York U’s Teaching Commons creates inaugural eLearning “Community of Practice” website

York University through its Teaching Commons has taken a leadership role in establishing a new online Community of Practice (CoP) website for educational developers and professionals specializing in eLearning. It is a provincial first.

The Steelcase WorkLife Center was the venue for the eLearning and eTeaching community of practice launch

The new Ontario eTeaching & eLearning CoP website connects eLearning professionals in the province’s colleges and universities to create a networking and professional development community where best practices, eLearning resources, perspectives, and experiences can be shared among members.

The initiative was led by Celia Popovic, director of the Teaching Commons at York University and with York U educational developers Lisa O’Neill, Jerusha Lederman (Postdoctoral visitor) and Lisa Endersby.

“The idea of creating a website came from the recognition that it would be extremely beneficial to have eLearning professionals communicate and exchange ideas freely in an easily accessible online setting. With this in mind and with funding from eCampus Ontario, the website was structured to be a series of online forums and a collection of both curated and member-suggested resources,” said Popovic.

Participants gathered to discuss various aspects of the online community. Discussion points were then posted on the  community of practice website.

The Ontario eTeaching & eLearning CoP website offers discussion areas, a resource and links section, news and current events, and an area for prescheduled community debates.

“Although York University has spearheaded this initiative, this is a truly community-based project and each year, a different member institution will assume the hosting of the website and the moderating duties. Going forward, there is also the potential for in-person events,” said Popovic.

The website debuted Jan. 26 at a special event at the Steelcase WorkLife Center in downtown Toronto. Thirty educational developers from 13 higher educational institutions in the province attended the launch.

“York University recognizes that eLearning is an important pedagogic tool and we were pleased to champion this initiative to promote innovation in eLearning and reach out to the Higher Education community in Ontario,” said Popovic.

Activities during the launch included presentations on the aims, goals and workings of the CoP. Following welcome remarks by Popovic, the educational developers participated in a collective brainstorming activity focused on identifying emerging issues in eLearning. Thirteen topics were identified as key areas of interest for future online discussions.

The topics are:

• Student Accommodations & Accessibility issues, including Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliance;
• Sustainability;
• Alternatives to video lectures for content delivery;
• How does each college or university’s process work for developing eLearning;
• eLearning, what is and is not working (evidence-based), and how to obtain evidence’
• Faculty engagement;
• Best practices – instructional design and standard of practice;
• Preparing and supporting students for eLearning;
• Preparing and supporting instructors for eLearning;
• Tool sharing and experiences, and examples;
• Open education resources (OERs) and Open Education;
• Use of technology – What is most suitable for faculty, for students;
• Using micro awards and gaming concepts.

The educational developers selected open educational resources and faculty engagement as the two priority topics for discussion at the launch event. Members were split into two groups and led by facilitators, they engaged in a discussion. Notes on the discussions were posted on the website for review and use by the public.

Participants also worked in small groups to develop a code of conduct for the community of practice. Suggestions were incorporated and the code collaboratively built and posted in real time on the website by the discussion facilitators. The code of conduct document has since been updated so that it is now a formal, final version.

Teaching Commons Director Celia Popovic records discussion points on a whiteboard. The discussion points were recorded and immediately posted on the website.

“The event proved to be a success especially given the completion of activities with the identification of key topics and the creation of a formal CoP code of conduct,” said Popovic. “Additionally, the launch brought together a diverse group of eLearning professionals who are now connected and can continue their work as a community to shape the future of eLearning in Ontario.

“York University is committed to continuing to be the innovative champion of eLearning and we look forward to seeing the community grow and flourish,” she added. “Community members are at liberty to determine their preferred level of engagement. So do come and join us whether you would like to voice your opinions or be a lurker, all are welcome!”

Interested parties are welcome to join the CoP by going to the Ontario eTeaching & eLearning CoP website and completing the registration form. Membership in the community is free.

By Jerusha Lederman, postdoctoral visitor with the Teaching Commons at York University

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