Behaviour modification: Applying the principles of psychology to remote learning

Award-winning instructor Karsten Loepelmann discusses distance learning—including how to change your behaviour—in Fall 2020.

Katie Willis - 9 July 2020

For Karsten Loepelmann, instructor in the Department of Psychology, the change to remote delivery in March 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic did not come as a shock. 

“For several months, I had been tracking reports of this new virus spreading across the world,” Loepelmann explained. “So it wasn't a complete surprise to me when classes were moved to remote delivery in the middle of March. In fact, I had already been making plans for it.” 

His plans started with ensuring he had the right hardware and software for teaching online, communicating with his students and fellow instructors, and accessing organizational support. “I can't say enough about how my colleagues all banded together to help each other out,” said Loepelmann. “This was absolutely essential—we shared problems and solutions, strengthening an already vibrant community of practice.” 

As the University of Alberta prepares to continue delivering course content primarily remotely in the Fall 2020 term, the Faculty of Science has connected with some of our top instructors and scientists to illustrate what the university experience will look like. While delivery may look different, what remains the same is our strong commitment to an engaging and quality education and experience for our students. 

Hear more from Loepelmann about his plans for Fall 2020. 

What courses will you be teaching this fall?

In Fall 2020, I am teaching three courses: Behavior Modification (PSYCO 282), Perception (PSYCO 367), and Human Factors and Ergonomics (PSYCO 494). 

How are you planning to adapt your course for remote delivery?

The biggest single change will be online lecture videos instead of face-to-face lectures. I have some assignments that needed reworking, and some in-person activities that are being moved online. Otherwise, I've tried to keep as many things the same as they were from face-to-face because I know that they're effective. The learning objectives for all of my courses have not changed.

What are your lessons learned from the pivot in the Winter term, and how will the fall be different for you given the longer lead time for planning?

I got a lot of great feedback from students about the shift to remote teaching. A lot of them have favourite YouTubers that they follow, so watching my lecture videos on YouTube wasn't a big disruption. There were a lot of demands on my time (I'm the household "IT support guy," so I had to help my physician wife and school-age kids with their shift to online as well), so I asked students to post general questions to eClass forums instead of emailing me. That led to students helping each other out, which was gratifying to see.

I taught Cognitive Psychology (PSYCO 258) in spring term, so I've already been able to try some new and different ideas. I reached out to students in advance of the term, sending out a Google form to get to know them and their situation a bit, and learn their preferences. Almost everyone who was enrolled in the course responded, and it helped inform some of the choices I made. For example, not all students were in the Mountain Time zone, so instead of having synchronous lectures, I posted lecture videos online at class time. Going back to letter grades reportedly helped to motivate many students, but some still struggled with staying motivated. I believe having some synchronous activities can help with that.

What are you most looking forward to for the fall?

I'm going to weave aspects of our current situation into my courses where appropriate. For example, in behaviour modification, because people's behaviours have implications for the health and safety of everyone else, how can we ensure that everyone follows the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer of Health? Not only are there direct applications of the science of behaviour to everyday life, but these issues are not hypothetical--they're being experienced by all of us.

Any other messages of encouragement for new and returning students?

Your instructors have been working really hard to get a handle on this situation. I've been in Zoom meetings with many of them in teaching webinars, seminars, and chats, and I know that they're going to be providing a high-quality learning experience for you. However, if you find yourself struggling, know that there are a lot of supporting resources available for you on campus--and online. There is no shame in reaching out and asking for help.

Learn more about how the University of Alberta is preparing to engage students for September and beyond on our Fall 2020 hub. 

Students, faculty, and staff can stay up-to-date with the latest information on COVID-19 for the campus community online.