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Laying the Foundation for a Resilient Teaching Community

A guest post by Michigan’s Rebecca Quintana and James DeVaney.

May 27, 2020
 
 

Times of crisis are disorienting, and some crises lead to more extended periods of disorder than others. At the same time, widespread crises also have the potential to deliver a kind of clarity that results only from shared experience. And one thing is certain for higher education during the COVID-19 crisis: we are in this together. 

As we choose togetherness, we can unlock our many perspectives and determine which challenges must be addressed today and what conditions must be true to realize our preferred future for higher education. In a blog post last month titled Preparing for Future Disruption: Hybrid, Resilient Teaching for a New Instructional Age, we identified the need to move from emergency remote teaching to resilient pedagogical approaches, and shared plans for a community-oriented massive open online course. We asked you what would make the course most helpful and relevant to our community. We were encouraged by your engagement with this call for collaboration, motivated by the themes that emerged, and careful in incorporating these themes into the course design. Together, we’re able to make sense of new constraints, and continue on a path to transformed access, inclusive learning communities, problem-based interdisciplinary learning, and multimodal design.

Now, as we lean further into a shared experience that may define the contours of higher education for decades, we see real opportunity for our community to stretch beyond emergency remote teaching towards resilient design for learning. Our objective in writing this post is to propose an emergent definition of resilient teaching, highlight the themes that resulted from our call for collaboration, introduce three guiding principles of resilient design for learning, and invite you to continue this journey with us in refining and adopting a framework for resilient design.

As we will recall together well into the future, vast numbers of higher education instructors at all levels witnessed a radical change in their teaching environments with most colleges and universities closing their doors to face to face instruction. This dramatic event was precipitated by the COVID-19 crisis of winter 2020. As a result, many of us were faced with a sudden and abrupt transition to a phase we have come to call emergency remote teaching.

Instructors of large undergraduate foundational courses and small graduate seminars alike moved rapidly to mount versions of their courses that would function in a virtual environment. Their goal was to create a supportive learning environment for students and to bring the semester to a successful conclusion, even if that meant adjusting expectations for course completion. In addition to curricular concerns, instructors focused on the mental and physical well-being of their students. And students needed their support more than ever before.

An Emergent Definition of Resilient Teaching

Now, with the “emergency remote teaching” phase in our rear view mirror, the notion of “resilient teaching” is in view somewhere on the horizon. Our recent experiences have shown us that we will need to design with the possibility that the learning environments that we are designing for are not a known certainty. And indeed there is a real possibility that learning contexts and conditions will change in the midst of a course. As a result, institutions are engaging in planning around near term scenarios and long term systemic shifts.

To prepare for this new reality, we are moving towards the notion of “resilient teaching” which is very much connected to the idea of resilient design. We have adopted the phrase of resilient teaching to convey the idea that we are moving away from a temporary state to a more permanent and productive condition.

We define resilient teaching as the ability to facilitate learning experiences that are designed to be adaptable to fluctuating conditions and disruptions. This teaching ability can be seen as an outcome of a design approach that attends to the relationship between learning goals and activities, and the environments they are situated in. Resilient teaching approaches take into account how a dynamic learning context may require new forms of interactions between teachers, students, content, and tools. Additionally, they necessitate the capacity to rethink the design of learning experiences based on a nuanced understanding of context.

The Importance of Sharing Resources and Practices and Learning Together

As we move ahead, we should do so together. At the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan we are supporting faculty in this move towards more resilient approaches to learning design. Our first step was to rapidly launch a “Keep Teaching” website in March to provide immediate guidance and resources in order to maintain continuity of instruction. Many other institutions launched similar resources and shared openly, such as Duke University, Dartmouth College, and Georgetown University. Our colleagues Josh Kim and Eddie Maloney shared guiding principles and priorities during emergency remote teaching.  At Michigan, we then moved forward with hosting course design workshops, offering an asynchronous course through our university’s learning management system, and launching an online teaching academy. We created Online Teaching at U-M in collaboration with U-M’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and Information and Technology Services Teaching & Learning team, and created a range of asynchronous self-directed resources and synchronous learning opportunities to meet the needs of those who wish to learn by themselves, as well as those who prefer to learn with others. In addition to these targeted and scalable resources designed to meet the needs of the U-M community, we also wanted to provide our wider community of scholars and faculty with a resource that could inspire thinking about designing courses that are resilient and flexible as we consider a new normal for higher education.

To do this, we decided to create a learning opportunity for a wider audience outside of our own institution in order to bring together perspectives from across institutions and areas of expertise.

As a first step towards realizing this idea, we posed three questions to readers in the previous blogpost we have mentioned to gauge your response to the idea and to hear from you about what would make the course useful and relevant. We created a call for collaboration asking readers what else we should consider in creating this course, for specific examples of resilient teaching, and for examples of approaches to shifting from emergency remote instruction to resilient teaching. We received many thoughtful responses that informed the design of the course. Similarly, we expect participants in the course to further enrich and expand the conversation around resilient teaching and learning.

Themes from the Call for Collaboration

After reviewing your responses to the question of what we should consider as we create this course, a number of themes began to emerge. We were careful to incorporate these themes into our design. These themes emerged in response to the question about what we should consider in the design of this MOOC:

Theme 1: Facilitating learner interactions across a variety of contexts.

Many of you articulated the importance of fostering strong relationships among students, no matter the modality of the learning environment. Relationships are at the heart of good teaching, regardless of whether learning takes place in person or online. A related idea that many of you surfaced is the challenge of maintaining robust interactions in disciplines that have typically relied on face to face interactions, such as music or second language acquisition. As learning contexts change, instructors will have to be even more intentional about how they facilitate these kinds of interactions.

Theme 2: Drawing on established frameworks to inform a new approach.

Several of you commented on how learner-centered approaches to instruction, such as universal design for learning, are a useful starting point for thinking about resilient design for learning. It is important to base guidelines on evidence-informed approaches to instruction.

Theme 3: Promoting approaches to resilient teaching that are actionable and practical.

Finally, many of you stressed the importance of developing a shared vocabulary to discuss these ideas as well as a practical toolkit to allow you to implement them. As instructors face new and significant instructional challenges in the coming months, it will be important to locate usable resources that can meaningfully guide thinking and action.

Other important ideas surfaced as well, including approaching our course design and teaching with empathy and through a lens of pedagogy of care—putting student well-being at the forefront of our practice. Additionally, several respondents highlighted the importance of addressing the numerous technical barriers that many of our students face.

Inspired by your responses, our experience working with faculty at U-M, and through engagement with colleagues across a growing academic innovation network, the course is designed to support higher education faculty, lecturers, and graduate student instructors who will be required to rethink how they teach in the immediate or near future due to the ever-changing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.

Community-oriented MOOC Structure and Features

The course, titled Resilient Teaching Through Times of Crisis and Change, is structured across four weeks. We begin by making a case for why we need a resilient approach to course design now more than ever. We do this by examining characteristics of a wide range of potential teaching and learning scenarios that will impact how students and faculty teach and learn. We then examine the construct of “resilience” and situate it within a variety of disciplines. Our intention here is to ground thinking in notions of resilience and inspire participants to apply a cross-disciplinary approach to course design.

As we move towards defining a resilient pedagogy, we consider a systems design approach and reflect on how courses can function as systems. Building on this idea we examine perspectives from education that consider how to approach designing for interactions in support of learning. After specifying three guiding principles for resilient design for learning, we put them to use by exploring a worked example. Participants are encouraged to reflect on their own design contexts and use the guiding principles to develop their own course plans.

Finally, we highlight inspiring examples from instructors who reflect on their experiences during the remote teaching phase. We hope to develop additional brief case studies with your help to spotlight new examples that emerge as we move beyond emergency remote teaching. To support learning and reflection, we are introducing a new journaling tool within the course that provides a place for participants to reflect on their own experiences. To support community growth, participants can choose to share their journal entries with the wider course community in an interactive gallery space.

Building from Three Guiding Principles of Resilient Design for Learning

In the course we present three guiding principles of resilient design for learning: designing for extensibility, designing for flexibility, and designing for redundancy. These principles are based on ideas from systems design as well as perspectives on designing for interaction and universal design for learning, from the field of education. Using this frame, we hope that participants will view designing for resilience from the mindset of creating a course design that is even stronger than the one they had when they started, rather than working solely to address an immediate concern or problem. Although instructors are currently being asked to consider different contingencies, by working through this process we hope to create courses that are responsive to various educational scenarios across a range of settings. 

Continuing Our Collaboration with You

Given the strong response to our first call for collaboration, we’d like to ask for your help again. We hope you will join us in laying the foundation for this resilient teaching community by participating in the course which launches June 1, 2020 hosted on the Coursera platform. To be sure, the foundation we are building is still under construction. While we can imagine the broad contours of a resilient teaching community, we are intentionally non-deterministic about specific details. We believe this foundation will be strong because we are co-creating this approach with our peers.
We invite you to become a part of this online community that seeks to learn from one another and to co-create a working definition of resilient pedagogy, describe attributes of such an approach, and identify strategies for cultivating resilient teaching practices.

We hope that this course will become a forum for sharing ideas, mutual support, and encouragement. While we do not purport to have all the answers, we hope that by coming together from a place of openness and optimism, we will be able to create learning experiences that are more robust, imaginative, and accessible than we would have previously thought possible.

Dr. Rebecca Quintana (@rebquintana) is the Learning Experience Design Lead at the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan

James DeVaney (@DeVaneyGoBlue) is the Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and the Founding Executive Director of the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan

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