A Commitment to Engagement, in the Classroom and Online
As a community of scholars, Fairfield University gladly joins in the broader task of expanding human knowledge and deepening human understanding. Jay Rozgonyi, the Associate Vice Provost for Pedagogical Innovation & Effectiveness and the Director of Learning Technologies for the Center for Academic Excellence at Fairfield helps ensure that the university is carrying out this task in dynamic and innovative ways.
“Our approach with our face-to-face teaching has always been small classes and a really high level of connection and engagement,” said Rozgonyi. “We wanted to figure out if we could extend this experience to the online space.”
While looking at new technologies that might help Fairfield achieve this goal, the university came across Quip.
Quip is a secure productivity platform that combines documents, spreadsheets, and slides with real-time chat and other functionality. Fairfield saw an opportunity to make Quip the cornerstone of its online courses.
“A few academic institutions were using Quip on the administrative side for project management and collaboration, but nobody was applying it specifically to teaching and learning,” said Rozgonyi. “We were excited to be the first to do that.”
Going Beyond a Traditional Learning Management System
Quip offers Fairfield key functionality that compliments traditional online systems.
“Quip is incredibly flexible,” said Rozgonyi. “Quip folders can be set up in any number of different ways depending on how a particular faculty member likes to work or what the discipline dictates. The ‘blank canvas’ nature of Quip means that you can put in a picture, a video, some text, a chart, a spreadsheet. It can contain whatever you need it to contain, which means that people can create the learning environment they want.”
In addition to this flexibility, Fairfield feels that Quip helps create a sense of engagement and community that most online classes lack, particularly when it comes to exchanging thoughts and ideas.
“Quip allows for very robust online conversations,” said Rozgonyi. “You can jump in with short questions or clarifications at any point in the conversation. It’s a very authentic experience in terms of sharing ideas and having a conversation – and that helps create a real sense of online community.”
The notifications feature of Quip helps reinforce this high degree of student engagement.
“Students are used to constantly interacting with their phones and checking for notifications,” said Rozgonyi. “Quip allows us to lean into that. Rather than requiring the student to log in to see what’s new or what’s been updated, Quip pushes out notifications about who’s commenting on something they posted, whether a teacher has responded to a question they asked, and so on. Staying in front of the students in this way keeps the material fresh in their minds and keeps them very engaged.”
Navigating Around COVID-19 in Creative Ways
In addition to serving as the foundation of its online learning offerings, Fairfield has been able to leverage Quip to better adjust to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, smoothly transitioning 1,400+ face-to-face courses to remote instruction. Additionally, even in the face of this new environment, Fairfield found a way to still hold one of its signature annual events, its annual Innovative Research Symposium”.
“Our student research symposium is traditionally held in our campus center and features 250 or so student presentations,” explained Rozgonyi. “A lot of schools have cancelled their symposiums this year, but we decided to do ours virtually by giving every student a Quip document to present their research findings and graphs and charts. On the ‘virtual symposium day,’ the student researchers were online with their presentations, and viewers could use Quip’s commenting feature to ask questions and make comments about their research. We’re delighted the students made the most out on this opportunity to share their research – particularly after many months of preparation – and we are proud of how effectively and quickly students demonstrated these efforts via Quip.”
Moving forward, Fairfield plans to expand its online course offerings to its graduate level programs, and Quip will be used to support the teaching and learning that takes place at that level, just as it has amid COVID-19.