Pivot to fall-term learning a team effort

Debora Van Brenk // Western News

Western's Centre for Teaching and Learning has helped instructors pivot to offering their courses remotely, including storyboarding how they will present their lectures and interactive materials.

Keep the courses interactive, instructive, interesting. And make it all go live in a matter of a few months.

The challenges of converting 3,000 in-person classes to remote course instruction have been Herculean – but teamwork and collective commitment have made it happen, says Aisha Haque, acting director of Western’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

At the heart of it are instructors whose innovations – from game-show contests and online breakout rooms to real-world mathematical modelling of the pandemic – are designed to keep students engaged and involved and learning effectively, Haque said.

The centre, in partnership with Western Technology Services (WTS), has been a primary resource for instructors rapidly pivoting to online teaching and learning.

CTL hired 16 more instructional designers, staff who offer resources and supports to aid instructors in these extraordinary times.

“We’re all learning as we go along,” she said.

Western has adopted a blended model of instruction for the fall: some courses are now entirely online, while others have in-person and online components. Still others are taking place in person, with safety protocols and under limited conditions.

The common denominator is an approach that includes collaboration, flexibility and student learning and well-being.

“We have to balance all of that evidence-based practice with the realities of emergency remote course learning,” Haque said.

I think the mark of success for us is going to be instructors who are proud of their courses online; and students who have meaningful interaction with the online materials, with their course instructor and their peers.” Aisha Haque, Centre for Teaching and Learning

Some instructors have needed a full revamp of their courses and have worked in teams with CTL and WTS – together examining course content and assessment aims and then storyboarding the course with full tools, prototypes and a sample lesson in OWL (Western’s online learning management tool).

Others have needed different degrees of support such as designing and co-ordinating course materials with instructor teams.

These fully redesigned and mostly redesigned courses have a combined enrolment of 37,000, which means many students will be experiencing redesigned content, delivered in fresh ways.

“We want maximum student engagement in the courses but we do not necessarily want to think of online learning as better or worse. It’s different,” she said.

CTL’s videos and webinars on rapid online course design, storyboarding and teaching-and-learning strategies have drawn almost 12,000 views, Haque noted.

More than 200 faculty members and teaching assistants have also participated in summer workshops on a trauma-informed approach to teaching sensitive materials online.

She said instructors “are passionate about teaching inclusively,” and recognize, both in teaching and assessments, that some students may have unstable internet connections or may share computers or bandwidth with family members.

“We have an incredibly supportive and resilient community dedicated to teaching and learning at Western,” she said.

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