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:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

ELI Course: How to Humanize Your Online Course

I've written previously about the institutional focus at CSU Channel Islands, my place of employment, to foster a culture of "humanized" online learning.  In April, Jill Leafstedt, Kristi O'Neil-Gonzalez and I facilitated a workshop at ET4Online titled "How to Humanize Your Online Course" and next week, I will be starting a 4-week online course for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) on the same topic.  This course does require registration through ELI. A discounted rate is available to ELI members.

The ELI course will incorporate asynchronous activities, including participating in a VoiceThread conversation; participating in Twitter polls; sharing reflections/resources/questions via Twitter (#HumanizeELI); creating a high-energy course bumper video in Animoto; creating a course banner in Canva; and curating these visually-oriented content creations into a Tackk that will be posted to our course Tackkboard!  The course is intended to pull higher education faculty, instructional designers/technologists, administrators (and other roles I'm missing) into an immersive learning environment that is designed around the principles of humanizing an online class.

An ELI digital badge will be earned by those who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and into the exciting landscape of content creation!

The asynchronous activities are anchored by the following four live sessions:

  • "The Foundations of Humanizing"  
    • I am the presenter for this one. Tues, 5/12; 10am-11:30am PT/1pm-2:30pm ET
  • "VoiceThread for Universal Design: Supporting the needs of diverse learners" 
  • "Reaching out, being there: What we know and don't know about social presence"
    • Guest presenters: Patrick Lowenthal, Boise State University and Joanna Dunlap, University of Colorado, Denver
    • Thurs, 5/28; 10am-11:30am PT/ 1pm-2:30pm ET
  • "Humanizing share session!"
    • In this session, I will invite volunteers from our course to share their Humanizing Showcases and reflect on their experiences and key takeaways.
I look forward to learning with those of you who participate. Everyone is invited to follow our hashtag on Twitter and learn with us! #HumanizeELI

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#ET4Online Reflections: The Shifting Nature of Conferences in the Connected Age

Last week, I attended the 8th Annual OLC/MERLOT International Symposium of Emerging Technologies for Online Learning (#ET4Online) in Dallas, TX with over 600 other educators in person and roughly another 500 (going from memory on this figure) who attended virtually.  Over the past several days, I've been reading Tweets and blog reflections shared by attendees.  This conference will re-emerge in April 2016 with a new title, OLC Innovate: Innovations in Blended and Online Learning (to be held in New Orleans in April 2016). The transformation of the conference is significant, as there are many elements shifting in the conferencing landscape.

I had a moment during Mimi Ito's keynote that made me pause. Dr. Ito asked each member of the audience to hold up a thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate their perception of the impact technology has on young people today.  I was stunned to see how many thumbs down I observed -- in an audience of online educators. Changing this attitude is important. If we, as educators, do not value the potential of the connected age, how can we design and facilitate learning experiences that empower students to harness the opportunities presented to us?

#ET4Online showed that use of Twitter in higher ed edtech circles has matured (and the conversation continues, as you can see in the search widget below) and, as such, is deeply reshaping what it means to "attend" a conference. Rebecca Hogue (on-site in Dallas) and Maha Bali (attending virtually, based in Egypt) piloted an ET4Buddies concept. Using mobile video technologies, Rebecca pulled Maha into face-to-face conversations and events at the conference. Maha also participated as a panelist on the Women in EdTech: a Conversation and Messy Learning panels.  

On the Women in EdTech Panel, Maha noted her deep appreciation for Michael Berman (whom I have the pleasure of working with), an individual who supported Maha's efforts to get to Dallas in person this past year. After the conference, Jill Leafstedt (another colleague of mine) noted that she was impacted upon hearing Maha, in Egypt, speak of Michael's supportive efforts. Jill wrote on her blog, "working closely with Michael I already know he is a great mentor, but to hear this coming from someone halfway around the world was truly remarkable. I don't know if Michael and Maha have spent much time together face-to-face, but it was clear, Maha knew the same Michael that I knew and that this connection was having a deep and lasting impact on her career." What's fascinating is that Maha and Michael, to this day, have never met face-to-face. 

In Dallas, I sought out meeting Adam Croom after Laura Gibbs, over Twitter, strongly encouraged me to connect with him at the conference.  I did so and found myself excited and speaking about the ideas that Laura and I regularly share. Interestingly, I've never "met" Laura either. Yet, she has played a formative role in how I think about teaching online.  I also connected in person for the first time with Sam Eneman and Dave Goodrich, after years of online interactions.

Several people have noted how more meaningful the conversations were at ET4Online this year and in comparison to other edtech conferences. Patrice Torcivia said it best, "There were less power points and more crayongs; less talking at us and more listening; less structure and more messiness; less learning objectives and more learning subjectives."  I believe this is deeply interconnected with changes in the nature of relationships.  And, as such, I question what the phrase "attending a conference" means today.

Mimi Ito and Bonnie Stewart, two of the great general session speakers at the conference (Gardner Campbell is the third) mentioned "knowledge abundance" in their talks. As we continue to convene once a year in this context of knowledge abundance, we must be rethinking what "a conference" should be like -- structurally and procedurally. Mimi also has audience members use their smarphones to Tweet out findings from small group conversations and Bonnie showcased her powerful findings from her dissertation study, which examined how participation on Twitter shapes the identities of educators. 

How we define value is shifting in the social era.  Community and openness are valued more and the relevance of sitting and collecting/absorbing information from an expert is diminished.  Hopefully, these insights help us to identify with the preferences of our learners. 

One outcome of this connected age is a new sort of preciousness or aura of face-to-face experiences. We still long to be there together, but for different reasons. So, a good question to consider is, "Why do we attend conferences today?" Virtual relationships are flourishing. Faculty, IDs, instructional technologists, CIOs, and more are learning from each other beyond the edges of our institutions and the close of a conference.   When we are together in person, there seems to be a desire to spend time relating to each other as humans and less time passively receiving information. Patrice Torcivia reflected on her experiences at ET4Online (specifically in reference to the Women in EdTech Panel), "The conversation was raw, emotional, and transparent. ... We need as many conversations like this as it takes." I agree, Patrice. And, as such, I've heard many requests for shorter "sessions" and longer "open time" between these formal sessions to allow ample time for spontaneous conversations/learning/connections to occur.

What do you want OLC Innovate 2016 to look like? Let us know here (shout out to this year's amazing OLC Program Chair, Laura Pasquini, for developing this form!).

Monday, April 20, 2015

#ET4Online This Week in Dallas - what's on tap?

Tomorrow, I'll be flying to Dallas to attend #ET4Online, the OLC/MERLOT 8th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium 2015. I have attended every one of the previous seven ET4Online events, but this year is special for me as I have the honor of being the Conference Chair.

The past year of planning has brought me closer to many amazing leaders in the online learning space, including Jason Rhode, Assistant Conference Chair; Laura Pasquini, OLC Program Chair; and Jane Moore, MERLOT Program Chair. This dynamic group brought endless energy, ideas, and creative problem solving skills to our planning. The conference steering committee was also incredible to work with. Far too many rock stars there to list!

While there is no way for me to capture all the great things happening at ET4Onine in Dallas this Wednesday through Friday, here some of the sessions I'm especially looking forward to. If you attend any of these sessions, look for me and say hello! :)

Wed, 4/22
*Sessions noted with an asterisk will be streamed live for our virtual attendees.

  1. 8:30am-10:00am: How and Why to Humanize Your Online Class.*  #ET4Humanize. I will be co-facilitating this workshop with my great colleagues, Jill Leafstedt and Kristi O'Neil-Gonzalez. In-person attendees (up to 50) will receive a copy of our infographic (shared in this blog post) and I'll be raffling off two copies of my book for those who are there in person (sorry, virtual attendees).  
  2. 10:30am-12:00pm: VoiceThread 101*.  If you are reading this blog, you know I'm a fan of VoiceThread. This workshop by Jaimie Hoffman (a colleague of mine) and Patrick Krispen will be a must-attend for anyone interested in becoming a VoiceThreader! Oh! And they'll be giving away a PRO account or two. VoiceThread is also a National Sponsor of the conference this year and will be on site in the exhibition room! Stop by and say hello!
  3. 1:00pm: Leading from Where You Are: How to Develop Great Ideas and Get Senior Administration to Support Them*.  Michael Berman (who I work with), Crista Copp, Kyle Johnson, and Jennifer Sparrow will lead this session. What can I say? They're all incredible, so how could I miss it?
  4. 2:00pm: EdTech as a Practioner/Leader - Career Forum Roundtable.  I'll be one of the featured panelists and will be joined by Michael Berman and Sorel Reisman.  Catherine Honig and Barbra Sperling will be facilitating this event. I look forward to sharing some of the things I've learned in my career as I shifted from an art history professor to a consultant and then into my recent role at CSU Channel Islands as a Teaching & Learning Innovation Specialist. 
  5. 4:00pm: Connected Learning, keynote by Mimi Ito.* To me, there is nothing more important than examining how social technologies are changing the way people learn. We are so very fortunate to have Dr. Ito present this year's keynote. I've been excited about this since last summer!

Thurs, 4/23
  • 8:15am: Beyond Alt-Metrics: Identities and Influence Online.* Plenary session by Bonnie Stewart. Issues of identity are always of interest to me. It will be especially intriguing to hear findings from Bonnie's research on this topic, as they relate to online experiences.  
  • 9:40am - Teacher Tank.* #ET4TTank. NEW this year! Join five of the startups in this year's Launch Pad as they each share 5-minute presentations designed to dazzle our superstar edtech sharks: Tanya Joosten, Bonnie Stewart, and George Siemens. Thanks to Donna Murdoch for coordinating this session! Also, the winner of the Teacher Tank will lead a hands-on session in the Technology Test Kitchen at 4:30pm on Thursday!
  • 3:30 - EdTech Women: A Conversation.* Inspired by a blog post by Rebecca Hogue after last year's conference, I coordinated this panel comprised of Amy Collier (moderator), Tracy Clark, Keesa Muhammad, Patrice Torcivia Prusko, and Maha Bali.  Can't wait to hear the reflections and stories shared by this diverse group of women in edtech. 
  • 6:00pm - Women in EdTech Dinner. This new, special event is sold out! But you can follow our reflections via Twitter using this hashtag:  #ET4Women.  A generous sponsorship by LoudCloud allowed the $20 donations contributed by each attendee to go towards funding an EdTech Women scholarship for the 2016 OLC conference.  Many thanks to Whitney Kilgore, Christine Hinkley, Katie Fife Schuster, the OLC leadership team, and LoudCloud for supporting this extra endeavor this year!
Fri, 4/24
  • 8:00am: Thought Vectors in Concept Space*.  Plenary Session by Gardner Campbell.  I've heard so many great things about Gardner Campbell and this will be the first time I will have the pleasure to hear him. Looking forward to this one!
  • 1:15pm - The ET4Online Unconference -- follow along at #unET4Online.  This year's unconference is going to be dynamic and inclusive, as it will be fueled by the energy of Jesse Stommel (on-site facilitator) and Maha Bali (virtual facilitator). I arrange my flight home around this event! See you there!
Other things not to miss:
  • The Technology Test Kitchen -- a hands-on lab for emerging technologies led by Master Chefs. You'll find the TTK in the exhibition hall. Many thanks to Laura Pasquini, Jessica Knott, and Ben Scragg for their great work on this event!
  • Discovery Sessions -- This year, for the firsWht time, the Discovery Sessions will be shared on-site and online!  Virtual attendees may view the presentations through this ThreadBox (a curated collection of VoiceThreads) and ask questions in the form of voice or video comments. ThreadBox is a VoiceThread feature that has not yet been released to the public. This exciting sneak peek was made possible through the generous sponsorship of VoiceThread. VoiceThread also provided all participating Discovery Session presenters with a free 1-year Individual Higher Ed License ($99 value). 
  • Launch Pad -- Visit the seven edtech startups that were selected to participate in the Launch Pad this year! Interact with these entrepreneurs and provide honest feedback about their emerging products. There are some great tools to check out here!
  • Virtual Buddies -- #ET4Buddy. If you are attending virtually, Maha Bali and Rebecca Hogue are pairing up this year to pilot a new idea. Maha will be attending virtually from Cairo, Egypt and Rebecca will be on-site. Rebecca will be using synchronous video tools to pull Maha into the live action. These video feedback will be pushed out to Twitter so all virtual attendees (or anyone else) can share in the experiences. To engage, check out #ET4Buddy.
I know I missed a lot of great happenings in this list -- but I hope it's helpful to you, especially if you are a first-time attendee at ET4Online. See you in Dallas!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Infographic: How to Humanize Your Online Class

Click here for the online version of the infographic.

I have a vivid memory from my experiences teaching as a full-time art history instructor at Sierra College that has left a lasting impression on me. It was around 2004 and I had been teaching online for about a year or so and I was seated with other faculty at the Sierra graduation ceremony. It was a hot Rocklin afternoon and the sun was in my eyes, but I was excited to experience the magical, inspirational event of graduation. As I sat listening to the names of students be called out as they walked across the stage and accepted their diplomas, I heard the name of one of my online students be announced. An strange, unfamiliar feeling came over me. Yes, I clapped and cheered, just as I was doing for other students (especially my own), but it was different. At that very moment, I realized that he and I would not be sharing a handshake or a hug, as I would do with my face-to-face students, after the ceremony. It dawned upon me that he would not be able to identify me as his instructor and nor him.

That moment awakened me to the gap that can exist between students and their instructors (and students-students) in online classes.  And, from that moment, I made an effort to reconcile this gap. I started by toying with Audacity to transform my text announcements into voice messages to my students.  That was a good change. But it wasn't until I started using VoiceThread and bought a Flip video camera to record an introductory video of myself that I had evidence of bridging this gap.

The evidence came on another warm afternoon when I pulled into the college parking lot. As I opened the door, I was greeted by a young man who exclaimed, "You are my online instructor!" It was a very cool moment and one that I cherish to this day. We had a brief conversation and I walked away with a smile.

Since then, I've tried lots of different strategies in my classes and, despite the fact that our world has become more connected through social technologies in recent years (that are easy to use and often free), I still have students who regularly share with me that my class is different -- because they feel like they know me and they feel like I care. This isn't to say that online instructors who use voice/video and interactive tools to design and facilitate their courses are the only instructors who care. But these strategies are key to my ability to be present in the experiences of my students. And they're key to my ability to share my inflection, my concern, and my enthusiasm for them -- nuances text cannot convey.

This week, a series of online conversations spurred by Laura Gibbs and Amy Collier surfaced that delved into the value of an active, authentic presence by an instructor in online classes. They made me recognize how important this conversation is and I hope these dialogues continue.

Meanwhile, my with my team at CSU Channel Islands, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to "humanize" an online class. I started using this term when I wrote my eBook about VoiceThread, but using VoiceThread is not the only way to humanize an online class.  Below, you will see a new infographic I put together in an attempt to concisely communicate what humanizing is to me.

These are principles we have infused into the Online Teaching Program at CI and they seem to be making an impact on how faculty relate to the idea of online classes.  It really does matter when faculty development for online teaching is provided in an online format. It is the only way to immerse faculty in an experiential learning experience and recognize just how meaningful online learning can be and how important it is to know your instructor as a human.  I work about 300-miles away from the faculty I support in these classes.  I believe their experiences would not be quite as impactful if I was in an office down the hall.

We've shared the infographic is shared with a CC-BY license, which provides permission for you to re-use the infographic without permission, as long as it is attributed (this item has a joint attribution to me and Teaching & Learning Innovations@CI).

Next week at ET4Online in Dallas, Jill Leafstedt, Kristi O'Neil, and I will be using the infographic to frame our workshop, How to Humanize Your Online Class. And next month, I'll be facilitating an online workshop for ELI on the same topic.  I hope to connect with some of you in these two venues!

I hope this is a resource that will be used by many.