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Evolving Adaptability in Instructional and Institutional Practices

In the previous year, what new ‘steady states’ have emerged or appeared on the horizon in university teaching?

This UBC Vantage College (VC) Speaker Series Event features two invited International Scholars as well as three Vantage College (VC) faculty members, and a VC alumnus and current TA, providing a forum for learning about and reflecting on emerging practices in education one year after the initial pivot to online teaching.Organized by the VC Professional Development Committee, this event follows up on last year’s speaker series on “Pivoting to Online Teaching” with the theme of “Evolving Adaptations”, a concept that captures the (potential) normalizing of the adaptations, innovations, and other practices of the last year, including but not limited to changes instigated by the pandemic.

Organizing by members of the VC Professional Development Committee (Dr. Alfredo Ferreira, Dr. Eva Zysk, and Dr. Sandra Zappa-Hollman), this event follows up on the previous Speaker Series Event on “Pivoting to Online Teaching” with the theme of “Evolving Adaptations”. This concept captures the (potential) normalizing of the adaptations, innovations, and other practices of the last year, including developments in practices of equity, diversity and inclusion.

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Contents of the talks and speaker intros:

Schedule: 1-3pm


Opening remarks

Invited Speakers


Preparing to teach in The After Times: What insights can we take from teaching during a pandemic?

Dr. Patrick Culbert, Asst Prof of Teaching

UBC Dept of Forests & Conservation Sciences

Abstract: In ecology, we sometimes draw insights from observations of natural experiments, natural events (such as wildfires) that are difficult to study experimentally. In some ways, the pivot to online teaching due to COVID-19 has been a natural experiment, because it was unplanned, outside of our control, and put our teaching in a context we would have never experienced otherwise. As we have been forced online in our teaching, many of us have dramatically altered our practice. We’ve tried new technologies, given students new avenues for engagement, shifted our approaches to assessment and developed new materials and resources. As we plan for a return to in-person teaching, now is the time to reflect upon these new experiences and insights and make deliberate choices about how we will evolve our post-pandemic, in-person teaching practice.


Biosketch: Patrick Culbert is an Assistant Professor of Teaching in the UBC Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences. He is a landscape ecologist with interests in biodiversity and land use. At UBC, Dr. Culbert teaches a variety of core courses, including a key field course, for multiple forestry programs. Through UBC Forestry’s 3+2 program, Dr. Culbert has frequently traveled to China to teach short courses at the Faculty’s partner universities, and he also teaches many 3+2 students after their transfer to UBC. Dr. Culbert is interested in innovative teaching, and evidence-based practice (especially drawing from cognitive science). During the pandemic, he has been investigating approaches to remote “field” instruction. He writes about teaching and learning through his blog Teaching Among Trees.


Coping with online fatigue in post-pandemic classrooms: A social semiotic perspective

Dr. Yiqiong Zhang, Professor

Center for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics,

Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China

Abstract: The Covid-19 pandemic has awakened many to the potentials and challenges of online teaching and learning. As stakeholders prepare for post-pandemic classrooms, teachers and curriculum developers face important choices regarding the distribution of online and in-person teaching given the respective affordances of these modalities and specific needs in their teaching contexts. In this talk, I shall share with you a social semiotic reading into the differences between teaching practices in online and offline contexts. A social semiotic perspective takes teaching as activities involving complex interplays of signs and conventions shaped by the social context. Becoming aware of the mechanisms underlying the differences shall inform us about how to turn online teaching into a less physically draining but more intellectually rewarding experience, and how to shuttle between the increasingly mixed usage of online and offline resources in our teaching.


Biosketch: Yiqiong Zhang is Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in China. She obtained her PhD from the National University of Singapore in 2013, and was awarded with the Fulbright Visiting Research Scholarship in 2020. Her research focuses mainly on digital communication, with an interest in Multimodal Discourse Analysis, Cross-cultural Studies, Science Communication, and Multiliteracies. She publishes in Critical Discourse Studies, Linguistics and Education, Text & Talk, Semiotica, etc. She is on the Editorial Advisory Board of the newly launched journal “Multimodality & Society” by Sage Publications.


Intermission: Brazilian jazz guitar by Roberto DePaschoal

Vantage College Speakers


Exploring cross-disciplinary synergies in teaching the discourses of Physics and Chemistry in a 1st year content-and-language-integrated syllabus module

Dr. Alfredo Ferreira, Vantage College Faculty, Academic English Program (AEP);

Wucheng Zhang, Vantage College Alumnus & AEP Teaching Assistant;

Dr. Anka Lekhi, Vantage College Science Faculty, Chemistry

Abstract: This presentation reports on a collaboration between an educational linguist (A.F.) and instructors of 1st-year physics (W.Z.) and chemistry (A.L.) involved in curriculum development in content-and-language-integrated learning (CLIL) in science at Vantage College. We consider the potential of adapting, to the field of chemistry, an online instructional module originally designed for physics. This project in syllabus development requires balancing the need for discipline-specific language instruction with some consistency in approaches to teaching and learning meaning-making across the disciplines. Among other aims, this change is designed to reduce fatigue in an online science CLIL course in which shifts in focus among five linked science disciplines imply shifts in many aspects of teaching and learning.

The presentation makes explicit the rationale and progression of CLIL lessons in support of first-year physics, where two kinds of variation are highlighted: (1) the variation between spoken problem-solving in student group discussions and formal, written solutions to physics problems and (2) the variation among students in key areas of competency in solving physics problems such as in mathematical and qualitative analysis.

After highlighting and illustrating the treatment of these areas of variation in the physics module, we consider their relevance in supporting students of 1st year chemistry. Key considerations include pedagogical consistency in modelling the functions of language (and other communicative modes) across physics and chemistry, and ensuring the syllabus accounts for variation among the respective genres in focus in these disciplines.



Dr. Alfredo Ferreira is a Lecturer in the Academic English Program at UBC Vantage College, where he is also the Chair of the Awards and Professional Development Committee. His teaching, curriculum development, and research focus primarily on research-based academic writing and content-based language programming using the cross-disciplinary concepts of semiotic mediation (Vygotsky, 1987) and language as a socially-evolved meaning-making resource (Halliday, 1978). Alfredo’s more specific interests include curriculum development in content-integrated language programming and academic writers’ development of capacities to regulate technicality and abstraction across rhetorical contexts.

Wucheng Zhang is in his 4th year of a double major in Physics and Mathematics at UBC. He is also a Teaching Assistant for the Physics module in the content-and-language-integrated course, VANT140 (Science), at Vantage College. Among his achievements since completing first year at Vantage College, Wucheng has interned at the prestigious Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, developed a natural language processing toolkit based on systemic functional linguistics, and published, as first author with Dr. Bernie Shizgal, on the Kappa distribution and Fokker-Planck equation in Physical Review E.

Dr. Anka Lekhi is an Assistant Professor of Teaching in the department of Chemistry and Vantage College. She mainly teaches General Chemistry as well as Analytical and Environmental Chemistry. In addition to teaching, Anka manages and facilitate the Chemistry Teaching Assistant Training program and is the chair of the Vantage College Intercultural Communication Committee.  Her research interests include investigating the effectiveness of team-based pedagogies and the relationship between epistemologies and student experiences in first-year university.


We Are All Disabled Now – Towards a Cripped Pedagogical Future

Dr. Jennifer Gagnon, Department of Political Science, School of Journalism Writing and Media (JWAM) and Vantage College 

Abstract: The COVID -19 pandemic has brought many challenges especially as related to the rapid transition to remote learning. While much of the discourse has focused on the barriers to effective teaching in online spaces, less attention has been given to the ways in which remote teaching has actually made education more accessible for particular learners and educators. The pandemic is also an opportunity for academia to learn from the disabled community. As a disabled educator specializing in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), everywhere I see colleagues and students adopting disability-hacks, like zoom for meetings, work from home, flexible schedules, calendar tools as memory aids and more. Innovations in online teaching during the pandemic, such as virtual classrooms, text-based participation, online office hours, recorded video lectures, and live captioning, are all examples of accommodations that many disabled folks, language learners, and culturally diverse learners struggled to access prior to COVID-19. Now that all learners and educators require such technological “hacks” to continue to work and learn, accessibility and inclusion for those often on the margins of education has been centred. Following Ellen Samuels, Alison Kafer, and Clare Mullaney, equity-minded educators have embraced the idea of “crip time” to infuse our teaching and learning spaces with flexibility. This recognizes the ways that anyone, regardless of disability status, can benefit from a flexible cripped understanding of engagement, space, and time. While it is understandable that many yearn for a return to “normal,” disabled students and educators argue that “normal” is ableist as it could mean losing the technological and social tools that have made our participation possible during the pandemic in ways that were impossible before. Instead of craving “normal” we should instead focus on retaining and enhancing accessibility by concentrating our energies on radically cripping our pedagogies towards inclusion and empowerment.


Biosketch: Dr. Jennifer M. Gagnon (she/her/hers) (PhD, Political Science, University of Minnesota, BA, University of British Columbia) is a continuing sessional lecturer in the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media, Department of Political Science, and Vantage College at UBC. Her research is interdisciplinary and embraces a broad range of topics in political theory, classics, disability studies, international relations theory, qualitative methods, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), feminism, and gender. Her main area of research is in the intersections between ancient political thought and disability studies, especially as concerns gender, inclusion and exclusion, violence, and visible and invisible disabilities. As an activist, she is involved in efforts to promote a culture of consent, LGBTQ2SIA+ inclusion, and accessibility both on and off-campus. In partnership with the Equity and Inclusion Office, she is the creator and facilitator of UBC’s Disability Affinity Group for disabled faculty and staff. She is a recipient of the 2021 Killam Teaching Prize at UBC. Dr. Gagnon identifies as a bisexual and disabled woman and strives to bring her whole self to both her teaching and research.


Closing remarks

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