By Sally Cunningham and Alisha Winter
Project Design Fellows Sally Cunningham and Alisha Winter got a chance to sit down with fellow student and Online Learning and Technology Consultant (OLTC), André Lacroix, to discuss his experience with the OLTC program. He joined the pilot program in the summer of 2020 and continues to work closely with his Student Working Group as we head back in-person in 2021.
Bishop’s University student André Lacroix describes the OLTC program as a “collaborative opportunity for students to actually learn the behind the scenes workings of the classroom and the effort it takes instructors to prepare for a class.” He finds that the program is also an opportunity for faculty to learn (or relearn) the “impact of their teaching methods on their students. It’s fulfilling for both sides.” André first interviewed for the OLTC program because it offered a chance to make a difference for the future of online learning. He is excited to expand on the scope of his work last year as the program goes into its second year with the intent to collaboratively redesign in-person and online learning. With approximately 25 people on the call, the Zoom interview was “the most intensive interview ever… but not in a bad way,” says André. “I could focus on any part of the conversation I wanted to. I could message or reply in the chat, and everyone got a chance to unmute and speak… I got a good sense of how the job would feel with that group—passionate about learning.”
That sense of enthusiasm continued through the group training, which took two weeks. André found the Moodle tutorials interesting as they showed a side of the classroom that students never get to see. Navigating edits in Moodle is a necessary skill for OLTCs as they help professors curate and organize content. Another aspect of the training that André found eye-opening was participating in the Maple League Better Together Sessions hosted by the Virtual Maple League Teaching and Learning Centre. He found the session ‘Anti-Black Racism in Education: Creating a Safe Place to Have Questions Answered’ hosted by Wendy Mackey, Dr. Ornella Nzindukiyimana, and Dr. Ronald Charles particularly relevant and helpful (follow this link to watch the recorded session: https://youtu.be/oWf90D83JXE).
Throughout the training, Student Working Groups (SWGs) teamed up with Faculty Mentor Models (FMMs) as a first introduction to working in collaboration. As part of the Humanities SWG, André worked closely with Maple League Executive Director, Dr. Jessica Riddell. André tells us that “working with Dr. Riddell was great because she gave us the materials to work with for her class then let us create what we could dream up.” The Humanities SWG would meet for brainstorming sessions with Dr. Riddell, then work independently to come up with as many creative solutions as possible. This freedom and style of collaboration was “the perfect introduction to designing course content,” says André; it gave the SWG the tools to think about course design from the perspectives of both the instructor and student, as well as giving them the trust to implement their ideas. “We could then place that model into another class or create a brand new model for classes going forward because we had practiced.”
André credits the collaboration with his Student Working Group as a key element of the success of the program. “It was after we finished training and we got further into the summer that we started to understand where our strengths lay, and we could really focus our energies on helping professors. We were able to delegate tasks based on skill sets but still rely on each other for bouncing ideas.” The Humanities SWG would delegate one point-person to each instructor they worked with to conduct communications. There would then be a second appointed OLTC who would also attend every meeting and provide a second opinion or springboard for ideas to the point-person OLTC. This way, the process remained not only a collaboration between instructor and student but also between OLTCs.
During his time as an OLTC, André started to specialize in podcasting. He recommends it for any instructor whose class is discussion-based but requires lectures at any point in time. It’s a different form of learning that doesn’t require the same immersive focus as a video and allows for movement in a way that reading inhibits. “You can absorb [a podcast] into your day… [Delivering lectures through a podcast form] helps both faculty and students. On the one hand, the professor doesn’t have to prepare lecture material each semester because it can be done in advance; on the other hand, students don’t have to sit through an entire lecture at once, they can exercise different mediums, and the in-class discussion can have more questions because students arrive prepared,” says André. Since beginning his work as an OLTC, André has become involved in professional podcasting outside of the program. He uploads a weekly film review and analysis podcast called Let’s Go to the Movies! Learning about podcasts and audio editing, skills he has developed through his work as an OLTC, has been beneficial for André.
Overall, André’s experience with the OLTC program has given him insight into how he is supposed to learn in a class and empathy for instructors creating a class and the work that goes into it. He says that he can look at a syllabus more critically: “I can see how [the instructor] has structured content and see how everything is interlinked, or how certain assignments fit with how the course is meant to progress. I can also get a more profound understanding of learning objectives and how everything intertwines. Of course, that all depends on whether the professor has put that time in on their end to line up the learning objectives and assignments. I definitely have a deeper appreciation for the work instructors do to get ready for us to learn.” André will continue his work with the OLTC program this Fall at Bishop’s University and is excited to merge online and in-person learning tools for the upcoming semester.