15 “Things Are Different Now” A Student, Staff, and Faculty Course Design Institute Collaboration

Maggie Debelius; Susannah McGowan; Aiyanna Maciel; Clare Reid; and Alexa Eason

We, the authors of this chapter, are writing as a partnership of Georgetown undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty. Eason recently earned her undergraduate degree; both Maciel and Reid are graduate students and graduate associates at CNDLS; McGowan is the associate director for curriculum design at CNDLS; and Debelius is a professor of both English and learning, design, and technology as well as the director of faculty initiatives at CNDLS.From March 2020 to the time of writing this, our group met multiple times and in many formats about partnering in this work, what this looks like, and how this has an impact on our institution. We use the first-person plural “we” in this piece to describe our team efforts but switch to “I” to share individual perspectives to achieve a coherent balance between our collective and individual experiences in partnership.

Our Online Pivot

Like other institutions across the world, Georgetown University in Washington, DC switched to remote learning in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. Our Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS), which serves as both a center for teaching and learning as well as a center for technology innovation, responded quickly with a series of offerings to prepare and support faculty to teach remotely. Options included a virtual conference on digital pedagogy, a series of cohort-based Course Design Institutes (CDI) throughout the summer where faculty engaged with intertwined principles and best practices from inclusive pedagogy and online course design; and a series of workshops on select teaching topics. As with so many other centers for teaching and learning, we saw a rapid increase in faculty participation as instructors planned for fall 2020 remote courses. We worked with over 1,800 unique faculty through our summer conference, CDIs, and other engagements.

One of the key decisions we made as a center was to engage students in the work of preparing faculty to teach remotely. The decision to collaborate was born out of necessity; we wanted to offer faculty a rich, high-touch experience but lacked the resources to run offerings with CNDLS staff alone. Our experience echoed the Students as Partners work that Healey et al. (2014) describe as “a relationship in which all involved – students, academics, professional services staff, senior managers, students’ unions, and so on – are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together.” They view these partnerships as a process rather than goal, which best describes our own work.

Rather than being an intentionally designed Students as Partners framework, ours was an iterative process that gradually incorporated increasing numbers of students taking on more significant roles over the course of six months. Cook-Sather et al. (2014) identify respect, reciprocity, and responsibility as the three guiding principles of student-faculty partnerships. We propose adding one more “r” to the list: resilience. We mean this not in the sense of resilience to engage in partnerships as has been established in the literature but rather partnership as a form of working that increases resilience to challenging contexts. Not only was our partnership based in respect and mutually beneficial for those involved, but it also reinforced the concepts of shared responsibility and resilience for the faculty with whom we were working. Prototyping and redesigning our training efforts was an exercise in the kind of challenging teaching we were asking faculty to do during the pandemic. Our experience was shaped by experimentation and iteration, which are the same qualities that faculty and students needed as they adapted to the uncertainty, stress, and disruption of remote teaching in the face of a pandemic.

Approaching preparation for the fall through a partnership framework not only enabled us to extend the reach and impact of our CDIs, but also to present realistic, viable options for faculty planning to teach remotely and flexibly. Georgetown did not announce plans to deliver all classes virtually until the end of July, which meant that we spent much of the summer preparing for the unknown. Many faculty expressed concerns about the complexity of adapting their teaching for a remote mode in which meeting learning goals might require them to deliver information synchronously and asynchronously to students across multiple time zones; facilitate discussion in new ways, moderate an online chat, share slides, promote engagement, and more. One described the prospect of teaching in a hyflex classroom as being akin to a gymnast twirling a flaming baton while completing a routine on the uneven bars. It soon became clear that faculty members would need to incorporate the student perspective, possibly looking to students as partners, in new ways in order to navigate and cocreate a new kind of classroom experience.

Theoretical Context

Students as Partners (SaP) scholar Cathy Bovill visited Georgetown in January 2020. She spoke to educational development staff and faculty about her SaP research as well as her emerging work related to relational teaching and the promise of whole-class cocreation. Bovill’s (2020) concept of whole-class cocreation occurs when students and faculty co-design an entire class as an inclusive educational activity and high impact practice. Her presentation focused on the need for equitable engagement in SaP work, ensuring that all students have opportunities to participate. Following her visit, we drafted a proposal to develop a more explicit SaP initiative in our center. While there were examples of SaP work scattered across campus, we identified a need to incorporate students intentionally into the design of learning initiatives based on well-established programs at similar institutions (Cook-Sather et al., 2014; Cook-Sather, 2014; Mercer-Mapstone & Marie, 2019). In March 2020, however, we pivoted our focus from our plans for future SaP initiatives to focus all of our center’s efforts toward preparing faculty and staff for the virtual environment transition.

Amidst the uncertainty at that time, we did not lose sight of the inclusion of student voices. Most of our efforts for preparing for summer and fall semesters were immediate, responsive, and context-specific, focused mainly on evidence-based uses of technology to support learning. At the same time, our center led in efforts to gauge student and faculty engagement in the virtual environment through weekly surveys. Through our established relationships with faculty through the years, we understood faculty perspectives of virtual teaching and learning. In order to understand the student experience, however, we realized we needed to look for ways to include their voices responsibly (and nimbly) into the equation as a means to strengthen the virtual experience at the university. As Sasha Mathrani (2020) writes, “partnership is engagement between student and faculty that pushes the boundaries of traditional hierarchies,” and never was there a better time than 2020 to look for ways to infuse the “partnership mindset” (Peseta et al., 2020) into our plans and preparation as a benefit to our community.

In retrospect, our efforts to engage students as partners in the massive efforts to sustain instructional continuity were more akin to Mercer-Mapstone’s and Marie’s (2019) description of SaP that promotes more expansive opportunities for students to partner with faculty and staff: ways of thinking about partners in rather than evaluators of teaching, ways of engaging in teaching and learning as something done with not to students, and ways of working based on respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility. These SaP values informed our interactions or emerging partnerships with students and faculty in ways that promoted a responsive, agile mindset to a persistently uncertain academic and societal environment.

This chapter affords us the opportunity to look backwards, as Mathrani and Cook-Sather (2020) discuss in thinking about the shape of SaP work,

Direction emerges from how we combine extending ourselves and being receptive to what comes toward us and how we work around the obstacles we encounter. The growth and change that come through pedagogical partnership are not always apparent at the time, but through reflection, they can be mapped backward, continuing that ever-branching rhizomatic growth.

Our SaP work represented here was an implicit, subliminal response to instructional continuity rather than an intentional one. Mapping backwards to Cathy Bovill’s visit, the groundwork for students as partners was emerging in our institution, yet our efforts for instructional continuity compelled us to think in partnership to adapt, to change, and to branch off into multiple forms of support for virtual teaching and learning.

The CNDLS Summer in Context

Influenced by our conversations about SaP, CNDLS designed and delivered programming throughout summer 2020 to prepare faculty for flexible and adaptive remote teaching. We were poised to make such a move because of our 20-year history as a center that integrates teaching and learning, technology innovation, and research. We serve as the university’s center for teaching excellence but we also design and support many of the university’s online classes. Our combined efforts in these spaces positioned us to respond quickly to the shift to remote teaching. Our staff includes faculty developers, instructional designers, technology specialists, media producers, diversity and inclusion experts, web developers, and graduate assistants. We knew we wouldn’t be able to offer the level of support we provide for faculty who teach fully online courses, since the design process for a single course can take up to eight months, but we wanted to draw on our experience in learning design and faculty development to support remote teaching across the university (thus we will continue to refer to Fall 2020 courses as remote rather than fully online).

While we were prepared to work with faculty on issues of teaching, learning, and technology innovation, we faced challenges in scaling up our efforts. We worked with over 1,800 unique faculty members in summer 2020, which is more than three times as many as we had worked with the previous summer.

Table 1
Faculty Participation in CNDLS Programs
Summer 2020 Teaching, Learning, & Innovation Summer Institute Course Design Institute Digital Learning Days Individual Consultations Unique Faculty Overall
Faculty Participation in CNDLS Programs 907 1,137 279 516 1,856

We began with our annual teaching and learning conference in May before launching a more intensive CDI from May to August followed by digital learning days prior to the start of the Fall semester. Below we discuss each component of the summer work with a focus on how student participation evolved throughout the summer as we worked to adjust and improve our efforts.

Annual Summer Conference and Student Panel

CNDLS has hosted the Teaching, Learning, Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) for more than 20 years, offering faculty a space to explore the intersection of pedagogy, technology, and practice. Each year, sessions cover topics from inclusive pedagogies to innovative technologies offered by a range of faculty and staff. While we have always tried to include students in TLISI in the past, the event occurs annually the week after graduation, just after most students have left campus. In 2020, the planning committee pivoted from an in-person conference to a virtual one focused solely on fall planning. This pivot included canceling previously scheduled external keynote speakers and replacing them with two new plenary sessions, one of which was a student panel. Because all programming happened on Zoom, students’ physical location no longer prevented them from participating.

At the request of CNDLS, student Alexa Eason agreed to organize and host a student panel. Here is her reflection on the experience:

At the time, I was a senior in the College studying African American Studies while working at The Hub for Equity and Innovation. I was struggling with what it truly meant to be a Hoya (Georgetown’s mascot) when I had to adjust to learning remotely. I was also coming to terms with what it meant to be alive during an unprecedented time where the environment of this country was being impacted by climate change, a global pandemic, racial warfare, and more. I was in my last semester of college trying to maneuver through new and drastic changes not only impacting my daily livelihood but my surroundings as well. My sense of community and camaraderie was stripped away with my dismissal from campus and the Washington, DC area. I returned home to Connecticut to begin learning through a computer screen, while trying to navigate what was going on in the world around me and how that impacts me in the present and my future aspirations. As I soon realized the advantages and disadvantages that this new reality presented for me, it ignited a drive within me that sought to help reimagine and design what a Hoya experience should be from henceforth. Thankfully, I got the opportunity to be the lead moderator of a student panel during TLISI.

The panel, which we called Cura Personalis in the Cloud, consisted of 8 students from varying years and majors. Cura Personalis is Latin for “care for the individual person;” it’s a key institutional value that includes a holistic view of people and emphasizes their individual needs and gifts. As a whole, Georgetown needs to translate their Jesuit Catholic values, in addition to what it means to be a Hoya and the need to care about others, not only within a virtual setting but also in the midst of the pandemic. Each student was asked about aspects of their courses that were effective in maintaining both a sense of community while also retaining student’s engagement upon campus. While the student panel’s central focus was to hear from students and their shared experiences, it also included small breakout rooms in which faculty and staff could ask the students more specific questions. Students discussed how having professors be flexible, understanding, and provide a balance between work and their social lives, played a role in their engagement with the Georgetown community. Most of the responses focused and delved upon the idea of seeing students more as human, trying to apply a holistic approach, than as simply scholars.

This panel ended up being one of the most highly attended (322 faculty, staff, and students), receiving the most praise of the nearly 20 sessions offered during TLISI. Students and faculty alike commented on the impact and importance of connecting and communicating as they prepared to navigate an uncertain academic environment. The breakout rooms that Eason describes contributed to the sense of reciprocity and shared responsibility that undergirds most SaP work (Marie & McGowan, 2017; Healey et al., 2014) and the concept of cura personalis itself. Values of reciprocity and shared responsibility in the panel contributed an early glimpse of dialogue and shared identity as forms of resilience to take into the summer and impending fall. We chose not to record the panel session to enable open discussion, but we were fortunate to have coauthor, Clare Reid, illustrate what the student panelists said (with their permission):

A cartoon comic strip with three different characters discussing something in three different comic boxes. The first person asks, "But at the same time, my fear is that, once this has "stabilized", professors will expect us to be 100 percent on top of things like before... it's important to recognize that a lot of resources are no longer available to us". The second character in the second box has a thinking bubble above their head that reads some of their worries, "Home, friends, stress, health, responsibilities, family" and a box of text at the bottom reads "A lot of us are handling very different things than just our "student hat". The last box and final character has a text bubble that reads, "I would definitely encourage checking in, especially if a students hasn't been coming to class or if they forgot to turn in an assignment.
Figure 1 Panel Illustration From the Graphic Essay “Cura Personalis in the Cloud” by CNDLS Graduate Assistant, Clare Reid

Course Design Institute Curriculum and Format

After the success of the TLISI conference, CNDLS launched the CDI, a series of 3-day institutes for almost every main campus department and program running from May to August. The intent was to give faculty a deeper dive into remote learning than could be offered in the TLISI conference and a space to begin the hard work of adapting courses and building resilience. Faced with the challenge of preparing so many faculty to teach remotely, we wanted a model that allowed us to reach large numbers while still making room for significant conversations and evidence-based research. We determined four main learning goals for participants:

  • Adapt their syllabus and semester plan for remote learning
  • Meaningfully integrate technology to give students a rich learning experience
  • Adopt intentional teaching practices that focus on engagement, responsiveness, community, inclusivity, and flexibility in an online environment
  • Consider what a “signature” Georgetown course looks like online

Participants engaged in 9 hours of synchronous meetings stretched over 3 days, with some additional asynchronous work and one-on-one consultations as needed. We were successful in reaching the majority of our faculty but faced many challenges along the way, including scaling up and building faculty engagement with key pedagogical issues.

Nearly 2,300 Georgetown main campus faculty were encouraged, but not required, to take part in the CDIs. We wanted to deliver not just a series of webinars and workshops but instead a deeper engagement to prepare faculty to be flexible, resilient, and inclusive. We faced the challenge of doing so with fewer than 20 CNDLS full-time staff members available to lead the effort (all of whom were also working on other projects). In addition to our full-time staff, CNDLS employs more than 15 graduate associates (GAs) in part-time positions from a wide variety of degree programs and departments. Our GAs are truly full partners in the work at CNDLS—they manage social media accounts, write for our blog, help to design and run workshops and programs, perform quality assurance and assist with the design of online courses, and manage digital platforms, to name a few. Because of our longstanding partnership with these students, we were eventually able to support a CDI model of gathering approximately 100 faculty per week for morning plenary sessions, after which the faculty dispersed into cohorts of 15–20 people for discussion and hands-on practice. Each cohort was facilitated by a team of one or two CNDLS staff members, a faculty mentor, and a graduate student coordinator. These collaborative teams allowed us to expand our reach to work with a total of 1,137 faculty in 67 small CDI cohorts over the course of the summer. Not only were we able to reach more faculty as a team, but including faculty, staff, and student voices in the planning and delivery of the institute allowed us to get buy-in and examine the complications of remote teaching and learning from diverse perspectives.

Figure 2
Sample CNDLS Course Design Institute Schedule

We were committed to doing more than teach faculty how to use tools like Zoom and Canvas. Like many universities, CNDLS blends technology instruction with conversations about pedagogy. But we also wanted to engage with faculty around our institutional values, inviting them to consider what makes a signature Georgetown experience and how that could happen remotely. Graduate coordinators organized Canvas sites, sent out communications, moderated Zoom sessions and chats, distributed materials, compiled data, and answered questions about online pedagogy. They also played a key role in the design of the institute by keeping the student perspective at the center of the work.

Although the CDI design was intentional and effective, we determined after the first two weeks that we could leverage our synchronous time with faculty to discuss more important themes. As faculty grappled with new technologies, they were less likely to consider pedagogical choices that we considered central to the remote experience. Drawing on the success of the TLISI student panel, we decided to invite student partners to join us as not only cohort coordinators but as panelists and presenters at our plenary sessions. We shifted our design to integrate a panel of both graduate and undergraduate students into every weekly institute to speak about their experiences in the spring and answer questions from the faculty attending that week. Adding students as session speakers, rather than just coordinators, deepened the level of conversation and switched the focus of the CDI from teaching to learning. It became clear that one element of resilience included thoughtful professional development and relationship building during periods of relative calm; establishing a strong foundation and identifying the value of student partnerships meant we were better prepared to adapt when a crisis hit.

Partnership Perspectives: Presence and Labor

Talking with students about their remote experience rather than talking about them revealed the complexity and diversity of our students’ lives during the pandemic as well as their own resilience and commitment to completing their studies. Leveraging the synchronous time as an opportunity to hear from a range of students, ask questions, and make decisions about their courses informed by a learner-centered perspective proved to be an effective, humanistic response to continue in our weekly institutes. One of the most enduring student contributions to these plenary sessions came from Clare Reid, who not only appeared during our weekly plenaries, but also produced a second graphic essay titled, “Things Are Different Now,” excerpted below.

A yellow box with text that reads "Things are Different Now", By Clare Reid.

a comic strip made up of 4 boxes. The first box includes a cartoon sketch of a zoom class on a laptop. A text bubble from the laptop reads, " I just cannot imagine asking you to write a final paper right now", and a text box at the top of the image reads "Some classes have changed a lot". The second box in the strip has a similar sketch as the first box. A text bubble from the laptop reads, "So, you will have fifteen pages due on the fifth", and a text box at the top of the comic box reads, "Others, not so much". The third comic strip box reads: "Oddly enough, both approaches are comforting. On one hand, it's nice to acknowledge that the current situation is not normal, but at the same time, I need some sense of continuity- I need to keep working- in order to feel like the world is not ending". The last comic strip box has a cartoon sketch of a daily planner labeled with "Daily" and "Gratitude" on the pages. The comic strip box reads: "I keep telling myself that eventually everything will be okay. I am taking stock of things I am thankful for".

A comic strip made up of three comic boxes. The first box is captioned: I am doing more fulfilling work than ever. The first box is divided into three cartoon sketches: A woman in front of a computer screen, a laptop screen of a Zoom class, and a hand sketching on an iPad. The woman has a text bubble that reads, "So that is how yo integrate Zoom into Canvas!", and the laptop Zoom class has a text bubble that reads, "What do we think of Labaree's characterization of higher education as a private good?". The second comic box shows a cartoon sketch of two women doing yoga with the caption reading, "I get to hangout with my mom". And the last comic box has a cartoon sketch of several different papers with the caption, "People are thinking more about pedagogy and access".
Figure 3 Sample Panels From Clare Reid’s Graphic Essay, “Things Are Different Now”

Of course, Reid’s story is just her experience; this is not meant to represent the experiences of others facing different conditions. The most powerful aspects of Reid’s essay are those that refuse easy answers. Many faculty wanted to know whether it was fair to ask students to complete any graded work in the spring, given the global crisis, while others felt a responsibility to teach and assess the full range of content their students had signed up for. Reid’s essay displays the degree to which her professors took differing approaches—and the effect that had on her. The essay also resists the need to pass judgement on remote learning, which she doesn’t categorize as better or worse than in-person learning, but instead sees as being “different now.”

Reid’s presence at the CDI plenary panel sessions allowed her to contextualize her work in important ways, as she does here:

Over the course of the month of April, I wrote, storyboarded, revised and fully illustrated this essay, entitled “Things Are Different Now,” which detailed my transition from living in Washington DC and working and attending classes in person to moving in with my parents in small-town Illinois and working for CNDLS and completing my classes remotely. Specifically, this essay focused on both the personal and emotional experience I had during this transition as well as the pedagogical approaches that allowed me to feel like my coursework, research, and CNDLS work were still meaningful even when rapidly shifted online. I particularly focused on imploring faculty to be flexible but maintain academic rigor, which was a theme we ended up carrying through the summer in our CDIs as a big takeaway for our faculty. Throughout the composition of the essay, I partnered with a full-time CNDLS staff member who helped with revisions and suggested the general direction of the essay. His partnership throughout the process made my work feel less like a novelty and more like a crucial expression of the student and GA experience at Georgetown and CNDLS.

I also find it important to note that I am not a trained artist or graphic designer — in fact, a full-time staff member in the office noticed my doodles and hand-drawn planner pages and asked if I’d be willing to do more of that work. The fact that I was hired to be the assistant to one of our Faculty Initiatives programs and ended up with this and many other illustration projects was the biggest evidence, to me, that people at CNDLS were paying attention to my work and myself as a person, and wanted to showcase my talents — it was the proof that I, as a GA, was a partner with CNDLS staff throughout all aspects of my work. I was also stunned that full-time CNDLS staff members were so enthusiastic about sharing my work, and even more so that my essay would lend its name to this chapter. My inputs as a GA were valued as much as if I had been a full-time staff member, which seems rare for graduate student workers. This is all to further say that at CNDLS I, along with many other GAs, have been treated as true partners and have been given the opportunity, resources, support, and platforms to showcase all of our work.

Unlike a typical semester in which the majority of our students live on campus and eat in dining halls, they were now spread across time zones and juggling responsibilities more complicated than those they might have been facing on campus. In the spirit of cura personalis, checking in on students as an integral component of a pedagogical plan became a cornerstone of our CDI approach. Using Reid’s vivid personal story as a touchpoint, many faculty adopted ways to reach out more intentionally to their own students to try to understand the contexts and conditions under which they were learning in the form of surveys, emails, reflective writing, and office hour check-ins.

Summer efforts to prepare, convene, guide, and support faculty proved time-intensive for all CNDLS staff, yet we held heightened concerns for our student partners’ time. An important aspect of any Students as Partners framework or initiative is ensuring proper compensation for students, either with academic credit or financial compensation. With the exception of our TLISI student panel, all students we partnered with were compensated for their time. Even when compensated, the labor involved in SaP work is significant, especially during a time of global crisis.

Here, graduate associate Aiyanna Maciel reflects on the complexity of her role as a student partner:

Not only was I a frequent panelist during the Thursday “Teach” plenary, but on two different CDI occasions, one in June and one in July, I was asked by institute facilitators to share my student perspective on the Spring semester and hopes for fall more intimately with the weeks’ cohorts. Instead of them only getting a snippet of my experience in the plenary session, they were able to engage fully with my story. At the moment I first presented, protests against police brutality had just unfolded across the country, and I found myself concerned both about the COVID-19 pandemic and the parallel pandemic of systemic racism. I was far removed from my hub of Washington DC and sitting out the pandemic in my small town home in Maine, worrying about my Black and brown friends in larger metropolitan areas. I wanted to donate, protest, and do everything I could to support the movement, but hesitated for fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 and passing it to my grandmother. This first time that I presented, I was working with my own program, the Center for Latin American Studies, so I felt that it was important for them to interface directly with one of their graduate students in order to be able to understand the breadth of experiences their students face. I was able to relate to them, speak with them on a personal level, and relate the state of our world to what was going on in Latin America to help contextualize my story.

I was taking a summer course, working almost full-time, and trying to balance being home with family for an extended period of time for the first time since graduating high school. Even so, I recognize that my situation was privileged, to have been able to relocate to my home with my family and my own workspace, to have food on the table, and to have a relatively stable internet connection for my responsibilities. I recounted these complicated struggles to faculty with the hope that they could delve into one experience with empathy and understanding and see similar situations reflected in their incoming students. My experience was only one, but an example of the many ways the pandemic affected students. By having me, a Graduate Associate and full-time Master’s candidate, take the lead and encourage dialogue, we, as a CDI team, were modeling to faculty what it may look like to involve students in reflective activities in their courses.

Peer-to-Peer Design

Graduate associates also played a key role in our final CDI offering of the summer: preparing graduate students to teach remotely. As our faculty CDIs came to an end, a need to support incoming teaching assistants arose. During the academic year, CNDLS runs the Apprenticeship in Teaching program designed to help graduate students and other developing teachers in their journey to becoming more skilled and reflective instructors through workshops and teaching-related opportunities that draw on research and pedagogical practices. In order to continue this direct support for Georgetown’s future teachers to prepare for the fall, it became necessary to provide an opportunity for teaching assistants to be a part of the CDI training.

Because of the breadth of programs represented in our initial enrollment, the facilitators decided to recruit another set of facilitators and split the group in half. The first set of facilitators worked with the half of the group that was mostly humanities-based programs and social sciences, and the second set of facilitators worked with teaching assistants (TAs) that would be teaching in STEM fields. Just as with the other CDIs, the facilitators and GA coordinators worked together to mold the CDI materials and resources to fit the needs of TAs. A Canvas course contained teaching resources and specific directions on how to use certain tools like VoiceThread, Panopto, and Hypothes.is, as well as some practice assignments using those tools in order to get them accustomed to what their future students may experience in the virtual classroom. In many ways, this CDI approached the training in the same way as the others directed toward full-time and adjunct faculty. Even as students braced themselves for an unusual semester, the TAs engaged in dialogue around teaching practices in an online environment with the same interest and concern for their students as full-time faculty members. Despite being organized in the same way, it was important to make sure that the TAs, some of whom were first-time teachers, partook in the same guidance into the virtual teaching environment with as much support we could provide.

In addition to TLISI and the CDIs, CNDLS continued to offer faculty support throughout the summer in the form of virtual office hours and digital learning days, a series of August workshops on tools and technologies. Once again CNDLS graduate associates played key roles, helping to staff office hours and moderate workshops. Throughout our summer programming and leading into the fall, our GAs and undergraduate students were a natural fit for the challenges presented by designing and delivering personalized content. This partnership was not forged anew in the transition to online learning—rather, partnership with our GAs is a crucial part of the fabric of all operations at CNDLS. Because partnering with students was already part of the fabric of our work environment, we were able to rise to the challenge of preparing our university to teach remotely.

From Pilot to Program: Instructional Technology Aides for Fall Semester

Even as we focused intensive efforts on preparing faculty to teach remotely, we were also mindful of the staggering impact the pandemic was having on our students, including the financial challenges. Many units on campus turned their attention to the dire issue of students’ employment opportunities diminishing due to COVID-19 through loss of internships and jobs. Working with Molly Morrison from Georgetown’s Hub for Equity and Innovation and the employment office, Susannah McGowan led a small pilot to offer students enrolled in the federal work study program in high need of employment for summer jobs to support faculty teaching remotely. A core team of 12 students, led by an experienced undergraduate TA, supported 33 courses representing one third of all students enrolled in summer session courses. Students supported courses through monitoring Zoom sessions, organizing materials in the course LMS, monitoring student activity in LMS, troubleshooting technology, peer tutoring, and collecting feedback from students about their wellbeing and experience in their courses. Faculty feedback indicated a strong appreciation for the support received in the ability to create a seamless, technological environment enabling faculty to focus on course materials. One faculty member noted, “Just a quick note of thanks for offering the SCA program this past summer session. [SCA] was a huge help to me and the class. Her ability to help organize the Canvas site freed up me [sic] to do my primary duty – teaching and interacting with the students.” Across the faculty feedback there were descriptions of true partnerships in making the courses engaging and investment in connecting with students.

The successful feedback around the summer course assistants convinced administrative leadership to scale up the program as a form of support for the fall semester. The early indications of a successful pilot translated into a plan to scale the program to any interested faculty member who requested additional support. Through CNDLS, the Provost’s Office, and the Student Employment Office, and points of contact within each school of the university, a call went out to undergraduate students across the university who were enrolled in federal work study to become instructional technology aides (ITA). The ITAs supported faculty in many of the same ways that the SCAs did over the summer terms through organizing materials and troubleshooting technology on behalf of the faculty member or students. In total, the program hired 150 undergraduate students across each year level. Scaling from 12 students in the summer to 150 for the fall led to unique challenges in working across departments for administrative purposes in addition to providing quality training on the main technologies used.

In order to provide the ITAs with the skills and support they needed to begin their position in the fall, CNDLS incorporated three students from the summer pilot program to be their lead coaches. Alongside Aiyanna Maciel and Susannah McGowan (CNDLS), the lead ITAs led live training sessions from mid-August to late September. The live training sessions had two facilitators to guide recently hired ITAs through their responsibilities in maintaining a virtual environment for the courses they would support. The live sessions allowed for discussion on basic instructions for the course management system, a discussion forum for questions, video testimonials from experienced ITAs, and a detailed outline of where to go and whom to ask for help throughout the semester. With 150 ITAs and 214 participating faculty, feedback indicated initial success in supporting faculty in remote teaching. This program is far from perfect and is in the beginning phases of deciding how we could infuse more elements of partnership, yet this collective, institutional response to remote teaching opens new possibilities for engaging in teaching and learning environments with students as an institutional, collaborative approach.


Referring back to Mathrani’s and Cook-Sather’s (2020) vision of Students as Partners work as multidimensional and demonstrating “un-ending” growth, we experienced Students as Partners as an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process that unfolded as a necessary response to pandemic preparation. Without our initial groundwork in identifying the importance of having students as partners, we would not have been able to pull off the CDIs and other efforts with the same degree of success. We began with a fortuitous, inspirational visit from Cathy Bovill, convened a successful TLISI student panel, relied on graduate students to co-design portions of the CDI, further reinforced by including students as CDI presenters and panelists, pulled in students to staff office hours and workshops, and launched a new undergraduate instructional technology assistant program to give faculty access to trained student partners in remote classes. Just as we worked to build faculty resilience in the face of the unknown, so likewise we built our own resilience as faculty developers as we developed deeper and more meaningful relationships with student, staff, and faculty colleagues across campus. Our experience suggests that building connections across staff, students, and faculty is also essential to building pedagogical, curricular, and institutional resilience. It has become something of a pandemic cliché to say, “We’re all in this together,” but it’s a cliché that resonated with us in the summer of 2020.

Initial results indicate that our combination of instructional efforts was effective. Student surveys conducted monthly indicate that student engagement increased significantly after the majority of our faculty had participated in our CDIs. As devastating as the effects of the pandemic and racial strife have been on our campus, in our region, and globally, we firmly believe that we have developed a deeper understanding of what it means to teach with students rather than teach to them as a result of our instructional continuity efforts. We are at an inflection point in teaching and learning; higher education will never look the same, even after the discovery of vaccines and effective treatments. While many may mourn the loss of the classroom as we once knew it, we also heard time and again from faculty that if and when they do return to the classroom, they will rethink their approach as a result of this experience. As Gärdebo and Wiggberg (2012) argue, “If there is to be a single important structural change during the coming decades, it is the changing role of students who are given more room in defining and contributing to higher education.” We saw a glimpse of this future as we prepared for instructional continuity. Rather than dwell on whether the experience of remote learning has been better or worse, we prefer to acknowledge that things are different now.


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"Things Are Different Now" A Student, Staff, and Faculty Course Design Institute Collaboration Copyright © 2021 by Maggie Debelius; Susannah McGowan; Aiyanna Maciel; Clare Reid; and Alexa Eason is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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