Instructors from multiple sections of a first-year English course have participated in a community of practice (CoP) since 2020 as a space to support, mentor and collaborate with one another to address educational disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on shared experiences in regular bi-weekly instructional meetings, the team collectively developed teaching and learning approaches to engage students.
The team initially started with faculty members in the Department of English and Cultural Studies who were all teaching a section of ENGL 109, a course designed for both international and domestic students who wish to develop their university-level communication skills through extended practice.
“Understanding the differences in our teaching approaches were valuable because they offered good input in terms of our pedagogical practice, and newer ways of looking and thinking about the course,” says Anita Chaudhuri, Assistant Professor of Teaching in English and Cultural Studies. “We hoped that the conversations would inform our practice, scholarship of teaching and learning, and that students would feel better engaged and motivated to participate in the new online environment.
The idea of a community of practice was first initiated by Jordan Stouck in 2017 as the first year English Coordinator, and the tradition continues with Anita Chaudhuri as the Chair of the ENGL 109 CoP.
The CoP addressed some of the changes that became apparent and were important to deal with during this time, such as, shifting unexpectedly to remote teaching, accommodating the needs of diverse students who were undergoing their own challenges, and addressing mental well-being.
Saeed Sabzian, a lecturer in the department says that the CoP has been a really productive experience for him during the pandemic. “The meetings helped me to navigate what I needed to do. When our team got together, specifically when the COVID lockdown started, this community has been a source of support for me in many ways, from deciding on what exactly we should do with teaching, what methods work best in the context of the lockdowns, designing assignments how to mark them, and all the difficulties that the students were having and how best to communicate with them.” he notes.
For Jing Li “this was a highly collaborative community where each member cares for each other, particularly during those challenging times. It was important to have this teaching community that supported me through these challenging times.” Li joined the team in 2020 while teaching ENGL 109 and now teaches technical communication in the School of Engineering.
She adds that the team talked a lot about student mental health struggles and issues, and at the same time being a support for faulty members who were experiencing their own struggles. “Together we have worked to create a community culture where we supported and collaborated with each other to help our students, and also to become better educators.”
The group grew over the last two years to include faculty members from other areas of instruction and includes Anita Chaudhuri, Aisha Ravindran, Jordan Stouck and Saeed Sabzian, Jing Li, Sherry Breshears, Bridget Trainor, and Rina Garcia-Chua.
“In the fall of 2020, we were all struggling with isolation and technology. Through the meetings, even though they were online, we began to get to know each other and, with that, developed trust,” says sessional lecturer Bridget Trainor. “This feeling of trust led to a desire to do our best for our students and for each other.”
Even though times and teaching conditions have changed, the CoP has benefited from the bi-weekly conversations and continues to sustain what they have developed in terms of support for each other.
Members of the Community of Practice presented at the International Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference that was held at UBC Okanagan on November 4th, sharing thematic outcomes of their participation in the group.
‘As agents of change, we consider the learning transformations that we will carry forward to new situations’
The presentation at the ISSOTL conference was titled, Using community of practice to inform SoTL transformation and growth: Five university instructors’ reflections (2022). At the intersections of SoTL: Transfer and Transformation, Diversity and Inclusivity.