For the fall 2020 semester, Tom Courtway, University of Central Arkansas president emeritus and senior lecturer of business law, teaches one hybrid course and on-site classes. He livestreams classes for online students and even records one of his sections to upload to Blackboard, a learning management system.
“None of that did I know how to do on March 11 of this year,” he said.
Courtway is one of the many faculty members whose comfort with online instruction advanced with the assistance of UCA’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Academic Leadership (CETAL) and Instructional Technology. CETAL collaborates with partners across campus, notably the Division of Information Technology, to design a learning community focused on enhancing faculty members’ teaching methods.
Since the pandemic began to affect campus this past spring, CETAL, formerly the Center for Teaching Excellence, has partnered heavily with IT’s Instructional Technology team and its mission has been to equip faculty with the tools and pedagogy needed to constantly adjust to what students need during this time, said Amy Hawkins, assistant provost of teaching and academic leadership.
“This is not what faculty have ever been used to as the ways they deliver their teaching,” Hawkins said.
CETAL, which includes Hawkins and three instructional designers, worked with Instructional Technology to assess which resources faculty needed help with this year and what teaching methods they needed guidance on to lead hybrid and online classes. The two offices have provided online office hours, instructional consulting and videos that provide step-by-step directives on how to utilize specific instructional technology programs.
“We are working more this semester on [CETAL] providing pedagogical support while the Instructional Technology area will focus more on training faculty on how to use the different software while incorporating best practices and continue providing overall faculty and student support for instructional software,” said Tonya McKinney ’99, manager of instructional technology.
As someone whose teaching comfort zone includes writing on the board and handing out papers, Courtway experienced a shock when having to switch to online instruction this spring. He contacts CETAL weekly — sometimes daily — for troubleshooting and questions regarding online tools.
“Their training is great,” he said. “They can sort of anticipate over the horizon what we may need, and they’re out in front of what we may need to try to deliver our course material or set up tests for our students. They give great advice.”
For the teams behind CETAL and Instructional Technology, it’s important that faculty be relieved of instructional technology stress so that students may flourish.
“We do love faculty, but we really love students,” Hawkins said. “A lot of what drives both of those offices is, ‘Oh, my goodness. If we don’t fix this, this is how it affects students.’ That’s a motivator that doesn’t go away.”
Sharon Mason, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, teaches about 95 students total this fall semester, and about 65 of those students are online only. She said she has most benefited from CETAL’s virtual office hours when in need of help on tools that aid her online or hybrid classes.
“I’ll be right in the middle of trying to use something in Blackboard, and I can’t get it to work, and I’ll just open the link and jump into their chat room, and somebody was there who would help me fix it,” she said. “I could be done in about five minutes and be able to move on instead of being stuck or having to wait for a training. I really appreciated their accessibility and their availability throughout this transition.”
Mason heavily uses Zoom to lead breakout discussions for students and also this year implemented Perusall, a social e-reader tool that allows students to annotate text and converse with one another about assigned readings.
“I think that in the future, even if we do go back to a largely face-to-face model of instruction, if and when this pandemic has ever passed, I think that I’m still going to integrate a lot more technology into the classroom,” she said.
Hawkins said CETAL had goals to build more online resources prior to COVID-19 affecting campus and that responding to the urgent need for online instruction accelerated its desire to be a source for hybrid and online teaching excellence.
“Each step of the way, they have been there to help me,” Courtway said. “I can’t thank them enough.”