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.
Consider 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, I 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.
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. They 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.