Re-emergence

For some at my university, the spring break is here. For us, not so much. Our Winter 2021 semester rolled straight into Spring/Summer session, still almost entirely taught virtually. Like many of you, we definitely wear the scars of the past year, and we are under no illusions that the anticipated return to campus in Fall will be anything but many new challenges for our team to face down.

That all said, some nice developments lately. We had Jason Toal (to whom readers of this blog need no introduction) join us last month, and we’ve finally been able to place Jamie into a job more suited to her talents and contributions. As of now, these are one year positions, but where there is hope, let’s hope a way can be found… More than one year into the pandemic, it’s a fine thing to finally have some more hands on the line. Some incredible people have gathered here.

We also threw the switch on some new support environments this week. As I wrote twenty years ago last year, when we knew we’d be moving to emergency support for hundreds of mostly novice online instructors, we deliberately stripped down and simplified our offerings. We didn’t want to do anything to increase confusion, ambiguity or anxiety with a community that was headed into such unknown terrifying territory. In hindsight, moving our outreach into a single Moodle shell ended up being the right call, it allowed us to auto-enroll all instructors into a shared space, get announcements out, and provide a focused set of essential resources and supports.

As the weeks and then months passed, the limitations of this approach began to emerge. We kept finding new essential needs that required resources. And somehow (and this is just one of the things for which Brenna deserves immense praise) we rolled out quite a bit of new training and programming from our team and with our colleagues. And while Moodle has its strengths, organizing a large collection of materials in a course shell without internal search or tagging does not show the LMS at its best. We also believe in openness not only as a value but as a sustainable practice, and containing our work to a closed space was not meeting our needs. So while we had to focus our energy inside an environment that was private to TRU instructors for a number of valid reasons, we also wanted to re-assert our open presence.

Some of this week’s changes: TRU’s new Teaching Unbound Moodle Campus has a much tidier and appealing vibe. It provides access to virtual office hours, current workshops, and forums, and links out to resources and contacts.

We’ve moved tutorials, resources, and workshop archives (materials and more than 25 full-length videos) into a new space called Teaching Unbound (https://teaching.trubox.ca/), and I am very pleased with how it is looking on launch day.

The site collects the efforts of our Learning Technology & Innovation team, and also TRU Open Learning’s Instructional Design Group, and our Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT).

I really dig how cleanly and intuitively the site allows for both searching and browsing for resources.

This was the first time we’ve used the BetterDocs plugin to enhance the organization of the materials, and I am hopeful it lays the groundwork for us to treat the technology support pieces as something of a public knowledge base, moving more of what we learn alongside our community into a searchable space.

We also link out to some of the other initiatives that have been launched at TRU over the past year, such as the excellent eBook adaptation Teaching without Walls at TRU by Melissa Jakubec and Michelle Harrison, and Learning without Walls, our student-focused help site with extensive technology resources and heaps of supports and goodness from our friends in TRU’s Faculty of Student Development.

And yes, Teaching Unbound is released openly under a CC BY-NC license.

The last year has been a grind and a blur, and I admit to feeling a wee bit verklempt as I reviewed these materials prior to launch… Somehow amidst all the mayhem we managed to practice care, collaboration, sustainable tech, openness. And while we were usually dealing with heavy incoming requests for fixes, help and advice (one data point: a 400% increase in help requests year-over-year) we somehow have a rather impressive collection of persistent resources to show for it. In addition to all the people already mentioned, I am full of gratitude and admiration to others who pulled Teaching Unbound together: Marie Bartlett, Stephanie Gountas, and Nicole Singular for their help in redesigning these spaces. Matthew Stranach for the resources he developed. And huge kudos to Jon Fulton, who among all the other things pulled out video archives from BigBlueButton (not a straightforward task in our self-hosted install), cleaned them up and added them to Kaltura.

So proud to work alongside such gifted, dedicated, ethical and genuinely fine people. Under some of the most challenging conditions imaginable they serve the learners, faculty and wider community of the university with stunning professionalism and grace. I couldn’t be happier to count myself as part of this magnificent team.

6 thoughts on “Re-emergence

  1. This is so, so good. What an absolutely amazing team you’ve put together at TRU! The Teaching Unbound website looks like the perfect balance of simple-yet-useful. Fantastic work.

  2. … and TRU is indeed lucky to have you, Brian! Proud that I have people like yourself and your team leading the way with learning technology and innovation. Thanks for the terrific update.

  3. This is an amazing resource and I am stealing (with credit) so much! We’ve been using BetterDocs to organize our knowledgebase stuff as well and has been a lifesaver in terms of constructing things so they are findable.
    I was talking to Jerry a couple of days ago telling him about the work your team has done. We should catch up sometime this summer!

    1. Thank you Shannon! I would love to see what you are working on, not least with BetterDocs — we are still very early with it. It made me very happy to see you and Jerry in Brenna’s Digital Detox sessions a few months back, and I would love to catch up and share ideas some more!

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