Symposium Spotlights: How Teaching and Learning Programs Shifted Focus During the Pandemic

Duke Learning Innovation co-hosted the 2021 Pandemic Pedagogy Research Symposium on May 5, alongside institutional partners: the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of MichiganPenn’s Online Learning Initiativethe McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton, and the Stanford Center for Professional Development. The Symposium featured presentations and panel discussions on new and emerging research related to teaching and learning during the pandemic with a focus on applied scholarship that advances the art and science of teaching. 

In the presentation How Did Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Programs Shift During the COVID-19 Pandemic?, Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning and Executive Director of the Sheridan Center at Brown University Mary Wright and Emmajane Rhodenhiser, a senior at Brown University majoring in neuroscience, showed how CTLs changed after the onset of COVID-19.

Wright opened her portion of the presentation by noting that CTLs were already experiencing alterations before the pandemic. She then differentiated this presentation from other recent research about the relationship between CTL work and the pandemic: “The study Emmajane and I present today takes a different lens, an empirical and systematic overview of U.S. centers and their programs.”

This research is part of Wright’s larger book project on CTLs, but the presentation focused on two variables: workshop topics and whether or not centers had digital learning staff (e.g., instructional designers, educational technologists).

Key Takeaways 

Wright and Rhodenhiser grouped workshops by twenty-eight focus categories, including topics such as diversity, equity, inclusion; online/remote/hybrid transition and engagement/active learning. Through comparing pre-pandemic workshop offerings to those during the pandemic, they found that there was an overall increase of these common workshop topics after the pandemic began. Wright and Rhodenhiser connected workshops, as well as the work performed by these institutions, to the type of staff CTLs employ:

  1. Notably, digital learning was not the workshop topic that grew the most. Rhodenhiser noted that while this might seem counterintuitive to the fact that instructors had to transform their classes for online learning during the pandemic, with a greater context — the fact that instructors had to rethink how they engage students or give assessments — it made sense that topics such as active learning saw large increases.
  1. Centers with digital learning staff were resilient, as they were able to provide more programming on both traditional design topics and digital learning.
  1. Focusing on “core” workshop topics (course design, diversity/equity/inclusion, etc.) gave faculty the ability to think about their courses from the ground up as they made design choices. Wright also noted that external factors beyond the pandemic shaped the work of CTLs, including the 2020 election and “calls for racial equity and accountability.” 

The Big Picture

“If you worked at a Center for Teaching and Learning and felt busy, that’s because you were,” Wright said. “At least as measured by only by one-program type, workshops, there was a mean increase in offerings, comparing centers coded pre- and post-pandemic.”

Turning to the book Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education by Joshua Kim and Edward Maloney in her conclusion, Wright emphasized that her research supported the book’s claims that “the future work of learning professionals will be centered around institutional resiliency.” 

While Wright and Rhodenhiser focused their presentation on the connections between short-term programming and CTL staffing, their analysis provokes further questions of how to make CTLs resilient but also how they might invest in strengthening teaching and learning at their institution.