In late 2013, our Provost struck a Learning Technologies Task Force, to develop a plan to sustainably implement and support learning technologies across all faculties at the University. The result of that task force was the production of the Strategic Framework for Learning Technologies in the summer of 2014 – a document that lays out some high level priorities and specific strategies to address them. Much of the document directly guides the work of my team (the Technology Integration Group in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, Educational Development Unit) – I keep a copy of it handy, and have a poster version of the priorities and strategies pinned to the wall in my office. One of the interesting aspects of the Framework is the emphasis on combinations of learning technologies and spaces – that we need to consider the physical as well as digital aspects of the learning environment.
One of the major strategies described in the Framework involves providing coaching and mentoring for instructors who are integrating technology in their courses. This is a model that was pioneered by some faculties during our recent Blackboard-D2L migration, and having coaches available in those faculties was an extremely important factor in the success of that migration.
Those D2L coaches were grad students, hired by the faculties as a special form of teaching assistant. They were given professional development (workshops, training, orientations), and community support and facilitation. It worked really well, and this is what the Framework strategies are designed to sustain and scale up across the university.
So, we will be launching a full Learning Technologies Support Program – this will offer Learning Technologies Coaches in all faculties. Funding will be provided to Associate Deans Teaching and Learning, with some recommendations for how they might implement the model in their faculties. The way we’re implementing the program, each faculty will have a high level of flexibility. Some might opt to have a Coach (or Coaches) providing deskside support. Some might need Coaches to be primarily supporting those instructors who are innovating in their course designs. Or, a combination. Or, something different. We will also need to figure out how to incorporate instructors and coaches at various locations – including the 4 campuses in Calgary and sites in Lethbridge, Edmonton and Qatar. With 13 faculties involved, each will need to do something different to meet their unique needs and context, and providing that level of flexibility will be essential to the success of the program – if we just hired a bunch of Coaches centrally and farmed them out, we’d lose the domain-specific context that is extremely important when working with instructors.
These Coaches – and we won’t know exactly how many will be involved in the program until faculties decide how they want to proceed – will be supported through my team in the Educational Development Unit. We’ve created a new position – Technology Integration Specialist – and that person will be primarily working with the distributed network of Coaches, forming a community of practice and providing professional development and communication across all faculties. The hope is that this community of Coaches will learn from each other, and that we’ll be able showcase successes from each faculty and use those to improve and enhance the learning experience for all students.
It’s going to be strongly based on a distributed community model, with a domain-specific focus in each faculty. The new Technology Integration Specialist role will be extremely important in connecting people across faculties and roles. At a high and abstract level, it might work something like this:
I firmly believe that this is the most important program to support the meaningful integration of learning technologies at the University. This goes far beyond licensing shiny tech, or installing new apps. It’s the careful and intentional allocation of significant resources to develop a strong community of people, working to support instructors in their practice. This gets to the core of how instructors can adopt new practices and appropriate technologies to (hopefully dramatically) improve the student learning experience.
This has been my main project for awhile now, and I’m thrilled to see it move from planning stages to actually beginning to implement it. We’ll be documenting the activities of the program, as well as other initiatives that implement the Framework, on a new-but-not-yet-public Learning Technologies website. More on that soon…