Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, WIMTACH has continued its efforts to support its Student Researchers to gain experiential learning, job opportunities, employable skills and industry knowledge of digital health sectors. This series will highlight how students and faculty who work with WIMTACH are managing the ongoing changes to their daily lives.
Like many professors, Viji Angamuthu was balancing many responsibilities before the COVID-19 pandemic became an unfortunate and uncertain reality. Between being a mother, a professor and a Principal Investigator with WIMTACH, she simply had no time to fully engage in professional development opportunities. When the campus was closed in March, however, she suddenly had more time establish stronger daily routines.
“Everyday, I get up and do exercise…then I sit at the computer by 9:30-10:00am. I try to work in my work space as if I’m working at the College. 10-5pm is my work time. I try to write down things and tasks…it’s kind of disciplined strategy. I don’t like to have things piled up with work all over the place…I plan my day so in that way I balance my family. I have two kids so I have to teach them too…”
This routine was also freeing up the time she could take to engage with personal and professional development opportunities. For example, Professor Viji has been involved on a WIMTACH project that includes MATLAB and deep learning algorithms. To ensure that her knowledge of both concepts is well-rounded, she has been watching tutorials, writing papers and practicing with MATLAB in particular. Personally, she’s also reading more books. The best part is that these are things that she enjoys, and having the time for them has supported her well-being during the pandemic.
However, the challenges that have arisen are because of the lack of in-person communication. “I would say that I’m in front of the computer for almost 8-10 hours a day,” explains Viji. This increase in screen-time accommodates the students who are studying from home. The challenge is not the technology; it’s that tasks that would normally take 5-10 minutes in person take much longer.
“Simple instructions I give in class reaches everyone quickly. If I’m giving the same instructions in distance education, sometimes I get loads of emails and questions, which makes academic grading and the work load much higher…I have to be clear in giving instructions when giving them online [because these classes are recorded].”
Professor Viji shares the example of how teaching her students about software installation, since she is a professor of Information & Communication Engineering Technology in the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science (SETAS), has changed:
“I usually show them the installation page and then they watch videos and I give them a quick demo. Now that I give similar instructions, most students are sending me an email for step-by-step instructions. Also, the username and password [they need to learn about the software] would usually be distributed in 5-10 minutes in class. Online, it takes much longer because of confidentiality. I have to email them one by one and ensure that they’ve successfully logged in.”
With WIMTACH, the challenges have been similar. The academic load has meant that the WIMTACH team has been flexible in their meeting times and schedules. It has also meant that students who have been balancing their studies with WIMTACH responsibilities have needed additional support.
As the Principal Investigator of the Instransigense project, which began in February 2020 and ended in April 2020, Viji handpicked two students from the Software Engineering program with front-end and back-end mobile development experience as well as user experience expertise. Unfortunately, the pandemic posed some challenges particularly for the students because it proved to increase their stress levels. Viji made herself available to the students to communicate their concerns via Slack. To encourage her students, she repeated two simple sentences as many times as she needed to:
“I strongly believe in you.”
“You can still do it because I know your potential.”
Overcoming this challenge alongside her students reminded Viji to ensure that her own routine included her own support system. Her daily exercise routine now includes her friends:
“I follow an exercise routine with my friends. We downloaded an app, so every day morning 7am they wake me up whether I’m sleeping or not. They call me and we do a routine minimum five days a week. This way, I’m not missing the socialize factor…I start the day with pleasant smiles and some jokes with friends and plan my day. In a way I’d say it was a blessing.”
For more #WIMTACHatHome stories, please visit: https://wimtach.centennialcollege.ca/news/
For updates on WIMTACH’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit https://mailchi.mp/d9a20aac07f0/covid-19-update
WIMTACH proudly recognizes funding to support this work from Natural the College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).