Online By Our Design: Our Community and Our Stories

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Image by You X Ventures on Unsplash. Used under licence

Observing the rapid, creative, and in some cases experimental approaches colleagues took to engaging students in online learning throughout Semester 1, the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), Annamarie Jagose, was inspired. The Faculty then took the opportunity presented by this dynamic situation to capture evolving and collegial teaching practice, reflect on and share experiences, and consider what should be taken up as new norms in education design and delivery in the FASS context. In preparation for Semester 2 the deliberative planning took shape with support from the whole FASS community.

The design process

We started with the identification of epistemic prompts, such as feedback from a student survey and discussion papers about teaching quality. Academic catalysts were then nominated from across FASS, and took part in a series of iterative workshops to refine and agree on core pedagogic principles. Using these principles as the foundation / lens for thinking about teaching, academic colleagues brainstormed ideas for platforms to capture ideation, exchange, discussion – all things education.

The chosen communication platform is Canvas, through a site called Online By Our Design (OBOD).

Currently there are more than 237 colleagues enrolled in the site. The evolving platform highlights different approaches to education, and captures insights from teachers who not only possess disciplinary expertise in their respective fields, but who are also interested in breaking down boundaries to collaborate in a meaningful way with other colleagues to share knowledge and teaching advice and support each other.

Through engagement with OBOD, we remind ourselves that teaching depends on understanding the impact of choices we make that inform activities and create social relationships … Further, the active emphasis on ‘design’ and ‘online’ are obvious and necessary features of enabling improved educational outcomes for so many of our students who cannot return to campus.

Associate Dean (Education) Professor Alyson Simpson in an interview in the FASS August newsletter.

The site’s governance is evolving and informed by our Faculty network. With guidance from FASS academic catalysts, we continue to workshop and update the contents of the site, to give meaning and context to the resources that are designed for and as a community. For example, catalysts have provided authentic examples of the practice that is mapped against the pedagogic values in a table format. We have arranged content for checklists by need; that is, a pre-semester preparation checklist, and just recently, an ‘in-semester’ checklist.

The ‘action’ links to corresponding pages with resources and helpful advice that draw on and unpack in more detail catalyst experience and expertise:

In promoting the site, broader Faculty engagement has been encouraged, and our Education Initiatives inbox has been inundated with excited colleagues who want to get involved.

It’s clear that the loss of face-to-face time between academic colleagues has created a need for an online equivalent, to collaborate and share ideas.

The iterative, networked, and responsive model of OBOD has meant that it’s seen as an authentic means of connection and interpersonal relationship building. Staff have commented on how easy it’s been to reach out to colleagues across the Faculty to ask questions, seek advice or even co-host a workshop.

The next steps for our OBOD team will be to see what our enrolled users think of the site, how it could be improved, linked across other resources, etc – it would ideally also be good to know why some colleagues choose not to enrol in the site. User-analysis will help inform future developments in terms of the site that will be activated by the growing catalyst community across FASS.

For more information regarding OBOD, please contact Associate Dean, Education Professor Alyson Simpson, at alyson.simpson@sydney.edu.au, or Head, Education, Dan Willis, at d.willis@sydney.edu.au.

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