George Brown College moves ahead with its Academic Computing Strategy
In 2012, an Academic Computing Strategy was prepared at George Brown College in Toronto, taking an integrated approach to making e-learning part of the core commitment and mission of George Brown by encompassing roles, responsibilities, and implications throughout the institution. It focused on increasing the depth, breadth, and quality of the potential George Brown footprint in e-learning, the creation of a robust virtual learning environment, and improved communications concerning e-learning, both internally and externally. The core components of the plan are described in the Contact North | Contact Nord Pockets of Innovation series.
In Spring 2012, Dr. Rupert Collister joined George Brown as the Director of E-Learning, with responsibility for implementing the Academic Computing Strategy.
Dr. Collister recognized that it was essential to develop a robust foundation for e-learning and academic computing and consequently has been leading the College through a year of consolidation that involves aligning policies, practices, administration, communication, and infrastructure that can then serve as the basis of solid and strategic innovation and expansion. He also wants to extend the Academic Computing Strategy from its current shorter-term focus to correspond to the time frame of the College vision that extends to 2020.
Among the areas of focus for consolidation and alignment for e-learning are:
Policy: The policies associated with academic computing and e-learning are being re-developed to support forward-moving strategies and practices. This work is being undertaken as part of a more widespread review of academic policies.
Communications: An integrated strategy is being developed to ensure timely and relevant communication about processes, policies, and innovations, provided in conjunction with staff training. In Innovation for Teaching and Learning Engagement, the emphasis is on ‘engagement’ between faculty, students, and content, using e-learning technologies rather than simply the delivery of content.
A key communications tool recently launched in the iTunes app store is an e-magazine called Connexions, designed and developed in collaboration with Apple, Adobe, and the School of Design. The content highlights e-learning, academic computing, innovation in engagement in teaching and learning, and the thought leaders and innovators at George Brown College. The first issue of Connexions focuses on the theme of learning spaces, with stories on mobile, gaming, and contemplative spaces, as well as the physical space of George Brown’s new Waterfront Campus. The e-magazine will be published four times a year, offering access through mobile devices. Analytics will allow the analysis of user patterns.
Another important component of the communications strategy is the Service Catalogue that will clearly articulate the services the teaching and learning centre provides throughout the College. The scope and structure of the services are to be negotiated with stakeholders, including the clarification of what the centre needs and/or expects from support departments and users. The scope and structure of these relationships and services are being negotiated.
Faculty Support and Development: The training and development opportunities offered to faculty in support of academic computing are being re-designed and re-developed. A new model of ‘hub and spoke’ is being implemented, wherein instructional design staff is assigned to work directly in the various academic divisions so that they can better understand the needs and dynamics of the areas. Innovation in Teaching and Learning Engagement serves as the ‘hub’ so that standards and policies remain consistent across the College, and activities and models can be leveraged across divisions.
Dr. Collister is working with Organizational and Staff Development to explore what is being done and to test new approaches to keeping staff current with advances in technology and pedagogy. For example, select webinars are being offered about new theories, approaches, and technological enhancements. Staff view the webinar and then can discuss the utility and application to their situations and the College overall. This is one step in getting people to share more broadly across the College, whether about an innovation, the motivation and theory behind a significant change, or the research and results of a new approach. Broadcast e-mails are used to make staff aware of these opportunities.
Another resource is a new website, under construction in conjunction with Organizational and Staff Development and Academic Excellence, which will feature all of the resources available to support teaching and learning, with e-learning resources and information as key components.
Student Support: Working with Educational Resources (library learning commons) and the Student Contact Centre, the approaches to offering student support are being re-considered and re-developed. For example, with mobile access possible throughout the College, a broader plan led by Educational Resources is being developed for student computing, integrating charge spots, computer rentals, wired collaborative work spaces, and other spaces and supports for on-site mobile learning. Whereas The Innovation in Teaching and Learning Engagement Hub used to have sole responsibility for supporting students with the Blackboard learning management system (LMS), staff from both the Contact Centre and the library’s Learning Commons now offer these support services.
Innovations: The identification and promotion of innovations in applications of technology to learning will be more systematic in order to leverage the creativity and best ideas.
Existing e-Learning Content: The focus for the year of consolidation is the maintenance and upgrading of the current e-learning content – addressing issues of software, configurations, and mobile access. Changes in learning management systems over the years have resulted in material that may be ineffective or slow the system down and the increased use of mobile devices has meant some content is not appropriately formatted. The issues are being addressed. As well, faculty is being trained to use Blackboard to update content.
Mobile Access: A focus on the integration of mobile access into teaching and learning continues with projects to build apps, professional development events, an app-development camp, and support and encouragement to integrate social media, networking, and mobile devices into teaching and learning. As faculty members adapt or develop courses for e-learning delivery, they are encouraged and supported in their efforts to make the materials accessible to mobile devices.
Outcomes and Benefits
Dedicating this year to consolidation and alignment in e-learning will allow George Brown College to more effectively support developments and innovations that feature enhanced quality and engagement.
Challenges and Enhancements
The foundational work requires considerable work and investment; this is a difficult proposition to advance in a world of shrinking resources.
A robust infrastructure, in terms of policy, processes, communication, training, support services, and collaboration will be in place to leverage opportunities for innovation. The new coherent and strengthened systems behind e-learning can play a central role in moving George Brown College towards the goals outlined for 2020.
For Further Information
Dr. Rupert Collister
The Innovation in Teaching and Learning Engagement Hub
George Brown College