Milestone: Flexible learning–blending online lessons with ISW

It all started at a “Pitchfest” at UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT). The idea for developing online lessons to complement Instructional Skills Workshops (ISWs) was pitched to staff and faculty, and selected for further development. Lucas Wright, a co-developer of the Flexible ISW, explained that selected ideas were considered at a “…Hackfest, where we sprint around the ideas and develop them.” By July 2014, the first flexible ISWs were offered, using online lessons designed by facilitators and educational developers at CTLT.

The outcome, after repeated cycles of design, development, testing, evaluation and revision, is a flexible approach that allows facilitators to choose online lessons that enable participants to spend time online to learn new information and be better prepared for the daily ISW activities. The benefits include a reduction of hours over a 3-day workshop and a deepening of the learning that takes place during participatory activities. In November 2014, CTLT hosted a half-day workshop with the wider ISW community to demonstrate the flexible model and share the feedback and results of a year’s worth of workshops in the Faculty and Graduate Student ISW programs. As of 2015, all ISWs at UBC use the Flexible ISW model, and facilitators have an increasingly rich repository of online lessons they can offer participants to augment the face-to-face learning.

Jason McAllister, a co-developer of the Flexible ISW (currently living and working in Germany), remembers that the online lessons were developed collaboratively and mindfully. “We wanted more than just ‘read this article and come to class to discuss.’ We wanted lessons that had [learning] objectives, activities, reflective or ‘work with others in an online space’ elements. And we wanted, ideally, to link what was done online to what was done in the face-to-face sessions.”

Lucas Wright (currently Open Strategist at CTLT), explained the basic design approach they evolved. “We used a ‘learning wrapper approach,’ he said, “similar to what you might see in TED-Ed lessons. Each lesson has a reflection element, learning objectives, a ‘read this’ or ‘watch this’ element and then a step to encourage discussion or sharing.” He reiterated the importance of the open, collaborative development approach and the integration of online learning within each face-to-face workshop. They used a simple “flipped classroom approach” (the Derek Bruff model) that focused on using:

  • the “space before coming to class” for introductory learning;
  • the middle or face-to-face portion of a class as a “space for practice and synthesis;” and,
  • the online homework as a “space for further exploration.“

Lucas shared a specific example of one of the most successful online modules – learning objectives. “Participants may find this theme session frustrating as many come to the workshop with extensive experience in writing [learning] objectives whereas other members might be entirely new to the concept. So we substituted a 20-30 min “first exposure” activity online and then focused the face-to-face session on practice and synthesis.” Facilitators have observed that the online practice of writing learning objectives has improved the quality of the objectives; Lucas speculates that it may be the influence of the more experienced participants posting good examples and allowing others to refine their statements.

Jan Ludeart, a PhD candidate, ISW facilitator, and staff member at CTLT, is an enthusiastic proponent of the Flexible ISW. He enjoys the online Introductions session as he finds that participants often share different aspects of themselves that might be missed in brief introductions the first morning of an ISW. The online environment allows participants time to read, reflect and understand what is going to be included in the daily sessions. They can apply their new knowledge to create some artifacts, and the unique website created for each course is available to facilitators after the workshop is complete.

Lucas Wright, Jan Ludeart, and other facilitators at UBC are looking ahead to new challenges this year. They want to structure the Flexible ISW to be more consistent and scaleable. When Jason and Lucas first began introducing facilitators to the model, they had personal sessions where they demonstrated the use of the lessons and website and initiated discussions about “blending” the online into the face-to-face teaching. They want to find a way to “scale it” so that it could be used by a wider segment of the University or be more easily shared with other institutions or larger groups.

Although the Flexible ISW lessons are not yet an “open resource” (an ideal would be to have an open resource site with Creative Commons licensing so other institutions could use it easily), Lucas Wright and others at UBC are working to develop scaffolding around “how to use it” and share resources to help ISW facilitators teach with the online components more effectively. UBC’s Flexible ISW developers presented at last year’s STHLE conference in Vancouver and were pleased at the extent of the interest and positive responses. Hopefully, similar opportunities will unfold to allow ISW facilitators and supporting institutions to explore this successful and thoughtfully designed approach to professional development for faculty and graduate students. Stay tuned for more information about access to these resources moving forward.