Written by Nicholas Smith – Design Research Assistant for the Transforming the Instructional Landscape
What happens when you support instructors as they experiment with technology? During the Winter semester of 2021, the Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) Pilot Project did just that. In the pilot, each member of our instructor cohort was provided with an individualized and adaptable classroom set-up, including high-quality recording equipment, stream decks, and monitor screens, alongside traditional teaching tools such as blackboards and lecterns. Our instructors were also paired with a technical “co-pilot” who ensured that the technology they employed ran smoothly by providing real-time support.
The foundation of our pilot was built upon TIL’s previously-developed principles of learner-centered design (see our November 2020 report) with the goal of improving instructor and student experiences of online classroom spaces. The initial cohort comprised scholars of diverse disciplines teaching classes which ranged from intimate seminar discussions to large scale lectures. Behind the scenes, UofT’s Learning Space Management (LSM) team facilitated technical plans and room layouts, while the Innovation Hub conducted empathy-based research to understand the impacts that the pilot was having on instructors and students. Cumulatively, the pilot project allowed us to zoom-in on the needs of instructors and the nuanced ways these needs come to combine with feelings of success in instructional spaces.
What We Learned
The final report presented here draws on instructor interviews, student surveys, weekly TIL team meetings, and the cohort events which brought together everyone involved with the pilot to share stories of success and failure. Our five key takeaways collectively speak to the ways that empowerment can happen when support systems are humanized and when the personal stakes of teaching and learning are allowed to inform processes of adaptation and grown. With the takeaway that “Teaching is Personal,” for example, we recognize that instructors don’t simply adopt technology, but do so in ways which reflect their unique approaches to teaching. Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach does not reflect this diversity, the takeaway of “humanizing support” speaks to the power of listening to instructors’ needs and tailoring support to reflect comfort levels and personal goals.
Cumulatively, our report lays a groundwork for the ways that learner-centred design can foster more successful experiences with technology in the classroom. We’re looking forward to exploring all of the ways that this Pilot will inform our work in the semesters to come!