Meet Kevin McMillian is an instructor for the Digital and Print Publishing program’s summer semester and the Web and Mobile App Design and Development program. When he’s not teaching at Langara College or Emily Carr University, he enjoys shredding on his many guitars. In this interview, we see through the lens of a professor, as Kevin discusses transiting from a classroom setting to teaching online.
How did the transition go from a regular classroom setting to teaching remotely?
It’s a challenge because staring at a computer screen is much more draining than being in a classroom. In a classroom, you see people, and there’s a much different energy than online. You don’t have to deal with things like slow internet connections or internet speed fluctuations. There are fewer distractions. But being online also has its advantages. It’s easier to meet with people, office hours can be anytime, and we don’t have to be in a centralized place. I think that if you try to reduce lecture time and increase the amount of assignment work— you’re better off when it’s online.
From an instructor standpoint, was there anything that worked better as opposed to teaching in person?
Projects. I think projects were an important thing to keep people focused. Even when I was a student, I had trouble listening to people talk for hours. Tasks keep people engaged, not listening. You learn by doing and completing stuff.
What was your favourite part about working from home?
During a break, I like that I can look out my window. I like that I don’t spend ten dollars a day at Tim Hortons— but I miss the amount of personal interaction, which is much more in a classroom. When teaching remotely, it’s almost as though it’s more formal and, in some ways, more rigid. It almost becomes a more traditional lecture because it’s harder to have a conversation when everyone is just an icon or a picture.
What was the most challenging thing about teaching from home?
I think many people had to learn a lot of new software that takes a lot of time to become comfortable with. I teach at Emily Carr and Langara, so all of a sudden, in the summer, I had to learn Zoom and Emily Carr’s equivalent, which is called Blue Jeans. I use D2L, but I had to learn Emily Carr’s D2L equivalent, Moodle. When setting up a course, there’s a lot of overhead, a lot of learning, and you don’t always do it right the first time.
Do you think that Zoom is one of the more practical learning tools right now?
Yes and no. I think Zoom is great for meeting and troubleshooting people’s work. It’s good for office hours, but it’s not the best thing for lectures. When I talk to students, sometimes their whole screen pauses, or the sound temporarily sounds like it’s underwater, people disappear, they come back— but that’s all quite common.
What was one of the best outcomes of this new experience?
At a job interview, if you’re showing the magazine, the website, or any of your other portfolio items, you say, “I learned how to do this. I produced this while working remotely while adapting to the circumstances.” Not only are students in a new situation, learning a new skill, producing new work— they’re doing it while having to deal with one of the biggest disruptions to Western society since the second world war. To produce quality work under those circumstances is harder than when you have the college at your fingertips. Ultimately, seeing students pull off really good work in a trying, complex time is a great takeaway.
Did you have any concerns about PRM coming to fruition during the pandemic?
I think it’s going well. It all comes down to how people work together. Sometimes you choose four or three amazing people for a team, but they don’t know how to compromise. Sometimes you get teams where there’s an amazing support group, and one person helps the other and they all grow together— and that’s what makes us a success. It’s good to have the talent, but it’s even better to have the ability to work together.
Overall, how do you feel about the new issue of PRM coming out?
I’m very happy about it! I love what I’m seeing come together.