Renewal Thoughts: The Metaphor of the Vestibule

I have been to many committee meetings and had numerous other conversations about the Toolbox Renewal initiative, and I am thoroughly enjoying those (especially being pushed to think about new ideas).

At one recent meeting, an instructor asked an important, and challenging question: Why do we even need a ‘Portal’ or LMS at all? Why can’t we each just pick what works for us, and your team helps us populate our tools with course enrollment information?

For me, the answer lies in trying to find a balance between flexibility and instructional context on the one hand, and institutional needs and student experience on the other.

From this conversation was born the metaphor of the “vestibule” as an alternative to a “portal”.

A portal implies a door – you walk through it to get to a new space. A vestibule, on the other hand, is a small room just beyond the front door, which in turn has one or more doors leading off to new spaces.

There is significant interest and common good in having students, instructors and staff pass through the vestibule on their way to whatever tools and environments are needed for a course. It allows the University to share important information with its community – for example, library support, mental health support, academic integrity information, copyright compliance information, course evaluation information, etc. – content which is extremely important, but not necessarily tied to a specific course.

Imagine if every instructor set up their own course website or LMS or only used an independent discussion board? How would they, and more importantly, their students see the other important content? Would each instructor commit to reproducing that content on their own sites? It would be an impossible task.

So instead, we deploy a ‘vestibule’ – that each of us passes through to get to the course experience and materials, giving all of us consistent access to important non-course-specific content. The vestibule does not, in and of itself, place any restrictions on an instructor using a context specific set of tools. But, in my opinion, it does create a balance between flexibility and instructional context on the one hand, and institutional needs and experience on the other. And that’s what the adoption of common criteria aims to achieve.

Let me know what you think of these ideas:

ACT Staff Changes

Good morning. I’m writing to let you know about some recent staff changes in the ACT Group.

First, long-time ITS member Yvonne Heath has taken retirement. Yvonne joined ACT as part of the ICS realignment a couple of years ago. Prior to being part of ICS, Yvonne was a member of the AMS team. During her ITS/AMS time, Yvonne was a key support person for web and content management services. Prior to joining central IT, Yvonne held positions in Computer Science and at the Bookstore/Computer Shop. We wish Yvonne the very best in her retirement.

Back in mid-October, Laure Perrier joined the ACT Support team as an ACT Liaison in CTSI (ACT is a joint initiative of both ITS and CTSI).  She is providing support for instructors and course staff on the use of academic and collaborative technologies, delivering training sessions and presentations, and developing documentation on the use of educational technologies in teaching. Laure comes to us from the Office of Continuing Professional Development at the Faculty of Medicine where she coached instructors on developing curriculum, and led sessions and presentations on effective research practices.

Around the same time, Shannonn Kelly joined the ACT team, where she is providing project management services for two major initiatives – technology support for the Course Evaluation Framework initiative, and the Academic Toolbox Renewal initiative. Shannonn has many years experience as a project manager for a variety of private and public sector organizations, including a previous stint on campus as a project manager for a very large international education research project.

And starting today, ACT is pleased to welcome long-time UofT staffer Scott Hollows as a senior AV specialist in our Operations Group. Scott will be augmenting our support capabilities with all things video-mediated, including our Cisco Jabber video-conferencing solution, our Echo360 and Camtasia lecture capture services, our Collaborate webinar service, etc. Scott comes to us from the Education Commons at OISE, where he had been supporting video-mediated communications, including managing the Knowledge Innovation & Technology Lab.

Please join me in welcoming Laure, Shannonn and Scott to the extended ACT family.