Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of Concordia, there have been many people across faculties and departments collaborating in innovative ways. The goal? To make sure that online course delivery was ready for students by March 23.
From the time that the university closed its two campuses and libraries, there has been a flurry of activity going on behind the scenes to prepare for the first day of virtual classes.
Robert Cassidy, director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and his team have been working almost around the clock – through the adversity of their own self-isolation and with sick children and parents to care for. Together they built the workflows and protocols needed to support faculty members in the online delivery of their courses.
The CTL is supporting every class at the university and also providing support to all faculty members and students.
Accessibility is a major consideration for their team. If students have minimal equipment and minimal internet, there are solutions for them. For those who have visual, hearing or motor impairments, the CTL is making sure that they are equally able to learn online.
‘We were deeply touched’
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the CTL staff have not been working alone. A group of dedicated Concordia Library team members have been collaborating with the CTL to make the transition to online courses a reality.
In preparation for the major transition, the CTL developed a series of options or workflows that professors might want to use to deliver courses online without having to completely redesign their courses. Knowing that many professors would need assistance to do this, the centre was concerned they wouldn’t have the capacity to respond to anticipated requests.
The Concordia community was quick to react. A simple request for help from Sandra Gabriele, vice-provost of innovation in teaching and learning, and Guylaine Beaudry, vice provost of digital strategy and university librarian, put things into motion.
Beaudry, with the coordination of Dianne Cmor, associate university librarian for teaching and learning, sent an email to all of the librarians, library professionals and library systems technicians asking those who could help to attend a meeting that afternoon on March 13.
When Cassidy and some of his team arrived at the library, they were welcomed by about 25 volunteers ready to lend a hand. Librarians, professionals and technicians now make up the new Online Workflow Support Team.
“We were shocked – and deeply touched – to walk into a room of so many volunteers. They made four times the human resources of our unit, stepping up to help us out,” he says.
From the initial briefing that Friday, during which the CTL team ran through the prescribed workflows with the library volunteers, the team got to work training themselves through the weekend.
Given that all were working from home, they were also provided with a crash course on Microsoft Teams given by Paul Fournier, director of digital strategy in the Office of the Vice Provost of Digital Strategy, which allowed them to communicate and share with each other while they were learning the workflows.
During this condensed learning period, the library team has had an opportunity to enhance their overall digital capabilities, as they learned to use and navigate around platforms such as Teams, Zoom, Moodle and Yuja.
Cmor has been very impressed with the amount of learning and collaboration that took place.
“I have been watching the team training themselves and supporting each other, and it’s been an incredible thing to witness. MS Teams has allowed everyone to learn from each other and it really demonstrates this collaboration platform at its finest.”
As Cmor goes on to explain, “The goal was to learn the CTL workflow in a type of ‘just-in-time’ method. Then the librarians and library professionals could assist the faculty members on the workflow when they ran into problems, and also be a calm presence for faculty under a lot of pressure who needed a little extra support.”
‘It was incredible to see how the team members learned together’
Cassidy and Cmor worked to differentiate their support roles in terms of what was needed by faculty members. As the CTL team are the pedagogy experts, they have been handling the more specialized cases that benefit directly from their expertise.
The library team have been taking care of the more general and technical cases, which has freed up a significant amount of time for CTL staff to focus on thinking strategically about putting resources into place and expanding the amount of support that can be provided.
Of the approximately 25 people in the library providing this support, five are technicians. They are handling all of the IITS service desk tickets since they are very familiar with this system already.
Their knowledge and expertise have been extremely helpful for sending the tickets to all of the different librarians and library professionals and ensuring that they are being distributed optimally. None of this frontline support would be possible without these technicians.
For both Cassidy and Cmor, the team learning that has come out of this experience and that continues to evolve is remarkable. “It was incredible to see how the team members learned together and taught each other as they went through the workflow documentation,” Cmor notes.
“The workflow training turnaround time was quick. But, more importantly, the team helped each other so that they could help faculty – which was the main objective. The librarians and library professionals have been simply amazing!”
According to Cassidy, since the first day of online classes began on March 23, things have been running fairly smoothly, with few emergencies or dropped balls to contend with.
This collaborative effort is a great example of the whole Concordia community working together to meet a challenge head on while providing the very best for its students.
“With the library support and despite the small team in the CTL, we are really well positioned to support faculty members and students in our new digital reality,” Cassidy says.