About T127: Q&A between 2020 Fall Graduate Student and Teaching Fellow

The Teaching and Learning Lab Practicum (T127) offered in the Fall and Spring semesters at HGSE for both Master’s and Doctoral students, explores technology-enhanced designs for learning. In the practicum, students apply course principles related to the design and development of learning experiences to actual ongoing projects within the Teaching and Learning Lab (TLL). In academic year 20/21, the course - like many others - shifted modality from in-person to online. In this blog, Nina Tompkin, a current graduate student of the TIE program at HGSE and Ragini Lall, an alumna of the TIE program ‘20 and Teaching Fellow for the course discuss the T127 student experience and key takeaways for students from their personal perspectives.

Nina and Ragini side-by-side in Zoom Meeting for chat.

Ragini: It’s time for 2021 spring course registration, and students might be wondering if T127 is the right course for them. What inspired you to apply to T127 last Fall?

Nina: I had two reasons: one professional, one personal. From a professional standpoint, I was excited to see that the course was advertised as a practicum, which I interpreted as a chance to gain real world learning design experience. Specifically, I was curious to see how a modern educational institution/consultancy like the TLL functioned behind the scenes in order to learn more about how educational media, artifacts, courses, etc., are developed and managed at scale.

As for my personal reason...well, it’s kind of embarrassing. By the time I applied to T127, I had just wrapped up a project where I had tried to help a teacher friend who had been impacted by COVID convert her year-long after-school program into a remote offering. I had done similar consulting work before, so I went into the project with confidence...but as we debated things like educational tools, remote-appropriate instructional techniques, data handling policies, etc.,  - the weeks turned into months. I realized just how massive of an undertaking it was to do A-Z instructional advising. By the time I joined T127, I was relieved to have a chance to learn from the experts.

How about you, Ragini? You applied to T127 the year prior. And you applied even though you already had worked professionally as a Learning Designer at an EdTech company beforehand, correct?

Ragini: Well, yes -  I was coming in with prior work experience designing blended learning experiences for young adults in the not-for-profit sector of India. But as a HGSE student, my goal was to refine my understanding of techniques surrounding large-scale online course design for adult learners. I was curious about specific things, the details; like understanding how the TLL fits within HGSE’s larger mission, how decisions are made, and how many people work on what type of tasks. During my time in T127, the class was held in-person in the TLL’s workspace, and I was able to gain a lot of insight by meeting with different TLL staff members and HGSE stakeholders over the course of the term.

I was also drawn to T127 because it had a capped registration, which made it feel really intimate and allowed students to learn from one another. When I took the class, we were a group of sixteen students, which was my smallest class size while at HGSE. All my other classes were at 70 or 100+, which could be quite overwhelming.

Because I took T127 in person and also TF’d the course after it’s transition to a remote format, it was interesting to see how the course dynamics changed - and didn’t change. How was your experience taking T127 remotely?

Nina: Well, I’ve only experienced it one way, so it’s hard to imagine what I might have missed out on! But in all honesty, I don’t mind learning remotely, so I might be the wrong person to ask. I actually only applied to HGSE after learning that 2020 would be offered entirely remotely.

But I’m sure that the in-person version of this class has its advantages. For example, I’ve heard that the T127 classroom is a very cool-looking workspace, which would have been cool to see. I also think that having class and project meetings in person would have allowed us to forge closer bonds with one another, as in-person meetings naturally allow for more side conversations and chit chat than Zoom meetings do. But on the other hand, if this class had not been remote, I can imagine some downsides. Overall, joining a zoom meeting is much kinder on one’s schedule than is commuting across campus!

Another big perk of taking T127 remotely was that it gave our project meetings a true “real-world” feeling. So much professional and corporate work nowadays is done collaboratively online, with teams working together across time zones. Because of this, I felt like the online format was actually a very appropriate way to experience a learning design practicum.

Ragini: True. And it’s also true that the remote version of T127 has been redesigned so that it now includes opportunities that pre-2020 students didn’t get to experience. In addition to the weekly lecture, T127 now has optional live weekly sessions, which - in retrospect - most students attended every week, which I think speaks to their value! These optional sessions were designed to give students opportunities to chat live with various practitioners- people from both inside and outside of HGSE and the TLL. For example; one week, we had a session on resume optimization for the learning design job hunt, and in another we broke into teams to practice a learning design sprint. We also invited a number of past T127 students and recent TLL hires to teach industry-relevant skills. For example, Sophie Chung, who graduated from HGSE in 2020 and now works in media production as an Online Learning Fellow for the TLL, shared her tips for leveraging Articulate Rise for online instructional design.

Nina: Those sessions were great. It really is a fantastic time to join T127 if you’re at all interested in remote or online education, because - for obvious reasons - it’s a huge focus for the 20/21 school year.

Ragini: Well, T127’s focus has always been on exploring technology-enhanced designs for learning, but it’s new online format certainly lends itself to that. The role of a learning designer involves multiple skills, including research, mapping course objectives, formulating questions, designing learning activities, implementing accessibility related guidelines, using basic visual design, coding basic HTML, as well as knowing how to leverage educational technology tools new and old. The course’s online format does a great job providing students with an authentic context to hone those skills.

For example, one of the most compelling experiences in the course is a two-week period of asynchronous learning, where all synchronous meetings are paused in favor of forum interactions and asynchronous collaboration. This places T127 learners - many of whom are future learning architects of online learning experiences - into the shoes of asynchronous learners to soak in some of the course theories through personal experience.

Other typical asynchronous learning activities - such as discussion forums, assignment submissions and reflective journal posts - are also creatively handled, in that most of students’ posted work over the semester feeds into an online professional portfolio. This has been done in T127 in the past, but it’s especially nice in today’s job market to know that the work you do directly contributes to an authentic professional showcase.

Nina: No kidding. I also noticed - and appreciated - how the course made an effort to strategically leverage the class’ synchronous Zoom time, i.e. by prioritizing peer-to-peer interaction and active learning. Bill did a great job keeping Zoom fatigue to a minimum by keeping live sessions relatively short, while also maximizing the amount of hands-on learning activities we did together.

Ragini: This year’s project experiences were also a little different than they have been in past years, given that many of them were related - either directly or indirectly - to helping HGSE navigate the tumult of 2020. So let’s talk about projects: what project did you work on, and what did you gain from the experience?

Nina: I was so pleasantly surprised by Bill’s project placement process. I’ve spoken to a number of my T127 peers, and based on their own project stories, it’s apparent that he listened closely to each of our professional interests and did his best to place us on relevant projects. Fortunately, there seem to be enough projects running simultaneously at the TLL, so there seems to be something of interest out there for everyone.

I was placed on a project that allowed me to shadow the TLL's online course development process for handling one of HGSE's largest enrollment courses for Spring 2021: A122 with Dr. Karen Mapp. It was hugely eye-opening to realize just how many hundreds of decisions go into shaping a remote HGSE experience - from time zones, to technologies, to activities, to the creation of new media assets, etc. And, because there are so many decisions to be made, it’s especially important to know how to scaffold these decision points bit-by-bit so that faculty teams aren’t overwhelmed. Watching the TLL work was like watching them distill decades of research and experience in online course development to a manageable set of decision points. It was - frankly - amazing.

Here are a few blurbs from recent students about their project experiences.
Dan Lee, Ed.M Technology, Innovation and Education Program, HGSE:
Dan Lee Headshot - male in white button up shirt and black comb over hair

“I applied to T127 because I was interested in the field of learning design and wanted a hands-on experience through the practicum. Since I had an interest in product design and development, I was placed on a project with a learning technologist that allowed me to conduct UX research and help with the design of course templates on canvas. It was a great experience to learn about the different processes of UX design. In addition, I have picked up on some tools such as Adobe XD for prototyping along the way. I now have a solid foundation about learning experience design. I am excited to build on this knowledge and skillset in the future.”

Shibani Sahni, MMSc in Dental Education, Harvard School of Dental Medicine:
Shibahi Sahni Headshot - female in bright green top with dark shoulder-length hair

“T127 has been a phenomenal course for me in knowing how to design learning experiences. I wanted to create a course for dentists to be able to do tele dentistry with confidence and understand how to treat patients who are at a distance. William Wisser, and the Teaching Fellow in T127 helped me not just design the course and the learning experience related to that, but also helped me as a learner with their constant feedback. I valued this experience as it was practical and hands-on with loads of direction within the creativity that I had. I am looking forward to being able to continue this journey and incorporate the learning design process into the dental education curriculum in a meaningful way.”

Long (Drake) Xiao, Ed.M Technology, Innovation and Education Program, HGSE:
Drake Xiao Headshot - male in black t-shirt with slicked-back hair.

“I applied to T127 because I was interested in learning how to design learning experiences in a digital world. My primary interest is VR technology, and I wanted to know the implications of different modalities of learning in various types of learning contexts. I was placed on a project which involved with the design of a particular course, A302: Equity in Action in School Systems, and I was given the opportunity to explore different whiteboarding tools and make suggestions to the course stakeholders. It was a great learning experience for me because it was authentic. My work had real impact on real Harvard classes, and I got an idea how learning design is carried out at Harvard.”

Yudan (Abbie) Chen, Ed.M Learning and Teaching Program, HGSE:

Abbie Chen Headshot - female in white dress with shoulder-length hair “I applied to T127 because I wanted to develop my knowledge and skills in learning design. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, I had to transition my chemistry lessons into a virtual environment, and I hoped to enhance the online learning experience for my high school students. I was placed in Professor Umaña-Taylor’s research lab to work alongside the learning designer Dawn on an online course design project about ethnic-racial identity (ERI). Although it is not related to chemistry, ERI is a topic that I’m very passionate about. I had a lot of opportunities to apply what I learned in class on the project and contribute my own ideas to group meetings. My capstone involved creating a Powtoon video and a digital badge for the program, and I was invited to present my design  at a lab meeting in addition to the T127 gallery walk. Because of this authentic experience, I became more confident and more competent in my own learning design. I look forward to continuing to work on the project in the next semester.”

Ragini: And finally, what advice would you give students interested in T127 in the Spring Semester?

Nina: If you’re looking for a chance to apply what you’ve been learning, build your resume, and contribute to the future of HGSE, T127 is your chance.

Screenshot of Zoom call with Fall 2020 T127 students and staff

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