Initiative fills learning technology support gap at UBC

By emi1989 posted on February 2nd, 2016

In 2014, UBC conducted a survey asking instructors about their technology-related teaching support needs. The results showed that instructors were unhappy with learning technology support on campus—it was a long and inconvenient process. They wanted to access support that was delivered right away, where they were working.

In response, the university created the Learning Technology Rovers (LTRs), a group of co-op students who work within individual faculties, providing learning technology support for instructors. “This is a unique role in that they are fully managed and hired by the faculties but the background HR is provided by CTLT,” said Kalev Hunt, an Instructional Technologies Analyst for Science at CTLT.

According to Hunt, the university has a mandate to increase undergraduate student contact with professors and the initiative was an interesting and unique way of doing that. “When you think about [increasing student to faculty contact] you usually think about providing more research opportunities for undergraduate students. This was a different twist in that students were going to be supporting faculty and in a way functioning as experts for their professors.”

That summer, two faculties, Arts and Science, piloted the initiative, and since then it has expanded across campus. “It’s a really successful model,” added Hunt, who helped hire the first group of LTRs. “There’s a great diversity of backgrounds with the co-op students which helps bring varied perspectives into the workspace.”

Dorothy Mung, an LTR with the Faculty of Science, has been on the job for four months. As a generation five LTR, she was able to inherit some of the knowledge and expertise from senior generations. “It’s a really collaborative environment. Even though we’re in different faculties, we try to provide resources for each other and make our jobs easier.”

According to Hunt, LTRs are often hired on an eight-month basis. Hires are staggered and take place every four months. This means whenever a new LTR starts there’s always at least one person who’s actually already been in the job for four months and can take a leadership position.

For Mung, being able to share the expertise she’s built over the last term shows her how much she’s grown. “To think four months ago, I didn’t know most of this stuff and now I’m helping someone else learn about it.”

A typical day as an LTR might include helping instructors with basic workings of WordPress or Camtasia, setting up iClickers or web conferencing or even recording videos for classes.

“Many times the instructors are stuck with a certain learning tool and they can’t find the answer online, so our job is to reply, provide instructions and update the documentation that’s at UBC so that if they do run into a problem again they will be able to find that information. That way next time they won’t have to wait for a reply from us,” said Mung.

One of the things Hunt would really like to emphasize about the work LTRs do is its breadth. “People think it’s just troubleshooting, but it’s really a range of different services—anything from a quick appointment showing an instructor how to create a page on WordPress to really spending months helping an instructor with a particular project,” he said.

“What type of work you do really depends on which faculty you’re in,” added Andrea Gonzalez, an LTR who works in the Faculty of Education. “We are available by email, by phone or we rove to instructors’ offices if they need any hands-on help.”

Gonzalez, who has also been in this position for four months, says the experience has been rewarding. “I’ve really learned a lot about time management, multi-tasking. There are quite a few times where you’re juggling so many tasks that you really have to prioritize and really set out a list of things to do.”

To make their job a little easier, LTRs have found ways to collaborate. They have created the LTR Hub, a website with resources for new hires as well as for senior LTRs. They also come together weekly to share experiences and work on campus-wide projects, including a video explaining what LTRs do and the services they provide.

For supervisors like Hunt, these collaborations came as a surprise. “What’s amazing is that these things all happened organically. We didn’t tell them to create these resources or to make the video. They decided to do that on their own, and it’s really helped them build a sense of community and purpose,” he said.

According to Hunt, the initiative has become a successful model across campus. Almost every faculty now has LTRs. “And if they don’t have LTRs in the official capacity, with funding provided centrally, they will often get so much out of the experience that they will use their own funding to hire a co-op student to basically function as an LTR,” he concluded. “It’s a model that seems to be quite popular. It works.”