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Professor Colin Montpetit was one of several highly-praised professors in regards to virtual teaching. Image: Colin Montpetit/Provided

Showcasing the excellence of five U of O professors through the virtual semester

Upon shifting from in-person to virtual classes, it is with no doubt the world kept between our university walls fell down. The finish line that was once so close got pushed further a thousand miles, and the ties that we have spent so much energy building were shattered into pieces. 

In the midst of it all, came professors. some of which, put their heart and soul into recreating what was once there and is now a memory. This change to virtual learning and teaching has left everyone — from students to professors — back to square zero where everyone is now a student of their own. It has not been easy on anyone.

So, as we all reflect on who made the sought difference, created the healthiest environments, executed the greatest methods and set a positive example for others across the world. We have stuck our ears out to listen to students’ stories and experiences about some of the greatest professors who nearly perfected teaching during a pandemic and ones who have really hit a home run.  

Beyond any doubt, there are way more professors than this article could handle and who have also done excellent jobs this year, but these are some of the most mentioned and talked about professors who scored high in students’ brains and hearts. 

Colin Montpetit: BIO2133: Genetics

Colin Montpetit from the faculty of science is one of the most popular professors this semester. Montpetit teaches BIO2133: Genetics. 

“Montpetit is a great professor due to how accommodating he is during this whole pandemic. Everything from the course on Brightspace to his take-home exams were planned out and organized perfectly,” said Jeremy Tan, a second-year biomedical science student. 

“He has made such an effort to revamp his teaching style for the students … If anything, I am just happy that there is a professor who makes such an effort to connect with his students outside lecture time; and I am not talking about just office hours here but three get-together sessions that have lasted three hours each for the purpose of chatting with whoever came for guidance.”

After a thorough discussion with professor Montpetit about what drives him and where he gets his successful teaching methods from, a deeper understanding came into place.  

“Though I have explored and used many different pedagogies in my career, the enormity of transitioning and adapting my courses to online teaching in the face of COVID-19 realities (short and long term) left me paralyzed,” said Montpetit.

“I asked a friend, who is a grade school teacher, if they had one piece of advice about teaching online, what would it be? Her answer was, ‘Simple…just be human!’ The matter-of-fact way this was said brought me out of my paralysis.”

Montpetit continued to talk about what drove him. 

“The pedagogy of kindness and compassion, flexibility, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and how best to leverage technology to achieve them became the forces that guided my efforts for my students.”

Jozsef Orosz: JOU 4300: Sociology of journalism

The next professor is from the department of communication. Jozsef Orosz has had a great impact on students in terms of his passion for journalism and his distinguished efforts in keeping the class of JOU4300: Sociology of Journalism fun and memorable. 

“Jozsef Orosz is the only professor I’ve had who has legitimately managed to make COVID-19 distance learning fun,” said Trevor Oattes, a fourth-year digital journalism student . 

“Every session is all about engaging with and discussing aspects of journalism with the entire class, so there’s always a super interesting conversation to be had. He deserves a lot of praise for making COVID-19 learning as good as in person, if not better.”

Fulcrum Editor-in-Chief Charley Dutil, a 2020 graduate of the U of O’s digital journalism program, also praised Orosz. 

“Although I never had Jozsef Orosz as a professor during the pandemic, I had him multiple times during my undergrad. His classes are where I learned to look at the world with a journalistic lens and for that, I am very thankful,” said Dutil.  

After listening to the praise, professor Orosz point of view had to be taken into account.

“Throughout the pandemic, both students and professors have faced feelings of loneliness and abandonment. In this, we are both in the same boat. Students need a safe haven and as captain of this proverbial ship, I always make sure no one has fallen overboard and is being left behind,” said Orosz.

“Online teaching over Zoom changed not only the method of holding lectures, but I believe by being in the same boat it requires more than just providing a learning experience, rather through building a sense of family and belonging between students and professors we hold the keys to emotional connection and community cohesion.” 

“If I am steering this ship, then my students are not passengers, but the crew; I wish to see my crew not just survive these unique times, but thrive and be the best they can be.” 

Nafissa Ismail: PSY 2174: Research Methods and Ethics

Next, is associate professor Nafissa Ismail from the faculty of social sciences teaching PSY 2174: Research Methods and Ethics, who has gained her students’ admiration due to her kind heart and creative way of teaching. 

According to Laura Smith, a fourth-year psychology student, “even before COVID-19, professors have had a disconnect between students and the reality of being a student. Many of us struggle financially and only have ourselves to rely on.”

“Professor Ismail was more than just understanding, she was compassionate. She didn’t just treat [me] like a student number but someone whose reality is more complex,” she said. 

“I reached out to her when I was struggling with deadlines. I explained my citation of balancing work [and] school and I was met with such genuine concern. She told me she was proud to see me working too hard for my education.” 

After reaching out to Professor Nafissa, her love for teaching clearly gleamed through her words as she told me “I love my students from the bottom of my heart and, during these challenging times, I wanted to be there for them, to support them, and to make them realize that they are not alone.” 

“We are in this together and we will get through it together. These strong feelings motivated me and pushed me to teach from my heart.”

Joseph Khoury: MAT 2348: Introduction to Discrete Mathematics

Our next loved professor is professor Joseph Khoury, a part-time professor from the department of mathematics and statistics who has made quite an impact on his students, many of whom favoured him. 

Rawan Alsayed, a second-year biomedical mechanical engineering and computer technology student taking MAT 2348: Introduction to Discrete Mathematics says Professor Khoury re-explains all the theory during lectures and keeps on giving examples until he feels like all the students have a good grasp of the concept and are capable of solving anything during the exam. 

“He is genuinely a very caring, gentle and supportive person. Professor Khoury does whatever he can do, and more, to make sure he fulfills the job and have time to give extra for his students.”

Professor Khoury was kind enough to explain his approach and tell us what motivated him during these difficult times. 

“Many students see in mathematics a source of anxiety and stress in normal times, much more so now with the online learning mode and the effects of the pandemic on mental health.” 

“For me personally, the most pressing issue was how to keep motivating the students and properly finish the curriculum of every course I teach without jeopardizing the academic integrity. It did not take me much to realize that can only be achieved by being more flexible, more available, more resourceful, more organized, and certainly more understanding,” he said.

“Seeing students suffering through no fault of their own motivates me to do whatever I can to help alleviate some of the pressure and anxiety from their lives. I have three kids of my own at various levels of the education system, and I see first-hand the level of stress and anxiety that come with online learning.”

Eric Nelson: PAP 4365: Integration Seminar in Public Administration

Finally, from the school of political studies is part-time professor Eric Nelson who has definitely redefined the way university teaching should be. 

“Professor Nelson is both knowledgeable and understanding, as he has made my last semester a pleasure in a very difficult time of my life,” said Ben Skura, a fourth-year public administration and political science student taking PAP 4365 Integration Seminar in Public Administration. 

Even through contacting him, professor Nelson was magnetic while describing his methodology and philosophy. 

“I have always been very clear with my students that while studies are important, life events happen and need to be dealt with. I despise the attitude I occasionally see in my peers, who claim it is their responsibility to ‘smarten them up for the labour force’ by imposing unforgiving deadlines and discipline,” said professor Nelson. 

“The reality of student life is that most are already in the labour force, and they are studying on top of it. They don’t need us to teach them discipline, they need us to express empathy. This can be as simple as deadline extensions, opportunities to revise answers, but more generally by exhibiting a welcoming attitude and extending the benefit of the doubt. Even without the challenges of COVID-19, I firmly believe this to be a much more relevant approach to pedagogy.” 

Overall, there are many other accommodating professors who have done an excellent job teaching behind a screen, staying human, and still protecting the integrity of the course and university beyond what this article could hold. 

If you’d like us to highlight a professor that you think has made a positive difference in your life at the U of O, don’t hesitate to message the Fulcrum. We will be writing a second part to this feature, to shine a spotlight on more professors who have made an impact for the better at the university.