York faculty turn to Teaching Commons for assistance with remote teaching

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From mid-March through August, the Teaching Commons at York University saw triple the number of faculty take part in its courses and webinars than the entire previous fiscal year. There is no guarantee the torrent will slow down in the fall semester.

Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier
Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier

“The level of faculty engagement since mid-March is unprecedented,” said Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier, the director of the Teaching Commons (TC), which is the University’s positive, safe space for faculty, graduate students and staff from across York’s campuses to engage in professional development activities related to any aspect of teaching and learning. “The numbers are quite impressive. It’s amazing.”

The Teaching Commons, which is part of Office of the Associate Vice-President, Teaching & Learning, filled more than 1,600 seats in its courses and webinars during that period and its Going Remote website had more than 35,000 page views, nearly 25,000 of them unique.

“We’re certainly prepared for a flood of inquiries,” said Maheux-Pelletier.

To keep up with the diverse and critical needs for teaching and learning support amidst the shift to remote and online teaching brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Teaching Commons currently relies on a team of seven educational developers and one instructional designer.

“We are fortunate to have a very good team,” said Maheux-Pelletier. “We were able to add two educational developers to our staff and we recruited five peer mentors – professors from various faculties who had championed e-learning prior to COVID-19 – who supported us in delivering courses and creating their own resources.

“We also had two summer students who offered their perspective on how the Teaching Commons supports faculty. In collaboration with Learning Skills Services, which launched a support website for students, these students have adapted a bilingual student guide to remote learning that their professors can upload on their eClass courses.”

The popular Going Remote website, developed jointly with Learning Technology Services, is a comprehensive website that offers faculty and TAs best practice tips, presentation tools and other resources on commonly asked questions about remote and online teaching.

In addition, the Teaching Commons offered a number of different courses during the summer to prepare faculty for remote teaching, something that wasn’t possible in the rush to finish out the winter semester online.

“We have had to be creative to meet the needs of faculty,” said Maheux-Pelletier. “We wanted to keep enrolment low for some of our courses so the quality of the interaction would be good. We balanced this with asynchronous offerings that can accommodate a larger number of instructors.”

For faculty new to remote course delivery, the staff taught a two-week course, Instructional Skills for Remote Delivery, which helped faculty improve their remote teaching skills as they designed and conducted two online lessons and received reflective verbal, written and video feedback from the other course participants. The University supported the delivery of this course by providing funding for 350 contract faculty members from CUPE 3903 to attend.

There was also a series of weekly webinars addressing remote learning topics, co-hosted by a faculty member and a TC educational developer.

Faculty with more experience in remote course delivery had the opportunity to earn a Certificate of Proficiency in Teaching for eLearning through a series of five online courses focused on the practical pedagogy of eLearning.

“The courses take place on eClass, which is useful, since students are using eClass and Zoom to learn during the semester,” said Maheux-Pelletier.

For those ready to convert a course into a fulsome eLearning experience, TC offered the BOLD Institute: 24 hours of sessions devoted to the process of course design for eLearning, culminating in the conceptual design and hands-on development of an eLearning module/lesson optimized for eClass.

More than 600 people participated in one or more TC courses, and they will be offered again this fall, along with workshops on other topics, all are available on the Teaching Commons calendar, and ongoing support for teaching assistants, including an online guide tailored to their remote teaching needs. Maheux-Pelletier said the Teaching Commons will also continue to support recipients of Academic Innovation Fund grants.

“We’ve had a great response to our offerings, which is really gratifying,” said Maheux-Pelletier. “Everyone is being diligent about doing a good job with remote course delivery.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus