distanceLab: Reimagining Remote Learning Together

May 19, 2020
illustrated text reading "the quarantine chronicles"

In a typical year, the Bok Center’s Learning Lab houses multiple intergenerational working groups we call “Labs,” each dedicated to a specific medium or tool used by courses we support: realityLab for 3D modelling and VR/AR, codeLab for web development, theatreLab for performance-based assignments, and so on. This year, when courses moved online in March, we had each and every one of our student fellows and staff join a central team called distanceLab, which was tasked with developing responses to the new challenges our faculty and students were facing in teaching and learning remotely. 

Each day this spring, fellows and staff joined a Zoom meeting to brainstorm responses to requests from faculty and students, or to pitch new assignment ideas in response to what our student fellows had experienced in the initial online meetings of their classes. In the distanceLab Slack channel, we shared ideas for online teaching drawn from a wide range of sources: other colleges, data journalism, broadcast television, TikTok and Twitch. Our staff envisioned new approaches to supporting student projects, our graduate fellows met weekly to share their course design projects, and our undergraduate fellows created new ways of providing feedback and developed their skills as “peer media tutors” to mentor other students undertaking new types of course projects.

In a typical term, we support the implementation of dozens of assignments in undergraduate courses, often through workshops and hackathons. This spring, we used distanceLab to brainstorm additional ways of supporting courses during remote learning. We created a new database to manage requests for help from students and faculty, and a form hosted at help.learninglab.xyz to feed that database. We wrote the code for a new server that allowed us to display our custom responses to those student and faculty requests using tailored URLs at a pop up site we called theResources. In place of the hackathons and workshops we typically offer towards the end of term, these bespoke tips and step by step guides helped students as they completed their final projects remotely. The workflow we developed allowed us to treat each student as an individual (as we crafted custom responses) while simultaneously generating resources that will continue to be valuable next term and beyond.

cover of student's distance diary with photo of student and other iconsIn order to organize and monitor all of the work our fellows were performing in the distanceLab, we created new ways for them to document their progress. The Learning Lab Undergraduate Fellows (LLUFs), for instance, began documenting their resource-creation and their feedback on our instructional design projects in “Distance Diaries” (inspired by the “Design Journals” that Karen Brennan assigns her students in T550 at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education). The Distance Diaries allowed students a space to creatively, and often quite artistically, document their work, enabling them to share their work publicly with their peers and also get a sense of their own experiences and growth over the course of this strange term. According to the LLUFs’ feedback, the diaries and distanceLab more broadly “anchored” them and helped them feel oriented in the midst of some pretty dramatic changes in their lives as students.

As both the “Help” form and the distanceLab come to a close this week, we find ourselves reflecting on a number of models, systems and practices that we will bring with us into the summer and fall, as we work to support faculty and students in the year to come.