Sheridan College in Oakville set a goal of developing 400 blended courses by the fall of 2015, using a general definition of ‘blended’ learning as two hours of face-to-face, in-class activity and one hour outside the classroom. By the end of 2014, the target was reached and exceeded with Sheridan now having more than 600 blended courses available for its student. Many of the blended courses were developed in partnership between faculty and instructors and the staff in Digital Learning and Innovation in the Centre for Teaching and Learning.
As Michael Evans, Associate Dean, Digital Learning and Innovation, describes the new opportunity: “The focus is now on faculty development, rather than course development, looking at strategies for improved teaching and learning that use the right tool at the right time in the right way”. Blended and in-class learning are no longer seen as different approaches; instead some level of blending and technology integration happens in almost all courses. Faculty come to Digital Learning and Innovation with teaching challenges that can often be addressed by changing components of a course, without altering the entire course.
The experience of providing the training for the introduction of a new learning management system (LMS) advised the structure of the faculty development offered through Digital Learning and Innovation. Every Sheridan course is expected to have at least a basic online presence, with content management, grades, contact information, and other essential components. Faculty, both full- and part-time, with their wide range of technological capacity and interest, are offered training on the LMS. It was found that a significant amount of basic computer training was required by some faculty. As well, through the training process, a number of faculty members became interested in the resources available in the LMS beyond the basics.
The response to these varied demands was the development of a faculty portal to fit a broad range of needs and abilities. The portal was designed so that it would:
- Provide access to written and visual resources for individual use;
- Present information at a number of levels to serve the needs of those who are new to the use of digital resources and technology for teaching, as well as those with more experience; and
- Integrate faculty training and support.
On the landing page, the portal offers the option of “getting started” or “explore” buttons so those with no experience, especially part-time faculty, are guided through the basics. For example, there are different learning paths for those who have never used an LMS and for those who may have experience with another system. With more experienced users, it is hoped the design and contents not only respond to their initial query and need, but also inspire them to explore and experiment.
Among the portal features is Connect, offering a forum and links among faculty, functioning as a community of interest and practice for all aspects of online learning. A Twitter feed, maintained by the Digital Learning and Innovation staff, is featured on the landing page to be easily accessible. In Showcase, faculty can share their experiences with digital learning they find exciting and beneficial for students. Accompanying the faculty stories are instructions on how other faculty can use the same strategy or software. Provided under Tips and Tricks are information, examples, and techniques for the tools connected to the LMS, such a Collaborate for virtual classrooms, Turnitin, the originality detection service, as well as wikis and blogs. A series of Sheridan-produced e-books on topics including rubrics, using e-portfolios and gamification are found under Emerging Trends.
To complement the just-in-time resources and training available through the portal, direct training for individuals and groups of five or more is provided, when requested by faculty. As Michael Evans explains, “training is not a set curriculum; rather it responds to what the faculty need at the time”.
In related activities to develop learning objects for students, using the model outlined in Building a Dog Skeleton: A simulation-based learning tool for students, three donated skeletons from medieval days are being photographed, scanned, and rendered so students will be able to perform forensic examinations.
Outcomes and Benefits
This approach to faculty development moves away from delivering structured training to the strategy of first intriguing and informing faculty – and making the support available to them when they want to move ahead. Faculty motivation is based in their classroom experience and experimentation – and Digital Learning and Innovation helps them with strategies, technologies, and moving from this situational analysis to a broader pedagogical framework, delivery, and assessment. Digital Learning and Innovation works collaboratively with Faculty Development, another part of the Centre for Teaching and Learning, to provide enhancement to faculty teaching practice.
Over the past few years, there has been a heightened awareness of the need for faculty to engage with teaching technology to enhance student engagement, learning, and achievement.
Challenges and Enhancements
As some faculty prefer the self-directed learning approach, a one-page document is being developed to outline the essential steps to getting started, and offering numerous contact points for more information.
A new focus at Sheridan involves a new college-wide group looking at the next digital learning strategy. The perspective is the relationship of digital learning to curriculum development, program development, and program review rather than individual course development. In this analysis, the students are the focus – their changes and progress from entry to graduation and how and when it is best to introduce pedagogical and digital teaching and learning strategies.
Looking at what students need to know to graduate leads to looking at an entire program and each course in terms of its applicability for, and appropriateness of, the use of learning technology. So instead of determining that four courses in a program should be blended, the effectiveness of technology for learning and its importance for careers are critical factors.
With the focus on faculty development, criteria is being developed so faculty who want to design or re-design a course can apply for release time and support that focuses on skills and quality.
For Further Information
Digital Learning and Innovation