Lessons from the Pandemic

Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation addresses evolving classroom needs

By Tina Eshleman

The coronavirus pandemic has given William & Mary’s Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation (STLI) an urgent purpose: Help faculty and students adapt to remote and hybrid classes and thrive in this altered environment.

The studio opened in August 2019 as a hub to encourage faculty collaboration across traditional boundaries and leverage new technologies that support diverse modes of teaching. These services have been particularly vital as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Partnering with W&M Libraries and Information Technology, STLI offers video tutorials, training seminars and workshops on digital tools, resources and strategies. Its website also includes examples of how faculty members are using technology in their courses, under headings such as Data Visualization, In-class Presentation and Oral Storytelling.

Philanthropic support through the For the Bold campaign has bolstered STLI’s work across William & Mary’s schools and departments. Since the onset of the pandemic, donors have contributed more than $146,000 to the STLI Fund.

“During this time of unprecedented challenges, private funds have been critical in supporting faculty in pivoting to new modalities and retooling assignments so that students continue to have meaningful learning experiences,” says Ann Marie Stock, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs, who led a team in crafting a vision for STLI.

Photo courtesy of the Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation

Foundation and individual gifts have enabled STLI to acquire equipment such as microphones and webcams needed by faculty. These funds also have covered the cost of graduate assistants to support instruction and helped pay expenses for software programs and online exhibitions, among other needs.

To prepare for the fall semester, STLI offered “Convert Your Course” and “Blended Learning @ W&M” programs for faculty members last summer. The studio also worked with University Registrar and Associate Provost Sara Marchello and other campus partners to categorize course delivery methods that students could search online and to create an inventory of outdoor spaces available to use for instruction. STLI tutorials have received over 31,000 YouTube views and its digital resources have been accessed more than 22,900 times.

“We continue to hear from faculty about how they are experiencing success in trying new techniques and strategies,” says Mark Hofer, STLI director.

Looking to spring 2021 and beyond, the goal is to learn from the shift to remote and blended learning to find practices, strategies and mindsets that ensure William & Mary emerges from the pandemic equipped to meet evolving needs of students and faculty.

One recent addition is STLI’s teaching innovation fellows. Supported by funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, these nine faculty members from a range of disciplines lead book groups, plan workshops and training, and offer insight on outreach initiatives.

Photo Credit: Alfred Herczeg

STLI also has hired 25 student learning partners who assist faculty in facilitating Zoom sessions, prepare course materials, provide tips on media creation and offer workshops to help their peers create websites and other multimedia projects.

Limitations imposed by the pandemic prompted brainstorming about how to collaborate creatively and serve more people. One result was a webinar series, “Leading with Compassion: Reflections and Tools for Leaders Focused on Service & Community,” spearheaded by STLI advisory team member Roxane Adler Hickey M.Ed. ’02, interim director of the W&M Washington Center. About 400 students, faculty, staff, alumni and others attended each of the three sessions, which paired faculty experts and prominent alumni in addressing aspects of leadership.

“We understood that not only employees, but alumni and the rest of the world, were looking for professional development during this time of physical distancing,” Adler Hickey says. “Each session had a lesson you could take home and use.”

Response to the series was so enthusiastic that a follow-up course is planned for the spring semester. Hofer and STLI staff members will assist with designing the tuition-based course, which will advance William & Mary’s exploration of a continuing studies model.

During the last two semesters, additional needs have emerged. Among them: an endowed director position and more funds to hire student learning partners and support faculty. There’s also a desire for a more permanent, expanded physical space.

“We have learned a great deal from this crisis,” Stock says. “The William & Mary community is resilient, hard-working and above all, committed. We do what it takes to succeed in the moment and to plan for the future. I think I can speak for most of us — if not all — when I say we are exhausted, but we are also energized by all that we are managing during this difficult time and exhilarated about the possibilities around the corner.”