What started with David Kwasny's fascination with Twitch, a live-streaming service, is now being developed into a provincially funded training program between the UTSC Library and Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to empower more inclusive learning.
Kwasny, U of T Scarborough digital projects and technologies librarian, and Krystle Phirangee, educational developer, assessment and online learning with the CTL, received approximately $75,000 in funding from eCampus Ontario's Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) program to create the Digital Learning Producers Training Program – the highest awarded grant for a sole University of Toronto proposal.
The training program will teach emerging professionals, known as Learning Experience Assistants (LX Assistants) through the use of Open Source Broadcasting Software (OBS), virtual cameras, and post-production video editing software. This work enhances in-person and online instruction.
With this funding, Phirangee looks forward to exploring the possibilities created for instruction through OBS and making sure it aligns with the literature and existing online learning research.
"My Ph.D. research and research work in general has focused on the importance of building a sense of community in online learning environments, which always emphasizes the importance of equity and inclusivity in online learning and teaching," says Phirangee. "Some of the features you have in OBS enables that work."
Inspiring inclusive education
OBS will prepare participants to support virtual and in-person learning with open-source video production techniques. Putting complementary information on a screen while instructing or providing more detail is a very basic component of news media, explains Kwasny.
"You have a consistent headline for the subject matter that serves as a constant reminder that this is the topic being spoken about."
These components encourage a class to stay on task and could prove especially useful for neurodivergent individuals who might find it more challenging to maintain focus, he says.
Once published, anyone can reuse the program as it will be an open educational resource compatible with any learning management system.
"By using all open-source software, we are ensuring equity through this method, and everyone will be able to apply these methods to their instruction delivery," says Kwasny.
Once students are trained in the understanding and use of this technology, they are titled Digital Learning Producers, paired with a faculty member to assist in incorporating OBS into the courses to support online instructional delivery.
"The beauty about this training program is that there is an experiential learning component too,” says Phirangee. "They're actually getting hands-on experience to take that training and apply it with instructors."
Students have already begun to be hired and brought on board, sharing that the program provides helpful guidance when considering fields like instructional design, says Phirangee.
A new beginning
In 2021, eCampus Ontario funded a historic $50 million in projects (of which U of T received approximately $1.8 million) that supported the provincial virtual learning strategy, a strategy particularly needed as COVID-19 rapidly adjusted the way people learned.
Closures during the pandemic sparked Kwasny’s exploration of the uses for OBS. He started a live-streaming fundraiser drag show to raise money for gay bars in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that had shut down. "They're very important to my LGBT community," he says.
Kwasny, originally from Milwaukee himself, brought together friends and allies from remote locations with various technological capabilities. That's where he got into Twitch and started learning about OBS – popularly used alongside the video live streaming service. "I thought, I can apply all these techniques and use them to enhance education."
He would spend the rest of 2020 developing and facilitating various technical workshops on OBS. When U of T Scarborough chief librarian Angela Hamilton announced the upcoming VLS grant program, Kwasny brought up a potential program centred on OBS to Hamilton, who encouraged him to apply.
Appreciating the need to also align and contextualize OBS within course design principles, online learning literature and research, Kwasny reached out to the Centre for Teaching and Learning and a partnership was formed with Phirangee.
Open to everyone
No matter what discipline you come from, Phirangee says the program can be supportive to all course types such as face-to-face, blended learning and online learning. And while the program focuses on online learning, with classrooms beginning to safely reopen this fall, the team will also prioritize blended learning techniques and how different teaching format styles can be incorporated.
"This way, the program really does compliment different fields," says Phirangee.
It is important to create open educational resources as a publicly funded institution, says Kwasny. The library's Digital Scholarship Unit collaborates with campus partners to develop and host open educational resources found in places like the digital learning objects collection. Like the learning objects, research for the Digital Learning Producers training will be a downloadable open education resource, which will be published in the eCampus open-access catalogue.
"We should give back to our community - it's our responsibility to do so," says Kwasny.
The Digital Learning Producers training program is already in the works with different disciplines at U of T Scarborough with instructors in Sociology, Arts, Media and Culture, English, and Mathematics. It is free of any specific type of curriculum and can be tied in anywhere.
Phirangee and Kwasny firmly believe that this has the potential to change and reshape virtual instruction. They hope to be part of ushering in a new age of instruction where Digital Learning Producers become as common as teaching assistants, with support expanding from OBS into different technologies.
To learn more about OBS and other open-source technology, visit the U of T Scarborough Library's Digital Scholarship Unit website for digital learning tools workshops in the Digital Scholarship @ UTSC series.