Working from Home Unlocked my Super Power

Preparing for the Poverty Challenge has been a lesson in adaptability and perseverance.

This blog post begins with a quick summary of what I mean by “Poverty Challenge,” followed by a snapshot of the roller coaster it has been to prepare for, finishing off with the impromptu contingency plan that taught me that being a teacher means you’ve got superpowers.

What I mean by the Poverty Challenge…

Public Health Sudbury hosted an experiential learning activity for community members to experience a glimpse of the many barriers faced by people in our community living in poverty. They created six profiles based on real people with corresponding tasks that had to be completed over the course of two, time-limited rounds. Service providers from around the community represented their actual agencies and interacted with community members as if it were a real encounter. Because, for six of them, it had been.

The roller coaster….

A colleague from Cambrian’s Nursing department and I joined forces to create a smaller scale Poverty Challenge for our students with her students playing the role of clients and my students playing the role of service providers, using the profiles created by Public Health Sudbury.

My colleague and I conducted a test-run on my birthday which provided us with a convenient plea for the students to go easy on us. The trial wasn’t meticulously planned because it was meant to be exactly that: a trial (and more reason for our plea of understanding). We wanted the experience to allow us to identify issues in real time and then troubleshoot as a group.

The trial was very generous in providing us with troubleshooting opportunities. Since this section of my post is meant to serve as a recap of the preparation leading up to discovering my superpowers, I’ll keep the conundrums we faced to a minimum. Let’s just say at one point I was outside wearing flats, dodging puddles and slush, somehow having completely lost all sense of direction on campus. There of course were the standard tech issues but you can multiply those by 10 since everything had to be compatible for virtual students. It should be noted that I teach in a HyFlex* program.

*Profovate Mel’s HyFlex Dictionary:

HyFlex: students can alternate between face-to-face delivery, synchronous and asynchronous delivery as their leisure

Synchronous: students attend virtually in real-time

Asynchronous: students attend virtually, after the fact

The Poverty Challenge date was announced ahead of time so that virtual students could plan to attend synchronously (this is important information to keep in mind as the story continues…)

So now that you know what the Poverty Challenge is and the delivery method of one of the two programs, let’s switch gears to how I maneuvered making sure students completed the preparatory part of the assignment in a timely manner. The preparation involved meeting with service providers directly to learn more intimate details about an agency than a website description could provide. After all, when Public Health Sudbury hosted their Poverty Challenge, they had the actual service providers present. Authenticity was the goal.

I created a fake due date, intentionally earlier than the due date I had in mind, to account for the possibility of students waiting until the last minute (to any students reading this: surprise!) During one class, I learned people either hadn’t started or were experiencing difficulties. Luckily, Public Health Sudbury came to the rescue and provided me with a list of contacts from when they conducted the challenge which I relayed to the students and followed-up with a class work period to buckle down.

Part of the preparation also required students to create a script they could follow during the Poverty Challenge. I wanted them to consider not only what they’d say but to also anticipate how the students playing the role of clients may respond. This script ended up being a saving grace.

But we’re not there yet. At this point in time, there were still many variables that were tricky to account for. The directions in the profiles are purposefully vague which means trial and error would likely be involved. Example: if a profile indicates the client needs to find help for postpartum depression, a nursing student may chat with a navigation student representing the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). In Sudbury, however, the local CMHA does not help with postpartum. It’s reasonable to assume CMHA would know where to refer to so should the students also account for this in their scripts? What level of preparedness then, did navigation students need?

The impromptu contingency plan…

This is where I learned teachers have superpowers.

The plan for class last Thursday was to conduct a dress rehearsal. However, I found out a day or two before our dress rehearsal that the poverty challenge had to be cancelled due to covid-19. Enter the impromptu plan: instead of our dress rehearsal, I asked students to create videos of themselves acting as the service providers based on the scripts they created.

I had a vision. During reading week, I learned how to utilize H5P during one of the professional development sessions hosted at the Innovation and Learning Hub.

I asked students to strategically pause during the parts of the video where the Nursing students would have responded. I shared my vision of using the skills I recently acquired to create interactive videos to mimic a natural conversation in a fully asynchronous version of the Poverty Challenge. This of course also meant that all of my students would now also act as clients for the challenge.

Timing was of the essence. I had just learned H5P and the Poverty Challenge was a week away. I asked students to send me their videos by midnight of the very day I pitched the idea. Because of the short notice, I let them know that I would be in touch with them and ask them to redo their videos if needed. This was meant to serve as incentive to just get something done and sent to me, with the comfort of knowing they’d have a chance to redo the video if needed without it negatively impacting their grade.

The next day it was announced that all classes for the following week would be cancelled and anything that was due would be pushed to the following week. With this guideline, coupled with the stress students were likely experiencing during this uncertain time, my plan to have students redo the videos was off the table. I had to work with what I had.

During this past week, I’ve spent more time with H5P than with my husband who is also working from home. H5P and me are attached at the hip and it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship. Since I had to work with the raw footage I had, this also meant I had to be creative in my edits. In some videos, students incorporated pauses that were either much too brief or much too long. I had asked for separate videos if a student’s agency helped more than one client profile or helped a client profile in more than one round and while some did this, others did not.

All of that to say, there was a lot of editing that had to be done whether it was forcing the video to start at a certain time or forcing the video to end at a certain time, as well as inserting instructional passages throughout to complement the footage I had, while also being a complete novice at H5P.

I have a newfound appreciation for editing. The hate part of my relationship with H5P was not only the learning curve, which I had no choice but to adapt to, but the tediousness and repetition of the edits, of the click to edit the video, only to click again to edit the specific interaction, only to click and drag the cursor, then realizing the cursor was dragged too far, only to click and drag it back, only to click again to input a timestamp, only to click again to close the interaction, only to click again to save and then again to preview and then to click again to head back into the settings when you realize the next thing you missed or have to correct. Did I mention there’s a lot of clicking?

But then there’s also the love part of H5P. While the almost-finished product does not have the finesse I wish I could have achieved, it truly is an incredible learning tool.  I’ve  incorporated activities throughout such as links to application forms and reflective questions. My husband and I have done test runs to experience what it’s like to complete from start to finish, while interacting with the videos out loud, as if we’re actually interacting in person. I don’t know if students will actually talk out loud as the instructions direct them to, but I hope they do. I’ve got it timed out so that a suggestion of what to say appears on the screen long enough for it to be read out loud just before the service provider responds to what they said.

While I’ve discovered I have superpowers, I also quickly realized that preparing all six profiles would likely end in divorce and therefore committed to three.

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