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CITL teams helping to put I-Connect training online

Feb 10, 2021, 11:30 AM

When Milind Basole asked his then-Illinois freshman daughter about school last spring, he didn’t realize their casual conversation would lead to a new campus partnership to deliver diversity and inclusion training to all first-year students this year.

For the last two months, the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning, where Basole serves as the lead eLearning professional, and Office of Inclusion & Intercultural Relations (OIIR) have been preparing to move the I-Connect training from a face-to-face format to a digital one. They hope to roll out the first of two parts in late February.

OIIR provides I-Connect training to all first-year students, including transfer students, to help them understand and embrace their differences and shared experiences “in order to build a welcoming and engaged campus community.”

Previously, the training was delivered in a two-hour-long workshop in classrooms and campus housing across Urbana-Champaign. The sessions, facilitated by fellow students, used collaborative exercises and engaging discussions to build participants’ communication and collaboration skills and ability to learn and work in diverse environments.

When Basole asked his daughter about school in Spring 2021, she told him about her I-Connect workshop, which she attended in person. A short time later in mid-March, the COVID-19 lockdown closed the face-to-face sessions down, and OIIR scrambled to hold them on Zoom.

“They tried to do some of the same things they did in the face-to-face training … but it was kind of hit and miss,” Basole said.

After investigating a bit and talking to Teryl Brewster, OIIR’s Interim Director of Educational Programming, Basole proposed that teams within CITL collaborate to adapt the training to an online format. The teams – which included eText@Illinois, Instructional Media Resources, Instructional Design, Faculty Development, and Program Management – got to work in December.

“The team put in a lot of effort to understand the project and how the content would be used to educate our students,” Brewster said, adding she appreciates how members worked hard to ensure she understood the process and her involvement as the content expert.

“The services provided were a holistic experience,” Brewster continued. “It has been a very rewarding experience to work with CITL to provide a quality product for our students here at Illinois.”

The online training will have an asynchronous portion delivered through eText, and a synchronous portion delivered through a one-hour Zoom workshop – requiring of students a time commitment of about two hours. While there’s still work to do, developers hope the eText will be available toward the end of February and the first workshops will start a month later.

CITL will also be involved in training the facilitators, said Jason Mock, Associate Director for Program Management.

eText@Illinois is an interactive and engaging content delivery platform that lets people access materials on any device with Internet access. Basole, one of the eText developers, also pointed out there’s an accessibility component, enabling students with barriers such as visual and mobility impairments, language, and learning abilities to participate in the I-Connect training.

The eText will consist of seven brief chapters with interactive features such as videos and text boxes, Basole said. The manual will present various scenarios and ask students open-ended questions, and they can share their responses and write notes in the text boxes.

“We’re trying to establish a pretty strong link between the eText and Zoom session,” instructional designer Erin Creuz, said, adding the hope is that what students take away from the eText will spark conversation about diversity, bias, and inclusion in the workshops.

Roughly 9,000 students will undergo the training this spring. That means each workshop will have between 75 and 100 participants.

“We plan to utilize chat, polls, breakout rooms, and other Zoom tools to make the sessions interactive … and hopefully, feel a little smaller,” Creuz said.

While campus probably would not have an online option if not for the pandemic, CITL staff see potential benefits given the training’s sensitive nature.

“I love that with eTexts you can engage students in a way that you can’t do with a traditional book,” Creuz said, adding that the in-person training relies on discussions that are out in the open. “Students can share their thoughts directly in the text boxes, which allows for more (honest introspection).”

“When you talk about diversity and identity and inclusion, you’re dealing with personal experiences and deep emotion,” Creuz continued. “When you walk into a room, people may begin making judgments. In this scenario, students can sit and read and absorb these concepts and explore these issues in their own home, which gives you a level of privacy that you don’t have in a (face-to-face) workshop … And on Zoom, you can engage with ideas without the biases society might have toward you, and that allows for more interaction.”

Sometime after the training wraps, CITL and OIIR will evaluate the delivery and impact, then make any necessary improvements. Some staff already have ideas of what they want to build on.

“This is one of those projects that … we usually like to plan in advance,” Basole said, adding staff had an extremely short time to build it.

“But we had the good fortune to bring the gang together and come up with some resources.” he continued, adding Director Michel Bellini and Robert Baird, Senior Associate Director of Instructional Spaces and Technologies, were instrumental in making the project happen. “So many people rose to the occasion.”

Brewster said OIIR plans to continue offering the online training even when things get back to normal.

“It offers great accessibility for different types of learners and their various styles,” she said.

“It’s almost always ideal to have different options and provide some flexibility with learning,” Creuz added.

To learn more about CITL’s services and resources and how our teams can assist you, go to citl-info@illinois.edu.

Photo by Kevin Southworth.

Caption: This still photo shows some of the digital puppets that CITL Instructional Media Producer Kevin Southworth created for the I-Connect training.