Coming soon: Innovative professional development online

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By Elaine Smith

Although she realizes that faculty members across Ontario may never binge-watch professional development videos focused on learning innovations, Michelle Sengara hopes the learning modules being created will still be a hit with dedicated teachers.

Michelle Sengara
Michelle Sengara

Sengara, director of innovation for York University’s associate vice-president of teaching & learning, and her team are collaborating with Sandbox, Inc., a digital media agency with a specialty in e-learning, to turn evidence-based research about innovative teaching and learning methods into professional development modules. E-Campus Ontario is currently funding the development of these modules and it will be home to the finished products, making them available to teachers everywhere in the province.

“Our aim is to make these modules as catchy as the Explained series on Netflix, which explains large concepts in 20-minute episodes,” says Sengara. “We want to offer innovative content and innovative production values. We use animation and interviews to make professional development interesting and engaging.”

The research fuelling the project is derived from York’s perpetual course model project, an effort that explores innovative course design. Its aim was “to experiment with new ways of thinking about what we teach (curriculum), how we teach (pedagogy) and how we define and measure success (assessment),” said Sengara, who led the initiative. “Rigorous research carried out on these course prototypes has yielded incredible insights on the effective design, development, and delivery of instructional experiences.”

Based on the research, she and her team identified six topics that deserve further exploration in order to revolutionize online teaching and these professional development modules are an attempt to mobilize those knowledge assets in a more innovative and meaningful way:

  1. How to Build Community in Online Learning Settings;
  2. Micro-credentials: Designing Flexible Courses to Upskill and/or Reskill Learners;
  3. Cultivating a Growth mindset as Instructors;
  4. Competency-Based Evaluation: Alternative Assessment Models for Skill Acquisition;
  5. The Who, What, Where, When and Why of the HyFlex Instructional Method; and
  6. How to Use Affective Communication to Teach with Compassion.

They’ve also designed a template for the modules for consistency. Each will discuss what the topic is about, why it’s important and how to do it, giving the series coherence. In addition, the team is building the modules with an eye to academic integrity and robustness. They can be used individually, as micro-credentials or as a resource that can be used in other professional development courses or communities of practice; the opportunities are myriad.

Image shows a flow chart titled Creating Cutting Edge Learning Experiences
The basic template developed by Sengara’s team

During the pandemic, Sengara’s team and Sandbox worked to create the first module, building the foundation for an efficient and effective collaborative process, and did beta testing with users on the resulting video content. However, most of the interviews at the time had to be done on Zoom, so they are being redone in person to ensure that the finished product has more staying power. Since the first module has already been tested by potential users, the team can incorporate their feedback into this new version.

“That’s the development process,” said Sengara. “We learn and iterate. We plan to make the first two modules the blueprint for the others with the same structure and same animation. By testing and gathering feedback along the way, we’re able to brainstorm and see what other ways we can push boundaries and make the modules more innovative.”

The first two modules will be live on eCampus Ontario this spring, with the others to follow later this year. Not only will they provide educators with innovative instructional ideas, but they’ll offer Sengara and her colleagues the opportunity to collect data across Ontario about professional development and academic innovation.

“York will take the lead on collecting this data, in collaboration with the development team at Sandbox,” she said. “We want to publish and give presentations on the next frontier of professional development when it comes to teaching and learning in this digital and disruptive age.”

They also hope to obtain funding for professional translation to make the modules more accessible to French and Indigenous language speakers.

In addition, Sengara and her team have created a strong partnership with Sandbox Inc., one that reflects the priorities of the University Academic Plan and should allow the partners to “continue to produce relevant, meaningful professional development content.”

“We need ways to quickly produce relevant content and get new ideas into the system,” Sengara said. “We want to create just-in-time content so we can spark new ideas that are part of an ongoing professional development conversation.”

York professor co-creates digital learning platform to destigmatize dementia

Two people sitting on floor, one with laptop, one with workbook

A team of researchers has launched a digital learning platform to guide learners through an immersive experience to inspire alternative ways of thinking on dementia.

The digital learning resource, called Dementia in New Light: A Digital Learning Experience, invites users to explore ideas around dementia through a cinematic display of audio and visuals.

Christine Jonas-Simpson
Christine Jonas-Simpson

Created by Christine Jonas-Simpson (York University), Pia Kontos (KITE Research Institute, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network; University of Toronto), Sherry Dupuis (University of Waterloo), Julia Gray (University of Toronto Scarborough), Alisa Grigorovich (Brock University), Romeo Colobong (KITE Research Institute, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network), the website seeks to destigmatize dementia by creating emotional connections to new ideas and perspectives.

The team was recently recognized with the 2022 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Aging Betty Havens Prize for Knowledge Mobilization in Aging, in part due to this project. Dementia in New Light also received the 2022 University Health Network Local Impact Award for Technology & Innovation.

Learners will explore an immersive experience that will help them to see the complexity of identities and relationships, the harms imposed by stigmas, the possibilities for fostering a society that values people living with dementia, and more.

“People living with dementia are often misunderstood and stigmatized,” says Jonas-Simpson, a York University Faculty of Health, School of Nursing professor. “Stigma creates social isolation, exclusion, and inequality, which diminishes the health, well-being and quality of life of persons and families living with dementia. Our digital learning experience challenges stigma, while engaging learners in different ways of thinking about dementia – inspiring a world where everyone can thrive.”

The new website uses scenes from Cracked: New Light on Dementia, a film that presents qualitative research on persons living with dementia, family care partners and health-care practitioners and was co-created by a team including Jonas-Simpson and York University Professor Gail Mitchell.

Dementia in New Light logo
The digital learning resource, called Dementia in New Light: A Digital Learning Experience, invites users to explore ideas around dementia through a cinematic display of audio and visuals

York University master of nursing student Miao-Ying Huang is impressed with the online tool.

“I am really appreciating the highlighted themes – relationships, stigma, identity, current culture of dementia care, and possibilities. These are all very important concepts to explore if we are to re-imagine dementia.”

Huang says what stands out is how “the fractals and interconnectivity of themes are so beautifully represented.”

The development of the digital learning experience began in February 2019 – with funding from the Waugh Family Foundation – and was completed in July 2022.

“Our process was inclusive of the perspectives, goals, interests of people living with dementia, family carers, practitioners, educators and youth. They were collaborators in the development of the curriculum and design,” said Kontos.

Jonas-Simpson hopes educators in York’s School of Nursing, as well those in other disciplines, will use the digital learning experience as a key resource and teaching tool when engaging students in thinking about dementia through a critical and relational lens.

Learn more by watching this trailer for the website.

AMPD professor loves teaching, the classroom, virtual or not

People at theatre

Ian Garrett, a theatre professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), considers the impact of technology and its role in driving positive change in post-secondary education.

By Elaine Smith

Ian Garrett finds teaching to be as inspiring to him as learning is to his students.

“I love being challenged and working through ideas with students,” said Garrett, an associate professor of ecological design for performance in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design. “I have no interest in being an island. I get lots of viewpoints and perspectives.”

Ian Garrett
Ian Garrett.

Throughout his tenure at York University, Garrett has seen teaching evolve. He remembers when he was the only faculty member in the Theatre School at California Institute of the Arts with a course website, since he knew how to design and build one. Today, it’s a given.

“Technology has exploded,” he said. “I built one of my large courses as an online class and it has informed a lot of my in-person teaching. I’ve had the opportunity to invest time in elearning and think about it. It has caused me to rethink my priorities and my methods of assessment, which is reflected back in my other courses.”

In considering assessment, Garrett has looked at his goals and at the purpose of grading.

“I think that earlier in my career in teaching I believed you had to earn your grade and it was a chance to see if students could rise to the occasion,” he said. “Now, a lot of my teaching is about driving student success. My goal is to get my students to do well. My assessment is guided toward their literacy and mastery of the topic. I do give quizzes, but my courses are project-oriented. I’ve discovered more engaging ways of seeing if the students can process the necessary information.”

An Academic Innovation Fund grant initially helped him move his course online and as he did so, plagiarism was a concern. He has learned to ensure that the outcomes from his design assignments are unique so he gets a better sense of what a student can actually do; the outcomes are more personal to each individual.

Garrett believes strongly that technology drives change. A lot of the work he does in design requires hands-on skills with technology and he was also an early adopter of putting course materials online. He wants students to be conversant with technology.

“The integration of technology creates a more holistic learning experience,” Garrett said. “For instance, I can direct them to other resources such as the library electronically. Before Zoom, I would have guest speakers regularly using video conferencing. It brings in other expertise and promotes the ability to look outside the classroom. It expands the classroom and helps the students feel like they are part of a larger experience.”

Garrett is an advocate for globally networked learning (GNL) and believes internationalization broadens the student’s experience. During the pandemic, he worked in collaboration with students enrolled in his Ecoscenography course and with students from two Australian universities to design sets for the Climate Change Theatre Action Festival, held in Calgary this past summer. Despite the 14-hour time difference, they found a way to create designs together online.

“We can have global classrooms and are able to interact with people across the globe in real time,” Garrett said.

He also supports experiential education and expects it to remain a valuable addition to the classroom experience.

“I’m always looking for ways to get students out of the space we’re in, whether that’s through a field trip or a placement,” Garrett said. “I want to get them into an environment where the work [of making theatre] is happening.

“For instance, in my Sustainable Staging Techniques course, I asked the students to create proposals for change on campus that required them to learn about how the campus works in ways they hadn’t though about. They were busy talking to people from Facilities & Services, for example, and they could see their work in action. Our theatre work isn’t separate from the rest of society, so it’s really valuable to connect with other systems.”

Garrett agrees that students want more agency and says AMPD’s theatre program is headed in that direction.

“There are so many options for what students can do, so we’re trying to break down the rigid structures of the past and make the program less prescriptive,” Garrett said. “Students want to make things to tell stories and to explore all the different ways they can express their ideas. There are so many different outlets and modalities for their creativity and technology is less expensive than ever. There are podcasts, short-form videos … the challenge is how do we support students so they have the common skills initially and allow them to specialize.

“They may not know what all the options are, but it’s part of our job as faculty members to help them find what their passions are. AMPD is so diverse; it can be overwhelming in terms of choices. I like the excitement of students making connections among the options.”

In preparing students for the future, Garrett believes that “the most important thing we can do is to help students learn how to learn. There will always be new technologies and new subject fields, but we can help students to learn how to solve problems, how to learn new tools and skills, how to decide which ones are important and how to apply them to their own work. We can teach them critical thinking and how to come into a new environment and cultivate the new skills they need.”

In looking toward the classes of the future, “I’m excited about exploring mixed reality technology and its ability to affect the way we deliver courses. Research into virtual reality and live performance may allow us to have the same in-person experience simultaneously. Being in a classroom will mean sharing either time or space together.”

An augmented/virtual reality revolution is just beginning, says Faculty of Science professor

Group of students working in VR copy

Chemistry Professor Kyle Belozerov uses virtual reality (VR) in his classroom. In this insightful Q-and-A, he considers the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in understanding the complexities of our modern world.

Kyle Belozerov, an assistant professor of chemistry (teaching stream) and trained biochemist, sees the world through a futuristic lens. He has had a passion for teaching ever since he taught his first class in 2013. Today, he teaches first- and second-year chemistry and biology in the Faculty of Science, and says that having a knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is crucial for understanding today’s complex world.

“Being knowledgeable about the natural world and STEM is extremely important in our time, especially for understanding medicines like vaccines,” he said. “As society progresses, it becomes more important to be educated in STEM disciplines.” Given Belozerov’s use of virtual reality technology in his classroom, “Innovatus” asked for his insights on the future of teaching and learning.

Kyle Belozerov

Q: How has teaching changed since you entered the profession?

Belozerov: It’s changed quite a bit! I started 10 years ago and have seen a huge shift towards educational technology and online learning. It has exploded in the last decade, and it has been accelerated, of course, by the pandemic. In 2010, you had a typical classroom with a chalkboard, a PowerPoint and a slide projector. You would sometimes have recorded lectures and interactive technology (clickers). Now you have all of that integrated into a course. Technology has become an integral part of education. The VR headset is going to be the new cell phone, integrated into every classroom.

Q: Will technology allow more flexibility to accommodate different learning styles?

Belozerov: In the subjects I teach, there is a lot of imagination required on the student’s part. Not every student can easily imagine and manipulate complex objects in their mind. It takes time to develop that skill. VR gives them an opportunity to learn how to imagine things, even when away from the technology. With VR, you can rotate an object, stretch it, shrink it. This teaches students how to translate a 2D image into a 3D model in their mind. Technology also accommodates shy students. With highly customizable avatars in VR, students may be more comfortable interacting with peers and professors. Pedagogical and psychological research shows that VR technology allows for greater inclusivity and accessibility.

Q: Is technology (such as VR) the driver of change?

Belozerov: Technology has proven to be a potent driver of change in our everyday activities, social interactions and more. We have seen a social media revolution in the last 10 to 15 years. Cellphones have had a big impact on our everyday life. VR is probably going to be the next phase. Augmented reality (AR) devices turn physical objects around us into interactive information objects. A student can look at a building and instantly find out everything they want to know about that building. What is its purpose? How was it built? What materials were used? This information is easily accessible with AR. 

Students in Kyle Belozerov's chemistry class participate in a virtual reality exercise
Students in Kyle Belozerov’s chemistry class at York University participate in a virtual reality exercise

Q: Do students want more agency? Will they direct their own learning more?

Belozerov: We’re not at that stage where the student has the capacity to create their own experiences of VR and AR. We’re only witnessing the beginning of an AR and VR revolution. Every experience in my classroom is well structured and the student follows a pre-designed path in a lesson or project. As they become more familiar with AR/VR technology, they will gain more agency with their learning. I imagine that 10 to 15 years from now, there could be virtual reality universities or completely virtual professional programs.

Q: As the world becomes increasingly more complex, do you think that interdisciplinary courses will become more common with educational technology?

Belozerov: I am a firm believer that VR will allow certain interactions or intersections between different disciplines. The possibilities are limitless with VR: combining physics with music, zoology with arts, STEM with humanities… All these experiences, if they materialize, will be unique, exciting and engaging for students, and beyond anything our traditional classroom offers.

Q: Do you expect courses to become more individualized in terms of deliverables, assessment, etc.?

Belozerov: That would be fantastic, to tailor every course or program of study to the needs of each student. This will be driven by advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms. I envision tailored educational programs becoming more widely available to students. You could have a flexible mode of delivery with a fixed course. A student might be able to choose between different delivery models (AR, VR, in-person or online).

Q: How do we balance our need for connection and our need for flexibility with technology?

Belozerov: I think it’s universally acknowledged that the rise of social media has led to some reduction in interpersonal connectivity in real life. I think this can be overcome with better technology. We’re witnessing the beginning of online technologies and how they shape human interactions. Since we’ve seen some negative aspects, we shouldn’t just look at those as inevitable, but instead learn from the negatives and leverage the proven benefits of technology to enhance human interactions.

Q: How do you picture a class session in 2040?

Belozerov: I think that it will be a hybrid physical and virtual meeting, seamlessly connecting participants. I imagine about 20 students in a classroom and 30 in a virtual space. All students would wear an AR/VR device to be in the same virtual space and have unlimited access to audio-visual and textual information. This classroom will have resources available at students’ fingertips. It will be more learner-centred and cross-disciplinary, allowing students from different disciplines to engage in discussions. Students from different countries and cultures will be able to share diverse perspectives with their peers, providing a vibrant inter-cultural learning environment for all. Today’s hyflex classroom is the first generation of this ideal, allowing students who are physically separated to feel that they’re in the same classroom. In the second or third generation of this remote classroom, you would need a VR space. The VR revolution is upon us; it’s here.

Technology opens new doors, says humanities professor

Featured image for technology

Donald Ipperciel, a philosophy professor and former principal of Glendon Campus, has 26 years of experience in the classroom. He is also fascinated by the changing technology available to educators, including the benefits to teaching that are associated with artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

“Teaching is the best way to fully master your own area of expertise,” said Ipperciel, “and being around students is the most energizing and fun part of the job.” He shared his thoughts about the future of teaching and learning with “Innovatus.”

Donald Ipperciel
Donald Ipperciel

Q: How has teaching changed since you entered the profession?

Ipperciel: When I began teaching, everything was very much old school with chalk and blackboards, and, since academics had no real training in teaching, the way you taught was the way you had been taught. I became an early adopter in putting course material on the web and, now, I’m at the point where I do everything online – nothing uses a tree. Even readings are PDFs. I can’t imagine not being able to use an interactive whiteboard that’s media-rich. I can grab visuals that would have been so complicated to display 15 years ago. I also use an online attendance tool in eClass that allows students to grab a QR code to indicate their attendance, so there is no time wasted taking attendance.  Everything seems more efficient.

I am also experimenting with new technologies. I have an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant to answer all the logistical/procedural questions about my class, such as when assignments are due. The AI assistant can answer those questions so I can focus on meaningful interaction. I am also experimenting with virtual reality (VR). Next semester, I hope to teach a course about technology and its impact on society, and the VR module will take place using VR headsets in a VR room.

Q: Is technology the driver of change?

Ipperciel: Pedagogy remains the driver, but you can experience new things through technology. Technology has to make sense from a pedagogical point of view. The main questions to ask are, “How do we determine which technology to adopt?” and “How should we apply it?” We’ll all need to be more conversant with educational principles in order to decide.

Q: Will technology allow more flexibility to accommodate different learning styles?

Ipperciel: Three principles guide me in designing a course: universality, personalization and making it active/experiential. Following the first principle, I try, among other things, to build a class using universal design for learning (UDL), and it’s so much easier to do with technology. We can more easily accommodate different interests, needs and learning styles.

Q: Do we lose something when we don’t meet face-to-face?

Ipperciel: For me, the future of learning is not online. It will be a niche area for those who can’t attend class, which is about 20 per cent of the market. It will always be second best. Learning is a profoundly human experience, and you get that best face-to-face. The future is hybrid.

Q: Will interdisciplinary courses become more common with advances in educational technology?

Ipperciel: The future of teaching is also in the teams that will build courses. The level of course complexity is increasing, technology is multiplying, and information is more available. You can’t be an expert in everything. There are new interdisciplinary avenues to explore. I envision first-year courses being created by a team that includes the professor as subject specialist; a project manager; other subject matter experts; an instructional designer to look at user/interface design; educational developers to look at course structure, pedagogies and learning outcomes; a learning technologist to consider tools and platforms; a graphic designer; and a programmer. How great would courses be if the whole first-year program was designed by this team?

Q: Do you expect courses to become more individualized in terms of deliverables, assessment, etc.?

Ipperciel: Students have different backgrounds and interests, so I certainly give leeway in choosing essay topics. In the future, personalization will go much further with the help of adaptive learning. It will start with a questionnaire to set a baseline and determine where students are weaker and stronger. From that information, personalized courses will be created for individual students.

You can also use AI to further personalize courses using analytics, but that isn’t easily done without the team mentioned earlier. Personalized learning is all about self-paced progression and providing different paths for each student according to their needs and interests, while ensuring they reach the same learning objectives.

Q: With regard to assessment, what matters?

Ipperciel: I started thinking about this during COVID and the failure of e-proctoring. The answer I came up with is pedagogical: no mid-term or final exams but many more points of evaluation. I give weekly online quizzes that students must take before class, and technology makes that easy.

What really counts, however, is discussion. For each class discussion there is a presenter who highlights the main ideas and asks questions. The presenters are peer-rated using a rubric, and the discussion group must submit a summary of the discussion and receive a group grade. Technology makes it easy. There are also some additional assignments.

My goal is for them to be able to discuss the topics in an intelligent way, looking at all possible angles and justifying their thinking. It’s not only about writing.

Q: How do we prepare students for careers of the future that may not even exist yet?

Ipperciel: There are fundamentals that students will always need in the future, and they can enhance those with skills that will change over time. They will always require communications skills, collaborative skills, leadership skills and analytical skills, including the ability to think critically and consider different points of view. And creativity will never go out of style. As for special skills, they’ll have to decide individually about the specialized skills they’ll need for their chosen careers.

OsgoodePD earns award for innovation in teaching and learning

handshake and books

Osgoode Professional Development (OsgoodePD) has been recognized for its innovative execution in converting a historically in-person, skills-based, learn-by-doing program into an online format.  

The annual Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop (ITAW) earned the Award of Outstanding Achievement in the Technology category for the 2021 Association of Continuing Legal Education’s (ACLEA’s) Best Awards. ACLEA is the international association for continuing education devoted to improving the performance of continuing legal education (CLE) professionals around the world.

The award recognized innovation in teaching and learning applied to the OsgoodePD program during the pandemic, when the 41st annual ITAW was reimagined in a virtual format.

Osgoode Professional Development (OsgoodePD)’s Annual Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop (ITAW) won the Award of Outstanding Achievement in the Technology category for the 2021 Association for Continuing Legal Education (ACLEA)’s Best Award
Osgoode Professional Development’s annual Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop won an award for its innovative approach to teaching and learning

ITAW is a six-day learn-by-doing trial advocacy program that brings together a group of more than 100 instructors and guest speakers, all active members of the bench and bar and trained in teaching oral advocacy. When the in-person event was cancelled due to the pandemic, the OsgoodePD team embraced the opportunity to bring it to the many litigators who depend on the program in a virtual format.

Ensuring the design of the program kept ITAW’s core elements, the program transitioned to online in only a few months, requiring the team to leverage its resources in new and creative ways. OsgoodePD staff and faculty had to be trained in online learning and the use of technological platforms, and equipment had to be repurposed so that ITAW could be run remotely.

Offering the program with a blend of asynchronous elements gave participants the flexibility to learn at their own pace, in any space. The online format also increased accessibility to those outside of Toronto, and made this a viable program for sole practitioners and smaller firms.

ITAW participants gained invaluable experience in the practicalities of trial advocacy, and were able to practise their trial advocacy skills on digital platforms that have taken on increased importance during the pandemic. In this sense, the program prepared participants to be effective advocates in the new world of digital trial advocacy. Furthermore, participants received an electronic portfolio of their performances to allow them to further review and reflect on their skills development post-program.

“This was an excellent course that will certainly have an impact on my practice. I cannot recommend it enough,” said program participant Dianne Jozefacki, Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. “You receive invaluable feedback on performing direct and cross-examinations and opening and closing statements, which are key skills that all lawyers who want to be oral advocates must master. I know that I will be a better lawyer for taking this course.”

Learning from this, OsgoodePD has used this innovation to transition other interactive CLE programs online, optimizing the use of digital platforms like Zoom to deliver skills-based CLE in an effective and engaging way.

Due to the success of the online ITAW, the 2021 the program was considerably scaled up and sold out with an extensive wait-list.

“ITAW is a valuable course for new and senior calls alike,” said participant Samira Ahmed, justice for children and youth. “The faculty, lectures and on-your-feet learning will leave you with new confidence and strategies for successful trial advocacy.”

York University’s OsgoodePD offers a broad and flexible range of interdisciplinary graduate-level and continuing education legal programs to professionals with and without law degrees.

Hyflex pilot tests seamless remote participation in courses

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

The future of higher education is blended and will enable learning anytime, anywhere. Hyflex is an emerging model that will help York University continue along a path towards equity and access for students regardless of their location.

By Elaine Smith, special contributor

As Canada begins to look beyond the pandemic, educators have been pondering what shape education will take at universities. One option is a hyflex model of course delivery, which is being tested in a pilot program at York University this fall. Hyflex courses combine in-class and online instruction delivered concurrently, says Peter Wolf, a consultant working on the project with Professor Will Gage, associate vice-president (AVP) of teaching and learning.

“We are considering the long term,” said Wolf. “We can’t replace all our classrooms to ensure that they are equipped for hyflex delivery, so we want to identify for whom, how and when this approach works best.”

Gage strongly believes that “the future of higher education is blended and will enable learning anytime, anywhere. Hyflex is an emerging model that will help us continue along a path towards equity and access for students regardless of their location,” he said.

One of the 31 classrooms at the Keele Campus that have been retrofitted to allow for the blended classroom experience made possible through the hyflex model of course delivery
One of the 31 classrooms at the Keele Campus that have been retrofitted to allow for the blended classroom experience, made possible through the hyflex model of course delivery

“All universities are looking at it, but it is perfectly aligned with York’s ethos of access, equality, inclusion and social justice. It is well aligned with where our university is continuing to go.”

There are currently 31 classrooms on the Keele Campus and 15 on the Glendon Campus that are retrofitted – with more to come – to allow remote students to seamlessly participate in courses delivered on campus. The technology installed in the classrooms ensures the two-way engagement of participants.

The pilot, which is focusing on a subset of those locations, has welcomed instructors who are scheduled to teach in those classrooms to take part and 15 of them from a variety of disciplines have signed on. They recently underwent a hyflex training session led by Aladin Alaily, director of client support services for University Information Technology (UIT), to familiarize them with the technology and the opportunities provided by this mode of course delivery.

The pilot, said Wolf, is “intended to make this mode of delivery viable and sustainable for ongoing use.” It will also provide the hyflex team, which includes Frankie Billingsley, associate registrar and director, student records and scheduling for the Office of the University Registrar; Karthiga Gowrishanger, program director, teaching and learning strategic initiatives, Office of the AVP Teaching and Learning; and Patrick Thibaudeau, director, IT innovation and academic technologies, UIT, with the opportunity to investigate hyflex course delivery in a scholarly manner to disseminate lessons learned about classroom technologies, digital technologies and educational strategies.

Given the complexities in the start of the fall semester due to the pandemic, there was no time to match technologically equipped classrooms to the 200 instructors who expressed interest in hyflex delivery, although that is something the team will work to make possible after the pilot. Nor did the students in these classrooms explicitly register for a hyflex class; they could choose to participate remotely as an option or continue to attend the in-person class as they would any other. In the future, it should be possible to promote hyflex courses in advance.

“Our intention is to identify where concurrent delivery can work in the educational setting,” said Wolf. “This is not designed to be a pandemic response; it is about finding educational value in providing equitable, concurrent experiences for the students.

“For example, it can also allow classes to engage in globally networked learning more easily, teaming up with similar classes abroad on projects, or to have guest lecturers from elsewhere participate online.”

One of the 15 classrooms at the Glendon Campus retrofitted to accommodate the hyflex model of course delivery
One of the 15 classrooms at the Glendon Campus retrofitted to accommodate the hyflex model of course delivery

Nonetheless, the pandemic has illustrated the value of flexible modes of course delivery, as Neil Orlowsky, PhD, realized. Orlowsky, a practicum facilitator seconded to the Faculty of Education from the York Region District School Board, will be using hyflex technology for his course, Teaching Family Studies in the Intermediate-Senior Divisions.

“To be honest, I signed up for the program for two reasons,” Orlowsky said. “The first is being led and driven by the uncertainly of teaching during a pandemic and how we can ensure our safety, as well as the students’ safety. This was coupled with the fact that our students are now global, meaning that given the pandemic, some have opted to continue schooling from home, which is either in Canada or abroad. The second reason was my passion for technology and a drive to keep up with how the world is changing, how technology is shifting the way we educate and the role of technology in accessibility.”

Wolf notes that hyflex learning won’t immediately become ubiquitous because it is not viable nor desirable to equip all classrooms with the infrastructure. However, the pilot will help illustrate how to make it more accessible for a larger number of classes. He and the team also surveyed the faculty involved prior to the start of the semester and will do so again once their courses conclude to learn as much as they can about the experience in order to improve it. Faculty will also provide biweekly feedback and meet with the team halfway through the pilot. In turn, the team will offer tips and suggestions for improving the class experience.

“Our ultimate goal,” said Gage, “is to create equivalent experiences for students regardless of their learning location and provide them with more opportunities to engage with their education.”