student on computer
The Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) developed Online and Remote Teaching modules to help U of T Scarborough faculty discuss and learn from each other's experiences with the shift to virtual learning. (Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash)
Thursday, August 27 - 2020
Tina Adamopoulos

As the University of Toronto prepares for the fall semester, where 90 per cent of courses will be offered online, staff and faculty have come together to utilize community-driven resources to better prepare for remote teaching. 

Among them is a new tool developed by the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), to help U of T Scarborough faculty navigate, share and discuss their experiences with the quick shift to virtual learning. 

Using academic resources and faculty experience, the CTL Online and Remote Teaching modules, led by David Chan, educational developer at CTL, is a Quercus-based course that guides faculty through the best practices to build effective courses and optimize student engagement.

“When we all made this transition to online, remote learning, the community came together and began to pour these wonderful resources out,” Chan says. “This resource came about with us wanting to stream the great information that exists out there.”

The self-paced, module-based course allows faculty to click through various topics and activities, like short video tutorials and infographics, for advice on how to organize a course. 

The first module, “Thinking through your Syllabus,” maps how to tailor an easy-to-read and conversational syllabus that is “learner-focused,” and concentrates on what students will get out of the course, instead of the “content-focused” one traditionally used in the classroom. 

“Faculty read about best practices, what has worked and what the literature highlights,” Chan says. “Then, there is a video of a colleague talking about what they have done in their course to put these aspects into practice and reflect on student feedback.”

A similar preparation tool developed by U of T Mississauga invited faculty to learn from each other’s experiences for a four-day virtual “summer camp.” The platform includes daily webinars, mini-lectures - and even some homework - to prepare for the fall semester.

Enhancing student engagement

In addition to this course, the Academic Continuity website is home to many tools developed to support faculty with designing online classes, final exams and assessments. One of the tools featured on the site is the “This Worked for Me” webinar series. 
Co-ordinated by Chan and CTL, the webinar series launched in late-April, and invites U of T Scarborough faculty to learn about efficient online teaching methods right from their colleagues. 

Like many, Sonja Nikkila, an assistant professor, teaching stream, in the Department of English at U of T Scarborough, had to make the quick shift to remote learning during the winter semester. 

She’s taken her experiences to contribute two webinars to the “This Worked for Me” series.

“The process is still preliminary,” Nikkila says. “The diversity of methods to engage students is something I think most of us do, but maybe without thinking about why we switch up the ways that students are participating.” 

Nikkila’s webinars focus on community building and student engagement and offer advice around discussion-based courses. 

Some of her tips include: using Blackboard Collaborate’s chat function, breakout groups for students to talk about course material and polls for student feedback. Nikkila also encourages faculty to visit each other’s online classes to gain insight into teaching techniques.

“Things may go a lot more slowly than you expect them to,” Nikkila says. “Build space within your classes to allow for change, error and alternatives.”

“It’s important to make students partners in this and reach out to them to let them know that everyone is experiencing this together.”

A panel of students also participated in a “This Worked for Me” webinar to share insights from a student survey on what makes for a smooth transition to online learning, like peer learning, applying course content to current events and bonus points for participation.

“Holistically, everything that we talk about is always student-focused,” Chan says. “It’s always thinking about how to help create the best learning experience that students can have.”

Visit UTogether 2020: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto for more information about the fall semester.