Algoma University
Image: Sault Online, 2020

The challenge

Algoma University is a small university (about 2,000 students) based in Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario, but with satellite campuses in Brampton and Timmins. Like everyone else, Algoma U had to pivot suddenly to online learning in the Spring of 2020 because of Covid-19. However, it had no or little experience of online learning and no internal capacity, so it formed a partnership with Contact North to help its faculty move their on-campus classes to faculty-led remote teaching in Spring/Summer 2020.

Contact North|Contact Nord is funded by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to support Ontario’s public colleges and public universities to provide a quality online learning experience for students using Contact North|Contact Nord’s remote teaching platform. (Declaration of interest: I am a Research Associate at Contact North, but was not involved at all in this project).

The method

Algoma University provided professional development and training related to teaching, learning, assessment, student support, and the use of Moodle and Zoom to all faculty.

Contact North worked one-on-one with faculty — by phone and via Zoom — during both semesters to redesign on-campus courses for online delivery. In particular it provided:

  • 15 webinars to help faculty design online courses
  • pedagogical coaches who hosted multiple sessions throughout the design process, 
  • instructional design expertise to create new online courses in the Moodle LMS, 
  • helped Algoma University experiment with new approaches to assessment
  • technical support with the hosting and use of Zoom and Moodle.

The results

  • Algoma University’s faculty, with very little experience teaching outside the traditional classroom, successfully moved 54 Spring/Summer courses and 192 Fall courses from face-to-face to online over a 12-week period, meeting students’ needs not only in the short term, but also in laying the foundation for long-term success in online learning.
  • Students did as well in the first full semester delivered online as under regular conditions in previous years.
  • Although some faculty members relied heavily on synchronous learning others used the LMS extensively and saw the synchronous sessions as opportunities for student sharing, student presentations, and group work rather than an opportunity to present and “lecture”; this model, “the flipped classroom,” is one that has proven highly effective to student engagement and meaningful learning.
  • Overwhelmingly, students reported an overall positive well-being
  • About 64% of students enrolled in Spring 2020 courses were students continuing in their program. This is an increase from about 55% in Spring 2019.

Lessons learned

  • Ongoing professional learning is the key investment that needs to be made for faculty to benefit from the work they’ve already put in.
  • The creation of a master template for the LMS, which could be quickly adjusted to meet specific needs, also helped considerably,especially for large-scale conversions in the fall semester.
  • The leadership team at Algoma University worked closely with faculty to problem solve. Financial incentives for their investment in professional learning were provided, work schedule adjustments made, and new supports for faculty provided. Issues of quality, academic freedom and workload were addressed, and specific personal circumstances taken into account in workload allocations.
  • Algoma University agreed this was an opportunity to rethink and re-examine how learning could be assessed in more authentic and meaningful ways.
  • In some courses, alternative technologies such as Google Classrooms were introduced for video streaming, and some students and staff made use of open educational resources (OER) to supplement course texts.
  • Algoma University demonstrated its ability to innovate and change quickly. This produced some creative designs, imaginative approaches to teaching subjects often taught solely in class

What next?

  • Algoma has strengthened its internal capacity and is developing a centre for teaching and learning so it is better able to respond to fast-changing demands for learning, whether for degree programs or short courses and skills development.
  • Contact North | Contact Nord’s direct pedagogical and instructional design supports end in December 2020, but it will continue to provide shared technology services such as Zoom and Moodle
  • In the Winter 2021 semester, although aspects of some courses (lab work, library work, studio work) may be possible on campus on a restricted basis, online will have been the delivery mode for Algoma University courses for a full cycle of semesters.


Algoma University/Contact North (2020) Algoma University’s Rapid and Successful Pivot to Online Learning in Record Time Sault Ste. Marie/Sudbury: Algoma University/Contact North 


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