Reflections on the 2014 Campus Technology Conference

The 2014 Campus Technology Conference in Boston, MA, at the Hynes Convention Center began with several preconference workshops and a keynote speaker that I found engaging. All that talk about big data? Forget big data (okay, to be fair, maybe not “forget,” but let’s not overemphasize and put all our money towards that effort) noted Stephen Laster, the keynote speaker during the lunch session. Instead, why don’t we think about small data, and the impact that small data can have in context? Stephen now works for McGraw-Hill, and they have a product that recently launched called Connect Insight based on the small data principle – though it is not clear to me the scope of what this product does at this time. I think we’ve applied the “small data” guideline well in our course redesign projects.

An interesting workshop led by Mark Frydenberg, from Bentley University, was the focus of my morning on July 28. This workshop was called Big Data, Visualization and Mashups in Education. This workshop was about the free data that is “out there” that you can use/manipulate in teaching and learning environments (data sets, for example, such as those available from places such as http://dataMarket.com, http://datamarket.azure.com, http://factual.com, http://data.worldbank.org, http://infochimps.com, and http://explore.data.gov). We looked at some of those datasets and did some manipulations of the sets using different tools, including Excel pivot tables. We also did what I would describe as a whirlwind tour of free tools that provide ways to understand data through various visualization means, including dataset mapping tools, tools that let you see data, such as tweets, in a different way, and a tool for making infographics. Examples included http://Zeemaps.com, http://Cartodb.com, http://www.lkozma.net/wpv/, http://www.tweetbeam.com/, http://www.twitterfall.com, http://www.wolframalpha.com/, http://easel.ly, and http://padlet.com/.

Another workshop I enjoyed attending the afternoon of July 28 was led by Ann Taylor from The Pennsylvania State University called 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching. While I feel that these (and similar) guidelines are practices I follow as an online instructor myself, and I know that DELTA staff talk about when we work with other faculty, the principles covered are worth repeating:

  • Know your audience.
    • Residential students? purely DE? part time?
  • Get organized.
    • Check for broken content; update the syllabus and your calendar, go through everything
  • Get comfortable with the technology.
    • Familiarize yourself with it before you try it on your students, keep it simple, test all tasks yourself, know how to check the login/analytics data behind the scenes
    • Go to workshops, learn! learn from your students.
  • Communicate your expectations.
    • How often will you log on and interact?
    • How quickly will you respond to their inquiries?
    • How do you want them to communicate with you? And each other?
    • How quickly will you return assignments?
    • How often should they log on and interact?
    • How many hours a week should they plan for?
    • How long should the assignments take?
  • Let your personality show.
    • Write in a friendly, engaging style; watch what you “say;” introduce yourself personally and professionally and invite students to interact with you.
  • Be engaged.
    • Be present on a regular basis; be prompt and facilitate the discussion; share your passion for the topic and encourage student progress.
  • Build community.
    • Encourage student interaction.
  • Plan for the unexpected.
    • What is your backup plan if something happens and you need a colleague to help you out? What is your plan if the technology isn’t working?
  • Provide meaningful and timeline feedback.
    • Feedback needs to have depth and breadth – not only a letter grade and a comment or two.
  • Practice continuous quality improvement.
    • Each time, tweak your course so that it works better. Reflect and keep notes and make changes.

Ann shared some good links with us that are worth passing on, including the Managing Your Online Course Checklist, which is a week by week resource that walks faculty through steps that will help them teach the course more effectively, and the Dutton Institute Faculty Development Site, which has a number of useful links for instructors and instructional support staff.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, the President of Maryland Baltimore County, was our keynote speaker on Tuesday, July 29, with a presentation called Leadership and the Role of Technology. What a wonderful speaker – if you ever see his name listed on a program go listen to this gentleman speak – infectious laugh and engaging personality! He talked about the importance of Information/Instructional Technology (IT) staff not “pigeon holing” ourselves as only IT people – but rather, to also consider ourselves as educators. He mentioned the Top 10 IT issues from Educause and noted these are issues that all of us have to own as technology leaders. After telling us about the successful journey of his college, the University of Maryland, Baltimore College, has been on to emphasize student success in the STEM fields, he gave us three takeaways for the qualities that make a good IT leader: (1) the ability to ask good questions, (2) the ability to listen carefully, making sure we understand what someone is trying to get across, (3) and the ability to communicate with others in a way that is not “IT” intimidating. He challenged us to go back to our campuses and transform the way that we are thinking about education – and emphasized the importance of redesigning/rethinking education for optimal student success.

Another session that I attended on Tuesday called Important Developments in Higher Education Technology by Lawrence G. Miller, Senior Director for Community College Relations, NMC: New Media Consortium highlighted the New Media Consortiums work and the Horizon Report. He went over some of the highlights from the 2014 report and noted that for those in the field who like to tweet, to tag articles or reports as #NMCHz to bring attention to them, and also, asked that those on campuses doing innovative technology things to bring our work to their attention, and, if we are interested in participating as reviewers/panelists for the report, to self nominate to be on the horizon project expert panel.

On Tuesday I also had the opportunity to catch up with Josh Baron, Senior Academic Technology Officer at Marist College, before and after he led an interest group for the “trailblazers” (those interested in emerging technologies, learning analytics, research tools, etc.). We talked a bit about the challenges of changing the educational models which mean changing culture AND leveraging technology, and had a discussion about how the fundamental educational lecture model has not really changed. As instructional technology professionals and instructors, we have to decide if (and when) we will use technology to automate instruction vs. use technology for trailblazing. Josh and his team have been in conversations with several DELTA staff for a while now about the Open Academic Analytics Initiative, and after a conversation, Josh and I made tentative plans to bring him and some of his team to NC State’s campus to talk with us more about this initiative and how this might give us some insight into student success based on data we have available in our learning management systems.

Another Tuesday session worth mentioning was led by my Educause Leadership Institute colleague Marian Burkhart, Executive Director, Strategy and Governance, Lone Star College System, Office of Technology Services and her colleague Mario Berry, Associate Vice Chancellor, Enterprise Application, Lone Star College System, Texas. The presentation was called The Trifecta Effect: Strategic Planning, Governance and Project Management, and talked about how successful IT organizations have to work toward a transformative maturity level for IT Strategic Planning, Governance, and Project Management in order to ultimately be successful.

Wednesday’s opening keynote was called Reinventing Education, by Dr. Anant Agarwal, CEO, EdX. The presentation provided an overview of how the EdX platform has evolved, and he showed us some typical elements of a course, including the course videos and embedded video and discussions. He talked quite a lot of the importance of quality/continuous improvement in learning in a constant cycle of experimentation and reflection in order to optimize what works.

Another Wednesday session that I attended was titled Analytics for Everyone: Unleash Your Data Potential, presented by Brendan Aldrich from the City Colleges of Chicago. This project won an Campus Tech Innovators Award for the conference, and was about the importance of sharing data across the organization in a way that helps administrators, staff, faculty and students have access to timely information to help them make decisions. He talked a bit about the different types of data sharing philosophies in organizations, including data dictatorships (where data is controlled and its use restricted to senior administrators in an organization); data aristocracies (where data analysts may share the data with you if you ask nicely); data anarchies (where users who feel underserved take matters into their own hands and create their own data, often with a mismatch to other data sets), and data democracies (where everyone gets equitable access to data, and business users “own” and can get the data as needed). He encouraged us to advocate for data democracies.

Also worth mentioning from the Wednesday sessions was a presentation called “Wearable Tech is Coming to Your Campus This Fall!” from Emory Craig, Director eLearning and Instructional Technology, The College of New Rochelle. It was fun to think about the wearable devices that are (or will) start showing up in the classroom, including Google Glass, Vizix m100 smart glasses, Meta 3d glasses, and Oculus Rift. These items are simply all way cooler than any device I personally own!

And, of course, during the conference, I explored the vendor floor on several occasions. I did see a few vendors that were showing products in the learning relationship management/student learning support/student retention “space” – including Fidelis, LiveText and Campus Labs – which I had not seen before. I also saw a number of vendors that we already know and work with as a university – including Red Hat, Oracle, DELL, and Mediasite, just to name a few.

Overall – a very busy couple of days and a good conference.

IMG_7725 IMG_7724 IMG_7723 IMG_7710 IMG_7709 IMG_7707 IMG_7706 IMG_7705 IMG_7704