Three lessons learned during the New Instructor Orientation Program (NIOP)

Three lessons learned during the New Instructor Orientation Program (NIOP)

The Educational Development Team had three main takeaways from facilitating this year’s online New Instructor Orientation Program: good humour can turn a tech flop into a fun learning moment; a sense of community can be built online; and Zoom has many novel features that create new possibilities for facilitating learning.  

Three Lessons Learned During NIOP

Lethbridge College’s Educational Development Team ran a New Instructor Orientation Program (NIOP) August 10–23. This is the second year of this formal faculty orientation. In 2019, we were able to offer all our sessions face-to-face, including opportunities for socializing like breakfasts and a self-serve candy bar. This year, due to our new COVID-19 reality, we needed to plan a robust online experience with both synchronous and asynchronous components to replace last year’s program (even though we knew nothing could quite make up for the lack of a candy bar). Over the course of NIOP, between 2025 instructors from across the college’s academic centres took part in daily sessions. We experienced a number of hiccups along the way, but, overall, the online NIOP was a success! The instructors learned a lot about the college and about teaching and learning practices and techniques, and we learned a lot too. Here are three of the Ed Dev Team’s takeaways from our NIOP experience: 

1. Good humour can turn a tech flop into a fun learning moment

No matter how well you plan an online lesson or presentation, the technology you’re using can still be unpredictable. As facilitators, we learned a lot about various functions of Zoom during NIOP, and much of what we absorbed came from mix-ups and mistakes. From accidentally removing a student from our Zoom room and barring their re-entry, to repeatedly setting breakout rooms to close in 60 seconds rather than 15 minutes, to forgetting to unmute ourselves at every turn, we clawed our way up the sometimes steep Zoom learning curve. But each time we hit a roadblock, we laughed, took the time to figure out how to fix the problem, and explained to our instructor participants what happened and how we fixed it. This approach allowed instructors to learn about the technology at the same time we did and also presented a model for how an educator might choose deal with technological issues in a class.

2. A sense of community can be built online

As we began NIOP, one of our concerns was how we would encourage an environment where instructors could build relationships with one another and with us. We created introductory discussion boards where participants introduced themselves and discussed the skills they were each bringing to their teaching roles. We planned icebreakers throughout the orientation to allow participants to get to know one another and work together as a team. One of the best icebreaker techniques we used was to put everyone in breakout rooms of 34 people and give them five minutes to, as a team (with one person acting as scribe), collect or spot one item that begins with each letter of the alphabet from the spaces around them. This online scavenger hunt encouraged collaboration and ignited a competitive spirit in the small groups. We made sure to encourage personal sharing (if participants wished to share) by commenting on someone’s cat walking on screen, or how a participant’s toddler seemed incredibly excited to try Zoom for themselves. We also told some stories from our own team and college experiences, and asked others to contribute to questions and prompts as simple as “how did you feel after being on Zoom all day?” and “what is one thing you’re worried about as you enter the virtual classroom space?”

3. Zoom has many novel features that create new possibilities to facilitate learning

Initially, when we realized that NIOP would have to be delivered in Zoom due to COVID-19, it seemed daunting!In the classroom you see students face-to-face. To facilitate learning, you can easily ask impromptu questionsor simply turn to the whiteboard to quickly brainstorm ideas or create a simple sketch to illustrate a point. We wondered if Zoom would allow this kind of adaptive flexibility.After the first week in Zoom, we began to see the synchronous Zoom rooms as just another type of space, which reminded us that there was a time when we had to learn how to use a Smartboard (or an overhead projector!) and figure out how best to configure the physical classroom for group activities. No, we can’t make the case that seeing NIOP participants through a webcam is just as good as seeing them face-to-face; however, we can say that as a learning space, Zoom has a lot to offer—just different!Here’s a quick example we observed during the NIOP to illustrate this point: 


In addition to speaking using the mic—the equivalent of “speaking” in class—Zoom has a chat tool that allows participants to express their ideas using text. Sound familiar?A simple way to get students to respond to an ad-hoc question is to get them to type their responses into the chat. In a physical classroom, everyone would call out their answer at the same time, more or less—the responses lasting only as long as you can remember them. With the chat tool, however, the response is text, so those words persist. As text, this creates a lot of opportunities to advance student learning: organize the comments, ask students to elaborate, ask students to pick their favorite response, etc. Utilizing the chat feature can also allow students who can’t or don’t feel comfortable using video and/or audio to participate in discussions or provide feedback. For example, a NIOP participant was able to use the chat to contribute to a discussion and ask questions despite prohibitive background noise in their workspace. 

As we continue in this mode of online teaching, especially when that teaching would normally be done face-to-face, there will certainly be a few (or more than a few) frustrating moments and setbacks for instructors and students alike. But if we can remember to try to balance those moments with small, innovative ideas about teaching and facilitating online, we stand to learn new ways to make our current online reality more enjoyable, too. 

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