Humanizing Learning: A Round Up of Trent Online’s Experience at TESS2020

A few Trent Online staff had the opportunity last week to attend and participate in eCampusOntario’s TESS2020 Conference. We thought we’d put together a blog post to report back and reflect on our experiences. So keep going to read about some highlights from Maureen Glynn, Stephanie Park, and Terry Greene.

Maureen’s Highlights

eCampusOntario’s TESS (Technology and Education Seminar and Showcase) conference is always a highlight of the Fall semester for me, as it is an event that consistently offers practical, actionable takeaways and generous sharing of ideas by our colleagues from across the province (university and college faculty, instructional designers, technologists and educational developers). TESS is typically held in person, but this year’s virtual event did not disappoint. In fact, it was made all the richer by the fact that the participation was significantly expanded. Freedom from the logistics and constraints of a physical gathering allowed eCampusOntario to increase the number of available tickets (which were completely free of charge!). I gained insights from almost every session that I attended, but some of the biggest highlights of the conference for me included:

  • Student Perspective on Remote Teaching & Learning:

This panel, hosted by Chris Fernlund (a proud Trent alum!), who Manages eCampusOntario’s SXD (Student Experience Design) Lab, introduced the student voice to the conference proceedings early on the first day of the event. Given that the conference theme was Humanizing Learning, this presentation set a tone of empathy and inclusion, which would be echoed through many of the other sessions. I’d love to see more student panels as a standard element of higher ed conferences for teaching and learning.

  • James Skidmore- Communicating the Humanizing Qualities of Online Education

Since the beginning of the global “pivot” back in March, James Skidmore has generously and openly shared his advice and insights as an experienced online educator. In his presentation at TESS, he logically and systematically debated some of the current dialogue around the deficits of virtual learning environments, when compared to classroom teaching. His session, and the Q & A that followed helped to highlight the shortsightedness of pitting one mode of learning against the other and the wisdom of acknowledging that, as one participant observed (Kelly Brennan, Laurentian University) “Education is an experience, not a place”.

  • Fireside chat with Michelle Pacansky-Brock

This session was a favourite of many of the conference attendees, and it is difficult to do justice to Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s work in just a few sentences. That said, when it comes to online teaching, she recommends intentionally including humanizing elements to courses “from the first click”. Some great examples of Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s ideas in action were offered through Lisa Koster, Kim Carter, and Marie Rutherford’s Liquid Syllabus TESS presentation and the site (linked here) that accompanied it. 

Stephanie’s Highlights

The TESS conference has been on my radar for a while, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to attend previous years. I was extra excited to be able to finally attend this year for two reasons: #1- the theme “Humanizing Learning” is one of the guiding principles of my own work; and #2- I attended from the comfort of my home office and drank much better coffee than ‘conference coffee’! These are some of the highlights I’d like to share from my experience.

Innovation. Cue the session Secrets from the OER Lab with Sarah Stokes (Ontario Tech). Ontario Tech’s OER Lab is a student-run group and was founded this past spring. Their commitment to collaborating on the creation of more affordable and more accessible high-quality resources is seriously impressive. Not only is this a valuable contribution to the open education movement, but it is also a wonderful example of how to humanize learning by having the student voice at the heart of it.

Takeaways! And no, I don’t mean the buttons, pens, and other swag typical of in-person conferences (not to diminish those, they are great too!). I’m talking about both the concrete examples, tips, and points; as well as, the A-HA moments that are triggered by a simple sentence or phrase that you won’t soon forget. I came away with some really memorable and overlapping takeaways from the Fireside chat with Michelle Pacansky-Brock and the Keynote with Dr. Santa J. Ono (UBC)

Connection. Ono acknowledged how lots of faculty members are feeling unsure as to whether they’re doing a good job when talking to a computer screen because they are missing the usual in-person feedback like body language and facial expressions, especially when student cameras are turned off. Pacansky-Brock suggested instructors ask themselves why they want the cameras on and if their answers begin with, “I can’t tell…I don’t know…I…”, they might want to reconsider their motivation and rethink their position. She suggested instead to try inviting their students to turn on their cameras by simply expressing how much you would love to see their faces if that is within their ability to do so that day. Ono also shared a great tip that one of his faculty is using with success. She preselects 5-6 students per class to be designated respondents for each class who actively voice the questions from other students in the chat.

Vulnerability. Pacanksy-Brock had me at her inclusion of this Brene Brown quote, “Vulnerability feels like weakness, but it looks like courage”. She encouraged faculty to embrace their vulnerability and to share it with their students because it is where connections start, and it breeds empathy. Start small and see the impact. Ono echoed its importance when he said, “One of the most compassionate things you can do as a faculty member is to show your vulnerability…even when there isn’t a pandemic.” Honestly, I’m not sure there is a better takeaway from the whole of 2020 than that. 

Needless to say, TESS 2020 was worth the wait! A big thanks to @ecampusontario, to the organizers, and to all of the presenters for a great virtual experience. See you in 2021!

Terry’s Highlights 

I was afforded a bit of a unique TESS experience as one of the hosts for the VoicEd Radio Hospitality Suite. This was the second time I’ve joined Stephen Hurley to broadcast TESS conference discussion to anyone who cares to listen, whether they are part of TESS or not. Our plan was to host “Before or After Shows” in which those who presented could join us to discuss their sessions in a bit more of a casual environment. We ended up conducting over 20 interviews with presenters, attendees and organizers. I enjoyed every one of them,  especially with a few people whose work I hadn’t come across before:

  • Saddiya Rose from Humber College highlighted some of the tools that she uses to promote student voice in her classes.
  • Kahente Horn-Miller shared some insights about her work on the Collaborative Indigenous Learning Bundles Project at Carleton University 
  • Anna Rodrigues joined us to chat Designing for Diversity from her experience as an educator and visual artist.

All of the VoicEd Radio interviews will be made available soon. Also included are interviews with new eCampusOntario CEO Robert Luke, BC Campus Executive Director Mary Burgess, OCADu’s Jess Mitchell and many others. 

The theme of the conference seemed to set the tone for everyone who joined us as they openly shared their thoughts in a relaxed manner. We even had the chance to visit one of our guest’s backyard chicken coops to see how they were doing (they were doing great, in case you were wondering). And I directly benefited from all the humanizing myself, since no one got too upset with me when I accidentally shut the Zoom room down for everyone as I left an interview early to attend another one! Some may say that I was subconsciously trying to drive more attendance to the Online Course Design for Humans workshop with Trent Online’s own Maureen Glynn… We’ll never know for sure.

It’s Not Too Late!

If you want to catch all the action (and you literally can still catch nearly all the action) check out eCampusOntario’s Youtube Channel where session videos will be posted soon.

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

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