Instructor Spotlight: Christoph Becker

With classes going online late last year, our educators were thrown headfirst into a brave new world. Students and staff alike are so grateful for our amazing instructors here at the Faculty of Information, and so we at Living the iLife are profiling some instructors whose online instruction have truly stood out to our students last term.

Every instructor discussed in this series has been specifically nominated by you, their students.

This week, we sat down with instructor Christoph Becker, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information and Director of the Digital Curation Institute. Dr. Becker’s research focuses on sustainable systems design and digital curation, and he teaches in the MI program.

Professor Becker is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Information.

What has been the most surprisingly fun thing about teaching online?

Surprisingly, breakout group discussions sometimes work almost better online than in person. It’s great fun to see everyone working simultaneously on a huge online whiteboard. Having a shared workspace for each sessions makes it possible for everyone to see each other’s outputs – a really useful affordance of the online environment. Other than that, pets in the classroom are a big win.

What was the biggest change you had to make to your courses to adapt them online?

I designed my new course (Just Sustainability Design) already with the online format in mind this spring. This term is the first time I’ve done some pre-recorded lectures. For winter term, I’m adapting the INF1005/6 Systems Thinking workshop and INF1342 (Requirements and Architectural Design) for an online format. The main challenge is to move the systems thinking group games and activities from in-person to online.

How have your students risen to this challenge? How have they made this online environment more engaging for you as an instructor?

I think our students are absolutely rising to the challenge! I’m really impressed by their work and the ways they are organizing to make our Faculty a better place in the midst of this uprooted situation and added life pressures. I enjoy meeting everyone each week.

Online teaching can become very strange in moments when communication seems to break down, when a lecture suddenly feels like a broadcast with no perceptible feedback. So I appreciate even very small signals a lot during class when they indicate that someone is there listening – a comment or question in the chat or even a thumbs-up to a statement can make a big difference to the presenter. And of course it’s nice to see faces when that’s possible.

My students this term have been wonderful contributors bringing their perspectives into our class discussions. Maybe that’s the most engaging part of teaching, and that fact hasn’t changed with the mode shift to online.

What lessons will you take from your online teaching experience and apply in your in-person teaching once we’re back in classes?

Less is more! I always knew that, of course, but always struggled with that. The simple fact that no one can survive endless video call sessions really made it an imperative to pare down the weekly schedule and leave breathing space. So that’s my other big task for preparing the winter term: Removing content to make what remains more valuable.

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