1 #showyourwork - Building a Community of Practice
With the onset of the pandemic, all universities had to shift to online format. For some, in-person courses had always been the main format and the sudden transition to online courses posed a huge challenge to those involved, especially, faculty and students. When I was asked to provide support to faculty, I saw this a great opportunity to put research into practice and build a community of practice, rather than me being the only person to save them. The following is what I did to support highly anxious faculty, some of whom were intimidated by technology.
Identifying training and non-training needs is key in our work. I realized creating a community of practice in which we share useful resources and tips, and faculty can discuss their challenges and questions, would be more effective than running several hours of workshops on learning design.
The role of the learning designers is more than designing and developing trainings and learning solutions. Our goal should focus on performance improvement through peer support and peer mentoring as well.
Learning about THEM
The most important step is to learn about the organization, existing misconceptions, mindset, biases, and your target audience before proposing any solution. These are what I did:
1. Asking questions from leadership to learn about the culture in the organization and requested to meet with each department and their faculty to learn more about them.
2. Asking leadership to introduce me to all faculty during a faculty meeting so that I could reach out to them for meetings.
3. Meeting with individual divisions and departments to understand their needs, challenges, available support, and possible solutions that they may have.
4. Learning about the students by meeting faculty and student-center staff.
5. I asked to meet with students as well (as a focus group) but that wasn’t feasible initially, so I relied on a survey to see what their challenges were and what their comfort level with technology was.
6. Administering a survey to faculty and adding some open-ended questions so that they could share what they might not have been able to share during the meetings. They had an option to add their names and contact information so that I could reach out to them for clarification or 1:1 consultation.
7. Writing a report following the analysis of survey responses and sharing with leadership and all departments. For example, around 60% of students reported poor internet connection a major barrier and we had to think of different means to send them the course material and receive their assignments.
What was DONE
Following a thorough needs assessment, it was time for action. Using Design Thinking Process, below are the steps I took:
1. Forming a team of faculty (who were tech-savvy and well-informed about digital learning) and instructional technologist to brainstorm solutions and enablers, and learn about what had worked and what had not.
2. Creating a logic model with specific resources, actions for each member of the team, short-term and long-term outcomes, and means of evaluating our solutions. This was shared with leadership for final report at the end of the Academic year.
3. Creating a centralized online resource center in the LMS. Sharing templates, resources, instructional videos, Q&As, and office hours to meet 1:1.
4. Creating discussion forums on relevant topics for faculty to ask questions and share their best practices.
5. As using the LMS was a pressing issue for most faculty, and the workshop that was conducted by the LMS team hadn’t been helpful, an online workshop was planned. I sent out a Google Form to learn about the level of experience that faculty had with the LMS. So, the focus of the workshop could meet their needs based on their responses.
6. This helped us design the workshop better and have the faculty do the initial set-up prior to the workshop through the instructional videos that we created for them. So, the workshop was more hands-on and practical rather than lecture-based.
7. Workshop recordings were uploaded in the resource center.
8. Sending weekly tips via email on learning design, engaging students in online meetings and asynchronous discussions, creating PPT presentations, assessment design, building an online community, etc. All tips were stored in the resource center as well.
9. I also provided one-on-one consultations to those who needed more support beyond what was provided.
10. Starting a Podcast series by interviewing faculty who were innovative in their online learning design.
11. Starting an LMS championship initiative by selecting one member of faculty from each division (my 1:1 LMS consultations turned out to be overwhelmingly high).
12. A Google from with questions to assess their ability different features of the LMS was sent out. Responders in the advanced level were selected. Roles and responsibilities with stipend to be paid to them were determined. Monthly meetings were held with them to discuss how best they can provide support.
13. Hiring digital learning teaching assistants among students to support faculty who needed help with technology during the class and to monitor students’ improvement.
14. Creating a Science of Learning how to Learn using Vyond for students. Students would earn extra credit by watching the video and trying the strategies shared.
15. Doing research with faculty to observe and analyze the course design.
To learn about the impact of our work, we sent out another survey to see what had or had not worked for faculty and if they still needed support (and in what areas). Evaluation of our resources and workshops was done using the LTEM model. Students’ evaluations were also collected to see the impact. That’s what we learned:
1. A community of practice was created (although it took a long time) to involve faculty in sharing their best practices and challenges.
2. Learning design ambassadors were formed following a workshop on Learning Design to support more faculty. I had follow-up meetings with them to learn if they could use what they learned.
3. Faculty recognized our team (this took a long time as well) and we set up a systematic communication to respond to queries.
4. LMS champions were recognized for their work, and they were approached by other faculty in their departments.
5. I received more request for learning design consultations than only technology-related calls (my wish was to help faculty see the importance of integrating digital learning tools rather than learning how to use them).
6. The faculty’s digital learning competencies were elevated.
7. My LMS or technology-related consultations went to zero.
NB, I would not have achieved any of this without the help of the faculty in my team. Working closely with those who are in direct contact with the target audience is indispensable.
TIPS for fellow learning professionals
o Use persuasive strategies to change attitudes and behavior.
o Share research-based evidence to support your claims.
o Observe, analyze, and reflect frequently.
o Dismiss your own assumptions and biases. Avoid confirmation bias and appreciate that each context and organization is different.
o What worked for you in one organization or your previous company might not work for a new one.
o Always seek to learn about the culture, misconceptions, biases, and resistance.
o Regardless of your previous accomplishments in other companies, each organization brings its own challenges. So, see it as a learning opportunity.
o Build a community of practice and help everyone be involved in the learning and sharing process. This increases their motivation and accountability, while alleviating their anxiety (seeing that they are not alone).
o Delegate tasks to your team.
o Bring out the best in others.
o Design learning solutions and processes that helps your target audience build the targeted competencies.
Feel free to reach out to me if you need any of the instruments or tools that I used.
Images courtesy of Unsplash & Pixabay