Teaching is not a solo art. It’s a practice that thrives on connecting people and ideas. At no time are these connections more important than during a crisis.
When COVID-19 struck and RRC staff and students switched to online program delivery, the instructors behind Red River College’s popular Faculty Fridays teaching blog loaded rocket fuel into their publication schedule and hit LAUNCH.
Their mission: to help keep RRC’s teaching community supported in the face of new technology and difficult challenges.
They began by posting to the blog daily – no small undertaking on top of their regular roles and responsibilities at the College, but a task made easier by reaching out to colleagues and asking readers lots of questions.
“Like most people, we wanted to help,” says Janine Carmichael. “We know our community well, and we knew that colleagues needed a place to give and receive ideas, inspiration and support. If we could contribute to that through daily posts, then we were all in.”
Carmichael, an instructor in Teacher Education and Amanda Le Rougetel, an instructor and coordinator in Communication, began Faculty Fridays off the sides of their desk three years ago. Together they collaborate on all aspects of the blog, keeping a tight focus on the issues uppermost in the minds of their fellow instructors. The instructor-led blog is a unique form of professional development for those who read, comment and try out the shared practices.
The blog welcomes input from everyone, regardless of their role at the College.
“The more people who contribute from different perspectives, the richer and more productive the conversation,” says Le Rougetel. Staff in the College’s administrative, professional and support areas are among the blog readers, “and we really welcome their contribution to the evolving conversation about teaching for learning at the College.”
As the pandemic has progressed, the variety of voices contributing to Faculty Fridays has proven invaluable to staff and instructors seeking a broader view of the struggles faced by their students in the virtual classroom and beyond.
“Instructors want answers to questions like, How do I teach well using technology? How do I cope with students struggling with job loss or financial stress or other problems caused by the pandemic?” says Le Rougetel. “Sometimes a reader from Student Services or ITS, for instance, will have exactly the insight or resource they need.”
When RRC switched to online program delivery in March, both bloggers witnessed the widespread adoption of video conferencing platforms across the College, and recognized a powerful new tool for bringing their community closer together. Out of this, FF@4 was born: a WebEx forum open to all RRC staff every Tuesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. where participants could share experiences, resources and solutions face to face.
The uptake, says Le Rougetel, has been lively. “That’s one of the greatest strengths of a community such as this. A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Faculty Fridays and FF@4 are now on pause for the summer break, but Carmichael and Le Rougetel continue to toss around ideas for evolving and extending their community in the future.
“Regardless of the pandemic, our goal remains the same,” says Carmichael. ”We want to do our part to help nurture and celebrate teaching for learning at the college.”
Carmichael and Le Rougetel also presented at two teaching conferences last year on the blog. “We’ve been told that what we’re doing — an instructor-written blog focused on building a robust community of practice — is fairly unique,” says Le Rougetel. “Other post-secondary institutions want to try it out for themselves. When folks who care about good teaching want to come on board, that’s meaningful validation.”
Ultimately, it might also mean that as COVID-19 forever changes the ways we teach and learn, Faculty Fridays is well positioned to help instructors achieve their A game in the coming terms.