explorations in the ed tech world

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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?


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.

Removing barriers to innovation – the teaching and learning centre and third spaces

In my last 2 posts ( 7 Rules About Innovation ; First Steps in Creating a Culture of Innovation;   I said I’d get to the topic of removing barriers to innovation in an institution. I’m a bit academic about this topic, since I feel like this stage requires some sort of framework that gives your actions some method to the madness.  This is also one area where I think senior leadership would do well to be a bit more academic outside of standard leadership literature and practices.  But I digress…

Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory is probably the most well known and cited tome on innovation, and I’ve found that senior admin really grasp this idea of diffusion and innovation, so it’s a good one to have in your back pocket. But it doesn’t really get down to the nitty gritty of what is happening in an organization at a macro level to inhibit or foster innovation, and what to do about it.  I’m an activity theorist at heart, so I tend to structure my method to madness around a  version of Star and Griesemer’s idea of boundary objects.  I think of boundary objects as organizational artefacts – people, committees, money, positions, policies, procedures – that can be inhibitive or facilitative.  They sit at the boundary of many spheres of activity, not just your own innovation agenda, and as Director/VP/President of Innovation you probably have to create some new boundary objects too.  The key is understanding which ones are important to the innovation vision that you have proposed (and has been endorsed) so that you can move ahead with your plans.

There are some obvious first places to examine in your institution and assess whether they are facilitating innovation or inhibiting it.  The most obvious place to start is the teaching and learning centre.

Teaching and Learning Centres: Is your T&L centre facilitative or inhibitive?  T & L Centres in my experience are a bit of an innovation paradox, in that they are well positioned to be an innovation hub for the institution but often need to be reinvented and transformed in order to do this.  This is especially the case with well-established T & L Centres that have become highly invested and good at doing one or two things (curriculum development, faculty development)  at the expense of others.   While the role of T&L centres is generally to enhance teaching and learning at the institution, my view is that given that these Centres are often centrally funded, ultimately their role is to make the lives of teaching and learning staff easier.  As with ‘innovation’ , this means different things to different people.  The VP Academic might very well see the T & L centre’s priority to increase the quality of teaching at the institution, but is this the Dean’s immediate priority? The Dean’s priority might be to have a simpler way of managing curriculum in its Faculty.  The faculty member might just want some support on the online course environment that they’ve been asked to teach.  Within this context, innovation competes with numerous other priorities.

If this is the case at your institution,  then I like the idea of invoking (in academic terms again) a third space* – a sort of fail safe zone or zones for innovation and transformation that is separate yet connected to the T & L Centre.  Plenty of institutions do this, and sometimes it can look like off-the-side-of-the-desk rogue activity, or unofficial clusters of activity, but I think it stands a better chance of succeeding if it has been endorsed and supported by the senior admin and the budget, rather than being an under-the-radar secret.

In order for these third spaces to work, they need to consider other barriers to innovation:  time, money, people, and bureaucracy.  This could be a whole other post, but simply put, if you innovation space requires a lot of effort to access the equipment, money, people, then it’s not really helping anybody.  This might be stating the obvious, but here are a couple of examples I’ve seen:

  1.  innovation equipment locked up in a separate room 3 or 4 buildings over from the teaching site.  Only the most keen and confident instructor will bother getting to campus early to go and grab the equipment and set it up.
  2. innovation funding processes that require filling out long, elaborate forms, that then have to be endorsed by multiple committees over a several month process.  Faculty are busy, and if it takes more hours to get the money than to use the money then there’s little ROI for them.  Also, if they have an idea they want to implement, it’s usually time sensitive.  This process also doesn’t support the notion that innovation is messy and sometimes fails.
  3. innovation that has to fit into existing systems, technologies, world views. Eg. an e-portfolio project that has to use the institutionally endorsed (read: expensive) e-portfolio tool.   This is a tricky one. On the one hand supporting innovation means that it should support the innovation vision of the institution (see second post on this) and it’s not a free for all.  But on the other hand, you have to know where you can let it go and challenge existing thoughts on this…for example, does it really have to tie into the institutional LMS, SIS, policy XYZ?  For me, third spaces should challenge the status quo where appropriate, otherwise it’s not really innovation.

Institutions often get into trouble with #3, because they’ve overly invested in certain technologies and want to see a measurable ROI, have created overly inhibitive structures (steering committees, policies), or lack vision and leadership on innovation.  Which unfortunately means that if you’re in a senior position with innovation as part of your job title/portfolio, and you don’t have the means or senior support to remove the barriers, then you’ve got a really tough job ahead of you.

*(Guiterrez, 1999, but nicely summarized here.)


First steps in Creating a culture of innovation in higher education – Figuring out what innovation will mean

In my last post I outlined Tannis’ 7 rules on innovation.  I said that the next post would be about removing barriers to innovation, but that’s actually jumping the gun a bit.  If you’ve just landed a job with innovation in your job title, the first steps are figuring out what your institution means when they say they want innovation.

  1. Find out what people at your institution care about when they say they want innovation.  This should be obvious, but chances are different stakeholders (the Deans, the President, the CIO, the faculty) all have different ideas as to what is innovation and what they want.  Innovation is a relative construct, and within an institution there will be small, medium, and large understandings as to what will constitute innovation.  Rather than impose your view, you will need to work with their’s, but without losing sight of where you think the institution needs to go, of course. This requires doing a good job of #2.
  2. Develop a clear vision for innovation based on what you learn about the institution.  Articulating a vision for innovation is a key step in making sure that the path that emerges is meaningful and relevant to the institution.  For example, there is a temptation to jump on the latest and greatest ed tech buzz (eg. mobile learning, e-portfolios) and roll it out as an institutional must-do innovation. But if mobile learning or e-portfolios makes no sense at your institution because of the types of programs, students, professions etc, don’t do it.  This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon it completely – this leads us to #3.
  3. Distinguish between institutional innovation and program level innovation initiatives.   In my last post I cautioned against flagship innovation initiatives, which are often rolled out and positioned as institutional must-do projects.  Flagship initiatives aren’t necessarily bad, but you will want to make sure that you are sensitive to innovation initiatives that might only make sense to one or two programs.  For example, moving all your history students to a tablet program probably doesn’t make any sense, but for your medical program it might be a no-brainer.  Program level initiatives also have the advantage of snowballing into other programs in more of a grassroots way, which is good for buy-in.
  4. Look for opportunities for convergence of smaller initiatives.  The method to the madness with flagship initiatives is that you are introducing a big, broad bucket of options that faculties will be able to identify with.  The risk with this approach is that it is a) too big of a bucket for faculty to see how flagship program will solve their immediate problems; and b) so broad that it intimidates or disengages since faculty feel like the learning curve is too big.  I’m a big fan of converging separate, smaller initiatives gradually. For example, a WordPress initiative can converge nicely with a tablet initiative into a bigger bucket called mobile learning, rather than starting with mobile learning and trying to have faculties understand all the options in that bucket.

Next post:  Next steps in Creating a Culture of innovation – Removing Barriers

About those innovation jobs…7 Rules About Innovation

Today was the latest job posting with innovation in the title, and this one is at a VP level.  This seems to be an emerging trend in higher education, suggesting both a desire of institutions to show their commitment to innovation first by including it in their strategic plans, and in addition to that, making sure at least one person in the institution has innovation in their job title.

This isn’t a cranky, cynical post about this trend, but it does seem timely to share some observations about what some of institutional barriers to ed tech innovation are, and what can work in overcoming them.  For credibility sake, I should mention that ed tech innovation has been one of my key areas of responsibility since I was hired 5 years ago. I’ve also worked at 2 other higher ed institutions and paid careful attention to where innovation emerges and where it is stifled.  Because really, that’s what its all about. In the spirit of so many “expert” listicles, here are Tannis’s 7 Rules About Innovation.

 1. Even if the term has become trite, innovation is important in higher ed. I believe this, and obviously institutions do too, seeing has how it is part of so many institutional strategic plans (and now job postings).  I don’t think that institutions need more disrupting  (or MOOCs) for that matter, but I do think that there is a lot of room for some ed tech innovation.

2.  One innovative initiative does not make an innovative institution.    I see flagship initiatives a lot ( think MOOCs, OERs, a tablet program, videoconferencing, active learning) and not only is it an eggs in one basket approach, but it’s difficult to gain momentum if there is only one innovative initiative, since you’re essentially banking on the majority of the institution being a) interested in it and seeing value in it and; b) it succeeding.  This leads to the next point…

3.  Innovation requires an institutional tolerance for a certain amount of failure.  This is why a flagship innovation approach is a bad idea…if you put all your eggs in one basket and it’s not as successful as your marketing and communications department has pumped it up to be, you have few wins to celebrate (and difficulty maintaining momentum)…

4.  Innovation requires momentum.    When innovation is truly happening, it engages everybody and inspires spin offs.  I think of innovation is a snowball that becomes big and then spins off other snowballs.

5.  Innovation is not a project, a policy, or a committee.  Innovation is first and foremost an institutional attitude that needs to be embraced and supported.  Innovation is messy and sometimes isn’t successful.  This makes administrators uncomfortable, from which emerge project plans, policies and steering committees to control what is perceived as risky, chaotic activity.  These efforts lead to what could be called in academic terms “inhibiting boundary objects” or gatekeeping devices that will essentially void any strategic plan or job title change efforts.  But it also doesn’t mean that innovation is a rogue free-for-all that costs institutions buckets of money either. More on that below.

6.  Innovation is not retroactive catch up or large tech projects.  Sometimes institutions mistake their latest enterprise software implementation as innovation, when it’s usually status quo with a new twist.  Just because your latest implementation is costing buckets of money and resources, it doesn’t mean it qualifies as innovation.  In fact, if your efforts are sucking money away from your innovation initiatives, your institution should take a critical view of why that is happening, and for what benefit.  (Sometimes expensive implementations are about taking the path of least resistance, and this is where I think institutions should be looking at whether a more innovative approach could have saved money–think LMS’s, AV vendors, other enterprise software).

7.  Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive.    In fact, if you are fighting the bean counters on the value of innovation when you’ve said that it sometimes fails, and failure is Ok, you will want to minimize the financial risk.  So showing the institution how much you can do with a small pocket of change is a great way to get momentum and buy in.

Next post:  removing those inhibiting boundary objects and creating momentum…or 5 Rules of Creating an Culture of Innovation at your institution. Or whatever.

#UdGAgora – a bit about the model and the team

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 3.31.42 PMI basically fell off the weekly blogging schedule in part because in the last 6 weeks the JIBC-University of Guadalajara student-centred and mobile learning faculty development project (known as the UdG Agora) basically took over my life in a good way, of course.

A bit about the team – Alan has already done a great summary of so many aspects of the project, and Nancy’s been reflecting over on her blog as well.  The Agora is a product of a great team of JIBC-assembled and UdG people (more on that in another post), but it was really brought alive by the amazing group of instructors – Alan, Brian, Barb, Kike, Nancy, Terri, and Ken – who gave 110% for 12-14 hour days in the weeks leading up to the 16 days of work in Mexico and most especially during.  It definitely wasn’t a 2 week walk in the park (or beach for that matter) and I’m supremely grateful that they were able to keep the pace – these people are pros, in the best possible way!  Each person was invited because of what they could bring that was unique, important, and different to the project, and I was thrilled that we got Alan and Brian’s technical wizardry, Nancy’s incredible facilitation skills and energy (she speaks great Portunol also, btw), Barb’s zen and great attention to detail, Kike’s well respected teaching skills, and Terri and Ken’s ability to step in at the last minute and identify and fill in gaps that needed to be filled (alternative assessments and flipped learning).  I really didn’t anticipate how incredibly committed to the project this group of instructors would be, and even as we are supposed to be relaxing a bit and catching our breath before the online part begins on August 17, there continues to be inspiration and reflection in the background – truly incredible.

A bit about the model – When the project landed it felt like a good opportunity to critically reflect on faculty development approaches and to challenge ourselves to design a different kind of learning experience for the UdG faculty.  The UdG folks dropped a few nuggets to help guide us: they wanted something hands-on, they didn’t want to be lectured about constructivism or other theories, and current approaches had faculty doing a lot of listening and not a lot of doing that carried back to their teaching.  Of course, this isn’t particularly unique to UdG and it provided a good opportunity to reflect on the kinds of experiences that seem to work and not work.

Studios – a new approach required new language and I came up with studios because we wanted something that was different than classes or workshops.  Studios are common in art education, and they are messy, hands-on, open workspaces where students actually do stuff.  I thought about my art classes at CEGEP de Limoilou and Capilano College, where there was no powerpoint, no projectors – just experienced instructors, a bit of structure and a task, and materials to accomplish the task.  A studio structure requires a mechanism for ensuring that meaningful activity occurs in studio time, and this is how we landed on challenges.

Challenges – At the time that this project landed on the JIBC desk, I was fairly new and addicted to playing Sim City on my phone.  The version of Sim City that I was using (the new one sucks) was a perfectly balanced combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and I became quite interested in the mechanics of the game and its ability to keep me on task.  What worked was how achieving small activities accumulated into a larger construction of something meaningful, and this was visible through incremental, yet highly achievable daily activity.  It felt like the studios needed to be a vehicle for accomplishing challenges that were experiential, achievable, and meaningful.

When UdG suggested that faculty should have to implement challenges with their students and show proof, this is really when the structure came together conceptually.  We struggled with how to address multiple levels of expertise in a studio format and Alan came up with the idea (inspired from yoga, LOL) to have different levels of challenges within a studio.

Implementing challenges in the classroom is a key part of the design, and we actually changed the delivery schedule to ensure that faculty would actually be teaching while they did the implementation phase. This is the part that we are embarking on from mid August to mid October, and #udgagora will continue to be the space to watch that evolve.

Weeks 19,20,21 in Review

I’m a bit behind on my Weeks in review, partly because some of it I can’t really blog about, I was sick, or I was working on stuff I’ve already blogged about.

Open Ed 2015:  Our abstract was accepted, to my surprise quite honestly, since as a reviewer for some of the submissions I happened to notice there were a lot of really good submissions. Really good.  So I’m pleased, and we’ll do our best to make sure our research and presentation is awesome.

Guadalajara project:  In addition to @cogdog, @brlamb, @bkiddjibc, @ken_bauer (as coach), we added @nancywhite to our teaching and development team.  I’m elated at how this is shaping up.  We may add one more instructor, possibly from the University of Guadalajara.

Microlearning:  We’ve been moving towards looking at how series of small, mini micro-learning courses can be delivered and managed within a WordPress environment (with or without Learndash). Our Centre’s @denniskyip mocked something up that looks really promising.  Really appreciating his rapidly developing WordPress skills.Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 9.59.22 AM

Things that wow’d me:  via @therealbanksy, how gorgeous is this?


Also, empathy cards for people with serious illness.  I’ve been surrounded by a lot of colleagues and friends with cancer this last year, and all of these @emilymcdowell_ empathy cards are so great.

Weeks 17 and 18 in Review


An evening stroll with Alan lead to some of the best photography lessons I’ve had. One of the photos I’m quite proud of.

I got to spend a whirlwind week with a fellow JIBC colleague @bkiddjibc and @cogdog in Guadalajara this week, so I barely remember the previous week. It was great to introduce both of them to the really fantastic team of people we are working with at the University of Guadalajara, where we are creating a faculty development program for 300 UdeG faculty. I learned that the team we are working with have a mandate of faculty development and accreditation, but they’ve decided it’s important to go much further and are stretching the innovation envelope as well, so this explains their willingness and openness to roll with what we have proposed. The project has evolved substantially from being a semi-open, diploma-like blended experience–we are now creating a completely open, WordPress built, DS106 and Youshow inspired approach to faculty development.  Active learning, open, and multimedia facilitated by mobile devices are the key themes from which we are building out a series of hands-on studios and challenges.  We benefited a lot from having Alan with us, and one of the big shifts we made was from a more structured, prescribed approach (the result of working at an institution devoted to short course training), to one that is more creative and forces the participants to think more broadly about the topics and tools in relation to their own teaching.


Some of the University of Guadalajara team, out at one of several amazing late afternoon lunches we had.

This was a co-development week and we made some good progress on both the platform (WordPress) , the logistics, the schedule, and the topics.  The program will begin on July 13 for a week long face to face session involving hands on studios, challenges, and various share/showcase events such as a Demofest and Challenge Idol.  We are spending 2 weeks down at UdeG for this part, breaking up the 300 into 150 participants per week.  Then we move to 8 weeks of online challenges, where participants have to implement some challenges in their teaching, gathering student feedback and sharing back to the site.  We meet F2F again in December for 2/4 days–1 will be an unconference and the other day will be some sort of wrap up.

Alan asked the UdeG folks come up with a metaphor for the site and after some thinking they proposed Agora 21. This fits in well with an idea of open spaces and 21 century skills, and in no time Alan had the landing page and the new name. UdeG IT folks on the team have a pretty great can-do approach, so they are going to set up a WordPress server and the site will be migrated.

We decided that we’ll have a twitter hashtag, and will have them sign up for twitter accounts in advance to make it easier for them to share back to the site. The site will be completely open so we expect to have other non UdeG participants following along as well.  While we were down there, we used the UdeG development team to test out a studio that Alan developed to make sure the approach and the topic were in keeping with UdeG’s vision, and whether they felt that the participants would be motivated by the approach.  This was a lot of fun, and as Alan noted, participants naturally formed groups or worked individually, and we were all able to share back to the site.  We realized a few things needed to be considered in designing these studios:  since English is a second language for most, less preamble and verbal instructions are needed, as well more time to figure things out.  Some studios will have to be 1.5 hours long, but since each studio will have a minimum of 3 challenge choices, those who finish quickly can do  more than one.  We are going to make challenges simple in instructions and explicit, and perhaps more narrow in focus, but with different pathways of difficulty since UdeG’s estimate is that approximately 1/3 will be beginners, 1/3 intermediate, and 1/3 will be already quite advanced.

Ken and his family with us at LaTequila

Ken and his family with us at LaTequila

Alan in front of all the tequila at LaTequila

Alan in front of all the tequila at LaTequila

While we were downy there we got to meet @ken_bauer, a fellow Canadian who has been working at the Tec de Monterrey in Guadalajara for the last 20 years. Ken is joining us  on the project in a coaching-facilitator role for one of the weeks he is available in July, joining a team of 4 other UdeG coach-facilitators.  The coaches will help instructors run studios and provide 1 on 1 support to participants, providing some support in Spanish to help fill in the gaps as well.  We got to spend an afternoon with Ken and his delightful wife Aurelia and son Adrien at a restaurant called laTequila, which was about as perfect as it gets.


tacos in the Zona Rosa

Tamales (that Joaquin personally delivered for us) and margaritas on the hotel roof deck.

Tamales (that Joaquin personally delivered for us) and margaritas on the hotel roof deck.

It was a work hard, play hard kind of a week, made especially delightful by the driver (taxis aren’t as common in Guadalajara) that the University hired for us.  Joaquin was determined to make sure we got to appreciate Guadalajara, taking us to a flower festival and taco stand (my request) within an hour of picking us up from the airport.  Joaquin was also a much more interesting substitute to a conversational Spanish class, and had an abundance of energy and patience.  Guadalajara was good to us and I’m sure there’s more fun ahead.

Our super driver Joaquin

Our super driver Joaquin

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