Centers of Innovation – Situating Change

I began this post by running a search for “centers of innovation” then “blog:innovation” which lead me to the top 25 sites on innovation that devolved into a 2-hour stroll through blog posts, self-published books, TEDTalks, and a refreshing Anil Dash keynote at a Behance event where his topic, Share Your Values and You’ll Share Success hit a sweet spot. Authenticity, avoiding risk-averse cultures, preparing for rejection are common themes. So too, is the definition of innovation. David Burkus posits that in order for something to be innovative it has to be new and useful. The difficulty with that relationship is that in order to determine if something new is actually useful, that new idea is often compared to the old idea. And if the old idea isn’t considered flawed or broken, proving a new idea is also useful can be problematic.

insidehigheredConsider yesterday’s InsideHigherEd webinar, 2015 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology. I was bothered by the perception data that a significantly large portion of faculty DO NOT believe that “for-credit online courses can achieve student learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of in-person courses”. If that many faculty and instructors do not believe that blended or online learning is effective- how will innovations in teaching be embraced? Contrasting that with the ECAR 2015 Study of Faculty and Information Technology wherein the top motivating factor for faculty to integrate technology into teaching or curriculum was a “clear indication/evidence that students would benefit”. I like this data point better. It has hope. While I cringe at being anecdotal, those of us who have helped faculty transition to teaching in a blended or online format hear one specific piece of feedback from faculty regardless of our institution. Faculty tell us that they believe they are a better instructor in any teaching modality after having learned how to teach an engaging and socially present blended or online course.

If innovation is something new and useful, and most faculty don’t believe online education is as effective (ergo- “useful” for my argument), centers of innovation and faculty development naturally experience resistance to any efforts to move toward blended and online teaching. Yet once faculty teach online, they believe they are better instructors. Would it be fair to say that teaching blended or online courses is experienced as real innovation for those faculty who take the risk?

This came up Tuesday when I visited my friends and colleagues at Cal State Channel Islands. Not only did I get lovely parting gifts, including my FiT Studio mug happily resting on my desk as I write, FIT MugI was also treated to a day with the Teaching and Learning Innovations team at CI – Kristin, Mike, Jill, Michael, and Michelle-on-the-wall. Having spent time at conferences with Michael, Jill and Michelle, it was particularly interesting to see them in their digs.  And cool digs at that. Two FiT studios made out of Whisper Rooms, an ultra cool Green Screen recording room with multiple camera angles, and a “living room” area with the giant telecom screen for Michelle-on-the-wall- all spaces that invite rich conversation and productivity. What faculty member wouldn’t want to innovate their teaching practice with the support of this team in this well designed space? Turns out, lots of Channel Island faculty are willing to take a risk with these folks.

So how did this team overcome the hurdle of convincing faculty that teaching blended or online courses could innovate their teaching practices? I sat back in the TLT living room while each team member gave me a synopsis of their role as well as some backstory to frame how their role in the team evolved. And the story they wove of a 5-year progression from a temporary project with a single cohort to a fully established set of services in a permanent location is a powerful one.

berman and teamWhat seemed to go right for this team was strong leadership, clear vision, and patience.

A. Michael Berman is not only one of the top 50 most social CIO’s, he is a get-out-of-your way leader who supports his team unequivocally and tangibly. He presents nationally and has such depth of knowledge in his field that he is always seven moves ahead. (He also has great taste in music and is really a great companion at a festival!) Jill’s own transition from tenured professorship to faculty development has a magical “she’s one of us” aspects that only adds validity to the depth of her programming and practical approach to incremental change- she’s patient and approachable on the outside which is her strongest attribute in a field that is defined by resistance. However, on the inside, Jill is equally aggressive in moving people forward as evidenced by how much impact the team appears to have had on the quantity and quality of blended and online offerings at CI. Jill’s partner in crime, Michelle, is simply a beast. Her innovation in the field of creating presence in the online environment is exceptional. She co-teaches a course on Digital Citizenship with Jill, has written a book on personalizing distance learning, and like Jill, she blogs regularly. All from a distance of over 200 miles away- hence, Michelle-on-the-wall. The icing on the cake – Instructional Designer, Kristi and Instructional Technologist, Michael who round out the team with mad skills in universal design and over-the-top graphics. This is a team, a real team.

In the last 5 years, they have grown from a temporary experiment with online teaching to establishing a powerful vision for humanizing blended and online courses at Channel Islands. They have a clearly articulated pathway for learning to teach online which includes a foundation course, Humanizing Your Online Course. This is followed by two more courses Designing Your Online Course and Designing Engaging Activities.  Once faculty have completed this pathway, they have experienced 6 weeks of online coursework and have a strong foundation in the research behind presence in the online environment. It is this clarity of focus that makes their program different than a more traditional “click and upload” approach to teaching online. I also believe that this clarity of focus is what appeals to faculty who want to learn to teach blended and online courses.

Once the coursework is completed, faculty enter the design phase of the pathway. The FtT studios, variety of software, and design team are a natural progression. CI pathwayThey have a site license for Camtasia, Voicethread, and a hosted WP blogging platform all supporting the variety of course content faculty choose to create. Finally, they have a peer review process in place using a combination of measurements including nationally recognized Quality Matters elements.

It’s a tight, clean process. It has an impact. It supports innovation. And increasingly more faculty are interested in innovation in their own courses.

And best of all – CI students have blended and online options with a clear advantage- they experience the presence of their instructor and their peers in their online and blended courses. No doubt this closes the circle of new + useful that results in real innovation.

CI tweet

The PT5 Summer Camp Spy Game

Last week marked the end of the 4th Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers Today Through Technology Summer Camp. Over 20 community college students attended the Spy themed Technology camp over the three days. Each had access to an iPad as they participated in the hands-on sessions that were designed to give future educators an overview of helpful educational technologies.

Marla Humphrey - Bonita Unified Reading Specialist - discusses social networks and professional branding

Marla Humphrey – Bonita Unified Reading Specialist – discusses social networks and professional branding

Some background- La Verne’s Title V Part A Cooperative grant teams us up once again with our neighbor (and friend) Citrus Community College. This grant has the overarching goal of increasing the number of underrepresented students who enter the field of education. Specifically, this grant supports the integration and modeling of learning technologies in college courses to produce more technically proficient educators. Activities include intensive faculty training and a newly developed instructional design services.

Over the last four years, more than 25 students have transferred from community college to La Verne’s Educational Studies program. There are some significant things about this. By taking general education courses at community college rates before transferring to a private Liberal Arts college reduces student loan considerably. Additionally, for first generation college students, this transition allows time for greater readiness to succeed at a 4-year college.

We have one more year of implementation for the Title V HSI Grant. This 4th year

IMG_1403But onto the camp game. Borrowing on the New Media Consortium Conference game this summer, instructional designer (and cartoonist) Sarah Barnes researched obscure and diverse spies from the past. She was delighted to find a whole world of badass woman and men who used their grit and wit to gather intel from the enemy. From this panoply of personalities, we chose four spies for our summer camp Twitter game.

The purpose of the game was to introduce Twitter as a way to create a conversation using a hashtag. Additionally, the game was intended to give camp participants a way to get to know one another while sharing thoughts about what they were learning. All but 2 of the players were new to Twitter as a social network.

spy game slideThe rules of the game were simple; tweet about the camp using the #pt5spy hashtag. Tweets could include a picture of your spy, could be related to what was taking place at the camp or could be related to your spy. The winner would be the tweeter with the most #pt5spy tweets during the event.

Using a leaderboard from Rise.Global similar to the one used at NMC was intended to organize the Twitter game. Despite two different practice leaderboards that seemed to work, the one developed for the Spy Camp was a total fail. The interface for setting up a leaderboard allowed me to pull tweets with the game hashtag. When we tested the leaderboard in the weeks leading up to the camp, tweeting with the hashtag indeed added one as a player on the leaderboard. Leaderboards, however, expire after a week (or so it seems). In the hopes of working around this and any other possible difficulties, I paid for a month of premium service. Despite this intended preparation, I was still unclear about how the system worked and the Help/FAQ provided was either incomplete or so technical that both were useless. Once the event began and things went sideways- even my persistence (and stubbornness) garnered no solution. Eventually, I created a spreadsheet of all the players and recorded each one’s tweets prior to beginning the game. Using a formula to keep the tally correct, I used the spreadsheet twice a day to update the scores.

Clunky but it worked. Lesson learned: someone could really create a useful app if it could easily calculate the number of times a tweeter uses a specific hashtag and report it in descending order.

Despite the technical breakdown, the ultimate aim- to provide an engaging experience with social media- was successful. The variety and unity of the three days of tweeting created a shared reference point for a group of disparate students interested in transferring from local community colleges to the University of La Verne. TechCamp2015

Pedagogical Rule #7: Do Unto Others As They Would Have You Do Unto Them

Years ago I spent time with renowned tattoo artist, Pat Fish while she was creating a Celtic piece that wrapped my friend’s waist in large black swirls. During one of the sessions, she shared how she kept a fresh perspective on her art. Her secret, she told us, was that each year she traveled to Ireland or Scotland to get inspiration for tattoos from ancient landmarks. And each year she got a new tattoo so that she would not forget the pain of the needle on her own skin. Her skin was a testament to her commitment to her craft. “You forget,” she told me, “how the needle feels.” What dedication. Pat Fish is not only committed to learning new things through her travel, but she continually revisits the perspective of her clients.

I wonder today if this element of lifelong learning isn’t essential in any field that serves others in some way. If so, Pat Fish has an exceptional way to remain empathetic to those who choose her to create intricate Celtic patterns on their skin.

Pat Fish came to mind today because I am once again experiencing first hand the frustrations of being a student. I am in my first year of a doctoral program. A blended format doctoral program at a small private university with an excellent reputation in organizational leadership.

There are the basic frustrations I imagine most students experience. Frustrations like reading outdated articles or having an autocratic professor (“you can use regular APA or you can use my APA”). Frustrations like assignment directions that are confusing or grading rubrics that have more procedural value than depth of learning. These frustrations fall along a tedium range. A range I imagine that varies for each student. Surely most students would rather engage with readings that relate to their coursework as well as increase their understanding, advance their research or challenge their thinking.  Yet, it seems that many of my classmates aren’t bothered enough to rally.

Which brings me to my new pedagogical Rule #7.

Rule #7 states, when teaching, do unto others as they would have you do unto them. This may be a one of the most significant rules in the evolution of higher education. Things are shifting. My professors are counting on us to go along with the familiar delivery model. They are counting on providing us with what students are used to. Students are used half baked slide shows. Students are used to turning their cell phones off. Students are used to course readings with limited perspectives. Students are used to professors who teach the way their own professors modeled.

Yes, I am generalizing- a lot. However, in conversations with my colleagues at other institutions, there is a shared sense that higher education is slow to change. When faculty members choose to rely on their entire suite of familiar teaching strategies, they engage in an exuberant exercise in trying to stay in one place on a moving sidewalk.

So Pat Fish. A new tattoo each year.

What if to be a truly exceptional professor, one took a course from another professor? Not just sat in a course but actually attended all the sessions, read all the course readings, joined in all the group activities, and completed all the assignments.

For me, this year in my doctoral program has been an eye opener about my own teaching. There are subtle things I do that I have not considered from the student perspective. As thorough as I believe I have been, I find my criticism and frustrations mirroring comments I have read on my course evaluations. While I have always taken course evaluation feedback very seriously, and often make changes to my course based on student response, I have done so with a confidence that I know best how to structure my own course.

Now, I have a renewed urgency. My experience as a student this year has spurred an intensive audit of the course I once considered well designed and thoughtfully balanced. Are my readings ready for an overhaul? Do I present a wide enough variety of perspectives and voices through the course media and readings? Are my grouping techniques adequate for balancing underrepresented students? Are the group roles promoting an unintended bias? Do my grading rubrics assess the product in balanced relation to the procedure?

Tattoo Artist, Pat Fish

Tattoo Artist, Pat Fish

So Pedagogical Rule # 7 is driving my course audit. I see my course more clearly from the perspective of a student. And having been one so recently, I know better what I would want in relation to presentation material, online organization, group structure, and media and readings.

Pat Fish was right, I had forgotten the feel of the needle.

Instructional Design; What it is. What it isn’t.

Instructional Design is an organized approach to designing, developing, and delivering course content.

Instructional design projects focus on an identified curricular, pedagogical, or assessment problem. This problem frames the design project and informs the project timeline.

Once a design problem has been identified, a team is assembled to address the problem in a series of projects. In a university like La Verne, the faculty or program chair would be the heart of this team as the subject matter expert (SME) however a member of the design team would act as the project lead. Librarians, educational technologists, and other instructional designers would play a role depending on the project.

Instructional design is intensive work which requires time, and expertise. Far more time than most people would recognize. La Verne faculty balance scholarship, teaching, and service. Instructional design requires a significant commitment to a project timeline.

Common Misconceptions

Blackboard means online education…

The Blackboard learning management system is the least important part of designing an online course because it is simply the location of the course materials. An on ground course would not be described by the building or room in which it takes place.
Blackboard or any learning management system are great networks for organizing students and online courses. However, to develop a truly exceptional online course or program, it takes intentional design and navigation.

An online course is a conversion of a traditional course…

Online courses are pedagogically different than on ground courses. Creating an online course which has the same intimate and collaborative environment for which La Verne is applauded relies on careful design and entirely different tools.
Research in online education correlates social presence to retention and completion rates. Developing activities that promote social presence in an online course and are directly tied to the learning outcomes is essential for creating an online course that sets La Verne apart from other online programs.

Instructional Design is essentially uploading and organizing existing content…

Instructional design is the art of crafting clear learning outcomes, aligning those outcomes to authentic course assessments, then developing the course materials and the course activities with a balance that ensures all learners will succeed.

Synchronous Learning – Practical Issues

When I was a college student, my favorite parts of class were small group activities where we solved a problem or discussed a critical issue. This was when I connected with my peers and rehearsed my burgeoning knowledge on teaching- done in the safe environment of my teacher education classes. I attended a small school and my classes were rarely over 20 students. In the 1980s it was simply not possible to re-create this intimacy in a distance education course.

Now, as an adjunct instructor, I believe strongly that this can be done. I have been addressing the issue of establishing social presence in the online environment by creating online classes that have an intimate, small group feel to them. My course evaluations usually include comments like, “I got to know people in this class better than my classes on campus”. I know instinctively that this delivery is moving in the right direction for small liberal arts colleges like the college where I teach. Yet there is so much we don’t know and can improve upon.

There are some practical issues that need to be addressed in the area of synchronous online learning. The definition of online learning often implies the asynchronous environment and on demand resources. Defining the types of course delivery needs to be clear and transparent for students. Tools that support synchronous learning are different and often go beyond on-demand content systems.

Consider the university where I teach as an adjunct, we have not fully defined (or embraced) the synchronous learning environment nor are we able to correctly schedule an online course that has weekly meeting times for students. Our current definitions are threefold:

  • Web enhanced: this is a course in which up to 10% the course materials are located in an online environment
  • Hybrid: a course in which up to 50% of the course materials are located in an online environment.
  • Distance Education: a course in which 100% of the material is located in the online environment

I understand we are reviewing these definitions and am hopeful that consideration will be made for for the positive potential of synchronous online courses.

Here is how these definitions make it difficult to clarify for students what type of a course to be taking. For the last several semesters, I have required that my students meet weekly in an online meeting space.  Our course registration system will only allow for courses to be coded using the above three options. If the course is labeled distance education, it will not book a room nor will schedule a specific meeting time. If the course is hybrid, it will schedule a meeting time however it also books a room on campus that will sit empty. In addition, it exceeds the definition of hybrid. Each semester, I have made efforts to communicate with the students that there is a meeting time and that this meeting time is a requirement. This is such a hassle for the students yet I have not way around it. Students often have to drop or reschedule other courses to stay enrolled in my section.

So scheduling is one of the issues that when resolved can really support quality synchronous experiences for students. The other issue however is that of a meeting space to support a quality synchronous experience.

For several years I had access to Adobe Connect, an online meeting tool with an excellent reputation. During that same time I also attended webinar sessions using Elluminate as well as WebEx. The interface of Adobe Connect have the most intuitive and agile design from the attendee standpoint and definitely from the teaching aspect. The chat pod allows for whole group conversations as well as the sidebar exchanges that naturally happen in the classroom. This product also easily create polling ahead of the session so that I was able to open polls throughout the course session without fumbling to create one on-the-fly. The most significant element however, was the ability to create breakout rooms and whatever was on the screen at the time say instructions for a small group activity, would follow each group into their breakout session. Pedagogically, polling  and breakout rooms creates the place for conversation. I have switched to WebEx and haven’t found the same simple experience however, I am able to work around it using their tools. Significantly, the Training Module allows for breakout sessions so that is the main thing I feel is needed to get the conversations going.

table 46Those are the two practical issues that I believe need to be addressed. What excites me much more are the teaching strategies and course materials that can create a powerful synchronous learning for students. Learning experiences in which they are challenged by course topics, have an opportunity to think critically, and most importantly, share a space that creates the sense of sitting at a new kind of table with classmates.

I will discuss those on a future post.

Assessment in EDUC407

How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating?

boy with tin can + string phone to his ear


EDUC407 is a course with assessments that are exclusively done in projects. Students address an educational concept, (Globalization of Teaching, Presenting Information Powerfully with Images) and the assignment applies the use of a learning technology to submit the response. In the globalization topic, teams of students write a 3rd person article using a Google Doc. The content is driven by the topic; the submission, by the tool. Students are required to use a team folder, the comment stream, and the resolution tool as they peer edit one another’s assignment. The grading rubric balances the value of content and tool as would expected in a Learning Technology for Educator’s course.

What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases?

Most of my teaching experience has focused on using project based learning. I have developed a rich relationship with rubrics that continues to evolve.

I am interested in creating short feedback loop resources that give students greater information about how they are progressing before any formal assessment. Authoring tools like Adobe Captivate and iBooks Author are next up on my experimentation list. I am planning to author a tool about the culminating project so that it provides information, rehearsal, and feedback BEFORE the student begins developing the site for the project.

What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your blended learning course?

The higher end grading capabilities described in this week’s reading in relation to LMS testing and quizzing can ultimately support a complex testing environment. Having said that, the time and complexity of CREATING the text bank is more time consuming than worthwhile for my assessment.

Projects and balanced rubrics will continue to drive the assessment for the course.

How will you implement formal and informal assessments of learning into your blended learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination?

The support for building projects will continue to be balanced between class sessions with direct instruction and on demand videos housed in the LMS. The activities that are built into the meeting sessions are where my current efforts lie. I am developing weekly team activities that focus on application of learning tech skills and conversations around teaching. This is new to my online sessions and I have only taught two semesters using the breakout session model. So far, I really like the purposefulness of the meeting sessions and the reliance the students have on one another. My primary goal is to create a sense of social presence in the course but I am also finding that the learning environment is richer as well.

Purposeful, Substantive Group Work

course iterations from 2009-2014

Still trying to find the right balance for La Verne students

My first foray into online teaching was that, online. I taught a Learning Technology for Educators course and a section of Research Methods. Creating on demand videos and mini lectures was time consuming but ultimately satisfying. Students, in general, found the ability to review materials several times before completing assignments was superior to note taking in a f2f course.

Yet there was a clear lack of social presence. And this revelation was disappointing but presented a challenge. How can my online students feel as connected in the online environment.

Adding group work in the earliest iterations had one basic tenet for me: avoid a boring discussion forum at all costs. So matchmaking a purposeful group assignment with a complimentary tool has been an ongoing passion.

Over the last three years, I have elected to include f2f meetings during each semester and began teaching weekly, synchronous sessions with structured team activities. Students report feeling connected and the tools selected fit the assignments.

In a recent collaboration with a colleague, we began using similar grouping methodology and compared the results. Listed are the components of structured group work that we have found to be instrumental in creating social presence and a collaborative online environment.

  • Establiscomponents of structured online groupsh social presence prior to assignment
  • Establish clear roles or process for collaboration within team activity
  • Select tools that allow collaboration
  • Monitor participation
  • Rubrics with specific expectations
  • Individual grading accountability

Why Yes! Clearly Defined Course Objectives Do Inform Design~

Building the bridge while crossing it

This is the best analogy for how I had approached course design in my early days of teaching online and blended courses. I knew where I was heading, I knew the assessment tool that would determine the degree to which my students could apply the concepts in the course, Learning Technology for Educators, however, I had a hazy roadmap for getting there.

Another difficulty of teaching a hybrid course was definition. I also had no real directive on the hybrid delivery method other than a percentage of “out of class” time, read: butts not in seats. When I began purposefully teaching a hybrid course, face to face time could be replaced with up to 50% of course activities in the online environment. This left so many things unclear. And so many possibilities.

So perhaps this course plan method was a positive start. I began by replacing a single group activity spanning two class sessions with a structured group collaboration using cloud based tools. Course plan altered only by location but not activity or outcome. I knew I was taking baby steps of trying to replicate the identical f2f experience and initially this was comfortable.

As I read more from other instructors, met innovative colleagues at conferences, and listened closely to my student’s feedback, it was clear that trying to replicate a f2f class was misunderstanding the pedagogical possibilities afforded by the blended environment.


Phase One: (2008) “Skip” three class sessions and do a group activity using a cloud based tool

Phase Two (2010) Fully online; weekly recorded lessons (another whole journey here with screencasting!) replicating the f2f sessions teaching. Students had group work and weekly open blogging for dialogue.

Phase Three (2011) Fully online; on demand recorded resources (generic) with weekly screencast summarizing previous concepts and framing upcoming ones. These recordings were directed at each specific section and using students names and examples to add personalization to the experience. Weekly blog topics & required substantive response.

Phase Four (2013) Weekly online meetings, structured group activities in the breakout session, weekly assignment overview and any needed modeling. Two f2f meetings on campus during semester. Emphasis on social presence and structured teamwork. Learning outcomes aligned with assessments; detailed quantitative & qualitative rubrics for each activity.

Blue Highways

This BlendKit course is a chance to stop and look at where I am in the design and implementation of this course. I’d like to add a different arc so that the culminating assignment is built up to more intentionally. Creating a gaming component in the early middle of the course is what I am hoping to build during the next 4 weeks.