Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Straddling the Chasm: Rethinking Faculty Support

Today I had the honor and pleasure to share a keynote presentation at the NUTN Annual Conference (#NUTN15) in Savannah, GA. NUTN (National University Technology Network) originally started in 1982 as a group of representatives from institutions delivering distance learning through tele-courses. This was my first time attending a NUTN conference and it was a fantastic experience! There were a few familiar faces in my audience (Alex Pickett, John Sener, Christi Ford, Deb Adair) and I have enjoyed making many new connections.

Prior to my session, I attended a presentation by MJ Bishop and Anne Keehn, who shared the results of a national survey about the impact of Teaching and Learning Centers. Their findings show a significant trend underway in higher education organizations that connects Centers of Teaching and Learning with efforts to bring about organizational change. In short, the findings underscore the pertinent role that the intersection of learning and technology play in organizational transformation.

While the findings weren't surprising to me, it was refreshing to see this trend highlighted and recognized as a significant shift. During the presentation, I recalled a memory from one of my previous positions in which I suggested renaming the faculty support group I was a part of to a name that included "learning" and "innovations." My idea was returned with a cold, blank stare and the comment, "That sounds like a group that would get eliminated in the next budget cut." It's good to see times are changing in higher education.

But the changes that Teaching and Learning Centers are tasked with are deep-rooted organizational changes, which conflict with organizational cultures and histories. The most talented TLC staff cannot bring about this type of change on their own.  In her presentation Dr. Keehn shared that organizations spend $9B annually on organizational change consultants.  She wanted to break that statistic out for her study to understand how much of that spending occurs in higher education -- but, apparently, data is not collected for higher education because no money is spent on it (citation needed). This leaves me with a far greater understanding and appreciation of the conflict and tensions experienced by so many who are in roles that connect learning and technology.

The presentation I shared today was a new for me. It was an exciting opportunity to try to bring together several ideas I've been contemplating with findings from my dissertation study and another recent study I conducted with Jill Leafstedt and Jaimie Hoffman. The title of my presentation was Straddling the Chasm: Rethinking Faculty Support (slide deck also embedded above) and its focus was on investigating the gap between the support needs of higher education faculty and the types and formats of support that are provided today. For example, 80% of higher education faculty are contingent employees (part-time or graduate assistants); yet, at 9 out of 10 institutions faculty who teach online are required to come to campus for online professional development. Sitting in a room with peers listening to a conversation about effective online teaching strategies does not immerse faculty in the online learning experience, which is the only way to have a person learn the potential and power of an excellent online class. But that is not the only problem with this model. Many faculty who are part-time teach at multiple institutions, some which may be located hundreds or thousands of miles from campus. This is just one disconnect in motion today with faculty support. Our models of faculty support are out-dated remnants of machine-age thinking and we are missing rich opportunities for collaborative solutions. We must begin to understand each higher education institutions as members of a complex ecosystem. Each is an organic system that is in a continuous state of change and very much affected by its exterior situation. 

Another of my goals for the presentation was to encourage my audience members to relate to how it feels to a faculty member at the various stages in the diffusion of innovation. I showed the great graphic from Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein that illustrates faculty on both sides of ed tech chasm and had each person in the room identify themselves with one of the groups illustrated in the image. Then we discussed how it feels to "straddle the chasm." And to support this experience, I referenced the powerful comment George Station shared with me on Google+ about his own experience straddling the chasm (see slide 3 of my prez). There were many nods shared during the presentation.

This is an ongoing conversation and research topic for me and it's one I feel very committed to. I truly believe that our social era is rich with opportunities to transform the traditional model of faculty support and, I also believe, that faculty who are early adopters and innovators are those who will lead this change and encourage others to jump across the chasm.  I feel proud and excited about the my team at CSU Channel Islands is doing as we strive to support both sides of the chasm with online professional development and CI Keys.

Many thanks to the NUTN Board for inviting me to speak in beautiful Savannah today! I will enjoy my evening ghost tour before I head back to California. Brooohahahaha!!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Lecture: A Cultural Construction of Privilege?

It's been quite awhile since I've read an article that has inspired me to write a post on a Sunday afternoon. But today, I saw a link to an article in my Nuzzel feed titled "Is the lecture unfair?" and it piqued my interest. This recent article from the New York Times discusses findings from recent studies that show how lectures privilege students who come from privileged backgrounds. The author, Annie Murphy Paul, explains, 
"...a growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students. This is not a matter of instructor bias; it is the lecture format itself — when used on its own without other instructional supports — that offers unfair advantages to an already privileged population.
The idea that lectures create a biased learning environment that privileges certain students is not surprising to me -- and it may not be surprising to you either. If you are familiar with my work, you've likely read other posts where I examine this notion. However, to see studies that excavate the lecture as a method of teaching that reinforces social inequities is worthy of discussion. The article reminded me of a video presentation I made back in 2011 titled "Expanding the Funnel," which connected the flipped classroom model (a form of active learning) as a strategy for increasing degree attainment rates in community colleges (which saw an enrollment explosion in 2010-11, the time of the U.S. economic downturn). 

Community colleges have an open access policy, which means everyone one is welcome. They are the gateway to higher education in the United States and, as such, community college students are the most diverse group of learners in higher education. It is not uncommon for a single community college class to include students from multiple generations, ethnic minorities, first generation college students, ESL learners, students with cognitive differences (dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.), and students with physical disabilities. This diversity creates a powerful, fertile soil for students to learn from each others' experiences. However, not all instructors use active-learning strategies in their classes and, as such, the learning environments that students confront while in college are not as inclusive as the open-access mission of CCs.  Often, when I've discussed this topic with my peers, I've heard professors note that active learning does students who wish to transfer to a 4-year a "disservice," because it doesn't provide them with the skills needed to excel in the lecture environment.

Let's keep this conversation going. It's time to start examining the broader, social implications of pedagogy on degree attainment in higher education. All students are capable of learning and obtaining a college degree. Let's support all of them.

Finally, we must not cast blame on faculty. We need to support faculty to understand how the way they teach a class impacts the percentage of students who experience deep learning.  Active learning is one step towards a more inclusive classroom.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What is Open Pedagogy

word cloud - open pedagogy
Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy, a word cloud created with
This post was originally published on Teaching and Learning Innovations @CI.

Chances are, you are familiar with the concept of "open content," but "open pedagogy" has not yet made its way into mainstream conversations about teaching and learning. Open content, of course, refers to digital resources that have been shared online with a license that both permits and encourages re-use and sharing within the limits of the license's specifications. Many open resources are shared today with a Creative-Commons license.

Open pedagogy, on the other hand, describes the experiences of learners who engage in an experience through the open web. The non-linear, dynamic, and networked characteristics of the open web fully inform the qualities of open pedagogy. Take a close look at the word cloud above -- it is comprised of words from the Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy, a helpful description that was collaboratively written by Rob Reynolds, Laura Gibbs, and Stacy Zemke (as a result of a Twitter exchange). (If you would like to comment on or contribute to the "Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy," visit this post on Google+.)

One of the factors that prevents open pedagogy from becoming more prevalent in higher education is the mainstream adoption of Learning Management Systems (Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Desire 2 Learn, etc.) by colleges and universities. An LMS is a closed environment that creates a walled-off space for instructors to select and share content with students, student to interact with other students, and where content that gets created by students is withheld from the world's eyes and comments. The qualities of learning in an LMS, are informed this environment. Agency, risk, creativity, unpredictability, empowerment -- these are characteristics of open pedagogy that are much tougher to cultivate in an LMS.

Those who don't jump will never fly. Photo By Kodomut CC-BY

 I began teaching online about eleven years ago and this semester will be my first time teaching in the public web. While I have integrated web-based tools into my LMS for many years, I have sought out technologies that provide a secure space for my students -- spaces that mimic the environment created by an LMS (but with improved functionality and ease of use).

In the past five years, my own professional and personal life have been impacted enormously by my own active participation in the open web. I have cultivated a professional learning network comprised of educators from around the world whom I learn with continuously. I have participated in conversations with strangers that have left me pondering deeply about issues for weeks. I have deep, meaningful professional relationships with people I have never met face-to-face. Perhaps the most special experiences that emerge from my participation in the open web are the beautiful, precious messages I receive upon occasion from people I don't know who write just to let me know how much they have learned from me.

At last, this semester, I am embarking upon my first journey into open pedagogy. I will be co-teaching a course at CI on Digital Citizenship (UNIV 349) with my colleague, Jill Leafstedt. Over the summer, we worked together to develop our course site, which was built with WordPress on CI Keys. This site was inspired by the work of our former colleague, Jaimie Hoffman, who dove into open courses a year ago. The students in our class will also be creating their own sites on CI Keys and engaging with their peers and the public in an open conversation about the challenges upon which they will embark this term.

Most of the dialogue I have engaged with about open pedagogy has focused on the student experience. Today, as I prepare for the start of the semester, I am thinking deeply about the impact of open pedagogy on teachers. First, I know in my heart that I would not be making this leap if I did not believe that participation is the best way to prepare oneself for personal and professional fulfillment in a social, mobile society. I am excited to be part of this experience with my students, watch them find their own networks, develop their own voices, and experience the impact their voice can have on the world. Secondly, I recognize that I would not be embarking upon open pedagogy if it were not for the willingness of so many other educators who have placed themselves in vulnerable positions to take risks, experiment, and share their practices. And, third, the support for innovation that is woven into the culture at CSU Channel Islands is a critical factor that continues to inspire me to try new things that are in the best interests of students.

I hope more educators at institutions around the world will be encouraged and supported to jump.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Transforming Faculty Support through Co-Creation

In 2007, I began integrating web-based technologies into my online and face-to-face classes. In the years that followed, I discovered new ways to engage my students, learned how technology can support more diverse groups of learners, and grew into a passionate supporter of online and blended learning. Along the way, I've learned a lot and have shared many of my experiences with other faculty. These experiences have led me to several observations about the value of faculty support in higher education at this time of momentous change and the need to transform how we think about and develop faculty support.

Like too many faculty, when I began using web-based technologies in my teaching, I did not have access to faculty support. Those who do commonly have services provided to them through face-to-face workshops and consultations. This boutique model of faculty support relies upon an institution to employ individuals who are capable of and have the time to develop resources to support the needs of all faculty. As faculty needs diversify and the demographics of faculty change (more part-time and remote instructors with less access to campus), this model becomes less effective. The boutique model is a remnant of industrial-age thinking and is no longer sustainable in today's social era. The recent increase in the integration of technology into learning, growth in online and blended course enrollments, and shifts in faculty demographics are increasing the need to transform the boutique model of faculty support.

A New Higher Ed Ecosystem

This is not a new problem; however, little change has occurred since the conversation began more than a decade ago (Walkowiak, 2003; Hartman, Dziuban & Brophy-Ellison 2007). Consequently, the composition of the higher education ecosystem has experienced striking changes. As more faculty integrate web-based tools into their teaching, the educational technology companies developing these tools co-exist alongside colleges and universities in an ecosystem. This idea triggers skepticism and tension for many within higher education. Critical dialogue is important. The recent boom in venture funding for startups has resulted in steep competition in the startup space, as well as a higher risk for failure, and more companies out to make a buck. Through grassroots leadership, faculty will determine which tools are effective and worthy of growth and traction.

Co-Created Faculty Support Resources

Teaching with technology can be a catalyst for change in a faculty member's career, as it was for me.  But for many faculty, integrating technology into a classroom can surface concern, fear, frustration, and require subject matter experts to step into a very vulnerable situation. This is where support comes in. To inspire new approaches in teaching and learning, the culture of an organization must support risk-taking and build community for faculty innovators. Services and resources are central to supporting faculty, but supporting the social and emotional experiences involved with change are too.
As we move forward into the future of higher education, institutional leaders will need to focus more on cultivating a culture of innovation and find more sustainable solutions for developing resources and services.  Co-creation is a model that has grown out of the collaborative nature of our social era and may hold potential for transforming how faculty support resources are developed. In co-creation, individuals from different groups come together -- for example, a company and its customers -- to identify solutions to a problem that members of all groups have a shared interest in improving. Innovations in teaching and learning are at the center of improving higher education and, as such, colleges, universities, and edtech companies share an interest in providing support resources and services to faculty who teach with technology.

To inspire co-creation, edtech companies must cultivate relationships with their early adopter faculty users and faculty must acknowledge how valuable their input is to improving the technologies they use. These relationships act as formative feedback loops to ensure their experiences are understood and valued within the product development life cycle. In these interactions, the value of the product will be defined and examples of how to effectively teach with the tool will be discovered. These practices must be showcased and shared with educators across institutional boundaries -- and, yes, faculty should be compensated for the value they provide.

From 2012-2013, I negotiated a consultancy with VoiceThread, an educational technology company, that resulted in the development of co-created faculty support resources.  This position provided me with the opportunity to host a monthly higher ed webinar series. The live webinars (which are available in archived form) consisted of demonstrations of my own VoiceThread teaching practices and those of other faculty around the nation, who I located through my social networks. After a year, I self-published an eBook that contextualized the use of VoiceThread in learning theory, discussed instructional design strategies, and detailed specific teaching activities from my classes. The eBook incorporated links to brief videos, illustrating the practices discussed in textual form, as well as screenshots of examples.

The webinar series and eBook were mutually beneficial to myself (providing me with income and the opportunity to share my ideas and those of other faculty) and the VoiceThread organization (whose product was demonstrated to be effective by a credible source). In turn, faculty across the nation and beyond have accessed these co-created faculty support resources and learned from them.
If you are an innovative faculty using emerging technologies, think like an entrepreneur.  Share your stuff, preferably with a Creative Commons license to encourage re-sharing.  Develop relationships with the edtech organizations that develop the tools you use. Provide feedback -- honest feedback -- about how the product could be improved. As these relationships mature, propose to develop sustainable faculty support resources that showcase your work, the products you use, and support faculty across institutions.

In my next post, I will discuss the potential of co-created eBooks to support faculty. Drawing upon findings from my recent study, the post will provide a list of features to include in eBooks intended to support faculty who teach with emerging technologies.


Hartman, J. H., Dziuban, C., & Brophy-Ellison, J. (2007). Faculty 2.0. EDUCAUSE Review. 42(5) 62-76.

Walkowiak, S. (2003). Training Busy Faculty; Developing Scalable Training Solutions. In D. Lassner & C. McNaught (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2003 (pp. 2057-2059). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved July 30, 2015 from

Monday, July 27, 2015

5 Ways to Support Faculty who Teach with Emerging Technologies

"We must support both sides of the chasm." -Phil Hill
As online and blended learning reshapes the landscape of teaching and learning in higher education, the need to encourage and support faculty to move from delivering passive, teacher-centered experiences to designing active, student-centered learning increases.  Our new social era is rich with simple, free to low-cost emerging technologies that are increasing experimentation and discovery in the scholarship of teaching and learning. While the literature about Web 2.0 tools are impacting teaching and learning is increasing, there is a lack of knowledge about how the adoption of these technologies is impacting the support needs of higher education faculty. This knowledge is essential to develop new, sustainable faculty support solutions.

Driven by my own experiences as a full-time and part-time faculty and early adopter of VoiceThread -- a Web 2.0 tool that fosters asynchronous voice, video, and text conversations around media -- I designed my dissertation research study to investigate the how the use of Web 2.0 tools is impacting the support needs of higher education faculty. I performed this action research study in collaboration with the VoiceThread organization with the purpose of improving the support needs of their higher education users.

The study's sample included 50 higher education faculty members, comprised of a mix of part-time and full-time faculty from 2-year and 4-year institutions in the United States with a VoiceThread account (free, an individual Higher Ed account, or a site license). The interview and reflection data revealed unique support needs of faculty who teach with emerging technologies, a growing demographic. These include:
  1. Just-in-time resources. Faculty support programs comprised of face-to-face workshops and consultations will not meet the needs of faculty. The issues underlying this finding are related to the significant changes in the demographics of faculty. Today, most classes are taught by part-time faculty and many of these individuals also have a full-time job and teach at multiple institutions. Online resources that can be accessed from anywhere at anytime from multiple devices are essential to supporting innovations in teaching and learning.
  2. Non-linear PD experiences. Faculty who adopt new technologies desire non-linear professional development experiences to support the integration of technology into their classes. Faculty noted that accessing an eBook to learn new strategies to teach with VoiceThread was "less risky" than spending the time in a workshop, as the eBook provided non-linear pathways, allowing a faculty member to engage with the topics that align best with her/his needs.
  3. Community. The adoption of emerging technologies by faculty is resulting in pockets of innovation on campus. As a result, faculty who integrate emerging technologies into their teaching feel isolated from their peers. Professional learning networks designed to connect faculty and promote sharing of practices and ideas will be key to supporting faculty. Social technologies like Twitter, Hangouts on Air, and Google+ Communities will continue to play important roles in connecting faculty innovators across campuses.
  4. Funding for accounts. The freemium model employed by most edtech companies provides faculty with a low-barrier entrance and encourages experimentation. However, as the adoption cycle for Web 2.0 tools matures, many faculty are finding themselves paying out of pocket for the premium version(s) of their tool(s) of choice. While will need to consider new funding approaches for supporting faculty within these pockets of innovation. 
  5. LMS integration. Learning Management Systems (LMSs) remain the most pervasively used technology in higher education. Learning Technologies Interoperability (LTI) is an industry standard that provides a simple way for web-based technologies to integrate with major LMSs. offering streamlined teaching experiences that may eliminate the need for students to create accounts and provide the ability to grade the activity inside the LMS. Faculty see LTI integration as an opportunity to save them time and promote more adoption across campus. However, faculty have the perception that administration want to see strong adoption rates prior to considering an LMS integration. This tension is evidence that faculty use of web-based tools is reshaping the teaching and learning landscape.
Faculty support must be understood as a dynamic process that needs to adapt to the changing needs of instructors. Colleges, universities, and edtech companies exist within a new edtech ecosystem. Organizations within this ecosystem have a shared interest in supporting faculty who teach with emerging technologies.  In my next post, I will discuss the potential that co-created faculty support resources hold for providing continuous support for faculty, as well as empowering instructors to be leaders in teaching and learning innovations. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reflections on Teaching in the Public Web

Photo by Jim Brekke, CC-BY-NC-ND
This semester marks two milestones in my teaching career. First, I am stepping away from teaching the History of Photography online at Mt. San Jacinto College, a community college in California, and will be team teaching a critical thinking course for transfer students at CSU Channel Islands with my colleague, Jill Leafstedt. Our class will be a blended format with Jill on-site at CI and me in a remote role. Secondly, Jill and I will be using WordPress to create our course and our students will create their own blogs in CI Keys. CI Keys originated last year as a pilot project at CSU Channel Islands, inspired by a keynote presentation Jim Groom delivered at ET4Online 2014, Reclaiming Learning: A Domain of One's Own (his presentation starts at 6:37).

This change is significant for me, as it represents a move away from teaching with tools that construct a secured "shell" in which students contribute and interact, toward facilitating learning in the public web (the Keys). In this post, I reflect on how this shift is significant to me, in my teaching role as well as my faculty support role, and examine the influences that have shaped my choices to use particular tools over time.

I started teaching online in 2003 and, at the time, Blackboard was the only tool I used. In 2007, the year I started this blog, I began to incorporate the use of tools outside of Blackboard into my class. This decision was driven by my desire to make my students' learning relevant, active, and inclusive. This core value has not changed for me. However, over the years, the tools I teach with have fluctuated.  As I reflect on this topic, I recognize a growing gap between  my "espoused theory" and my "theory-in-use," two theories of action from the work of Chris Argyris, explained in the quote below:
"When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use" (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7).
Argyris' work points out that the actions of individuals are guided by mental maps that inform what we think, feel, and choose to do.  Most people do not recognize the impact of these mental models on their actions and, as a result, can be unaware when a significant gap develops between an espoused theory and a theory-in-use.  These concepts can be applied at an individual level, as well as an organizational level.  As I look back over the past 8 year or so, I recognize a gap between the values I set for my teaching and my actions.

A few years into in my online teaching career, around 2007, I started using blogs with my students. I was quickly intrigued by the potential blogs held to engage students in reflection, stimulate peer-to-peer communications, and engage students with an authentic platform for their ideas. The possibility of students engaging with individuals outside of our class in their formal learning environment was fascinating to me.

However, I recall being aware that everyone did not shared my utopian view of blogs.  There were many questions around whether using blogs in a public web environment were acceptable. . . Was it ok to have students create accounts on external sites? Was it permissible to have student work be shared openly on the web? What if students encountered unethical interactions with someone outside the class on their blog? And how could I be sure my students wouldn't share inappropriate photos or write about irrelevant topics? I recall these questions making me uncomfortable. I did not have answers to them and neither did my fellow faculty or administrators.

After a year, I stopped using Blogger and began having my students blog inside a closed social networking tool called Ning (which was free to educators at the time). I didn't make the change because something concerning had occurred. Quite the contrary, I received very positive feedback from students about their blogging experiences. Ning is a tool outside the LMS, just like Blogger, however, the password protected wall it provided between the general public and the work of my students made me feel more comfortable.  Honestly, I also found it easier to manage the content, as well, as it had been tricky to connect 30-40 separate Blogger URLs each term.

And that, right there, is my point. That choice to move to Ning has stuck with me -- for seven years. This past semester I still used Ning in my online class. As my choice to teach in a protected shell, albeit not an LMS, stayed consistent, my perspectives about preparing students for a mobile, digital society through authentic learning experiences became stronger. In 2013, I wrote these words in a blog post for EdCetera (reposted here on GetSmart):
"By designing our courses to have students use social technologies in support of active learning pedagogy, students will be encouraged to participate in the open, social web as they complete their formalized educational experiences." 
We all have espoused theories about teaching and learning. What are yours? It's important to pause and critically reflect on how your values relate to your actions. I really did believe the learning environment in my class was preparing students to participate in the open, social web. But was I right? Over the years, I grew more skeptical of this as social media began to penetrate mainstream life. The fundamental question I am left with is, "How can students hone the skills to manage their digital identity when they're interacting in a password protected shell?" I don't believe they can.

When students leave college, they are expected to be able to demonstrate how they are unique from other new college graduates. Participating in the open web during college can provide a scaffolded entry into the job market.  Blogging in the public web remains a powerful opportunity for students to develop digital citizenship, as well as reflect deeply on their passions, skills, and overall place in this world. When students engage in what David Wiley has described as "non-disposable activities," they are empowered to look back at where they've been, see their growth, and use their work to demonstrate their skills.

So, while there still are no concrete answers to those big, scary questions that plagued me years ago, I now believe that's ok.  In fact, I know believe it's critical to engage with teaching in the open web to facilitate dialogue around these questions. If we all step back into our shells, we can't prepare our students to swim in the ocean on their own.  Finally, I recognize that the CI Keys project at CSU Channel Islands empowers me, as an instructor, to teach how I believe I should be teaching (while I also credit Laura Gibbs, whose innovations and willingness to share continue to inspire me!). The projects and/or tools an organization chooses to support can influence the flow of innovation in higher education. The flow of innovation is less dynamic when faculty are experimenting alone in the shadows of an organization.


Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1974) Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Friday, June 26, 2015

VoiceThread: Accessibility Improvements

Today, I shared a brief presentation about VoiceThread with 150+ faculty from the California State University system at the CSU Course Redesign with Technology retreat, sponsored by the CSU Chancellor's Office.  Here is a resource page I created for my presentation on which you'll find lots of goodies, including a VoiceThread to try out for yourself, and links to details about what I will discuss below.

Accessibility is an important part of evaluating new technologies for education. Both the interface of a digital environment and the content it presents needs to be accessible to all learners. In my teaching experiences, VoiceThread has supported the needs of my students with cognitive disorders in ways the traditional Learning Management System environment (text-dominant) has not.  Cognitive disabilities (like dyslexia and dysgraphia) are the most prevalent forms of disabilities (or learning differences) in higher education. Each brain is wired differently. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework designed with these differences in mind. Using VoiceThread in the design of a learning ecosystem supports the principles of UDL:
  1. Provide multiple means of representation
  2. Provide multiple means of expression
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement
I often wonder how college completion rates would change if students' learning environments were more supportive of the different needs of our learners. You can read more about my perspectives on this topic here.

In recent years, VoiceThread incorporate some valuable features in support of inclusivity for all users. These include the development of VoiceThread Universal, an html VoiceThread interface that supports screen readers (like a back door) through which any VoiceThread can be accessed and the ability for a user to add closed captions to central media videos shared on a VoiceThread slide. This month, several more features were released to improve the overall accessibility of VoiceThread for all users:
  1. A VoiceThread viewed on can now be navigated using a mouse. Click here for a list of keyboard shortcuts (I've started using many of these already and find them very useful).
  2. Audio and video comments can now be closed captioned. Essentially, VoiceThread now provides a "CC" icon that appears within the comment bubble, as the comment plays. Just click that icon and you will be prompted to upload a caption file (accepted types include: DFXP, SRT, SAMI, SCC, SBV). That's the easy part. The tricky part is creating the caption file! Click here to view the process I used to caption the audio comments in this VoiceThread.  If you have a streamlined process/better option, please share!
  3. I don't think this one is new, but it was new to me! I learned how to create a share link that would open a VT directly in VoiceThread Universal (the screen reader accessible version VoiceThread).  The process involves located the share link for the VoiceThread and tweaking the URL a bit.  The key is locating the numeric identifier in your VoiceThread's URL and adapting the structure of the URL. The structure for a link is:  The structure for a VoiceThread Universal link is:
  •   Here is an example:
I understand more captioning features are in the works at VoiceThread, but I don't have details about this yet. This feature is a big step forward and I look forward to more steps!

While I'm at it, I should also share that an updated (and much improved) version of VoiceThread was also released for iOS and a new Android app is also available.
I hope this helps!

For more information about VoiceThread and accessibility, click here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Struggle is Good for Higher Education

By Martijn de Valk, CC-BY-NC
This month, I had the pleasure to participate in two sessions at two different conferences that investigated how teaching with technology is impacting the faculty role. Today is my first day back at my home office in more than two weeks. I have a heap of items on my to-do list, but I find myself thinking deeply about these conversations. 

The first session I participated in was titled Conflicted Identities: Reconsidering the Roles of Faculty at the New Media Consortium in Washington, D.C. This is a session I presented with Jill Leafstedt, a colleague of mine at CSU Channel Islands.  The presentation was a formal opportunity for us to share the early findings in a broader research study we are conducting with Jaimie Hoffman, also a colleague of mine (currently transitioning into a faculty role at USC).  The three of us have been deeply transformed by technology. Please explore the presentation above to examine the findings of our small, introductory study. More will be shared in the near future.

The second session was "How Teaching Online Changed Me." This was a panel I moderated at the Online Teaching Conference in San Diego. Participants on the panel included Lori Rusch, Lene Whitley-Putz, Mike Smedshammer, and Nita Gopal. All panelists are faculty in California's community college system (Lori also teaches in the CSU system and Lene teaches in the UC system as well). This panel was not archived, unfortunately, but some compelling themes surfaced in our conversation.

The stories shared by Lori and Lene, the two part-time faculty on the panel, unveil organizational tensions that, I believe, are key to organizational change. Tensions are symptoms of boundaries that are being challenged. When boundaries in an organization are challenged, stake holders often defend their traditions. Part-timers, as one audience member shared, believe that speaking up is the equivalent of "career suicide." In the California Community College (CCC) system, there are more than 70,000 faculty members and the majority of them are part-time. Contrary to popular viewpoints about part-time faculty, I believe our greatest pedagogical innovators lie in this demographic. These are the individuals who are most likely to push themselves outside their comfort zones and ensure they stand apart from other faculty. They're also the faculty who feel they have no voice on campus, the faculty who commonly work full-time in another role outside of teaching, and teach at multiple institutions (in multiple Learning Management Systems).

Like the faculty who participated in our study and the panel, my professional role has been changed by technology.  I see evidence that more faculty in higher education are experiencing the type of transformation that I experienced (and continue to experience).  

I began my higher education career as a part-time art history instructor at a California community college in 1999. In 2002, I was hired into a full-time, tenured-track position at the same college. I felt as if I had won the lottery -- not financially (as I was taking a 40% paycut from a corporate role to begin my teaching position), but statistically. I truly believed I would never leave that position. When I started teaching online in 2003, everything began to change for me. I experienced a growing intrinsic desire to explore online learning beyond what I was able to do in my full-time faculty role, which restricted me to teaching two online classes each semester (out of my full load of 5 classes).

In short, I grew into a different role and it was one that did not fit into the future plans of my institution. I left that full-time (yes, tenured) faculty role in 2009 for a director position at a 4-year university. I had hopes that this would be an opportunity to support online faculty and contribute to a an emerging conversation in higher education. I relocated my family for this position too. My boys were in first and third grade at the time and anyone who knows me understands that this is not a decision I take lightly. That position I took did not turn out as I had expected. I resigned after seven months. While some perceived these choices as stupid or reckless, I made them to keep challenging myself and continue to explore the meaning of this new, obscure passion I had growing inside me.

After my resignation from my full-time, tenured position in 2009, I went down a dark, scary 5-year path that was riddled with corners I could not see around, dazzling peaks of excitement, and low points that made me wonder if I would ever be happy again.  I had conversations with everyone I knew and anyone I was referred to. I blogged and Tweeted a lot. I grew my Professional Learning Network (PLN). I created jobs for myself.  These included blogging monthly for Cisco Systems' GETIdeas network (now defunct). I negotiated a consulting position with VoiceThread to coordinate a monthly higher ed webinar series. I had multiple roles in the @ONE organization, including teaching online faculty development courses and coordinating their new Online Teaching Certification Program. I wrote my first book, Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies -- which was an opportunity extended to me by Susan Ko as a result of her reading my blog. I began teaching online as a part-time faculty at a California community college. I presented keynotes at faculty-related events and was hired to do various types of projects at CSU Channel Islands.

I also unsuccessfully applied for a couple of full-time positions at community colleges during this time.  One of them was actually the position I resigned from in 2009. Today, I understand that would not have been happy returning to that position. But, at the time, I felt isolated and craved to be part of a campus community again. I also enrolled in a doctoral program (which I just completed last week!) and for a brief period of time I was in a corporate position, which made me see how important teaching and learning is to me.

Those five years were exhausting and I hope I don't need to experience them again. Yet, I now know I can be successful without the support of an institution. I also feel that my career progression is likely to be more similar to that of a new college graduate today. My experiences help me relate to students today and help me to see how disconnected the skills students acquire in higher education are from the skills they will need to succeed after college.

This period of struggle was necessary for me to grow and understand what my strengths and passions were. The hardest part, I think, was looking at the titles and job descriptions available at higher education institutions (particularly in California). None of them aligned with my strengths, my interests, or my experiences. I felt like I'd never find a home in higher education again. I see correlations with this struggle and the experiences of part-time faculty that are fascinating to me.

As "innovation" continues to be the latest buzz word in higher education, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are experiencing enough struggle.  If you feel conflicted, is it a symptom of a desire to change into new role that is not supported by your institution? How can institutions create cultures that value those who want to change, as opposed to reward those who defend the status quo? A specific example may be an institution that supports faculty who want teach in the open web, as opposed to requiring all course-related activities to be locked inside an LMS.  Creating value around new approaches in teaching and learning leads a campus into difficult, messy, and necessary  conversations about student privacy, accessibility, and faculty/student support -- as opposed to turning away from them.  We need foster a culture that fosters difficult conversations to address the tensions surfacing throughout higher education today.  And struggle is the catalyst that inspires these conversations.

Today, I am happy again. :) I have found a home at CSU Channel Islands with a team of creative, innovative thinkers who think outside the box and make decisions with the interests of students in mind. I work remotely from my home-office and focus my efforts on supporting the growing culture of teaching and learning innovation at CSU Channel Islands. Primarly, I support the professional growth and development of Channel Islands faculty who are preparing to teach or currently teach online. I know my transformation is not over -- in fact, I no longer view it as a transformation. Instead, I understand that I am a lifelong learner who relishes the emerging frontier of higher education. I am a passionate advocate for improving higher education through technology to ensure students enter today's global, mobile society with the skills they need to be successful.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Women in the Workplace: Canaries in the Coalmine

Photo by Seriykotik CC-BY-NC
This is a long-overdue reflection about the impact of incorporating conversations about Women in EdTech into the ET4Online conference program. Yes, it's a late reflection, but it's one I've been meaning to write since the end of April and it must get done, late or not.  For my more general reflections about the conference, please click here.

The 2015 OLC/MERLOT ET4Online incorporated a panel session titled "Women in EdTech: a conversation" and a "Women in EdTech Dinner," sponsored by LoudCloud Systems. The events were strongly attended and I feel it's really important to talk about why they were coordinated and theorize on why they were so popular. (View a Storify of #ET4Women here by Patrice Torcivia.)

To do so, I will turn to the insights of Caroline Turner, a former corporate executive and business attorney turned author/consultant.  After Turner left her executive level position, she wrote:

"When I left..., it surprised people. I was 'at the top of my game.' My kids were out of college so the hard part of juggling family and work was over. But I lacked the passion it took to keep it up. I couldn't name a cause of my decision to leave. It just felt like it was time to move on. 
Then I began to notice how much company I had as a former successful woman executive... I began to reflect on what really caused me to leave the C-suite...
That women leave their jobs at a higher rate than men is confirmed by ddata from the Bureau of Labor adn by private research. While women's role in the family is a significant factor in the attrition rate of women, equally important is the general job dissatisfaction that women express." 
Turner goes on to suggest that the workplace is an environment created by men and, as such, it values and models masculine attributes.  And this general job dissatisfaction that she alludes to may be attributed to years, even decades of attempting to conform to masculine approaches of success.

Successful women professionals are like "canaries in the coalmine," says Turner.  Canaries placed in coalmines die because of a toxic environment. For a canary to survive, we wouldn't just keep pushing more of them into that toxic coalmine. Instead, we would work together to remove the toxicity from the environment.

Frequently, we read about the need to "get more women" into the STEM careers, high level executive positions like CIO, and other male-dominated areas.  But less frequently, we hear critical conversations about the need to probe our workplace environments and make them more inclusive. During the Women in EdTech panel with Amy Collier, Patrica Torcivia, Keesa Johnson, Tracy Clark, and Maha Bali, one participant recalled the experience of pumping breast mile on a toilet in a public bathroom at work.  I had that same experience and I wondered how many other women in the room and viewing the live stream had too. These "raw" conversations made me also recalled when I learned about my unplanned pregnancy days after accepting my first full-time faculty position and the guilt I felt when I shared this with my Dean.  I thought about how ludicrous it was for me to feel guilty and how this guilt was something my husband, who also worked full-time, could not relate to.  Soon there-after, I learned that my faculty contract included a whopping five days of birth leave. My need clearly were not represented here, that was clear.

These examples begin unveil the masculine values around which today's workplace was built, which to this day are not recognized by most and talked about even less. They also reveal the experiences and feelings women endure silently in an effort to "be professional." In a previous blog post, I wrote about how vital it is for the voices of women, and other marginalized identities, to be part of our current edtech dialogue. We need more bloggers, keynote speakers, authors, Hangout hosts that are women and people of color...especially in a time when innovation is so needed. But, as the canary analogy demonstrates, we need to simultaneously have conversations about these silent and pervasive issues. Recognizing the problem is the first step in making it better.

At the Women in EdTech dinner at ET4Online, I felt empowered to sit down in a room with women and men who had chosen to spend their evening sharing experiences and having "raw" conversations that crossed generational lines.  We've received some terrific feedback about the conference, overall, feeling "family like." The sense of community was strong.  Scott Hamm left this lovely comment on my blog, "at times [I] feel like most conferences are microcosms of Silicon Valley's heavy white male dominance and perpetuate the limited role of minorities and women ([which] was encouraged ... this year)."

Let's work together to keep the conversation going.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hangout on Air: Building Community in Your Classes

Join me on Monday, May 11th at 4pm PT/7pm ET for this Hangout on Air!

Join in on the back channel with #AISMOOC.

The purpose of this Hangout on Air is to learn how to cultivate, grow and leverage vibrant communities in a virtual or blended class and share instructional strategies that will maximize the potential of the community to boost learning in your virtual classes.

Chris Long will be facilitating this HoA, which is in support of the Virtual Classroom MOOC he is currently teaching for UCI Extension’s Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom offered through Coursera. Everyone is invited to view and ask questions!

  • Chris Long, AIS MOOC Instructor and Technology Coordinator for Huntington Beach Union High School District
  • Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Teaching and Learning Innovation Specialist at CSU Channel Islands, Associate Faculty at Mt. San Jacinto College
  • David Theriault, High School English Literature Teacher
  • Matt Payne, online student

How to view: