Health studies professor rises to dual challenges of new course and online delivery

It would be easy to be a bit apprehensive about the prospect of teaching an unfamiliar, large lecture course, but throw remote delivery into the mix and the prospect could be daunting. Not to Leeat Granek. The associate professor in the School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health simply dug in and devoted myriad hours to ensuring the course was engaging and informative. 

Leeat Granek

Leeat Granek

“I’ve never worked on a course so hard in my life,” said Granek about teaching Foundations of Health Studies, HLST 1010, to 300-plus students this fall. “At first, I was resistant to delivering the course remotely, but now I see that there are a lot of benefits to offering lectures online. Students can go through them slowly and take breaks, and they can review the material. We can also integrate a lot of media, which allows us to connect the course material to things that are happening in the real world.” 

Although Granek is teaching HLST 1010 this fall, she worked closely on the course design and content with Lynda van Dreumel, an assistant professor who taught the course’s summer session and will teach it again during the winter term. 

“We had a series of meetings to ensure that the students in any of the 1010 classes would receive a consistent educational foundation,” Granek said. “The students can expect the same quality and rigour from two experienced faculty members. We’ve incorporated a lot of media and the lectures are lively and engaging. There is a COVID-19 thread running through them, in order to make it as relevant and thought provoking as possible.” 

In addition to delivering the course material in an engaging fashion, Granek wants her students to have a good understanding of the basics of writing and researching, because these are foundational skills they’ll need throughout their four years at York and beyond. To that end, she enlisted the aid of Ilo-Katryn Mamiets, a science librarian at York’s Steacie Science & Engineering Library, who recorded six videos focusing on library skills such as research, peer-reviewed evidence, and searching for information. Her assignment to her students revolves around these topics, requiring them to work in groups to find an article that is related to the topic of the class that week and create a presentation that summarizes the article and asks the students to facilitate a tutorial discussion with their peers about it. 

“The assignment asks them to find a peer-reviewed article and create a presentation about it,” Granek said. “It requires them to use their research, writing and presentation skills, as well as group work, which is important during a time when they’re so isolated.” 

There are also 10-minute video segments called "Meet the Experts," where Granek interviews a professional in a field related to the week’s lesson. The experts come from a variety of disciplines and from all over the world, giving students a feel for the breadth of career possibilities open to them in the future. Recently, for example, she talked with the head of the University Health Network in Toronto about how physicians make decisions about using ventilators on COVID-19 patients. 

“It’s an opportunity to bring people into the classroom who wouldn’t otherwise be able to be here,” she said. 

Although the lectures are asynchronous, the course tutorials are live streamed, giving students a weekly chance to engage with their classmates and to ask questions or offer input, as well as make any required presentations. Granek also asks students to submit weekly reflection papers that ask them to pick a concept, explain it and apply it by choosing a current example. The papers are due each week, a conscious decision on Granek’s part to keep them on schedule. 

“I know that it’s hard for them to keep up online and I worry about them being distracted,” she said. “It’s hard to stay on top of five courses, all of them online.” 

The papers also allow Granek to see how well her students have absorbed the research lessons and how well they write. She provides them with extensive feedback and refers them to the Writing Centre if she finds they need assistance.  

She has also set up a Q-and-A forum on the course website for students to ask questions. Granek responds, even if her answer is to direct students to the detailed syllabus for the answer. 

“Part of what they are learning is how to solve problems and find information that they need in order to succeed in university,” Granek said. 

“The course is thorough and well-designed and the students will get a good education from it.”  

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus

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