By Sally Cunningham
Sally Cunningham is a Program Design Fellow for the Online Learning and Technology Consultant Program. She first joined as an Online Learning and Technology Consultant at Bishop’s University in 2020 and formerly worked for the Maple League as the Student Fellow for Community Networks.
I began my work as an Online Learning and Technology Consultant (OLTC) from my mom’s kitchen table. I hadn’t seen anyone my age for four months and had recently been told that I likely wouldn’t be returning to campus in the Fall. When I first heard that news on a work call, I was inconsolable for days. There seemed to be no hope, no way forward. My time at Bishop’s was over, one year and a thousand memories too short. This news, combined with a family death and other personal concerns, looked like it was shaping up to be a pretty hopeless summer except for a single job interview I had lined up.
When I joined the group interview for the OLTC program, I was overcome by the enthusiasm of the students in the call. It was the first time I had seen my classmates after months of lockdown and the first of countless times that I would connect with them on a screen. Instead of witnessing a group torn apart by isolation and uncertainty, I saw the same hunger to create, to move forward instead of backward, in each of the little Zoom boxes. The OLTC program was a reinjection of hope. It still is, as we build for new challenges and new collaborations, as we tentatively tiptoe out from behind our screens and back to the classroom. As we tell ourselves to not go “back” to normal but forward through the pandemic portal with all of our findings and all of our shared hope. I am inspired by the work of my colleagues, by their empathy, and creative visions for bettering the landscape of higher education through collaboration.
The joys of Maple League Schools, for me, distills down to the sense of community. This same sense of community that did not dissolve as the world closed its doors, but adapted, shifted to accommodate the new rules. I found this sense of community with my assigned Student Working Group with the OLTC program. I held onto the connection of our group last summer as though it were the only thing grounding me because, in a way, it was. Because of how desperate we were to find any light at some end of the pandemic tunnel and because of how we could help each other to see spots of brightness through our work redesigning courses for online delivery, our Student Working Group became incredibly close as colleagues and then as friends. The resilience and hopefulness of my fellow OLTCs has helped me to recognize my own passion for higher education. As OLTCs and as students we recognize a need to pull together and create community when it seems to fray, we recognize the transformative potential of blurring the lines of hierarchy between student and instructor, we recognize the hope and determination necessary to carry the delight of learning into new spaces and back again. This awareness has become an invaluable tool as we have partnered with professors, collaborated with each other, and realized that we are, in fact, better together.
Now, as a Program Design Fellow for the next phase of Online Learning and Technology Consultancy, I am excited to work and build with new students. The OLTC program gave me a purposeful path of hope and I am overjoyed that I can continue shaping that spirit of collaboration as the program extends outwards and adopts new voices.