This year I attended the Educause online regional conference in Austin online February 12-14, 2013. I’ve probably attended five or more Ed conferences in my life, and this was the first one I’ve ever done online. A few thoughts about the online experience before I recap some of the (I hope) interesting takeaways from the sessions.
The Online Experience
It wasn’t what I was expecting in a sense. I was imagining it would be terribly boring to attend the sessions virtually and I was afraid I would struggle to absorb the information being presented. Interestingly, I thought I was basing this thinking on previous online seminars I have attended from Sloan, Educause and others, and in a sense I was, but I was also basing it off my dislike of attending Ed conferences the traditional way.
There were some technical issues with my password that turned out to be a simple case of my copying the password incorrectly – accidentally adding a space at the beginning when I pasted it in, that prevented me initially from accessing the Adobe Connect conference room. After I realized my amateur mistake, and felt the accompanying mild embarrassment, I was able to login, test my headset, and make connection with the hosts.
Once the sessions started I had no technical difficulty, other than the second day of the conference where there was some connectivity issues that I’m not sure were the fault of my own Internet connection, which can be spotty at times, or the conference servers. But of course I was able to watch any sessions I missed live in the recorded archives one or two hours after they were presented. This did prevent me from commenting in real-time and Twittering the sessions on day two, but Twitter was mainly being used by attendees to merely summarize what session speakers were talking about anyway – hardly value-added in my opinion.
Overall I discovered that I was much BETTER able to absorb the material being presented and to think critically about it in the online milieu than I typically am when attending face-to-face. Part of this had to do with the fact that I was home, comfortable, with my cat Angel sleeping nearby, and a hot cup of coffee (and food whenever I wanted it) right next to me. I was able to let my guard down by being away from hordes of strangers and this made it easier to concentrate. In addition I could rewind the material in the archived sessions if I missed an important point and was able to really ‘get’ what was being discussed.
The first day included sessions on Developing your 5 year professional development plan, How Geeks and non-Geeks can work together, a fresh look on digital natives, going mobile, and iPads on campus.
The professional development plan session seemed like a lot of talk about something I already understand – although maybe I’m just being complacent (it’s not like my career arc has been perfect by any means). At any rate it was not an auspicious beginning to the conference from my perspective; this session really did bore me. The sessions on geeks and non-geeks didn’t improve the conference outlook either; I always find such comparisons and generalizations insulting. I did, however, become interested during the talk on digital natives.
For example, I learned – if it wasn’t clear already – that I’m a digital immigrant. According to one study from Rice University, if you learned about the Sandy Hook school shootings on Twitter you’re a digital native; if you used some other source you’re an immigrant (guiltily – for many reasons – I learned of the shootings on the abyssmal MSNBC). The lecturer, Gary Kidney, also noted that students LIKE when professors use PowerPoint to distribute their lectures online (61% of undergrads expect it in fact). Students like the PowerPoint because it’s a great way to take notes in-class because it organizes the content well. Prezi – for all it’s presentation magic – cannot do for students what PowerPoint can do.
Kidney did make some dubious claims however such as his report that 100% of their students have cell phones with Internet and Wi-Fi as well as another device with Wi-Fi (such as an iPad). I will say this again, even in the modern era I find this hard to believe. However, they also reported that students didn’t like to use their phones for learning (amen) but LOVED using them for things like scheduling and checking the cafeteria menu, and of course social networking. I don’t know what method was used to gather these statistics and I don’t know how students are equipped with technology at Rice, so I just want to be clear I’m not saying Mr. Kidney is making up his statistics (not at all in fact – just that I find it hard to believe). At UC Berkeley I’m fairly certain not even 50% of our students use iPAD based on some initiatives we’ve worked on in the past year.
Responsive web design and the awesomeness of the Twitter bootstrap framework were my takeaways from the talk on going mobile at Texas A & M. I don’t think those assertions were ever in doubt…although presumably some would disagree. Isn’t there always someone to disagree on everything? Sorry, rhetorical question. One question worth considering when developing a mobile application: do I need a fully functional, responsive website or will a mobile app do?
Regarding iPADs on campus it was asserted (Emily Cicchini and James Kerkhoff) that because of their light weight and ease of use (and size actually) iPADs are GREAT for content creation. This doesn’t surprise me in the least. Last year I was lucky enough to get a first hand view of creating an eText with Apple iBooks (at Apple headquarters) and I was very pleased with what I saw. If eTextbooks all used the capabilities of iBooks (and also students actually had access to iPADs, or similar devices) paper textbooks would be DOA; I assert this to be 100% true.
Anyway, back to the session on iPADs…
The presenters also talked about how all assets are saved in the cloud (iPAD doesn’t have a file storage system) or in its applications; it’s more secure and easier to troubleshoot than laptops; it’s lighter to carry (obviously), and it doesn’t require much support! These are all great advantages no doubt. This was my favorite session of the day (of course it helped that they put in a plug for my favorite organizational app Evernote).
This was the day I had to watch the recorded sessions because the connectivity was a problem. So I was a bit lonely that day and needed a drink after it was all over, but I learned a great deal as I said. The topics for the day included: copyright issues online, blending technology with purpose (am ambiguous title no doubt), research information management systems (a totally new topic for me), comics for learning, and NextGenU.
Live lectures can’t be copyrighted but if fixed in a tangible medium (recorded) they can be. So based off that premise the talk centered around MOOCs and whether or not that material can by copyrighted. It gets even murkier when you ask who gets the copyright – the animators, illustrators, writers, etc? Multiple people are collaborating to create the course. These are good, valid points and I don’t know the answer to them; interesting session.
Baylor University uses student smartphones as clickers. With their device webdav-enabled the students are able to share files in blackboard mobile or write their blog entries with their WordPress app. All very cool indeed. Why is Berkeley not yet up to snuff? Students are even attending Elluminate Live conference sessions on their mobile devices at Baylor! Now Baylor tech ops are looking into mobile printing as well. Crazy cool. Helen Chu from the University of Oregon was also there and talked about new learning spaces at the University of Oregon. This is not in any way my expertise so I won’t comment on it other than to say they are doing some cool stuff at U of O! I think it would be worthy anyone’s time to stop by the University if they happen to be in the area and see first-hand what they’ve done with their help desk and their IT.
Jerry McLaughlin of Symplectic gave a demonstration of a new Research Information Management System that I didn’t fully understand. Apparently management of research information data is tough and when he explained it I could see why. Researchers (and the people who support them) are using multiple library systems to catalog data and its difficult to share this information because each database system from which they are pulling data has different sharing standards (technically speaking).
The discussion on comics was a bit of a letdown but that might be my own fault as an avid collector of comics when I was a kid I was looking for something based around superheroes. I’m not sure what I was expecting really but what I saw wasn’t it. The idea of using comics for learning is terrific though; I approve.
NextGenU I had not heard about but apparently you can take for-credit classes online (with the approval of your institution) for FREE. Yea, well so what? The so what is that they have a very unique way of doing it in that peer relationships and mentoring are both encouraged, and in many cases, required. Unfortunately this system is currently only offering courses in health sciences topics but they are designing other courses in other disciplines as we speak. Lockdown security for assessments and an ad-free environment further enhance the potential of the system. I still need to setup a username and password so I can try this out.
This day had me up at the crack of dawn (actually very much like the day before) – 6am to be exact as sessions started at 8am Central time. Topics for the day included using the Library as an API, how IT can get along with everyone else, developing leaders in IT, implementing a cloud-first strategy, google apps for education, and emerging insights on learning and technology presented by the estimable Mark Milliron.
The session on using the library as API was fascinating to me. What do students need to do to conduct research in the 21st century. Shockingly perhaps it usually involves a physical visit to the library archives on campus. How nice would it be if there was an API that allowed faculty to bring in the library databases to the LMS so that students could easily check them out online? The technology is there but implementation is not so easy; the presenter for this session laid out a possible roadmap that is not so easy to implement and makes me wonder if this is the best we can do, but the idea he presented was terrific. It is, as follows:
Bring the various library-based databases such as EBSCO and ProQuest Summon into the LMS using an API (different depending on your LMS – at Berkeley we use Sakai although Canvas has been talked about as a possible replacement). Then use BasicLTI to embed database search and gather widgets in the LMS to allow faculty to show available readings and students to check them out…all of this easily enabled using the basic login authentication students used to get into the LMS in the first place. Simply wow.
The sessions on IT getting along with others and Google Apps I didn’t find very useful. This is not, obviously, to say there was nothing useful in them, but I didn’t personally find them valuable. I hate having to explain things. Two takeaways from those sessions however: 1) when marketing IT to stakeholders IT needs to be aware that telling stories need to begin with FACTS and that keeping promises leads to trust. Duh. Still, worth noting; 2) Google Apps for Education comes with 8 core services including Groups and Sites…why doesn’t Berkeley have these two as part of our Google Apps for Education suite?? I love Google sites for student portfolios.
Developing leaders for IT was very insightful for me. The session was essentially split into two tracks of inspiration: what leaders should do to cultivate leaders and what wannabe leaders should do to cultivate themselves to become leaders. Here’s the two tracks in summary:
Developing Leaders (for leaders):
- meet bi-weekly with subordinates
- provide challenges and opportunities
- inspire and motivate others to look at their leadership potential
- co-develop a roadmap to achieve goals
- give feedback, encouragement, support
- look for leaders at any level in ANY area (cool)
- nudge people out of their comfort zones
- customize mentoring to match the protege
- delegate decision-making
- allow opportunities for failure
- believe in people
- INTERACT WITH PEOPLE AT THEIR POTENTIAL – NOT WHERE THEY ARE TODAY
Aspiring leaders should:
- focus on education and self-development
- self-assess, self-assess, self-assess
- do a gap analysis – what do I need to do to be where I want to be?
- seek a mentor
- seek other professional development opportunities
- set goals and plan for the future
Implementing a cloud-first strategy was interesting for several reasons: 1) the idea of hosting the LMS AND the authentication mechanism in the cloud (with a local failsafe) is immensely attractive for many reasons, not least of which is that it’s earthquake-proof. And in California that means something! Not only that but it’s more secure to use a reliable third party service actually. Finally, I liked the idea they promoted of making the role of IT staff one of architects rather than stewards. I should quote that somehow but I’m not sure that was the quote. At any rate the presenter of the lecture gets credit for the stewards comment.
Mark Milliron had many insights to share with us including the following salient points:
- OERCommons.org rocks for free content
- 4 year full-time undergrads only represent about 20% of the higher-ed population today O.o
- Let’s change the lecture/homework dynamic so that the lecture is the homework and the homework is the classtime (hell yes)
- 47% of gamers today are women. damn, really?
- Fastest growing cohort of gamers are the over 50 age group.
- Instead of charging students resource and materials fees for every class they take (which are variable and tend to discourage poor students from taking more expensive classes, which is just unfair) charge them a flat fee for the semester for all resources they might use.
- Get data for various IT services and initiatives into the hands of students; they will demand the change they need.
- Students need to know all the time how they are doing in their courses, not just at midterm, after the final, or when they ask.
This post is already long enough so I’m not going to summarize everything for you here, but if you weren’t able to attend the conference I recommend reading what I posted above.