The gem of a conference that was ICICTE 2016

Gorg ICICTE.jpg

Image by Gorg Malia, cartoonist, instructional technologist, and one of the incredibly interesting ICICTE organizers and attendees.

A couple of weeks ago I had the great privilege of being the keynote speaker at #ICICTE 2016 in Rhodes, Greece.  I’ve got a couple of posts planned about the keynote and what I learned from the great presenters there, but first want to share some thoughts on what I thought made this conference a really fantastic 4 days.

I’ll admit to having had a fair bit of conference fatigue for the past few years.  In the past 15 years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of ed tech-related conferences and the topics, the format, the discussions are starting to make me feel like somebody who has lived long enough to see fashion cycles come around the second time.  Being at ICICTE allowed me to reflect on the good, bad and ugly of conferences and their relevance to our professional development as educators.

Good conferences are about the people: I tweeted that ICICTE was a lot like an international ETUG…friendly, small, and full of interesting people.  ICICTE is a small conference where people keep coming back year after year and as a first timer I felt like it did a great job of a couple of important things. First, it was very good at embracing new people and making them feel part of the community.  This is easier to do at small conferences, but it is also easier to do when there is a community ethos where egos and self-promotion (yes, edtech, we are guilty of that) are buried and every participant is treated as a really interesting contributor.  Second, ICICTE recognized that socializing together is as important as the actual conference presentations, and both activities seemed to be attended by almost everybody. This is especially extraordinary given that the conference was held at a beautiful resort on a beautiful Greek island where there were no shortage of interesting distractions.  There were almost as many socializing together opportunities as typical conference opportunities, and since they were so well attended it allowed new people to feel like they weren’t being left out of any of the alt-conf-socializing that is inevitable at larger conferences.

Good conferences create space for families: Location helps, and obviously Greece was a nice location for a family holiday.  But as somebody who has dragged one of my young children to a conference on at least 2 occasions (and considered it for at least 3 others), I can tell you that there is a difference between a conference that assumes that families will be there and conferences where that isn’t considered.  The conference organizer – the fabulous @npyrini, – has brought her 9 year old daughter to every single ICICTE and she is a familiar and well loved part  of the conference to the people who attend every year and have watched her grow up with the event.  It was suggested to me that I should bring my entire family of 5 to next year’s conference, which is the first time an event organizer has done that.  And of course there were families with kids there, attending the Greek night banquet in old Rhodes City, and milling about the pool and the breakfast buffets at the hotel.

Good conferences have long lunches and good food:  ICICTE provided two hour lunch breaks where we were able to sit together and learn from each other over lunch.  It meant less presentations could be crammed into the day but provided a different kind of space for creating community and connections. I also think it made us listen more – instead of focussing on tweeting every sound bite and showing up but not really paying attention, the non presentation time spaces were really about extending the conversation over lunch or drinks.

Good conferences don’t necessarily have busy Twitter streams: Related to the above point, I really appreciate a good conference hashtag when I’m NOT at the conference.  But I’ve really started to dislike the attention given to tweeting and sharing at the expense of conversing or listening.  ICICTE was one of the only conferences I’ve been at where there was consistently more questions than time after every presentation.  I interpreted this as a  good level of engagement and interest in everybody as a presenter.

ICICTE certainly stood out among other memorable conferences I’ve attended, including the recent  SKIP conference , many ETUG conferences, a few OpenEds and a very memorable CALICO conference.

 

 

Considerations for ed tech and innovation

This is a continuation of a series of posts on innovation, and is my attempt to get a bit more pragmatic about the topic, namely because I was asked to frame some of my thinking into a workshop on innovation in higher education. There’s a number of ways to go with the topic, so I’m starting with some thoughts on considerations for innovation, which in this post I’m using somewhat interchangeably with educational technology. So if you are uncomfortable with the word innovation, you can swap in educational technology and arrive at a similar place.

For starters, it’s important to highlight Tony Bates’ well-established SECTIONS model for selecting educational technologies or media.  It’s a great place to start if you are an instructional designer trying to make decisions about educational technology in course and program design.  But when talking about innovation and ed tech at an institutional strategic level, I think it can be a good idea to take a step back and ask some bigger questions of your institution.

In considering considerations, I think it’s important to begin with a thinking (or erasing?) exercise that asks you to forget everything you know or think you know about ed tech and start over.  At many of our institutions ed tech thinking starts with the LMS, and whether we like it our not the LMS’s institutionally friendly attributes have an important role in shaping our thinking about teaching and learning.

Once you’ve erased your ed tech slate, you are ready to embark on some considerations:

  • Consideration #1:  What is the learning trajectory of students who interface with your institution? What data do you have about your students and does it tell an accurate story about the trajectory?
  • Consideration #2: What is the key driver of educational technology decisions at your institution (eg. access, best possible learning environment, institutional profile, institutional differentiation). You have to pick one, but you can acknowledge that others come into play.
  • Consideration #3: What does innovation mean at your institution by the various stakeholders? Does it line up with #1 and #2?
  • Consideration #4: What are the problems that need to be solved that could be solved by ed tech?  Is your current ed tech environment solving or hindering these problems?
  • Consideration #5:  Can you afford to not be/go open in some areas of your activities?
  • Consideration #6: What can be done to get at 4 and 5?  This is innovation.

If I was to go back in time six years when I started my role at JIBC, I would try to systematically engage in a process to get at some of these questions. In reality, the questions emerged over time and in a different order – #2, 3, 4, 6, 1, 5.  This is how it played out for us:

 Consideration #2:  It was pretty consistently stated that JIBC’s driver for ed tech came from a provincial mandate, meaning we have to deliver our programs across a very large geographic area, including rural and remote communities.  So for us, educational technology was primarily about access – making it possible for rural and remote communities to avoid expensive travel to Vancouver, and to give greater opportunity for BC communities to access our programs.

 Consideration #3:  Given #2, there was a very strong collective desire to innovate on how to do this.  We had an LMS, and had a web conferencing tool, but there was a sense that this wasn’t enough and was producing satisfactory but not good enough results.  So innovation meant finding new models of delivery, new formats for our courses and programs, and better tools.  There was also a common theme in that JIBC felt like it had been a leader in educational technology in the past (which they truly were, but that’s a subject of another post), but hadn’t evolved or kept up enough to maintain that status.  Anecdote:  In my first month at JIBC I was asked by the President in front of a JIBC -wide forum to comment on our ed tech status. I responded that I felt that they already had many of the tools to do what they needed to do  (LMS, video streaming, video production, web conferencing). This was clearly the wrong answer and was definitely a TSN turning point in my appreciation and underestimation of JIBC.  

 Consideration #4:  JIBC had a huge appetite and appreciation for educational technology, and unlike other institutions I’d worked at previously, there wasn’t a need to sell the importance at the institution, as illustrated by the above anecdote.  There was a greater need to push the envelope, but it took a while to get at the problems that needed to be solved. For example, it took some innovative people in some of our programs to turn me onto mobile (Consideration #6) by putting it into a real professional context (and that’s where the ball really dropped).  As the anecdote hints, the President, and JIBC generally, didn’t feel like the ed tech environment that existed was solving the problems that needed to be solved. But being able to translate this collective dissatisfaction into an articulation of a future direction emerged over time.  This is partly because we hadn’t really unpacked #1.

Consideration #1:  We arrived at a clear articulation of the JIBC learner trajectory through a number of data points.  Institutional data showed that a significant percentage of our students come back to do additional programs and credentials, many of which are very niche, unique kinds of course and programs not offered elsewhere. In other words, we are truly a lifelong learning institution for many of our students, partly because of the kinds of programs we offer.   And because of the kinds of professions and communities that we work with, we know that our students often have a relationship with JIBC before enrolling in our programs. Additionally, one of our research surveys showed data that most of our students are working full time while attending our institution, and age group distribution is fairly equal between 18 and 60+.

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The different data points about our students lead us to the following description of a JIBC student trajectory, where we tried to articulate the student relationship with the JIBC before, during, and after taking a course or a program. This, of course, had important implications for educational technology decisions and innovations, namely, that things that we create or implement should be things that students not only use while they are at JIBC but have direct application and use in the professions or communities in which they work. This is also how we ended up at # 5.

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Consideration #5: In BC we are fortunate to be part of a higher education sector that encourages and supports open, facilitated by BCcampus. Once we had an understanding of #1, the rationale to go open in some areas of our activities was clear. This is really the subject of another post, but using WordPress to make courses and parts of courses available to students at any phase of their learning trajectory ended up being a win for both students and the communities with whom we work.

Our current ed tech/innovation formula:

In some my posts on innovation, I talked about how we didn’t go the flagship innovation initiative route, but instead focused on a few smaller initiatives that have converged. Our new innovation formula -for lack of a better word – ended up being mobile + wordpress + open = innovation*. However it has to be underlined that the context for this is a combination and result of considerations 1-6, which obviously will be variable depending on the institution. This is why I think it’s important to scrutinize both current ed tech environments and the latest innovation flavours of the month, be they e-portfolios, mobile, augmented reality, etc., since it’s quite possible that it doesn’t make sense in a particular institutional context.

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*we also do a lot of scenario-based experiential learning and simulations, but this was already well established at JIBC.

Dear LMS companies (and other ed tech sales people),

Thank you for getting in touch with me, and for not bothering our VP and President and CIO after I didn’t initially respond to you voice mail or email request to talk about the latest features that your LMS has to offer.  In the six years I’ve been in this job, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many of you, both in person and via other means.  I admire the enthusiasm and patience you have in a role where I personally would struggle, especially when trying to get people like me excited about your latest offerings.  I suspect it must be very deflating to talk to people like me, and I always feel bad if I feel like I’ve wasted your time. This is actually the inspiration for this letter…

The first thing you need to know about us (JIBC) is that we are not your typical university or even college for that matter.  We are a publicly funded institute focused on training and educating people in public safety fields.  As an institute this means we offer everything from short certificates to degrees and post grad certificates.  However this also means that a big part of our education is short courses – intensive 2 or 3 day courses where students are engaged in immersive, hands-on, applied learning.  We call a lot of what we do “simulations” even though this generally means different things to different people. We try and simulate real life events (train derailments, burning buildings, mass casualty events) with or without technology, and have students immersed in these events to apply their learning.  We have an entire campus dedicated to burning things and putting out fires, in addition to a car race track, and at our main campus we have a fake courtroom, fake apartment building, and a building dedicated to scenario-based learning.  Oh, and (unusually for Canadian post secondaries) a gun range in the basement.

Interestingly, about 30% of what we do is online (for a variety of different reasons that I won’t get into here).  Our students are highly dispersed geographically, largely considered adult learners, and generally have an ongoing, lifelong learning relationship with our institution.  They come from professions that aren’t the sit-at-your-desk variety, which I label as mobile.  You may see where I’m going with all this, but let me elaborate a bit further.

  • For the most part, we don’t operate and design for a 3 credit, online course paradigm. This is what LMS’s do quite well.
  • We need a variety of tools that are well suited for short, micro moments of learning.  We’ve found that WordPress is really good at this.
  • A growing percentage of our courses are open, which we’ve found works best in open tools like WordPress.
  • We are a small budget institution with a need for a variety of ed tech tools, but not the ones that come with LMS’s – your latest eportfolio tool is not a sell.  And blowing our entire ed tech budget on a do-everything LMS is not our chosen strategy.
  • As a small budget institution, we need creative solutions to creating a non-resource intensive ed tech infrastructure.  More on that over here courtesy of @clintlalonde.
  • Our mobile needs are not met by simply app-ifying the LMS.  Our context for and view of mobile learning is very different (more on that here).
  • There are no ed tech tools (LMS or other) that are designed for synchronous online scenario-based learning. We created our own, and it is a core learning technology that is in the process of being commercialized.

So what can an LMS company do?  Well, the last time we had a vendor here, we took them on a tour of our applied learning spaces.  They showed interest but didn’t take notes even though we tried to drop them some clues as to where the dev group might want to put their heads.  For starters, I would suggest a well informed brainstorming session on applied learning – what does it look like, what do people do in it, what is the use context? Then perhaps a session that seriously unpacks what a course is or needs to be in that context.  Then I would take a group around to community colleges and vocational institutes that are doing some form of distance learning because you will probably find that they are doing some interesting and creative things with technology and program design.  Then perhaps go back to the drawing board and collaborate with some institutions on solving their problems before you try and sell them an out of the box package.  Case in point…if you had showed up at our doors 5 years ago with a synchronous, scenario-based online learning took, we would have taken a serious look at it and not bothered developing our own.  Or, if you had partnered with us in developing it, we would have found a mutually beneficial relationship.

Thanks for listening…I look forward to seeing where you go in the future.

 

 

Weeks 1-5 in review

I stopped doing these in review weekly posts when I shifted most of my institutional focus to leading the Agora project with the University of Guadalajara, combined with a  good long stretch of time off.  During this time I managed a few blog posts about innovation and spent a lot of time (off the devices) painting.  Eventually my kids joined me at the kitchen counter, and now my office gallery wall features a charming monsters series by my boys.  I also joined instagram, discovered that our Senior Web Specialist and photographer extraordinaire (you’ve seen him photographing BCcampus events) is an instagram rock star.

Unlike others who have experienced an agony in going offline, I found that going off the devices (for the most part) and channeling my energy into something creative and non screen based opened up a new space for me to think about ed tech, innovation, and leadership.  I plan on doing a longer post on the latter but much like Mike Caulfield’s federated wiki project, art is important even if it doesn’t always make sense at the time.

I love that the UdG professors are still posting and sharing to the #udgagora hashtag.  In the meantime, the analysis of data of the first Agora cohort begins, while planning for a June 2016 second iteration with another group of professors.

 

Project planning:  Every quarter, I meet with Deans and discuss the projects that they are bringing to our Centre, and we timeline and resource them.  This is a bit like opening a wrapped gift…I’m always excited to see what they are planning and where we can get creative with what they need to do.  This round cemented a need for some sort of open-ish micro-learning space, a serious plan for classroom technologies, and an increase in simulation scenarios.  This means that instead of having just 2 people in the building who can design simulation scenarios, we need to have at least one person in each School, so some capacity building planning needs to be tackled.

Program development: A couple of years ago, I was part of a great JIBC team designing an online grad certificate in public safety leadership.  This was shelved temporarily, and is now being launched in September.

Praxis Simulation tool/Western Diversification:  we held interviews with 3 excellent candidates for a Product manager for the simulation tool we are in the process of commercializing.  Then our simulation specialist spent the day at UBC Faculty medicine running a big Praxis simulation with a group of inter-professional health students.

BCTLN: I was able to attend my first BCTLN meeting as the member at large for the Institutes.  The planned Festival of Learning is going to be an incredible addition to professional development calendar.

Interesting things that I’m pondering:  In LMS news, Pearson  shelves its LMS , then head over to Leigh Blackall’s blog for a sort of antidote.

Things that wow’ed me: I’m having my students in a grad research methodology course I’m teaching at UBC create an open research methodology manual in TRU’s SPLOT tool.  The first triad posted on the topic of ethics this week and they seriously impressed me with their synthesis and critique.

 

Some ideas for creating a culture of innovation

In my last post I mentioned the importance of the idea of third spaces in creating a culture of innovation and in removing barriers to innovation.  I focused solely on the T & L centre as an obvious starting point for a third space or facilitative boundary object, partly because I really wasn’t in the mood to get into how IT departments, steering committees, etc can be so inhibitive, even if they try to be on board with innovation.  I find that often these inhibitive structures don’t really know how to be facilitative of innovation, and like T & L centres need some transformation.  As the new Director/VP of innovation you can’t always dismantle these structures, or blow them apart and start over, so what can you do to keep innovation from devolving to a project (see first post as to why innovation shouldn’t be a project) that only you care about?

I see this as a series of steps with various inherent mechanisms.  Some of these might seem to be a bit obvious, so bear with me.

Talk to people and find the innovation on the fringes:  Chances are there are some people in your institution doing some really interesting, innovative stuff that not many people know about.  Find out why that is, how they are getting stuff done, and what is getting in the way.  Then figure out how you will be able to help them move from the fringes to key examples of people doing great things that the institution supports.  You might also find out  (as I did on more than one occasion) that something that they are doing that wasn’t on your innovation radar should be a key initiative.

Support the people who want to do some great stuff, but have no idea how to get going or get the support they need. Higher ed by design is full of smart, creative people who want to do cool things.  But sometimes the smallest things become barriers to getting them to implement their ideas.  For example, I’ve come across a situation where a faculty member’s amazing idea required purchasing a 500$ flip camera that he couldn’t get his department to buy.  His idea was simple, cheap, and would have had a great effect on student learning. Making sure you have some budget for supporting people on the cheap is a great way to get some quick wins and momentum – in the first year we did this we were able to support 5 or so projects with less than $3000, and these projects became highly showcased and lead to other great developments.

Don’t kill the innovators with process:  In our T & L Centre we have an innovation pilots initiative (see above) where people with ideas can access money and/or expertise support in order to try out their idea.  This is available at any time of the year…there are no calls for proposals, blessings by committees, or long discussions about what ifs.  We don’t require success, in fact we let them know that they are allowed to fail.  But since it’s not a free for all, we have a one page project plan that is filled out. Knowing that this is a barrier for people with little time, we ask them to come to a one hour meeting with us where they tell us verbally what they want to do and what they need from us, and we fill out the form for them in the meeting.  Our one pager covers the following:

Strategic Goals Addressed – what Academic plan, strategic plan or ed tech plan does the project align with

Purpose of the pilot—what is the problem/s you are trying to solve?

How are you planning on doing it?

Equipment/people needs

Evaluation:  How you will know if it is successful/not successful?

Timeline

We find that this process becomes a collaborative conversation between the people with the idea and the people that can support it, and sets the right tone for the relationship and the project.  We want people to feel empowered by the step they’ve taken rather than intimidate them with “how are you going to do this, what if XYZ happens…”

Pilots are your friend:  At every institution I’ve worked with, small innovative ideas have a habit of becoming complexified when certain stakeholders throw the but what ifs, the we can’t becauses, and the but we don’t haves.  Often this is a fear driven reaction to culture where unknowns are viewed as a risk.  To counter this, I’ve had good success with using pilots as a sort of boundary object that is introduced as a way to alleviate fear of failure.  Pilots by definition are ways of trying things on and figuring out whether an idea is worth pursuing through more formal channels, once a good assessment is made of the value and potential to the institution.  I like to point out that they are actually a low risk way of innovating in that they give the institution time to properly assess and learn about whatever is being implemented.

The other nice thing about pilots is that as Director/VP of Innovation you probably have a good idea of some must-have tool/innovation that you want to introduce to the institution, but don’t quite yet have the buy-in.  You can keep a tool/innovation in pilot until it has enough momentum and buy-in to transition it successfully to being institutionally supported.  Basically, once it becomes indispensable to the institution (WordPress in our case) you have plenty of examples to demonstrate your case without trying to convince people why the tool is needed.  Keep in mind that the key with this whole approach is that you need to have the authority to initiate and support pilots.  Finally, pilots are useful in showing that you actually do have a process and guidelines for introducing innovation to your institution – this is important because you don’t want people to think that you are jumping on any new shiny thing without having thought about it, or that you are shoving your favourite pet technologies/innovation onto the backs of already busy people.