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More than just a website: OISE online learning team delivers practical support in COVID-19

May 14, 2020




At the start of April, just weeks after the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – and all of Ontario – was locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Chair of the department of curriculum, teaching and learning, Clare Brett, announced a new initiative that will take some of the uncertainty out of online learning for faculty and students.

The new website, Teaching and Learning Online, features a learning path for both teachers and students with many resources about the most familiar platforms at OISE: Quercus, Zoom and PeppeR. The site was designed to be a one-stop-shop for those who have a variety of online experiences but need some guidance or want to orient themselves with the online mode of delivery.

Brett, who leads the online learning team, advises the team on how to address issues students and faculty are facing as they transition to e-learning environments. An advisory team made up of students across curriculum, teaching and learning programs at OISE, key staff, faculty and representatives at Education Commons (the Institute's IT service) will help ensure the Institute is well-equipped to deal with ongoing concerns and emerging issues experienced by the community. 

Project lead Preeti Raman and Teresa Avery, both doctoral students, coined a hashtag that underlies the team’s efforts: #OISEOnlineTogether is all about how we can come together as a community to learn and grow during this challenging time.

The site will continue to evolve, taking cues from web analytics and the integration of real-time questions from teachers and students. For instance, the site's resources now include updates from the University of Toronto's Accessibility Services, Family Care Office and new Equity Focused Digital Pedagogy and Learning guide by Phoebe Kang – an OISE doctoral student.

More than a web-hosting team

The online learning team has created a community. Many teachers have offered to 'pay it forward' by providing one-on-one teaching support for others – from scheduling a session to learn about Zoom break-out rooms to sharing ways to meaningfully interact with students in a lecture-based course.

Arlo Kempf, secondary coordinator for the Master of Teaching program, said the resource was outstanding, highlighting the initiative and its supports. “This is really wonderful.” 

At a recent meeting with MT students and faculty, Kathy Broad, Acting Associate Chair of Teacher Education, highlighted how powerful and reassuring it was to have the online learning team rapidly provide personalized supports for the entire community as we adapt to changes under the pandemic together.

Broad said the team responded to questions and concerns in meetings in "real time", shared experiences and actively developed next steps based on the discussions.

Matthew Stodolak, web-developer and Vice-President External of the OISE Alumni Association has also joined the online learning team. "It is always a fulfilling experience to return to OISE and work alongside its researchers. I'm excited about the possibilities for this resource," said Stodolak.

“This site has been a massive force for good in our community by helping provide instructors and students the tools they need to succeed in online learning,” he added.

Kim MacKinnon has been teaching online with OISE for 13 years. In her brief blog series, which is part of the new online resource, she addresses some of the major questions instructors have been raising with respect to online teaching for example, how to structure group work and online assessment.

MacKinnon says the resource gives instructors consistent access to a range of supports for online teaching – including examples of strategies that other teachers have used successfully.

Faculty have also taken advantage of some one-on-one time with the support team. Karyn Cooper from The Wellbeing Emphasis at OISE, had this to say: 

"I had the great experience of learning the intricacies of both Quercus and Zoom with Dina Soliman. She is a gifted teacher who very quickly learned about me as a learner. Wisely, she listened to my perspective (mostly fear, at the beginning) while she supported my techniques and goals for teaching remotely."

Copper added that Soliman was not only knowledgeable about the subject matter but was thoughtful and kind. "She checked in with me during the first week of my remote teaching. Dina is a professional who truly cares, and this was an incredibly valuable learning experience."

Soliman, a doctoral student in the curriculum and pedagogy program, says the initiative helps take some pressure off instructors, who put a lot of effort into ensuring students stay motivated and continue learning during the pandemic.

“It is an opportunity to give back to our OISE community during these challenging times,” says Soliman, who is also an eLearning Specialist at U of T Scarborough.

The online learning team will soon be launching live training sessions.

Visit and follow the hashtag #OISEOnlineTogether for remote teaching and learning resources and sessions for parents, teachers and students. 

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