Faculty members at Trinity College are immersing themselves this summer in learning best practices for online teaching and virtual student engagement as they prepare for a fall semester offered in a combination of remote, in-person, and hybrid course formats during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly 100 members of the faculty are participating this month in a series of July Design Studios workshops created by Trinity’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Information Services’ Research, Instruction, Technology (RIT) team and facilitated by Flower Darby, assistant dean of online and innovative pedagogies at Northern Arizona University and co-author of Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Teaching (2019).
CTL works to promote effective teaching in all its dimensions, including the online instruction and virtual interaction that became a way of life in the spring 2020 semester, when all Trinity courses were quickly transitioned to a remote format. Dina L. Anselmi, associate professor of psychology and co-director of CTL, said that the faculty is being much more intentional about remote teaching this fall, as opposed to last spring, when new technology was introduced to preexisting course curricula on an emergency basis for the final weeks of the semester. “What we’re dealing with now is a really deliberate and robust way of thinking about the merge of pedagogy and technology, which can be embedded into courses in a thoughtful and important way,” Anselmi said.
The goal, Anselmi said, is for faculty to take from this program the evidence-based practices, tools, and strategies they need to enhance online and flexible-format courses and to help students engage and learn. Each week focuses on a specific topic: Foundations of Online Teaching; Connections and Community Online; Online Assessment Strategies That Guide Learning; and Putting It All Together. Faculty attend Zoom workshops led by Darby on Mondays, then work remotely either individually or in cohorts during the week, and reconvene virtually on Fridays so Darby can respond to questions and concerns that have arisen.
Sean Cocco, associate professor of history and co-director of CTL, said that CTL developed the concept for the Design Studios with Trinity’s RIT director, Jason Jones, as well as key members of his team. “We decided to reach out to Flower Darby, a national expert who had written a timely book on online teaching,” Cocco said. “She was intrigued because no one seemed to be taking on such a sustained effort and one that pretty clearly builds the corroboration between pedagogy and technology.”
Jones said, “Many institutions are doing workshops like this this summer, but a lot of times they come as one-day or weeklong programs.
The process here is quite reflective. The Design Studios have been cleverly mapped out, and the faculty get to do this work in ways that apply what they’re learning in real time to the courses they’re developing. It’s all very exciting.” Jones credited Trinity instructional technologists Cheryl Cape, Cait Kennedy, and Dave Tatem with helping to shape and support the program.
The Design Studios follow two workshops CTL hosted in June: Trinity Professor of Political Science Stefanie Chambers led a talk about survey data collected from faculty and students with feedback from the spring semester; and Anne Law, professor of psychology at Rider University, presented a framework for teaching in alternate formats using technology. Anselmi said, “Faculty were prepared for the more conceptual and hands-on work we’re doing in the Design Studios in July, and then they will have all of August to continue the work. The interest in these workshops shows our faculty’s dedication to confronting the realities of teaching in a changed environment.”
Anselmi added that some of the ideas presented in the Design Studios apply beyond online teaching and can be useful for in-person education long after the pandemic is over. One important idea is the value of collaboration and seeing learning as a joint enterprise in which faculty members support the students’ own efforts. “We’re all on a journey here,” Anselmi said. “I think students need to think of themselves as active participants and partners in the learning process.”
Cocco added that he wants the Trinity faculty to set an example to students of how to solve complex problems when they may not have an existing skill set. “It’s important to show students how much we put into this and to show the importance of learning new skills, applying the skills you have, and thinking about it ethically,” Cocco said. “We all are thinking about the ways in which making remote learning accessible is not just about public health, which is paramount, but it’s also about making it equitable and doing the right thing in a difficult time. That’s something we hope is part of the faculty’s growth this summer.”
Faculty members have been able to work together with a sense of enthusiasm and urgency during this program to plan strategies that offer students the best experiences possible given the current circumstances. “There’s a sense of grief over the loss of a certain kind of student-faculty interaction,” Cocco said, “but this is an opportunity to think differently about what we do and to embrace this challenge in that spirit.”
Jones said that in addition to finding faculty with a refreshed skill set, students this fall will see restructured remote classroom environments, new courses developed with reflective uses of technology at top of mind, and creative uses of video and multimedia content. “And I think there will be real attention to bringing the best parts of on-campus teaching to this format,” Jones added.
Sonia Cardenas, acting dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, acknowledged the work of the faculty in preparing for the coming academic year. “Trinity’s dedicated faculty of teacher-scholars have been working hard, determined to see their students thrive next year,” she said. “I am particularly proud of how our faculty are fusing liberal arts pedagogies with the best of online teaching, designing learning experiences that are both personalized and distinctive. They’re modeling agility, creativity, and resilience—all core skills of lifelong learners and hallmarks of a Trinity education for the future.”
For a sample of the expertise Darby is sharing with Trinity faculty, read her article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “5 Low-Tech, Time-Saving Ways to Teach Online During Covid-19”.