Many York University faculty members find themselves rushing to prepare for delivering summer courses online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic requirements for self-isolation, but they need not operate in a vacuum; help is readily available.
The Teaching Commons (TC) and Learning Technology Services (LTS), under the aegis of the Office of the Associate Vice-President Teaching and Learning, have created a website (https://bold.info.yorku.ca/) that offers the necessary tools and support to promote success. They are also offering real-time Zoom chats for those who need assistance, plus the Teaching Commons has a series of workshops and courses for faculty who are eager for more in-depth knowledge of remote course delivery.
With the Summer session looming, staff knew that time was of the essence in aiding faculty with course preparation and delivery. They turned their attention from assisting faculty in finishing the Winter term online to their longer-term concerns about delivering full courses remotely.
“This has been a colossal effort by the Teaching Commons and Learning Technology Services,” said Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier, interim director of the Teaching Commons. “From start to finish, we had the site ready in three weeks. A lot of people were involved in designing it and populating it with content.”
Rob Finlayson, manager of Learning Technology Services, said moving from emergency remote delivery to more proactive support would help faculty “to offer more meaningful teaching.”
“Our goal has been to do the best we can for the most people, given their needs and abilities, while trying to help them keep their anxiety about remote course delivery low,” he said. “It takes thought and consideration to translate courses online and support is available.”
The website is divided into nine sections, each addressing an area of concern for faculty members designing and delivering remote courses, as well as evaluating their students’ work. Under each section, users will find one to three sub-topics with more specific guidance. The topics covered are:
- Organize Your Course
- Create and Share Course Content
- Engage With Students
- Assess and Provide Feedback
- Encourage Academic Integrity
- Where to Get Support
- Make Your Course Accessible
- Support Your Teaching Team
- Copyright and Intellectual Property
For example, says Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, interim associate vice-president of teaching and learning, “The Teaching Commons is really encouraging our colleagues to think about other ways of assessing students, asking them to consider going beyond the usual within the context of teaching remotely. If multiple choice tests have been the norm, there are other possibilities to consider. They may want to consider open-book exams that ask, instead, for analysis and comparisons, asking the students to dig deeper into their understanding.”
The site also provides links to:
- the Teaching Commons website;
- York’s available technical and teaching supports;
- Zoom for use during Teaching Commons virtual office hours;
- access to information about workshops and in-depth courses; and
- LTS webinars and virtual drop-in sessions.
“Overall, we’ve tried to make the website as user-friendly as possible,” Maheux-Pelletier said. “By design, we’ve limited each category to two or three recommendations and essential tools, resources and best practices. We want to limit information overload, which is a reality today.”
Finlayson says the site was intentionally designed with cheerful colours and blocks of information to make it accessible and inviting.
“Looking broadly, we’re trying to help people be self-sufficient,” said Finlayson.
The Teaching Commons is also attempting to bring in more peer mentors with experience in blended and online courses to assist their colleagues in moving forward.
In addition to the guidance available on the website, there are a few different opportunities for faculty to deepen their understanding of remote course delivery through webinars, workshops and courses.
Webinars are ongoing weekly (https://teachingcommons.yorku.ca/calendar/), co-hosted by TC and an instructor with online teaching experience.
For those with little experience in online teaching, the Teaching Commons’ educational developers will be offering a two-week course entitled Instructional Skills for Remote Delivery, which will be offered to small groups throughout the summer. Participants will be able to further develop their remote delivery teaching effectiveness, while also receiving feedback on teaching strategies and techniques as each person delivers two short online lessons.
The Teaching Commons is also offering new Certificate of Proficiency for Teaching in eLearning, a series of five courses running from May through August about the core principles of and best practices for online pedagogy, ranging from online discussion facilitation to student evaluation and assessment. Each course requires approximately six hours of participant time and can be taken as a standalone offering or as part of the 30-hour certificate program.
In addition, the Teaching Commons is launching the redesigned BOLD (Blended and Online Learning Development) Institute with a series of eight modules in instructional design for eLearning.
“The BOLD program walks faculty through some of the theory and best practices that they can use to develop a course for online learning,” said Maheux-Pelletier.
By the end of the course, participants will complete the conceptual design and hands-on development of an eLearning module/lesson that can serve as the foundation or first step in their effort to create a fully online/blended learning experience.
Fisher-Stitt summed up all of these training opportunities – website, workshops and courses – succinctly.
“Delivering courses online provides an enormous learning and sharing opportunity for all of us,” she said. “Many faculty members have been jolted out of their comfort zone and I’m pleased that York is able to support them in this process.”