University rallies to move courses online

Editor’s note: Visit the official WesternCOVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

*   *   *

As hundreds of courses go online this week, the university community is embracing a brave new world – one that would not have been possible without a spirit of flexibility, collaboration and resilience across campus, Western e-learning experts say.

“We have been so amazed at how everyone has come together,” said Aisha Haque, Acting Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL). “Everyone has been really open to ideas and adapting what they do.”

On March 12, Western announced it was canceling classes in response to the COVID-19 crisis through March 17, then moving completely online for the remainder of the term starting March 18. Since that announcement, professors have been redoubling efforts to provide quality instructional time in the virtual world.

The speed of the transition has been nothing short of remarkable, organizers said.

Early last week, Haque had been keeping an eye on how her American university counterparts were moving to online learning. She had created a list of how Western might adapt, when the call came that the university was making the move.

A core team of six to eight experts from CTL and Western Technology Services (WTS) immediately began identifying what helps and assets instructors would need. “We started mobilizing the resources for (online) instruction on Wednesday evening,” she said. “The resources were posted on Friday evening.”

*   *   *

Maximizing your eLearning experience: With Western course going online this week, eLearing experts offered the following advice to faculty and students looking to make the most of this unprecedented moment.

*   *   *

From there, workshops and webinars quarterbacked by ITRC and CTL have been taking place to help instructors use institutionally supported tools such as OWL, Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate and Office 365 Suite. “This effort wouldn’t have been possible without (eLearning Technology Manager) Deanna Grogan and her team in the ITRC,” Hoque said.

Peer-to-peer support has blossomed both in person – at a social distance – and online.

Entire departments have been brainstorming ideas and sharing tips and tools as they plan the best ways to teach online during the reminder of the term.

“We have also seen many instructors creating and posting resources for the entire Western community to use as they work through rapidly putting their courses online,” said Stephanie Horsley, Acting Associate Director of e-Learning. “They want their students to succeed. They want them to do well. These are really exceptional times and exceptional circumstances.”

Almost all postsecondary schools in Canada have moved to online learning, either immediately or starting in the next two weeks.

In addition to moving to online today, Western will shift to required services only, starting Thursday. That means many campus facilities – such as libraries, the recreation centre and most other common indoor spaces – will be closed until further notice.

Residences and dining halls will remain open and the university will continue to operate, although faculty members and many staff members will be working off campus in virtual mode. In-person exams will not take place.

“The most important thing to stress right now for instructors is that they are not building an online course – they are moving their existing content online,” said Devan Vanden Boomen, Acting Manager of eLearning and Information Services in the Faculty of Education.

The difference between online-designed and online-adapted courses is that the former usually have multiple components, multi-media, tools and techniques, while the latter have a more basic format.

Haque said the work of the past several days has focused on helping instructors make a rapid, even if imperfect shift to making their lectures, labs, teaching and evaluation available online. “We were aware this is not how instructors would want to do it if they had months to create this work.”