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Taking the business school online: Six faculty members honoured as education pioneers

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Posted 2020-10-26
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In March 2020, UBC Sauder students and faculty members were attending classes and gearing up for the the start of exam season when the announcement came: the campus was shutting down and classes were moving online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The transition to online school was a massive undertaking that required vision, teamwork, technological skills and teaching prowess. The behind-the-scenes efforts that went into ushering the students from an in-person education into the virtual realm is a case study in leadership excellence and social ingenuity. 

Six faculty members who led the project are being honoured for their contributions with a Special Service Award. 

Education Reboot

Justin Bull

Justin Bull

Lecturer, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group Leader, Sustainability & Ethics Group

In the early days of the campus shutdown, Justin Bull helped his colleagues see the many possibilities of the virtual classroom. He offered drop-in sessions and illustrated different ways to keep students engaged with compelling digital content. He provided advice on setting up a home studio with proper lighting and audio equipment, as well as tips for producing videos and podcasts. His videotaped lectures made their way into new course curricula for both Commerce and MBA students.  

In addition to helping the faculty, Justin helped the school by lending his academic expertise to community discussions about the global pandemic. He hosted a webinar with Executive Education titled, COVID-19: The economy and sustainability. What does the future hold? The event attracted 500 people and contributed to the school’s reputation as a thought leader and trusted business partner. 

Tracey-Gurton

Tracey Gurton

Lecturer, Organizational Behaviour & Human Resources

Tracey Gurton also stepped into the role of leader and mentor, holding lunch and learn sessions to share insights on the mini lectures, in-class activities and course assignments she was trialing in her virtual classroom.

She also devoted her summer to designing new pedagogy to reflect the changing times. In addition to contributing to the new Values, Ethics and Community course for first-year Commerce students, Tracey worked with her colleagues to design and teach Crisis Management Through an Organizational Behaviour Lens. This elective course provided MBA students with essential management skills for the COVID-19 era workplace. 

To support student recruitment and retention efforts, Tracey participated in virtual open houses, sample lectures series, webinars and a two-day Managing Change course for Executive Education students; all in an effort to ensure students had a positive attitude toward online studies. 

Superhuman strength

Elicia Salzberg

Elicia Salzberg

Lecturer, Law and Business Communications Group

According to her peers, Elicia Salzberg possesses unearthly amounts of energy, which made her a natural choice to help lead UBC Sauder’s education transformation. She helped operationalize Zoom for the entire faculty, as well as tested and refined technologies with the Learning Services team. 

As an early adopter of remote teaching, Elicia expanded the function of Teaching Assistants (TA). She hired more students and assigned new roles, such as a Content TA to oversee PPT slides, videos and student polls, and a Participation TA whose job is to monitor student interactions in class, breakout rooms and Chat boards.  

She also worked with colleagues to overhaul COMM 101 (Business Fundamentals) and prepped for a July 1 start; producing 30 asynchronous videos that included Welcome Week content and tutorials for onboarding new students. 

Ann Stone

Ann Stone

Lecturer, Marketing and Behavioural Science

Ann Stone also helped craft the new COMM 101 course. She transmuted stand-alone lectures into 15-minute modules with video, animation and captioning, pulling in vivid examples and visuals to offer a rich and immersive learning experience. According to her award nominators, Ann created the conditions for students to be “active agents of their own learning.” 

Being among the first to teach students in a virtual space, Ann had to work out more than a few bugs, trouble-shooting firewalls in China, all-class Zoom outages, privacy considerations and accessibility challenges. Countless hours were spent guiding students through technical hurdles, ensuring no one was left behind. 

Humour, grace and patience

Zorana Svedic

Zorana Svedic

Lecturer, Organizational Behaviour & Human Resources

From March through the fall, around the clock and on weekends, Zorana Svedic made herself available to peers to increase their comfort with the virtual realm. Because she teaches across several divisions within the school, “Dr. Z” was the go-to person for queries about technology tools and work processes. 

In the early days, she spent hundreds of hours testing, documenting and distilling Zoom for faculty, TAs and students. She rebuilt Canvas sites across four courses to better support online learning, and held sandbox sessions with instructors, then captured the learnings in reference guides and FAQs. 

In the words of her nominators, “Zorana met us wherever we were in our learning curve, painstakingly explaining things when we didn’t understand, and closing the distance between instructor and student.” 

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Greg Werker

Lecturer, Operations & Logistics

Greg Werker supported his colleagues in their move to online exams, and represented the business school on a UBC committee that studied academic integrity, online proctoring and alternative approaches to exams. He also participated in a university-wide working group tasked with moving large classes online. During these collaborative sessions, he shared the progress to date by UBC Sauder and brought back different approaches and philosophies offered by peers from across the university. 

From his home studio in his garage, which he equipped with cameras, a lightboard, whiteboard and greenscreen, Greg continues to experiment with new teaching techniques. According to his nominators, “His students report that they appreciate the connection they feel with his overall approach to online learning.”

Painting a new digital landscape 

When faced with the challenge of launching a new digital school in the middle of a global health pandemic, these six faculty members became inventors and beta testers. They used their imaginations and all of their creative problem-solving skills to build new systems of learning and pathways for success. They also created the circumstances for a dynamic and supportive learning environment for students.