The Return of In-Person Support…Kinda

With the start of the Fall 2021 semester came the return of people being back on campus. This meant students, instructors, and staff were once again breathing life into the buildings on campus. And with everyone coming back to campus, that meant everyone coming back to our office for support with their teaching, instructional design, and technical questions, right? Well, not quite.

While the return has been a mostly pleasant shift back into familiar routines, not everything has gone back to how things were before the sudden 180 that was 2020. In particular, the modality of supporting faculty is quite different. In the Fall 2019 semester, for instance, the TLi team had 109 in-person visits and 24 Zoom support consultations. Fast forward to the Fall 2021 semester (we’re going to skip over the 2020 semesters because in-person support wasn’t an option) and those numbers look very different: 29 in-person visits and 70 Zoom support sessions (as of 11/8/2021).

Taking a look at another metric of support, the number of closed work orders assigned to TLi for the Fall 2019 and Fall 2021 (thus far) semesters also look quite different. Since TLi’s Academic Technology team manages academic technology tools, we receive work orders for requests like course imports and help with CI Keys sites, for example. These work orders consist of questions/inquiries that originated as either emails or phone calls to the CI help desk and then were routed to the TLi Academic Technology support team. In Fall 2019, there were 75 closed work orders and in Fall 2021 (as of October 31, 2021), there have been 196 closed work orders.

Graph showing the number of closed work orders per month in the years 2019 (first, yellow column) and 2021 (second, orange column)

So, what does all of this mean? The point of this post isn’t to say, ‘Hey, look at how busy the TLi team is!’ I promise. (Although, shoutout to my amazing colleagues behind those numbers, because it is impressive). Instead, this trend of data, in its current limited scope, allows us to make some observations and also poses some questions and opportunities: What does teaching and learning support look like in today’s environment? How can we be most effective? Is the return to fully in-person work the direction we need to be headed?

First, it’s clear that people want to be able to get support where they are, when they need it, without having to go to a specific location. I think this has always been the case to some extent, but with the year-plus of all of us working from home and getting used to being able to connect with people in a digital space from the comfort of our home office (or couch), it’s become more normal and acceptable; and in some instances, preferable. This isn’t to say that support should be 100% remote all the time. Not at all. Offering in-person support and training is great! We love it. But we also understand that sometimes attending a workshop means having to make an extra 30-minute commute and it’d be great to have the option to attend without that extra hassle. We hear this from our students too when it comes to online courses. The flexibility of being able to take a class online allows for students to more easily fit work into their daily lives. The same rings true for support needs. In fact, TLi was founded with a philosophy of “untethered” learning, development, and support. Now, we are truly living it.

In response to some of the questions, I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to any of these, but I do see opportunities for our team in being effective resources for CI faculty, some of which we’re starting to do already. The first is to practice what we preach and be as flexible as possible with our training opportunities. TLi is utilizing a hybrid approach to our training and workshops so that participants can attend either in-person or online. This is something that we’ve done in the past here and there, but we’re moving to make it the standard offering. This approach also allows us to model what effective flexible teaching and learning can look like. 

In addition to live, facilitated training opportunities, there’s also a need for searchable support that’s available on-demand, 24/7. To answer that call, we started our TLi Knowledge Base, which contains support articles, videos, and archived webinars that cover topics such as how to use different digital tools for teaching and digital teaching strategies. This resource is one that we are continuously adding to so that people have a resource to search for ideas and how-tos outside of the regular 9-5 support hours. We’re also always looking for suggestions for topics/articles to add to the knowledge base via the ‘Suggest an Article,’ button at the top of the site.

I think it’s safe to say that all of our ‘normal’ work lives have changed in more ways than one. How we adapt and pivot to these changes will be an ongoing evolution, fuelled by empathy and flexibility.

2 thoughts on “The Return of In-Person Support…Kinda

  1. Very interesting. We have similar successes and challenges.

    How about we get our two teams together for some coffee and cookies and chat about what is working and what ain’t? We can talk shop a bit and just hang out with colleagues from afar? What say you? Sending you all similar invite via the tweet.

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