By Elaine Smith
York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) is introducing iClass (innovative, Collaborative Learning And Student Space), a new eLearning hub that will become operational during the 2023-24 academic year.
The technology-enhanced learning spaces that make up the hub will be housed at 117 South Ross Building, thanks to funding from the Ontario government’s Training Equipment and Renewal Fund, intended to help modernize post-secondary facilities.
“Because York University aims to diversify whom, what and how we teach, in accordance with the University Academic Plan, we hope to intentionally design learning spaces that can help facilitate 21st-century teaching and learning,” said Anita Lam, co-chair of York’s Joint Task Force on the Future of Pedagogy and former associate dean, teaching and learning, for LA&PS.
“By refreshing existing spaces and equipping them with flexible furniture, iClass enables students to engage in collaborative and active learning. During COVID, students missed out on opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions, discussions and collaborative group work,” continued Lam. “These high-impact learning activities remain important for students across different modes of course delivery.”
iClass will include three separate types of teaching and learning spaces. One space will be a dedicated drop-in learning space for students to engage in online courses while on campus.
The hub will also feature two tech-enhanced classrooms for instructors to experiment with pedagogical innovations and deliver pilots or special online courses. Both classrooms will be equipped for Hyflex teaching and learning, allowing instructors to bring the outside world into their classrooms in a variety of ways. For example, they can bring in a virtual guest speaker from across the globe, or allow LA&PS students to learn alongside students from another university.
The third type of space that will be part of iClass is a one-button studio that allows both novices and tech gurus the opportunity to create digital content.
“One-button studios offer non-technical users the ability to quickly and easily create audiovisual content,” said Lam. “They were originally developed at Penn State University but have quickly spread to upwards of 100 institutions.”
Lam said there can be many uses for the one-button production studio: instructors can create high-quality lecture recordings for online courses; and students can create audiovisual (AV) content as part of their course-based assessments (e.g. video presentations).
With invaluable assistance from York planners, Facilities Services and AV support services, among others, Lam and Nathan Chow, LA&PS director of information and learning technology, worked together to bring iClass to life. For Chow, this project offered a unique opportunity to “showcase the business value of [information technology] (IT), and how IT teams can meaningfully collaborate on strategic initiatives that allow instructors and students to thrive in new learning environments.”
“Coming out of the pandemic, faculty members realized that they needed both space and time to try new educational technologies and teaching methods, so iClass is an attempt to offer instructors a campus space for pedagogical experimentation and play,” said Lam. “Our iClass space complements eClass, by offering an in-person playground for transformative teaching and learning activities and practices.”
Lam adds: “As a pedagogy-first initiative, iClass suggests a different way of designing and redesigning learning spaces at York. Because these spaces can transform teaching and learning experiences, they can have a profound impact on how instructors and students engage in 21st-century learning.”
“We are thrilled to introduce this innovative hub that is set to transform the learning landscape at the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies,” shares LA&PS Dean JJ McMurtry. “This project is a testament to the dedication and collaborative spirit of our community. Congratulations to Anita Lam, Nathan Chow, and the Teaching and Learning and e-services teams who worked tirelessly to bring iClass to life.”