Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sloan-C Emerging Tech Symposium Reflections


Last week I spent three days in the glorious city of San Francisco soaking up new ideas and inspiring messages about the direction of online learning in higher ed at the 2009 International Sloan-C Symposium for Emerging Technologies.

I attended an outstandingly solid pre-conference workshop, Hybrid Learning Meets Web 2.0, presented by three stellar individuals from the Maricopa Community College district: Veronica Diaz, Naomi Storm and Jennifer Spink Strickland. The co-presenters showcased a model of a course "redesign" experience that facilitates the instructional transition from teaching a fully face-to-face course to a hybrid or blended model. The workshop effectively offered participants a treasure box of amazing resources (check out their phenomenal wiki packed with content that they generously shared!) that can be leveraged for implementing similar course redesign models at other institutions. The scalability is much appreciated! Also noteworthy was the blend of tech resources with relevant reflection on pertinent topics. For example, the participants spent time in break out groups defining our own concept of "hybrid" and even trying to decide whether or not our own fictitious institution would adopt the name "hybrid" or "blended." Hmmm -- we really do squabble over details, don't we? The message was clear. Don't jump into a hybrid class or begin to roll out a hybrid program without planning and discussing the pedagogical and conceptual implications with your constituents. Collaboration is key.

The opening keynote speaker on Wednesday evening was Richard Katz, Vice President of Educause, who explored the potential of cloud computing to both transform and rattle the traditions and infrastructure of higher ed IT, communications and pedagogy.

Wednesday's "expert plenary" session included a panel of business leaders that I found most engaging, particularly the presentation shared by Stewart Mader that probed the multifaceted uses of wikis in higher education, from teaching and learning to project management and departmental collaboration. Mather, a former science teacher, is an impressively energetic and innovative thinker that has found an exciting niche for his passions and is effectively sharing an important web 2.0 tool with professors, staff and managers in a context that stresses how new technologies can facilitate more effective processes and save us all time and money in the long run.

For me, the highlight of the entire symposium was the closing session, which was presented by Josh Jarrett, Senior Program Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The title of his presentation, Institutional and System Barriers to Improving Student Success Through Technology - Is There Any Reason for Hope?, sounded daunting to me at first and I was concerned about leaving the symposium in a slump of depression. However, while his message was serious, his tone was motivational and his presentation left me feeling inspired. Jarrett revealed higher ed's "dirty little secret," showcasing data that demonstrates an increasing gap in the number of lower income Americans who achieve a college degree by their mid 20s. This seems terribly irresponsible to me at a time when higher education is truly more accessible than ever before with more than 3 million college students taking at least one online class each year. Interesting. Jarrett went on to reframe our college's infrastructures and traditions as potential impediments and stressed that we know what works, we can change this -- we just need to make it happen. I really can't explain why his words meant so much to me. Perhaps because I have felt alone for so many years as a faculty member trying desperately to inspire change within my own institution that seemed so immobile. Perhaps I felt like I finally had some company or at least a mouthpiece (backed by the funds of the Gates Foundation!) to speak up for innovation in higher ed and to call faculty to the front as the leaders of this change. Being a change agent is an amazing role in society. Think back to your role models. This could be your chance walk in their footsteps. ... OK, I told you I was moved.

I also had an opportunity to share some of the recent work I have done with VoiceThread in my online classes. If you're interested in viewing the session, I invite you to watch the recorded version below. It is a 50-minute recording. The session was well attended and I appreciated the lively discussion that followed. I'd like to note my overarching sensitivity to the issues of accessibility that I touch upon in my presenation and stress that I fully comprehend and support the need to accommodate, to the best of our ability, all of our students in the online learning format. This presentation is a culmination of my endeavors to reach outside of accessible content in the quest of meeting the pedagogical needs of an art history curriculum taught within a text-dominated and personally detached course management system. VoiceThread provided me with an amazingly powerful and transformative mechanism to facilitate visual, dynamic, intimate dialogues about art and move from "the sage on the stage" to the "guide by the side." Along the way, I prodded and poked at VoiceThread, a wonderful group of individuals I must add, to respond to the needs of education and develop a fully 508 compliant interface that would accommodate screen readers and more easily enable comments to be left in both audio AND text to meet compliance standards. They responded. It's not official but the "word on the street" is that VoiceThread will have a compliant interface "soon." I guess this would be our second motion of this blog post that focuses on the role of faculty as change agents. As we identify potential teaching and learning opportunities in web 2.0 tools, we -- that is, all of us engaged in this dialogue -- must engage a dialogue with web 2.0 developers. We must educate them on the critical importance of developing tools with accessibility in mind so we can seamlessly integrate these tools into our online learning landscape without directly excluded students.

With that said, I hope you enjoy my presentation.

This is a live recording of a presentation I shared at the International Sloan-C Symposium for Emerging Technologies in San Francisco on June 18, 2009.

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