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Taylor Institute programming reflects a cross-Canada effort to engage virtual teaching and learning opportunities

By Krishna Shetye, December 18 2020 —

The University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning has released its Winter 2021 program, notably consisting of solely virtual workshops and classes. The Institute’s mission, “Sparking Curiosity, Transforming Learning,” has been practiced quite literally, in stride with numerous other UCalgary programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Natasha Kenny, the Taylor Institute’s Senior Director, said that the transition from in-person to virtual programming happened in less than a week after the UCalgary campus cancelled in-person classes in March. The University of Calgary was among “the first institutions in Canada,” to create a “comprehensive site to support rapid transition,” according to Kenny. 

Between March and December over 270 workshops offered by the Institute, including courses on designing online courses, facilitating online discussions, and D2L essentials, were utilized by over 6,800 registrants. According to Kenny, over 63,000 users have visited the Taylor Institute website with the majority actually being outside the University of Calgary, indicating “growing leadership on the national and international scale” on the part of the institution. Compared to 2019, these numbers show a 400 per cent increase in programming.

Because of the sudden surge in attendance, the Taylor Institute has hired approximately 25 graduate students to coach instructors one-on-one in handling the transition to online teaching. The graduate students have consulted with over 800 clients and created more than 50 resources. According to Kenny, that’s a stunning number highlighting the strong sense of partnership members of the institute have been exhibiting in these tough times.

This partnership has extended beyond UCalgary according to Kenny.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I met almost weekly with other center directors across Canada to learn what they were doing and to share resources,” said Kenny. “We can work together and respond to this pandemic, as an academic community and not in isolation from each other.”

Although virtual programming has been very successful in its reach and abundance for resources, there is still room for improvement.

“We are worried about students,” said Kenny. “And we are worried about instructors. I see the struggles in my own household. So yes, so we do really have a vested interest in supporting everybody.

“Honestly, we know we haven’t gotten everything right. But we are really committed to listening to the community and responding where we can and engaging in what we refer to as intentional tinkering. We’ll improve it a little bit. We know we won’t get it perfect. But, we’ll continue to move forward in the right direction.”

The Taylor Institute engages in comprehensive feedback collection for its programming and workshops and collects survey dats from participants to help improve its offerings.

Kenny also noted there are focus groups for certain programs including the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) and the Teaching Awards. Both students and supervisors for the programs are surveyed and focus groups are conducted afterwards with students, to get feedback on their experiences.

“We really ensure that we’re responding to the feedback we’ve received,” said Kenny. “Honestly, in the last eight months that that feedback has really reiterated how important these additional sessions have been to helping faculty members survive and thrive under these extraordinary circumstances.”

According to Kenny, the necessary shift to online programming will “transform our practice.” Even after the pandemic subsides, the success of the online transition may permanently station some courses online, with some involving in-person attendance in a hybrid format.

“I think that we’re going to see this really transform some of our practices,” she said. “Many of our programs will stay online because it has made it a lot more accessible for folks to attend professional learning events, especially when you consider that there are a number of campuses for faculties such as social work.”

Kenny emphasized the value these programs have to UCalgary and other institutions.

“The collective agreement does speak to the importance of engaging in professional learning related to one’s teaching and learning practice,” she said. “When you see the level of engagement of 6,800 registrants in our programming, that’s quite a robust number of folks across the academic community accessing these resources. I would say engaging in professional learning in your teaching practice would be looked at very fondly by different faculties across the campus.”

Upcoming workshops and training for Winter 2021 can be found on the Taylor Institute Website.

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