Teaching & Learning seeks feedback on modes-of-learning language

An image of a women using a laptop to video conference with another woman

By Elaine Smith

Members of the York University community will have an opportunity to share feedback as the institution finalizes its definitions for the “Common Language for Technology-enabled Modes of Learning at York” document, beginning April 10.

Understanding learning modes and their differences will make life easier when registering for a course, planning a course or teaching one – but only if there’s clarity around their meanings (e.g., online asynchronous).

That’s why Will Gage, associate vice-president, teaching and learning, is asking community members to provide input any time from April 10 to 21, in one of three ways:

Will Gage
Will Gage

“Everyone needs to have some level of understanding about what modes of learning mean because the way we engage with students in their learning ends up reflected in the codes provided by the Registrar and used by students to make decisions about courses,” Gage said. “As the continuum of the types of learning experiences York offers has expanded beyond the standard in-person lecture, we want everyone to be clear what the options are. These definitions provide a clear and consistent way for all of us – students, instructors and staff – to communicate.”

York currently has a Common Language for eLearning document, established in 2014. However, the pandemic and the reliance on remote course delivery has meant there are now more options available to faculty and students. Gage struck a steering committee in 2022 to evaluate the options and provide language clarity. He, along with co-chair Peter Wolf, and eight faculty, students and administrators explored the possibilities that have led to the creation of this two-page document.

“We tried to clarify and differentiate modes of learning by identifying their key characteristics,” said Wolf. “We looked at when the teaching and learning happens, where it happens and the location of the assessment for the course. 

“It doesn’t capture all possible modes of course delivery, but it is a framework that can be extended into the future.”

Gordana Colby, associate professor of economics (teaching stream), said the task assigned to the steering committee initially seemed quite narrow to her, “but in the first meeting, it became quite apparent a common language was necessary, because we all defined various modes of learning quite differently.”

At first, committee member Pablo Ramos-Cruz, an international graduate student in social work and a teaching assistant with the Teaching Commons, was concerned that the University was planning to move more of its courses online – “most students don’t like that, despite its convenience” – but soon realized the intent of the committee was to set guidelines that would help everyone during the enrolment process.

“It aims to be practical, so people know the expectations,” he said.

“As a student, it’s so important to know beforehand what you’ll experience taking the course. You don’t want to be confused about the technology involved. Our main questions are about whether we need to go to campus, either for classes or for an exam, and how much technology we’ll need to use to pass the course. All those questions are taken into consideration when a student decides to enrol.”

Colby notes the language is also useful to faculty who are planning courses and to administrators who are assigning space for those courses, and Frankie Billingsley, associate registrar and director, student records and scheduling, agrees.

“Post-pandemic, there are a few new options that we want to be able to explain to people,” she said. “This document will provide a lot of clarity and simplify things, not only for the scheduling team, but for faculty and students. It is a foundational document that allows everybody to understand how we deliver content.”

Have your say. Attend the April 18 Virtual Open Meeting from 3 to 4 p.m; review the document and take the online survey; or email avptl@yorku.ca.