Online Learning Focus at CTSI Teaching and Learning Symposium

At last week’s CTSI Teaching and Learning Symposium one could not help noting the interest in online learning as the keynote, panels, round tables and casual chat over lunch explored recent developments in web-based strategies and the implications for students and  faculty at UofT.  No longer the domain of the “lone rangers” and the “technogeeks’, online learning has clearly found its way to centre stage.

Many years of exploration of online learning is reflected in the substantial body of research and scholarly analysis shared by leading instructors, the result being the opportunity for us to glean principles of good online instructional practice from those who have gone before. Among the best known national resources are the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology  and The Journal of Distance Education. From lecture capture to online labs, MOOCs to mobile – any number of disruptive technologies are acting as catalysts for careful consideration of the potential of online learning and reconsideration of teaching in the classroom as well.

It was very energizing and engaging to hear the perspectives of a number of our own University of Toronto faculty members who have begun to enter the online learning space through blended course design or have fully redesigned their courses for online instruction. I was fortunate in chairing a panel which featured pioneering faculty members from across the three campuses. I asked each of them  to comment on their “aha” moment in the course re-design process and was surprised at the range of responses:

  • Don Boyes (Faculty of Arts and Science – Geography and Planning) commented on his experience in using “backward design,” a  process that results in  careful alignment of learning outcomes, assessment and scaffolded activity. He noted that the design process first made his work harder as he grappled with the design stage, but that in the end the planning resulted in the things being much easier as he moved through the course content development and building stage.
  • Shafique Virani (UTM – History and Religious Studies) focused on the importance of team work, as he relied heavily on the expertise of the educational technology professionals, librarians and course adminstrators who were part of the group contributing to the design process. He emphasized that team work lead to the course/development as a whole being much greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Steve Joordens (UTSC – Psychology) re-engineered his online course to make more time for active learning including new online digital labcoat assignments, peer assessments and other innovative tools. In his words: “To get students to buy into all of the new learning activities I want them to perform, I can choose to ease up on the amount of content I deliver, and that’s OK.  Better to know a little less to a much deeper level than to know more at a shallow level, especially if the “less” is well chosen to be the most important content.”

We hope to have more complete profiles of the work of our faculty members who are developing and launching these new online courses, including video captured during the panel presentation.  In the meantime, you may want to browse our powerpoint presentation from the panel: Online Learning – Beyond Content to “Aha moments” for Both Faculty and Students”

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