Perspectives on campus: Zombie movie hallways and the pivot to online learning

By Gareth Wentzel (2021-09-29)

Excitement coupled with a sense of apprehension fills Mount Royal University as faculty, staff and students are returning to on campus learning this Fall. I for one am excited, albeit a bit cautious, to be back on campus. I have spoken to several students and colleagues that share the same sentiment. The convenience of teaching and learning from home was great at times, but I missed my students, colleagues, and the sense of community teaching a class in-person created. Answering questions and troubleshooting problems with my students from home was also extremely difficult, given the very practical nature of the classes I teach.

When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, our campus was essentially abandoned. Some of the Broadcast Media Studies faculty commented that it felt a bit like a Zombie Apocalypse movie. A colleague of mine in Broadcast Media Studies, Irv Ratushniak, shot some footage of the abandoned campus and distributed it to the first-year Broadcast Media Studies students as part of a modified assignment. The students were each tasked with creating a 2–3 minute Zombie short film using the provided footage, as well as footage that they recorded themselves at home. The final submissions from the first-year students were nothing short of impressive. As Irv put it in an email, “I’m really impressed with what the first years have done with this assignment – stories, sequences, special effects, acting, audio, creativity – can’t wait to see what they can do in their 2nd, 3rd and 4th years”. Despite the uncertainty, they had tackled this modified assignment with precision and originality. An example of some of the abandoned campus shots can be seen below.

In the fourth-year capstone Independent Media Project course that I was teaching in Broadcast Media Studies, students who were unable to complete their final media projects were also provided with an alternative assignment. They needed to compile an Electronic Press Kit as well as a video recorded pitch that they could use to get industry funding for the project. The alternate assignment was well received, and the students indicated that they would be using these to try and get funding for their projects once they had finished the program. I felt that we had successfully navigated a difficult situation along with many other faculty members and students across the campus.

The delivery of courses online helped everyone look at things a bit differently. When approaching the 2020-2021 academic year, many of us had to pivot once again. Some of the changes we needed to make were very successful, and many of us have chosen to hold on to those changes even as we return to a bustling campus for the 2021-2021 academic year. It shows that even though there have been many negatives experienced during the pandemic, we need to focus on the pedagogical positives. The pandemic has opened our eyes to some new teaching perspectives and approaches, and we need to celebrate that.