An Agile and Design Thinking Approach to Faculty Development During and After the Pandemic

Diane P. Janes, James Beres, Matt Karns, Terri Eklund, and Christina Tulloch
Innovation Showcase

In the December 2020 issue of Innovation Showcase, Diane Janes and Lorraine Carter (2020a) described educational institutions’ pivot to “remote operations, quarantine, and technology-enabled strategies for working and learning” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (para. 1). In particular, the article described how Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) ensured the techno-resiliency of instructors. In response to the shift to fully online teaching and learning, the Centre for Academic Development and Innovation (CADI) created several initiatives, including the Teaching Online at SAIT series, a SharePoint site with resources and links to support faculty self-service, a digital learning exchange, and an interactive SAITGo2 tool, all while continuing to mentor and coach faculty as needed. This article will focus on the evolution of the Teaching Online at SAIT series.

Developing Teaching Online at SAIT

In a presentation to SAIT leadership in early 2020, the following question was posed by Volta Learning Group: “How can SAIT most effectively prepare its faculty to teach confidently and competently in an online/digital learning environment?” In March 2020, the CADI team of educational developers responded to the polytechnic’s need for effective online teaching and this question by creating three new online courses for its Teaching Online at SAIT program: Practical Applications in Teaching Online (PATO), Expanding the Practice of Teaching Online (EPTO), and Reflection on Ideologies in Teaching Online (RITO).

The educational developers who designed the series used agile thinking and Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework, which focuses on technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge. The course series was designed to show instructors how online content (what is being taught) and online pedagogy (how the teacher imparts that content and engages with learners) form the foundation for any effective technology integration.

The courses were designed using varying degrees of asynchronous self-study, synchronous group work and discussions, and assignments that focused on independent reflection and creating authentic assessment for learners. Each course was a prerequisite for the subsequent course. PATO was the first in the series and considered by the educational developers to be an intervention—an opportunity to “explore the available educational technology and how to blend it with applied instruction and course content to meet outcomes” (Centre for Academic Development and Innovation, 2020b, p. 5). From April to June 2020, the 12-hour PATO course supported approximately 500 instructors, leaders, and staff with a completion rate of 85 percent (Centre for Academic Development and Innovation, 2020a).

In response to PATO, and concurrent with the PATO delivery schedule, a shortened overview course—Overview of Practical Application in Teaching Online—was created to better allow SAIT leaders to support faculty during the transition from face-to-face to online learning. The 4.5-hour concurrent course was designed to put educational leaders at SAIT at “the centre of this introduction to Practical Applications in Teaching Online (PATO) as they consider ways in which they will be able to mitigate barriers and further support faculty completing the Teaching Online at SAIT program” (Centre for Academic Development and Innovation, 2020b, p. 1).

The second course in the series, EPTO, was created in late 2020, early 2021. EPTO built upon PATO by supporting the transition from setting up, creating a community, and delivering material online to “applying theory-based rationales for their online teaching practice” (Centre for Academic Development and Innovation, 2020b, p. 9). Using participant feedback regarding their experience with PATO and reported time-on-task, CADI faculty chose to increase EPTO from a 12-hour course to a 16-hour course. Between April and June 2021, 45 faculty, leaders, and staff took EPTO with a completion rate of 80 percent (Centre for Academic Development and Innovation, 2020a).

With two of the three courses underway, and 15 months into the pandemic, the CADI faculty were left with a question: Is RITO the right choice for the third course given all that faculty had experienced thus far?

Reassessing Teaching Online at SAIT

When the Teaching Online at SAIT series was created, the educational developers worked with an agile mindset, focusing on “fast feedback, producing iterative releases, and … rapidly adapt[ing] the design plan to best meet the needs of users” (ExperiencePoint, 2019, para. 3) who were pivoting to online learning with four days’ notice before the polytechnic closed (Janes & Carter, 2020a; Janes & Carter, 2020b). Trying to solve the question of how to move the series forward, the design team chose to shift to design thinking—creating a space for collaboration, getting feedback from PATO and EPTO participants, and “allowing that feedback to drive the next iteration” (ExperiencePoint, 2019, para. 9).

The educational developers invited the 36 faculty who had completed both EPTO and PATO to join them in an online World Café experience. The World Café concept was created in 1995 and, in its original iteration, participants “[form] into small, intimate table conversations about the questions that had drawn them together, recording their insights on makeshift paper ‘tablecloths.’ They periodically interrupted these conversations to switch tables so the insights and ideas that stayed with them might circulate, deepen, and connect” (The World Café, 2021, para 2). The CADI educational developers modified the Café experience to go online as outlined below:

  • Faculty groups were assigned rather than randomly formed to ensure diversity.
  • An educational developer introduced the World Café and online format.
  • The other three educational developers facilitated breakout discussions focused on different questions, including “How do you innovate your online instruction?” “What concepts require further exploration for teaching online at SAIT?” and “What do you require to progress pedagogy online?”
  • Each breakout discussion lasted 15 minutes.
  • At the end of each 15-minute discussion, the groups would rotate to the next breakout room.
  • A whiteboard was created to capture the discussion allowing all three discussion topics to be recorded in the same place.

The modified World Café discussion, titled Teaching Online at SAIT: Consultation, was held in MS Teams on June 22, 2021, and attended by nine faculty members. Over the hour of engagement, participants shared their views on the three questions, in small groups of three, and discussed how they saw Teaching Online at SAIT, and teaching at the institution in general, moving forward during and after the pandemic. The discussion was rich and resulted in data that was to be perception checked by the educational developers to ensure accuracy.[1]

Next Steps

The World Café discussions and the impact of a hybrid/hyflex future of blended learning led to a decision to take the third course of the Teaching Online at SAIT series in a different direction than originally planned in March 2020. The current state of the third course is still under review. However, we do know that,

After the pandemic, online learning will be a strategic priority for every college and university. Even those schools that only serve traditional-age 18-to 22-year-old full-time students in residential-only programs (a tiny minority of all schools) will need to prioritize a set of core online learning competencies to ensure institutional resilience. Across every type of postsecondary institution, from elite residential private universities to commuter community colleges and everything in between, online education is now a strategic priority. (Kim, 2020, para. 3)

Over the fall 2021 term, the educational developers have been drilling down into the data collected from the World Café using a thematic analysis to identify the themes and main concerns of the participants. This will give the CADI team direction in programming to assist instructors as they navigate post-pandemic and to support many of the teaching innovations that were created at SAIT during the past 18 months. As we move back to a face-to-face teaching environment, we have an opportunity to further encourage and develop teaching innovations based upon the success of Teaching Online at SAIT as well as resources created during series development.

Final Thoughts

No matter what it looks like and when it occurs, the shift in teaching and learning will happen, and continue to happen (Govindarajan & Srivastava, 2020). Faculty in higher education need to be prepared and willing to innovate in many ways, more than in the past. This won’t be the last global pandemic or the last request of them to move to new ways of thinking in teaching and learning. For these reasons, creating techno-resiliency in faculty that is sustainable is needed more now than ever.

SAIT’s digital learning strategy (2019) notes that, “New and emerging technologies that have the potential to support or enhance student success will be explored, researched and tested in line with institutional priorities and capabilities” (p. 8). Using research, experience, and agile and design thinking, SAIT has strategically positioned itself well to support its faculty who will, in turn, support SAIT learners.


Centre for Academic Development and Innovation. (2020a). Records for PATO-EPTO-ISW. [Internal spreadsheet]. Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Centre for Academic Development and Innovation. (2020b). Teaching Online at SAIT. [Internal proposal]. Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

ExperiencePoint. (2019, July 19). What’s the difference between agile and design thinking? ExperiencePoint.

Govindarajan, V., & Srivastava, A. (2020, March 31). What the shift to virtual learning could mean for the future of higher ed. Harvard Business Review.

Janes, D. P., & Carter, L. M. (2020a). Beyond the pandemic: Community of practice and techno-resiliency. Innovation Showcase, 15(20). League for Innovation in the Community College.

Janes, D. P., & Carter, L. M. (2020b). Empowering techno-resiliency and practical learning among teachers: Leveraging a community of practice model using Microsoft Teams. In R. E. Ferdig, E. Baumgartner, R. Hartshorne, R. Kaplan-Rakowski, & C. Mouza (Eds.), Teaching, technology, and teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stories from the field (pp. 265-273). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Kim, J. (2020, November 2). 3 essential attributes of a centralized online learning unit. Inside Higher Ed.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for integrating technology in teachers’ knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108 (6), 1017–1054.

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. (2019). SAIT Digital Learning Strategy 2019-2022. [Internal Document].

Volta Learning Group. (2020). SAIT Working Group Progress to Date. [Internal Document].

The World Café. (2021). History.

Lead image: The World Café utilizes small conversation groups (pre-pandemic photo, used with permission)

Diane P. Janes is Coordinator, Faculty Learning and Development, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. James Beres, Matt Karns, and Terri Eklund are Educational Developers and Christina Tulloch is Associate Director, Centre for Academic Development and Innovation, at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

[1] As of late September 2021, the data was still in the analysis phase and not yet ready for sharing.