As a psychology professor, Dr Susan Holtzman understands more than most how first-year students might be nervous about beginning their university experience online.
Dr Holtzman’s research focuses on how our social relationships help to cope with stress. So far, a lot of her work has covered online communication and how it impacts our wellbeing. In the midst of the pandemic, her lab is delving into the psychological effects of physical distancing, and exploring how online communication can be used to maintain the connections that are critical for our wellbeing. With first-year classes moving online for new students, Dr Holtzman is using those ideas to help build community in her courses, and make sure that her students have the same – if not more – opportunities to engage with each other and the learning materials.
Can you describe the classes you teach to first-year students?
I teach “Introductory Psychology: Personal Functioning.” This class gets students familiar with a wide range of topics within the field of psychology, including personality, social psychology, and the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders. It’s a great jumping off point for students looking to take more advanced psychology courses, but it’s also a fun, easily relatable course to take as an elective.
How have you tailored those classes so that you can teach them online?
Every week, I’ll be posting two online lectures. These will be very similar to what you would see in person. I’ll be walking you through the course material with lots of examples, video clips, and personal stories, and tying the course material to what is going on in the world around us. Instead of traditional office hours, my Teaching Assistants and I will be holding live, interactive online sessions during which students can connect with us, ask questions, and get extra support.
What would you say to students who are unsure about taking their classes digitally?
You need to remember that you are not alone in this transition – there are hundreds of thousands of students going through this all over the world. Starting your first year in an online format may actually help ease the transition into university life. My classes are typically close to 300 students, which can be intimidating – especially in first year. With the transition to online classes, I suspect many students will actually feel more comfortable speaking up, asking questions, and contributing. My goal is to ensure that there will the same – if not more – opportunities to engage with the course material and with other students.
What will the classroom experience be like for students in their first term?
One of the things I enjoy most about teaching at UBC is getting to know the students and their own diverse backgrounds and experiences. Every week there will be a simple, fun activity for you to do that is related to the course material. For example, you may have to draw a picture of yourself when you are stressed out, or find an image that captures your personality. You’ll be encouraged to share your work with your classmates. I will also use online polls to get a sense of your opinions and reflections about the course material. All of these activities will help us get to know each other, and to learn from each others’ experiences.
What can a first-year student gain from taking your classes?
I want students to take the course material “personally.” By this I mean that I would like them to learn how to apply psychological theories and principles to their own daily lives. There are lots of misconceptions and misinformation out there, especially about mental health disorders. After taking my class I hope that students will be able to think critically about what they see and hear in the media, and in their interactions with others, when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
Why do you think students should still pursue a UBC education even if their first term is online?
This is a unique and exciting opportunity to gain the skills necessary to succeed in an online environment. The pandemic has created a fundamental shift in how we live and work. Students are going to have the opportunity to build essential skills like time management, self-discipline, and communicating ideas in a succinct way. You’ll learn to do that in a space where you have the support of classmates, professors, and the wealth of resources that come with being a UBC student.