Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sloan-C Symposium of Emerging Technologies Recap

Earlier in May, I had the pleasure of attending the first Sloan-C International Symposium of Emerging Technologies held in the western US in Carefree, Arizona. I’ve decided that attending the Sloan-C conferences is the best way for me to connect with colleagues from around the nation (and world) in higher education to discuss the impact of technologies on learning as well as engage in an exciting and challenging dialogue about the future of education in the 21st century. This stimulating environment filled with questions and loads of creative possibilities makes me feel so at home, even if I’m in the middle of the desert. I write this blog post as at attempt to bring some of this excitement back to my colleagues at Sierra College (hopefully a few will read this) and anyone else who may be interested.

Highlights of my experience include more exposure to the innovations being offered through integrating Second Life into learning experiences; learning of Judy Baker’s, Director of Foothills Global Access program, Hewlett grant for developing an open educational consortium specifically for community colleges (bravo, Judy!); and hearing the intellectually stimulating and provocative thoughts offered by Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins, famed “SLebrity” (this is a new term I learned at the conference which means Second Life Celebrity). Intellagirl presented to a packed room of educators in Arizona and a crowd of avatars in Second Life, one with a blue ox head and another in handcuffs, simultaneously. Way cool.

Michelle Macfarlane, one of my colleagues from Sierra College who attended with me, took me on a tour through Second Life, which I have only dabbled in once before. I visited the Louvre and walked through the piazzas in Florence, Italy and viewed the paintings in the Uffizi too. Then we flew over to Central Park in New York which was oddly deserted. The journey was quite intriguing until my rookie SL fingers somehow managed to detach her avatar’s hair! She’s still bald...an interesting social experiment in itself, I think.

Judy Baker’s efforts to bring community colleges together in the collaborative creation of a consortium of open education online resources with intentions of democratizing the learning experience by reducing (or eliminating) the amount of money students spend on 4-5 pound textbooks are worthy of a standing ovation. For years, I’ve reflected on the remarkable absence of niches for community colleges in the online learning landscape. Let’s face it folks, community colleges are different from universities and require unique resources. Community college students are much more likely to be challenged by textbook prices that regularly exceed $100 per book. I intend to encourage my colleagues to get involved with the consortium and consider contributing quality content that could meet the learning needs of our students without undercutting their finances.

In the coming years, I’m hopeful we’ll see more strategic engagement from community colleges in California in the conceptualization of creative solutions for everyday educational challenges. I’m also hopeful we’ll see more CA community colleges getting strategic about the role of online learning in their future. If you are employed at a community college in California, is online learning an integral part of your institution’s strategic plan? If so, please share your story with me. I’m eager to reach out to other CCCs to identify how other institutions are planning appropriately for the future. If online learning has not been integrated into your institution’s plan, why? What I’d really love to see is a Sloan-C survey, like Online Nation, that focuses solely on community colleges. (If you'd like to download the full PDF version of Online Nation, click here.)

And, lastly, the “cool” product that I learned about during my trip is the Flip Video Camera. Now, I had seen an article about this camera several months ago and thought, “What’s so great about that?” Now I know. The Flip camera is a compact tool takes decent (that’s a complimentary term for low but acceptable) quality video, holding either 30 or 60 minutes on the internal drive, and with the “flip” of a lever, a USB connection pops out and makes an automatic upload to your computer occur in a flash. The files appear on your desktop in .avi format and can be edited and converted to other formats (including .mp4 for iPods) with the software that is included on the camera (which, by the way, is compatible on both PCs and Macs...yeah!). “OK, so what’s the big deal,” you ask. Well, the big deal is the sheer fluidity with which a teacher can capture a brief interview, a video of a sunset with my personal narration, a video of a tour of the desert landscape or a public art piece and within moments have that video appear online for my students. This IS big. This will transform teaching. The 60-minute version of the camera retails for between $130-150. How about purchasing a dozen for classroom use and assigning groups of students the task of roaming campus to complete a scavenger hunt: locate physical examples in your surroundings of linear perspective, complementary colors, contour lines, symmetry, etc. Here is a video I created using my new Flash video camera. This is a glass blowing demonstration I recorded at Nicholson Blown Glass in Auburn, CA.



Who says learning isn’t fun? Cheers to Sloan-C for keeping the focus on “quality” online learning. I’m already looking forward to November in Orlando.
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