By Abby Weingarten
Angie Fairweather, New College’s director of educational technology services (ETS), has been quietly working behind the curtain on campus ever since the coronavirus outbreak.
When the College’s community learned that remote learning would be the norm for the rest of the year, Fairweather became a go-to pro for all things technological during the transition.
“I wear a lot of hats. I’m responsible for the learning management system (Canvas) and I also work at integrating new technologies,” said Fairweather, who holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on instructional technology. “I also work with faculty who would like to integrate new technologies into their courses or have students use technology for a project (or I can work with students one on one).”
In addition to Fairweather, the ETS office consists of Scott Swanson, the audio-visual specialist; and Chris Zampella, the computer support specialist. The team is responsible for the audio and video technology in the classrooms, including projectors and computers. They also manage the Media Lab in the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, and check out technology equipment to students and faculty.
Preparing the campus for the move to virtual communication was quite an undertaking for the ETS staff. Fairweather developed a full “Mastering Canvas” course (a self-guided tutorial with videos) and began offering drop-in sessions with individual faculty members. She helped identify the technologically-savvy superusers on the faculty and made one instructor the “superuser champion” for each division (to act as a leader/mentor).
“Because Canvas is a learning management system, like a website, a teacher can place all the instructional materials and activities online,” Fairweather said. “A lot of the instructors are also doing one-on-one or small group meetings using video conferencing tools.”
This move to a more tech-minded way of teaching can be seen as a positive step for New College despite the unfortunate circumstances, Fairweather said.
“New College’s face-to-face interaction makes it unique and very special, but adding all these tools will just make instructors able to do more,” Fairweather said. “Instructors are already saying that some students who were maybe quieter in class are chatting quite a bit in the video conferences. So, they’re seeing how they’re able to reach students differently now.”
To help the new system operate smoothly, every member of the faculty was required to turn in a high-level plan, which identified how they would communicate with students, how students would submit their work, and how they would give students feedback during the remote learning period.
“Instructors just finished their first week of teaching remotely, and they keep saying our learning curve is helping to lower the curve,” Fairweather said. “To change your teaching style so dramatically can be pretty nerve-wracking, and the faculty members are being pushed to learn new tools, but it’s also empowering. They’re connecting with their students in a whole new way.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.