While the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated an abrupt shift to a remote setting, the UC Irvine (UCI) family quickly banded together to make this move possible. Because UCI’s commitment to changing the face of higher education is a central part of its culture, many of the tools and resources to make a successful transition were already in place. Through the rapid responses of various units, the campus was able to transform this existing framework to create a sense of guidance and stability in an uncertain time.
OIT and OVPTL Resources
For instance, there have been tremendous efforts by the Office of Information Technology (OIT) and the units of the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (OVPTL). This includes the rapid development of the UCI Learn Anywhere site to provide resources and helpful information for students and the UCI Teach Anywhere site to help faculty convert their courses online and leverage available technology. OIT also rolled out the UCI TechPrep site to assist students, faculty and staff with the technological impacts of a remote school and work environment.
DTEI Support for Faculty and TAs
While the first priority is always students, one of the best ways to support UCI’s student body is by supporting the faculty and TAs that teach them the critical knowledge and skills they need for future success. Megan Linos and her Digital Learning Team at the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) have played a critical role in helping faculty transition to remote instruction.
For instance, the team established virtual office hours where faculty can receive support in real-time. During Spring Break, 10-15 faculty attended office hours daily. Currently, the team is assisting approximately 12 faculty per week by appointment. The Digital Learning team is also hosting a series of Remote Teaching Webinars to help faculty adopt digital active learning strategies and emerging technologies to enhance students’ virtual learning experience and support their learning needs. The team offers two webinars a week with 30 to 40 faculty participants in each session.
Additionally, in collaboration with Professor Di Xu from the School of Education, Megan and her team have created the Digital Learning Institute (DLI) to assist faculty with the challenges of online teaching and course development. To highlight the incredible interest in online learning, the first cohort of 20 faculty filled up almost immediately, with a current waitlist of nearly 100 instructors. To be added to this waitlist for DLI sessions running this summer, please visit the DLI website.
This work has not been accomplished in isolation. Megan and her team have benefited from their partnerships with the entire DTEI team and OIT. For example, through these partnerships, the units have been able to provide enhanced technical support for faculty using the Canvas Learning Management System and were able to make the Anteater Learning Pavilion (ALP) available to 50 faculty and TAs who needed the space and technology to teach their courses. Collaboration between Megan’s team and Danny Mann, Director of Graduate Student & Postdoc Instructional Development, has resulted in the Summer Remote Teaching Institute where graduate students can learn new pedagogical strategies and prepare for the demands of remote teaching. Finally, the entire DTEI team has developed a collection of online resources for faculty to reference.
As soon as it became clear that the campus would require remote teaching, DTEI began to mobilize faculty for peer to peer support. According to Andrea Aebersold, DTEI’s Director of Faculty Instructional Development,
We recognized that the shift to remote teaching was going to be a major challenge for faculty, so we wanted to provide as much assistance as possible. This included not only an array of DTEI-run programs, but also highlighting the tremendous amount of expertise that exists among faculty across campus.
In response, Andrea brought together a team of faculty fellows and volunteers to partner with DTEI and offer virtual office hours so faculty could ask questions and see examples of remote teaching options. They also hosted faculty discussion groups that focused on themes such student engagement and inclusive teaching as well as reading groups about remote teaching strategies.
In addition to the work from DTEI, each School has brought faculty together to support each other in the transition to remote teaching. Here we highlight three of those approaches.
School of Social Ecology Forms Remote Instruction Resource Team
In the School of Social Ecology, Dean Nancy Guerra assembled a group of faculty, administrators, and TAs to comprise The Remote Instruction Resource Team (RIRT). Led by Val Jenness, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, the RIRT’s mission is to help the School of Social Ecology respond to the many challenges presented by the quick move to remote teaching.
In addition to developing an easy-to-use resource guide, the RIRT offers individualized support to faculty and other instructors as they provide remote instruction and take a leadership role in anticipating future challenges related to remote teaching. They also surveyed undergraduate students to understand how they were adjusting to remote learning and to gain insight into what faculty could do to better serve their students. Based on the student feedback, the RIRT issued a report that summarizes student responses and offers best practices (from the point of view of students) for remote instruction and learning.
Speaking about the RIRT and its success, Professor Jenness explains,
The School is fortunate to have a team of talented teachers, staff, administrators, and TAs come together—very quickly and with ease—to work collaboratively in order to serve our students by supporting our teachers. This gets to the heart of what we do and demonstrates our commitment to fulfilling our mission as teachers as best we can under difficult conditions. The Dean built this infrastructure with short, midterm, and long term goals in mind, and it seems to be working well.
Claire Trevor School of the Arts Offers Considerations for Remote Instruction
Within the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs Alan Terricciano leveraged faculty and student affairs feedback to develop a series of considerations to help them prepare for the possibility of a remote Fall 2020 Quarter. For faculty teaching the arts, the demands of social distancing make certain aspects of instruction virtually impossible.
As Associate Dean Terricciano notes, “How we train people in the arts will always require an immediacy of connection in order for it to be effective pedagogy. You can’t train artists, ultimately, if we were to be entirely online.”
However, he recognizes that students are already comfortable accessing art through digital media. Given this trend, he explains that the current situation provides an opportunity to embrace a new mode of exchange in the arts—one that faculty can explore through remote teaching. As faculty engage with each other and share their challenges, successes, and ideas, the Claire Trevor School of Arts can continue to offer the quality education that students expect.
According to Associate Dean Terricciano,
The mode of exchange of art in the 21st century has been transformed. More and more of it is online, and people watch more on their computers, on their phones, and on TV. So one of the things that we should take from having to make this transition to remote teaching is embracing that mode of delivery into university culture a little more deeply. It’s not that we’re reinventing ourselves so much as embracing what’s going on in the commerce of the arts right now and expanding our curriculum to address this expansion. And I always feel that the university can be a place that leads in this regard. I believe that the efforts of the entire Arts faculty, particularly the experienced faculty within all four departments, in sharing their expertise and support communally and collectively, has already articulated a model for this leadership.
School of Social Sciences Develops Website to Support Remote Instruction
In the School of Social Sciences, Dean Bill Maurer supported a number of efforts to provide support for faculty during this unique time. As Jeanett Castellanos, Associate Dean of the School of Social Sciences, explains, some of the top challenges that faculty faced were connectivity and bandwidth concerns, as well as computer and technical issues. Faculty also expressed the need for Zoom and Canvas training, additional support, and equipment.
To support staff, the School quickly launched the Remote UCI School of Social Sciences website to assist with the transition to remote teaching and learning. Additionally, the School assigned remote faculty coaches to assist faculty in each department, provided faculty computer and camera loans, and created a special email list for instructors and TAs to establish direct weekly communication and offer updates and resources. Associate Dean Castellanos acknowledges that, while all these changes were stressful, faculty navigated the transition with perseverance and grit.
Associate Dean Castellanos also credits Janet DiVincenzo, Instructional Designer at DTEI, with helping faculty make a smooth transition. Janet held regular office hours where faculty in the School of Social Sciences could get help with issues as soon as they emerged. She also collaborated with Dean Bill Maurer and Associate Dean Castellanos to design and deliver several Zoom workshops that over 100 faculty and teaching assistants attended. Janet continues to offer faculty ongoing support with pedagogical advice, training, and troubleshooting services.
When discussing her support efforts, she says,
I approached this assignment knowing that faculty would deal with this new challenge in different ways. A decade of working with faculty on their online classes has given me ample insight into what works. You have to meet people where they are and not make assumptions. You have to listen and be patient.
As our faculty and staff work together to find ways to thrive in this new teaching environment, we want to make sure that our students have the tools and resources they need to succeed as well. To offer support, the OVPTL Communications team is developing a website to serve as a central hub for remote student learning. Additionally, DTEI has also created a Canvas course to help students develop study skills for remote learning. Titled “DTEI 003: Remote Student Success Guide,” the course offers tips, strategies, and resources for students to leverage as they adapt to their new learning environments.