By: Amy O'Kruk, News Editor

Western is exploring new educational frontiers with the creation of an associate director of e-learning position that’s set on getting students engaged with course content inside and out of the classroom.

Gavan Watson, a former educational developer at the University of Guelph, has been appointed to the job. Watson’s experience teaching as a graduate student and later exploration of effective teaching practices interested him in the benefits of using interactive technologies with students.

“[E-learning] is new, it’s not the kind of thing that everyone has an equal amount of expertise in,” Watson said. “There are opportunities here to support faculty members, instructors and graduate students if they’re interested in incorporating technology into their teaching to improve student learning.”

Watson also serves as the chair of the Council of Ontario Educational Developers. The creation of his role at Western stems, in part, from a 2013 report to the provost that made recommendations regarding the future of e-learning at the university.

“For undergraduate students, a growth in blended courses is one of the big opportunities in the next few years,” Watson said. “That’s where some of the course would be taught in a face to face classroom and other component would be online.”

So far the e-learning director has run lunch and learns for faculty members and, along with Western’s Instructional Technology Resource Centre, has offered orientations for new course instructors that introduces them to using e-learning tools on campus and online.

Watson points to three major advantages with online tools and learning: schedule flexibility, diversity in course participants due to fewer geographic barriers and the opportunity for students to complete assessments in creative ways.

“Instead of simply submitting an essay you might be creating a new website, or a Youtube video demonstrating what you’ve learned,” Watson said.

Watson added that aside from his own ideas, he’s also interested in consulting students about how they like to learn and what students think e-learning should look like at Western.

“This isn’t a job that’s simply for faculty members and instructors,” Watson said. “It’s also important for students to be able to communicate how and why they want to learn using technology. I’ll be looking to involve student voices as I continue the job.

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