my classes even more successful.”
Designated as an essential service by the BC government, Selkirk College is preparing for the fall semester with strict adherence to the health and safety guidelines put forward by the provincial health officer. Students in all programs will proceed with their post-secondary education and training via a mixture of delivery methods that include online, remote, in-person and hybrid/blended.
The unexpected twist brought on by the pandemic has spurred instructors in all programs to adapt their pedagogy as they prepare to pass on knowledge, skills and training in ways that depart from traditional face-to-face learning. Teaching a variety of math classes in the school of university arts and sciences, school of environment and geomatics and school of business, Webb has spent countless hours researching, collaborating and planning for the upcoming academic year.
“When you speak with colleagues and attend online workshops, you realize that there are educators who have a sense of dread for what is ahead,” Webb explains. “When you understand that we are all in the same boat, you feel better about figuring it out and delivering something that will make this Fall a fantastic semester for learning.”
The makings of a math scholar
The foundation for Webb’s eventual academic pathway was cemented during her final two years of high school in Kamloops. In Grade 11 and 12, she had an outstanding math teacher who fanned the flames for the subject and she developed a fascination for numerical-based thinking. She spent her first two years at the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson Rivers University) and then transferred to the University of British Columbia to study mathematics and complete her bachelor of science.
“I started out thinking that I was going to enter engineering, mainly because that is what I felt people with strong math backgrounds are supposed to do,” Webb says. “I soon realized that the only reason I was taking these courses was because I liked math. It is a little scary to study just a subject rather than a career, but it’s also scary to study for a career if you are not sure if that’s the career you want.”
Webb continued her post-secondary education in Southern Ontario, earning both her master’s in mathematics and PhD in mathematics from the University of Waterloo. After five years of teaching at the University of New Brunswick and the University of Lethbridge, Webb took a pause to earn an engineering technology diploma from Saskatchewan Polytechnic. This led to two years of working with an engineering consulting company in Vancouver, followed by five years with Environment Canada monitoring river flow in Northern Alberta.
In 2017, Webb happily returned to teaching when she joined the Selkirk College faculty. Drawn to West Kootenay because of its bounty of outdoor activities, Webb missed connecting students to math in the classroom. With a commitment to learning success for all, Webb’s patience and teaching process enables students to get comfortable with even the most complex concepts.
“There are so many people that think they are not good at math,” she explains. “All they needed was a slightly different way to look at it and another two hours in one area. Once you lose that first step, everything beyond that seems way more difficult. It can be heartbreaking to see students who feel they don’t have a mathematical mind when all they needed was a different approach and some time.”
A road filled with exciting opportunity
When the world changed in mid-March, Selkirk College instructors were forced to pivot significantly in order to finish the winter semester. The resolve by both teachers and students enabled coursework to be completed, but it was far from ideal. A sudden switch to remote learning during an uncertain time brought plenty of challenges and anxiety.
Since the completion of the winter semester in late April, Selkirk College faculty and staff in all programs have been working diligently on preparing a more polished delivery of curriculum. For Webb, the challenge of adapting her teaching methods to a model that will be primarily remote has been exciting. Educators both locally and from around the world have come together to share knowledge, tips and techniques that focus on student success.
“Students are going to have instructors who are highly invested in helping them succeed and we are building in some amazing tools to help them,” says Webb.
“We know that it is going to be tough for some students to learn online, but there will be a great deal of support. When in-person learning returns, they have all these wonderful skills developed for being a more independent learner and able to structure their time. The remainder of their academic post-secondary career will be far better for it.”
Webb’s classes will be delivered with a synchronous schedule that requires students to attend at least one hour of live virtual lectures each week. There will be asynchronous elements to the coursework that include videos she has prepared, exercises to be completed online and peer-to-peer online group work. As she does during more normal times, Webb will be constantly checking in and available for extra help whenever required.
Building community and firm connections will be the most difficult part, but Webb is certain that the Selkirk College advantage of small class sizes and a post-secondary education built on relationships will continue in the months ahead.
“The biggest part of a student’s success is not the tricks and tools that an instructor presents to them,” Webb says.
“It’s about whether the instructor is passionate and knowledgeable about their subject matter, and are they invested in their students. The investment I see from Selkirk College instructors in our students is so inspiring. We have chosen this as our career because we want to share our knowledge with the students and they are going to see how hard we have worked to deliver an amazing product for those who arrive in the fall.”
Applications in most Selkirk College programs are still being accepted. Delivery of curriculum will vary from program to program with in-person learning on campus taking place where required.