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Innovations that Transformed Instruction

With HGSE's shift to remote teaching, faculty members share how technology helped them explore hands-on learning experiences, foster community, and continue the conversation outside the classroom.

This past summer, HGSE faculty faced a challenge like no other, as they prepared for an academic year in which all instruction would move from the classroom to computer screens. Instrumental to that transition — supporting faculty and ensuring that students continued to have rich and unparalleled learning experiences — were the instructional designers and learning specialists at HGSE’s Teaching and Learning Lab (TLL).

As experts in learning design, learning technology, media production, instructional coaching, and data analysis, members of the TLL worked alongside faculty members to design innovative instructional solutions like interactive videos and technology simulations. Through one-on-one supports and small-group resources like workshops and brown-bag lunches, the TLL introduced and reinforced research-based principles around successful online pedagogy.

While many worried that the shift would make it more difficult to build community and connections between students and content, the hard work and intention from both the TLL and faculty members resulted in a true transformation — online learning that, according to TLL director William Wisser, is “humanizing, empathetic, and inclusive.” To ensure that the transformation extends throughout this year, TLL teams are continuing to support 33 faculty members across 28 large-enrollment courses and have provided resources and workshops for 80% of the seminar-sized courses this fall.

Reiminagining Courses — and Community

One course that fully reimagined its instructional delivery is Lecturer Gillian Todd’s Negotiations Workshop. Known for sessions that require intense collaboration and group discussions, the lectures didn’t always translate effectively to Zoom. “We realized quickly that we needed to think differently about how to divide up lecture and interaction,” Todd says. The TLL provided Todd and her team with a support structure, helping to resolve and think through using asynchronous lectures, distributing simulations, when to use discussion boards, and helped them create an organized Canvas page so students could access resources easily. “This was technical support but also an emotional support system,” Todd says.

Similarly, Senior Lecturer Junlei Li and Professor Stephanie Jones, co-teaching Linking the Science of Human Development to Practice and Policy this fall, knew they wanted to avoid lengthy Zoom discussions, but worried about ensuring continuity in content. Working with the TLL, the faculty members developed “throughlines” or themes that cut across the many fragments of the content. “It lent coherence to an otherwise fragmented format,” Li says, noting that he’s already started to see the tremendous impact of this organizational structure on student learning. “We included them in weekly videos, talked about them in class, used them in relation to assignments, and soon enough, students start to repeat and use them in their own writing,” he says.

In addition to helping structure course content and materials, the TLL’s learning specialists have also been instrumental in helping faculty think intentionally about building classroom community. Jones’ and Li’s course has 112 students enrolled, and without a physical meeting space, building those connections could have been challenging. “We’ve tried to approach this challenge by bringing in student voice and experience in as many ways as we can,” Jones says. The TLL’s recommendations helped the teaching team document and share student reflections and experiences in concrete ways, using the Padlet app or a discussion board to capture student comments. The teaching team then circulates a biweekly newsletter to the class, complete with cartoons and illustrations, showcasing student insights and questions that have emerged.

“We’ve tried to approach this challenge by bringing in student voice and experience in as many ways as we can.” – Professor Stephanie Jones

“The collaboration with Junlei and the interactions with students who have been so committed and participatory have really been a highlight,” Jones says. “It’s how developmental science should be taught and reflected.”

Since every faculty member teaching this year has engaged with the TLL in some capacity to transform their course, the TLL has expanded its support network to help meet the demand. “We could not have made the quick pivot to online without the work of the eight recent Ed.M. graduates whom we hired as Online Learning Fellows,” Wisser says. “Their perspective on the student experience, especially after the quick move to online in the spring, coupled with their enthusiasm and desire to give back to the school made them invaluable contributors to projects across the TLL portfolio.”

The Online Learning Fellows, in turn, say that the adaptability, creativity, and empathy of their HGSE faculty collaborators has been essential — a hallmark of their experience both as former students and as members of the TLL. “Faculty always keep the learner front and center as they make tough decisions on how to adapt their material and let go of some of their tried and tested methods, to deliver a great experience in this new normal,” fellow Ragini Lall, Ed.M.’20, says.

Indeed, according to Wisser, the learning innovations pioneered by the TLL and HGSE faculty this year will continue to influence practice, even when in-person instruction resumes. “Faculty members have pushed their practice in ways that will benefit instruction in any modality,” he says.