Two new instructional specialists in Arts & Sciences are passionate about technology and pedagogy – and ready to get to work.
Ask Amanda Albert for an example of a class activity or experience that works really well online, and she can’t contain her excitement. After her initial reply – “Oh gosh, I have so many favorites! Don't make me choose!” – she quickly lists ways that students can “go beyond the discussion board” to engage with course materials. “This could involve groups annotating a reading, or creating something such as a brief video response or a podcast,” she offered as initial ideas.
Albert and Megan Radcliff both recently became instructional specialists in Arts & Sciences. The new role supports instructors’ efforts to creatively and effectively incorporate remote elements into course designs, for fall 2020 and beyond. The specialists are available for direct consultations at any point in the design process, “whether it’s a brand-new course, or one that you’ve been teaching for a decade,” said Radcliff.
The new positions are jointly supported by Arts & Sciences and the Office of the Provost. They were conceived by the Arts & Sciences Instructional Planning Task Force, which is co-chaired by Jen Smith, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Andrew Butler, chair of the Department of Education. Butler sees the instructional specialist positions as an integral part of the university’s broader efforts to support teaching and learning.
“The Center for Teaching and Learning is a hub,” Butler explained. “The center has a lot of expertise, programming, and resources, and their mission is to serve entire university. But WashU has a hub-and-spoke model in the sense that each school also has their own people who can support school-specific efforts and serve as liaisons to the CTL. The instructional specialists who are embedded within a school know the culture and are sometimes more available to faculty for consultations. They are also really important to changing the culture around teaching by connecting with faculty and winning hearts and minds, one by one.”
Both Radcliff and Albert serve as knowledgeable guides to university-wide resources, and they also offer expertise on crafting a course to fit specific needs in Arts & Sciences.
“Each course is like its own puzzle, and we try to find the pieces that best fit the course, the faculty member, and student needs,” said Albert. “We can help develop learning objectives, talk through activities they may want to deploy in order to maximize student engagement, walk them through some things in Canvas that will help make course materials more accessible, connect them to resources on campus, and help them think through their assessments.”
“Each course is like its own puzzle, and we try to find the pieces that best fit the course, the faculty member, and student needs.”
Stepping back from specific syllabi, Radcliff is particularly looking forward to working with instructors to think through the broader principles that can lead to student success, both online and in person. “When designing a course for remote instruction, I like to keep three things in the forefront of my mind: community, consistency, and transparency,” she said.
“Of course, all the same principles apply no matter what setting you’re in, but the hierarchy in which you approach them may differ. In times like now, where students and teachers aren’t able to meet face-to-face, finding ways to connect with one another is essential for the success of the course,” said Radcliff.
As both a scholar of education and a leader on the Instructional Planning Task Force, Butler is looking forward to the long-term benefits of having full-time instructional specialists available in Arts & Sciences.
“This is a difficult time for all of us in many ways, but there are good things coming out of it, too. I think one of those things is that we as a faculty have had more conversations about teaching and learning in the past three months than in the past 15 years!,” Butler said. “The learning that faculty are doing right now is going to improve their teaching in the fall but also in the years to come. We really envision this moment as an opportunity to shift the culture around teaching in Arts & Sciences so faculty recognize the need to regularly engage in professional development and have conversations with each other about pedagogy. I'm expecting that both Megan and Amanda are going to be integral to fostering such a long-term change in our culture.”
In this case, culture change can begin with a simple discussion about preparations for fall 2020. “When faculty sit down to have a conversation with us, they can expect to have thought partners who can help work through various ways to design the course,” emphasized Albert.
“Megan and I are experts in pedagogy, course design, and educational technology, but faculty are the subject matter experts,” she continued. “We can't and won't tell you how to create your content, but we can suggest ways in which to present your content that is thoughtful and engages students on new levels. Sometimes, it just helps to have a sounding board, and we can be that for you.”