Thompson Rivers University

Concrete teaching support during unsettled times

  Posted on: May 20, 2020

Members of TRU's Learning Technology and Innovations and Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning staff members

Here's part of the team tasked with supporting TRU's instructors during alternate class delivery. Also pictured: their home offices and four-legged interns.

Handshakes, large on-campus gatherings, in-person classes: all postponed. When faced with a global pandemic, everyone in the TRU community who was able to, was sent home to learn and work. Alternate modes of class delivery meant instructors needed to shift gears fast—and that’s when the real work began.

But who do experienced instructors turn to for help when everything has shifted online?

From a Digital Teaching Summer Camp workshop/webinar series, to weekly sessions on teaching in alternate delivery methods, TRU staff are protecting the student experience by ensuring instructors have the support they need. And although the teams at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and Open Learning – Learning Technology and Innovations (LTI) did not expect to be doing this, they are meeting the challenge head on.

With on-campus classes not a primary option, dedicated faculty members are rapidly signing up for crash courses in everything from “So you hate Moodle?” to “Three alternatives to video lecturing” to “Academic integrity in remote learning contexts,” and more.

CELT is focused on supporting and improving the way TRU instructors teach both academic and applied subjects. Normally, their work starts with face-to-face meetings, often with the allure of snacks. Those meetings are no longer possible, but the CELT team is committed to keeping teaching standards high and supporting faculty members as they wade through the new reality of teaching and learning.

Faculty are eager to learn more

In mid-March, all in-person events planned more than a year ago were cancelled. The CELT team had become incredibly nimble in their biggest challenge to date: supporting faculty as they teach and learn though alternate modes of class delivery.

“We all come from different institutions with different learning management systems and backgrounds, but we have never put together an online course like this. As soon as this all happened, we’ve had to learn alongside our faculty. In order to do that, we’ve tried to stay a step ahead, so we can help others,” CELT Director Dr. Catharine Dishke Hondzel says.  

CELT has already seen a huge uptake in faculty participation. More than 90 faculty have registered in the May cohort of the “Facilitating learning in Moodle” course, and 33 registered in the book club. June registrations are growing as well, with dozens of faculty already having reserved a place for the four-week intensive course.

“Faculty are engaged and want to learn more, in order to create the best student experience. Never have we seen this level of engagement with curriculum and assessment design. They want students to be successful, and they are taking this very seriously.”

CELT isn’t alone in its mission to support students by helping instructors harness their full digital teaching potential.

The LTI team is ordinarily tasked with supporting the on-campus learning environment. They support Moodle services, WordPress development, professional development around digital pedagogy, online learning, podcasts, video tools and much more.

Their sessions usually draw about 10 faculty members, twice every month. At the first newly-created Digital Teaching Summer Camp workshop, they had 119 participants, and 104 for the second!

Constant support is key

Brenna Clarke Gray, co-ordinator of educational technologies, says it was all hands on deck when the pandemic hit, and it still is. The LTI team quickly drew together resources for faculty by building a support site within Moodle, creating an open educational resource called “Pivot to Digital,” and committing to daily open office hours where faculty can virtually pop in and ask questions. Maintaining constant support is a key priority for Gray’s team.

“We are really prioritizing those Moodle support tickets that come in. Faculty need to know there’s always someone on the other side of the phone. We have hit almost a 100 per cent rate of answering tickets within 24 hours and I’m very proud of that,” Gray says.

Once the immediate need of getting Moodle support dialed in was accomplished, they shifted gears and have built an impressive series of workshops and webinars running from now until June 30.

“We designed these as a self-serve professional development opportunity. Faculty members choose what’s most important to them. There’s no registration process because time is at a premium, so it needs to be easily accessible,” Gray says.

Staying safe and being kind

The CELT and LTI teams are charging ahead while keeping in mind the very real cases of burnout that can happen for faculty, staff and students in such stressful times.

“Flexibility, kindness and generosity will get us a long way. Everyone is dealing with a strange blend of home and work life and it’s really important for us to remember that our students are in the same boat. We need to plan teaching and learning around that,” Gray says.

Dishke Hondzel says keeping it all in perspective and focusing on student success is key.

“At the root of it all, we care about the students. We remember what it’s like and how hard it is balancing it all. So, we help faculty understand the student experience and build curriculum that reaches them. Building community is going to make the most difference now. Students want to know they are seen, heard, and that their efforts are valued,” Dishke Hondzel says.

For the full listing of CELT offerings, visit their website and sign up for the twice-monthly newsletter.

Faculty can contact LTI through the Moodle shell course: Support for Alternate Modes of Delivery.