I am heading up to Alexandria tomorrow for the New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer Conference. The NMC is best known for producing the Horizon Report, several annual publications that for the past decade or so have charted trends in educational technology and–although the organization has always distanced itself from this word–predicted the level of adoption of these technologies will have in various educational domains–higher ed, K12, museums, and libraries– along several adoption “horizons”–one year or less, two-to-three years, and four-to-five years. I’ve always found these prognostications problematic, untrustworthy, and ultimately not really useful. More useful is the sections of the reports that document current trends and provide links to case studies.
The focus of this conference is very different from the ones I usually attend, emphasizing creative educational practices using emerging technologies, and I’ve wanted to attend for a number of years. Either the location (Portland, OR last year) or schedule conflicts have prevented this. However, having the conference in DC this year (OK, technically Alexandria) has made it too convenient an opportunity to pass up this year. So, I have decided to jump in with both feet as well, as I have also volunteered to be a NMC Conference Correspondent. During the conference I will be crossposting from my social media accounts to the NMC conference blog and Twitter feed (@NMCorg #nmc15) mainly, as well as to the NMC Flickr group and Instagram account. We’ll see how it goes and if I can successfully keep all of these digital balls in the air.
Spring 2015 is positively lousy with EdTech-related events, meetings, webinars, and more events. And webinars. There are also meetings: lots of ‘em. Below are the ones I have compiled, at least through April, the cruelest month. For a complete list, go to http://edtech.vccs.edu/upcoming-events/.
If you have an event that you would like to add, please let me know.
The 2014 VA Bug Conference will take place on Friday, October 24, 2014 in Roanoke, VA at the Holiday Inn at Valley View. No, it is not a conference for Entomologists or Pest Control Professionals. It is the 5th AnnualÂ conference for the VirginiaÂ Blackboard Users Group, a ragtag team of rogue LMS users meeting in secret toÂ share knowledge and ideas with Blackboard users from across theÂ Commonwealth.Â
Of course, you probably know this already but October in the Roanoke ValleyÂ is simply exquisite,Â with the luminousÂ fall foliage at its peak. The Holiday Inn at Valley View is located just a fewÂ miles off of Interstate 81 and is short distance from Roanoke’sÂ historic downtown market area. It is also just a short drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can take inÂ the beautiful fall colors.
Registration is, ahem, FREE. Â The call for proposals will go out soon for presentations in the following areas:
9th Annual Cooperative Learning Institute at Patrick Henry Community College
The modified quote above is of course from the iconic Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke, and has no connection whatsoever to the institute except that Martinsville, VA was named after Strother Martin, the actor who issued the famous line from the movie. Actually, this isn’t true at all, but I wish it was. Anyway…
Patrick Henry Community College, known for its focus on and expertise in Cooperative Learning, is offeringÂ its 9th Cooperative Learning Institute this August. Â TheÂ Institute will be held over two days fromÂ August 14th untilÂ August 15th. Breakfast and lunch on both days areÂ included in the cost of the Institute.
Participants can choose fromÂ four Cooperative Learning tracks:
Fundamentals of Cooperative Learning for the Community College Classroom â€“ this track is required for all new faculty or those faculty who have not yet completed a two-day Fundamentals section;
Fundamentals of Active Critical Thinking (FACT) â€“ an advanced track with a Fundamentals pre-requisite;
Advanced Student Engagement Techniques (ASET) – an advanced track with a Fundamentals pre-requisite; and
Cooperative Learning for Distance Learning (CL for DL) – an advanced track with a Fundamentals pre-requisite (aka Active Learning in an Online Environment)
The two-day Institute costsÂ $250 per person andÂ is open to full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, and educational administrators of the VCCS who seek to understand the importance of active and cooperative learning,Â now part of the full-time faculty evaluation process. Faculty from institutions currently active in the Achieving the Dream network of colleges (Danville Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, and Mountain Empire Community College) will have theÂ $250 registration fee waived thanks to a generous grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Registration and payment deadline:Â August 8 by 5 pm.Â
For more information on the Institute, or to register, please go to PHCC’sÂ Southern Center for Active Learning Excellence website atÂ http://scaleinstitute.com/
It is encouraging that last year’s OpenVA conference wasn’t a one-off event. It easily could have been. The conferenceÂ was initiated and supportedÂ by the McDonnell administration, now gone, and could easily have ended with a round of pat on the backs and atta boys afterÂ the conference’sÂ closingÂ session, held at the Stafford campus of the University of Mary Washington. But OpenVA has come back for a second year, kept aliveÂ by the passion and dedication of the conference organizers, an enthusiastic group of educators representing Virginia’s public post-secondary institutions.
TCC’s cool-looking student center, Virginia Beach campus
The Â follow-up event isÂ scheduledÂ forÂ Saturday, October 18thÂ at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach campus. The event will be a little different this year, focused less on sharing best practices and more on the development of a framework of policies that support greater adoptionÂ of open resources and promote collaboration among institutions across the state. The summit, called Building OpenVA,Â will gather input from participants during four focused discussion sessions with the purpose of developing recommendations for a statewide open resource strategy.
The summit is for administrators, educators, legislators, librarians, and learning technologists involved with public post-secondary education in Virginia who:
have launched successful open initiatives that they would like to expand or scale,
know, or want to know, how to support an open initiative at their institution,
understand the importance of openness and want to better understand how â€˜openâ€™ is currently being deployed throughout Virginia,
believe in the promise of â€˜open’ but arenâ€™t sure how to start or sustain an open initiative,
want to learn how to form and write policy for open education.
You can find out more about the Building OpenVA Summit, as well as respond to an open call for submissions, atÂ the event website:Â http://openva.org/. And don’t forget that the 2014 Open Ed Conference will take place a few weeks later in Washington, DC, anotherÂ great opportunity for VCCS faculty and staff interestedÂ inÂ learning more aboutÂ OER and global open initiatives.
A few posts backÂ I promised to share my open-minded and objective thoughts on Blackboard World 2014, now currently underway in Las Vegas. From the beginning thisÂ trip has been fraught with technical glitches and outright screw ups. Â Due to a hung authorization page, my hotel’s website booked 5 hotel rooms for me instead of one (charging a $100 deposit to my credit card for each). I had planned to take a redeye on my return flight but booked it for the wrong day, necessitating a change and its accompanying fee. There was something else, but I’ve blocked it out. Finally, withÂ all my travel difficultiesÂ smoothed out and my boarding passes snugÂ in the digital ether of my smartphone, I showed up early at the airport for my flight.
That was yesterday. I am still in Richmond, VA. My reflections on the conference are going toÂ be fairly brief.
Long story short: after two canceled flights, a full day waiting at the airport, and a flight rescheduled for the next day (today), the time I was going to be able toÂ spend in VegasÂ becameÂ extremely brief as I had already scheduledÂ a short trip. The airline offered me a refund. TheÂ hotel returned my deposit. I emailed my apologies to the various people who were expecting to be at the conference. I’d say I broke even.
Last monthÂ I completedÂ Educause’s Learning Technology LeadershipÂ (LTL) Â Program, held June 23-27 in Seattle, WA. I have been meaning to post my reflections andÂ have only now gotten around to having a spare moment to share them. The program was targeted at EdTech professionals like me who support and promote teaching and learning in some way or another within a higher education institution.Â The LTL program was essentiallyÂ aÂ leadership immersion experience, withÂ aÂ packed agenda and unwaveringÂ pace. Â The fifty or so participants and I were engaged throughout the day and often into the evening, from Monday afternoon and to a mini-graduation ceremony on Friday morning. It was a taxing schedule, especially those of us from the East Coast (and South Africa and Singapore) suffering from jet lag.
Overall I found the program to be meticulouslyÂ designed and well-organized, with plenty of hands-on activities and team-based work to keep me and the rest of the group engaged. The activities provided ample opportunity for me to get to know the other participants. Even so, with such a large group, I wasn’t ableÂ to meet everyone. Â As usual, I felt a bit like an outlier, both becauseÂ of my position andÂ level of leadership experience. While many of theÂ participants came from very large institutions, no one worked at a statewide or system level like me. Similarly, no one to my knowledge Â was involved in advancing higher education policy to the degree I have been during my three years at the VCCS. Â There was aÂ handfulÂ of individual community colleges representedÂ among the manyÂ public and private four year schools, which I found refreshing. Those are my peeps, you know.
There were two highlights to the program for me. The first was the completion of the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment (you can find out more about the Strengthsfinder here). The assessment identifies your top fiveÂ strengths from a list of strengths that are organized into four categories: Â Executing, Influencing, Relationship, and Strategic Thinking. It wasn’t totally surprising Â to me that four of my top five strengths wereÂ in the Strategic Thinking domain. Having confirmation of this was not onlyÂ helpful to me in the LTL program but will continue to be useful to me in my work, which hopefully will bring aboutÂ lots of thinking and strategizing.
The second was aÂ team-basedÂ project that required us to to develop a plan to bring significant change to aÂ fictitious institution by applying the concepts of the five day program. The projectÂ culminated with a presentation from each groupÂ about their ideas, with the program faculty role-playing various higher education archetypes: the tightwad CFO, a self-interested college student, the even moreÂ self-interested faculty member, and a “don’t sweat the details”Â VP of academics. My team pitched repurposing the lecture classrooms of a small community college (Edgewater Community College, named after the conference hotel) into aÂ technology-richÂ active learning classroom, with modular furniture and configurable student workstations to support learner-centered, collaborative instruction.
Some RandomÂ Take-aways
The field of educational technologyÂ still doesnâ€™t quite know what it is. This is reflected through the nomenclature used byÂ professionals working in this field: we areÂ IT, ET, EdTech, Instructional Designers, and Instructional Technologists. Some of us are considered administrators. Some of us are faculty. Some are staff. The field is amorphous and poorly defined.
Despite this, unlike CIOs, “educationalÂ technologists” typically reside within aÂ organizational hierarchy that makes it difficult for them to lead effectively. As information technologists advance toward becoming CIOs, their expertise remains in InfoTech. But to advance one’s educationalÂ technology career means movingÂ Â awayÂ from teaching and learning technologies to areas like transfer, student services, and research.
I think the promiseÂ of the LTL program and programs like it is toÂ helpÂ better define myÂ field as well asÂ create more opportunities for Â EdTech professionals to lead.
You gotta walk the talk: leading is much easier ifÂ you also a teach.
Academic freedom is actually a thing, as in a formal set of principles drafted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940. I had no inkling about this. I thought academic freedom was like the famous definition of pornography: “You know it when you see it.” Having a better understanding of AF will help me addressÂ conversations with concerned Â faculty in the future. I plan to write a separate post on this topic.
Effective communication is a crucial aspect of successful leadership. But effective communication is no longer a simple matter of sending out a blanket email to all faculty and staff. TheÂ communications landscape is now extremely fragmented, andÂ this fragmentationÂ has added new layers of complexity to messaging, PR, and information sharing.
Have Â you participated in the LTL program before, or one like it? I’d be interested in any thoughts or reflections you had about the program’sÂ value to you, personally, professionally, or both.
I have just finished making my flight and hotel reservations for Blackboard World 2014. I finalized theseÂ plans with a somewhat troubledÂ heart, loatheÂ toÂ participate in an event that to me is a frenzied celebration of the commercialization of education, Â couched as a probing, open, academic conference. Let me just come right out and say it: BlackboardÂ®, Inc. is an easy company to hate. Once an inferior product withÂ a sizableÂ market share,Â Blackboard went on a buying spree, gobbling up smaller web service companies and absorbing them into their product ecosystem. Angel integrated with Learn. Elluminate and Wimba became Blackboard Collaborate. TerribyClever Design became the platform for Blackboard Mobile. iStrategy became Analytics. Presidium was transformed intoÂ Blackboard Student Services. Moodlerooms. The list goes on.
Over the past year, BlackboardÂ has been civilizingÂ the Frankenstein monster they’ve created from the spare parts of other companies, trying to build anÂ integrated product lineÂ that can compete with some of the new upstartÂ in the LMS market, notably Instructure’s Canvas. I’ve generally liked the direction Blackboard is headed, and how much more responsive they have been to both customer and user feedback. But, like all LMSs, no matter howÂ good Blackboard is or becomes, it will still beÂ a problem disguised as a solution. More on that later.
The VCCS is a big customer of Blackboard, Inc., and part of my job is to overseeÂ our LMS, Blackboard Learn, including xpLor, and Blackboard Collaborate. Â It makes sense that I should go despite howÂ uncomfortable I feel about attending. Appropriately, the conferenceÂ is being held in Las Vegas, the City of Mammon, which only adds to my sense of loathing (to reference Hunter S. Thompson). AnyÂ fascination I hadÂ forÂ Vegas has long worn off. Regardless, the die has been cast. It’s Vegas or bust. I have been to Bb World once before, in New Orleans in 2012. I Â spent most of the conference agog at the sheer monumental size ofÂ everything:Â Â from the clamoring hordes of badgedÂ participants to the soaring spaces of the Â Convention Center that seemed to stretch on for miles.Â I felt I wasÂ strolling throughÂ a gigantic product placement. For 2014, I have been invited to beÂ on a panel titledÂ Instructional Content & the LMS in which the moderator, a Bb employee, offersÂ aÂ rather vagueÂ description of the session: “The LMS has transformed education. It has brought traditional teaching online and has enabled a level of experience in education that was not previously possible.” You could read this in a number of ways, depending on how you define traditional teaching and level of experience.
I will use this blogÂ to reflect on my experiences at the conference, and report on any notable announcements that Blackboard inevitably makes at these events. Until then, what are your thoughts about the various products Blackboard offers? About the LMS in general? Have you been to Bb World before? Was it a valuable experience?