explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Tag: innovation (page 2 of 2)

Week 5 in Review

I’ve missed a few weeks, but the scope of my activity is increasingly centred on our big University of Guadalajara faculty development project which is about to launch its development stage.

Innovation: The big news of the week was this announcement of funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada for our simulation tool, Praxis (#jibcpraxis).  Getting to this announcement has been a 2.5 year work in progress with many highs and lows for the JIBC team involved.  Nonetheless, it was a big event of speeches and congratulations and included both the attendance and an earnest commentary from MP @MichelleRempel who flew in from @dlnorman– land (and who apparently used to work in Tech Transfer at the University of Calgary).   It was also nice to have a chance to comment on the importance of support for applied institutions who have many innovations that never see the light of day due to the challenges in getting them to the next level where they can make a broader contribution outside of our institutions.  While WED certainly helps with that gap–their assistance with our proposal was essential– there is still work to be done to make it easier to get there if we are truly serious about Canada’s innovation agenda.

Collaborations:  I’m expecting the highlight of next week to be a quick 2 day trip up to Kamloops to visit the TRU folks at the invite of @brlamb.  I’ve been following the YouShow chronicles hosted and created by Brian and @cogdog and there’s a lot to think about for our own application.  I expect I’ll ask a lot of dumb questions about what they are doing and the context for the project, and I’m hoping at the same time that sharing some of the what’s and why’s of what we are doing at JIBC will be useful as well.

Things that wow’d me:

This interactive data viz on Gendered Language in RatemyProfessor teacher reviews  tweaked the data/language nerd in me.

Week 50 in review

Innovation:Pushed along by one of our always keen and innovative instructors, investigated use of drones for Fire and Safety and SARS (search and rescue) training.  This alternately excites me and frightens me, but then again, my job isn’t really about staying in my comfort zone.

Sat in on and learned a lot from Grant Gregson’s (Emily Carr U) TELL session and am ordering a WD cloud.  I’m grateful there are people in the ETUG community that can talk and do the technical, almost IT part of ed tech but still keep it simple for the rest of us.

Reading and Responding:  Responded to Tony Bates’ excellent (and well-timed) post on experiential learning.

Responded to a post on the OERResearch Hub site.

Read an article that resonated, despite it being specific to a developing country context problem. It’s a fun read and I highly recommend it for highered folks:  The impact of managerialism on the strategy work of university middle managers.

Workshops and Demos:  Joined our Marketing and Communications wizard, Richard  Chu, in delivering a Twitter 101 for our Exec team.  Richard pointed us to quite a nice Twitter info graphic cheat sheet.

Delivered a demo of our simulation platform, Praxis,  to some really great Camosun College visitors.

Classroom of the Future:  Our Belkin Tablet Stage arrived, sadly a day after Demofest, but we haven’t yet had time to set it up.

Made arrangements with Valerie Irvine to chat with us about multi-access learning. Since we have 5 campus locations, and many f2f classes that run parallel to online offerings, this method could be a good option for us.

Things that wow’ed me:  I’m a textile nerd, and this 3D printed dress was the coolest thing I saw all week.  Textiles + Technology may be my next career if I can figure out how to make it one.

And because I work at JIBC, this criminal botnet tracker was a close second (via @The_O_C_R) .

Mobile Learning at an Applied Institution

We’ve been asked on numerous occasions about our mobile strategy–how we got there and where we are going next.  Oddly, we are rarely asked the why question, but for me that is really where it starts.

The Context

When I first came to JIBC 4 years ago, mobile was on my radar as the latest thing but I was already at that stage of ed tech dis-illusionism where everything sounded like a buzzword. But the more I learned about this peculiar institution– which boasts a relatively unusual range of course offerings, course formats, and professions and pathways–the more mobile became interesting.  When a particularly savvy program area pitched the idea of an app, explaining that it would eliminate the need to carry stacks of binders of info into the field, the lightbulb went off.  Mobile wasn’t a nice to have here, it was an ed tech necessity.

The necessity factor is in fact much more nuanced.  Institutional data shows that our students have a long term/lifelong relationship with the institution. There’s a lot to be unpacked here, but put simply, JIBC is embedded in professional and physical communities who send their people to us for training, who then go back to their communities, only to come back later for further training.

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The Assumptions

Once you consider this JIBC student trajectory, the method to our mobile madness makes a lot more sense.

1. We teach to professions that aren’t the sit at your desk variety.  First responders are generally on the go, in the field, and attached to some sort of mobile device.

2. Experiential learning, simulations, or active case scenarios, are a primary method of training.  These simulations take place, for the most part, outside of a classroom environment.

3.  Learning, while on the job or at the institution, has a fair bit of just-in-time characteristics.

4. The tools and resources that are used while in their JIBC program are the same tools and resources that are used in their professions.

Our initiative is based on the above assumptions and criteria.  Number 4 is critical–everything we’ve created for mobile is something that could be used by a community, a professional, or a student in our programs.  This is also one of the reasons why most of our mobile initiative projects are free or open.

The Mobile Initiative: Evolving towards a strategy

While we have a mobile initiative, I wouldn’t say that we are at a point where we can call it a strategy.  Through some donor funding, we’ve been able to create a favourable environment for experimentation and learning and failing.  We’ve done this by funding equipment, small pilots, and contributing to boosting the infrastructure.

1. We funded the purchase 2 class sets (50) of tablets for loaning and pilots.  This number also required the purchase of some Griffin charging/syncing stations, a mac mini, and covers.

2.  We funded the development of some iOS apps. None of these apps have cost more than $3000.

3. We funded the purchase of an array of program specific apps.

4. We funded some instructor/program-initiated pilots. Most of these are simple projects that can be done off the side of a desk with a little bit of pilot money for equipment, or staff or contractor backfill time.  We don’t require the pilot to succeed, we only require that lessons learned be shared.  Most of these pilots have cost less than $3000.

5. We funded some necessary IT  infrastructure pieces, such as Airwatch licenses for the mobile device management system, and technology for a “classroom of the future” that is designed with mobile in mind.

We try and make it as easy as possible for people to bring an idea to our centre and to try it out.  We make sure everybody understands that we are learning as much as they are.  We emphasize that we don’t have all the answers, but the purpose of pilots are to better understand what is needed, what should become integrated, and what we shouldn’t bother with moving forward.

The next stage is to articulate considerations for a strategy. So far what has emerged is:

1.  Good campus wifi is essential to making this work.  (We have some work to do here)

2. Although we started with creating native iOS apps, WordPress has been a very effective alternative for certain projects.

3.  The idea of a learning ecosystem is helpful in deconstructing the learning environment–for a tablet program, the tablet provides the platform for all the bits that make up the program learning ecosystem.

4.  A mobile device management system (MDM) with something like Airwatch is essential for moving from small, isolated projects to more integrated, program level thinking about mobile.  It basically allowed us to move into the big leagues.

5. Mobile thinking should probably be the default at our institution, given who are students are, where they come from, and where they are going.

Presentation for ETUG 2014
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A Response to D’Arcy Norman on the LMS/Open Binary

D’Arcy Norman has a great post on his blog where he challenges what he feels is a binary between LMS hate and Open love.  I was really excited by this post because a) I realized how thirsty I’ve been to read actual blog posts again and b) I found it nailed the state of LMS and Open ed tool thinking.

I think where you sit on the continuum of Open to LMS has to do with the kind of institution and institutional resources available to you.  I work at a small but highly productive institution that runs on about 40 million (yes, only one 0 there, folks) a year.  D’Arcy makes the point that institutions use and even require many types of software systems that are as much if not more expensive than the LMS.  However, at small institution, this is a big deal.  When a necessary piece of software like an SIS costs millions, not mere thousands of dollars, the institution weighs its options very, very carefully.  The LMS, in its capacity to be the do everything tool, becomes the only tool by necessity, since financial tools and SIS tools are almost non-optional purchases.

This is fine if you think that the LMS can and should do everything. Or if you think it’s adequate for most of your courses.  The LMS offers the path of least resistance and becomes the de facto measuring stick anytime other tools might be suggested:  WordPress?  Wikis? But Blackboard has those too.  Or, does it integrate with Blackboard? Does it integrate with our SIS?

As D’Arcy points out, scale is important here, and at small institutions it matters for different reasons.  At a large institution, scale matters because of the shear number of students to which a platform has to be rolled out.  At a small institution with much smaller numbers, it matters because of the lack of resources (skilled people) to implement anything more complicated or resource intensive than clicking a button.

Ironically, a small institution is constantly challenged to not take the path of least resistance.  In our case, we are different because we can offer small class sizes, experiential learning, and overall a different kind of learning experience for students.  Next to the F2F experience, the LMS experience can be very bland, since it is really designed around certain assumptions of what a F2F experience is in higher education, and what is needed in an online equivalent. Therefore, at my institution we are required to give more focus to tools that can provide a much more meaningful online experience, and increasingly this means looking more broadly at a wider range of tools, and even creating some of our own tools.   For us, this is innovation for the right reasons, and we like to think that it is about doing the right thing for the students, even if it’s not as easy. Open tools, at least part of the time, provide us some ability to do this.

Which takes us back to the resource problem.  If all of the ed tech budget is sucked into the LMS, it doesn’t leave much for the innovation budget.  So which is more important? Choice #1 is stable, easy-ish, and guaranteed to take care of most of the institutional ed tech needs in one handy license.  Choice #2 is perceived as risky, potentially more resource intensive, and a bit of an unknown.  At the end of the day, the question has to be asked–is innovation a nice-to-have, or is it essential to the sustainability of the institution, who exists to provide a meaningful learning experience for students that is different from the bigger institutions?  For us, the LMS is like a big comfy lay-z-boy that you can’t get out of, even though you probably should.

RIP Jean-Claude Bradley, Open Innovator

I learned haphazardly via Twitter the other day that Jean-Claude Bradley had passed away quite recently, am still reeling a bit from this news, despite never having met him in person.  When Open Education Resources were becoming a thing, JC Bradley was one of the first people I had heard about actually innovating his teaching around an idea of open. I referenced him on numerous occasions on this blog, first in 2006 when I came across a presentation he had done on how he was changing his teaching around podcasting and blogging, where, by providing students with a lecture archive in advance,  he was replacing his live lectures with hands-on workshop stuff.  I’m not sure JC ever got credit for possibly being the first flipper of classrooms, and he didn’t stop there anyways, adding wikis to that mix which I blogged again in 2006,  and then becoming well known in the organic chemistry community for his creation and development of Open Notebook Science.  His huge accomplishments are captured quite succinctly in this short bio and it is a good launching pad for more info about his open work. And don’t pass up the comments on this 2007 Nature publication which is a bit of a time capsule read and captures so much of the open publishing discussion that is now familiar to us.

In 2009,  I interviewed JC Bradley for a BCIT teaching and learning podcast series that I was kicking off centering on  instructors doing innovative things with teaching and technology. The audio link is now broken, but I’ve reposted the edited version here.  JC was an obvious choice for the inaugural podcast, and he graciously and generously let me record a 20 minute phone chat with him.

We spent the first part of the conversation talking about the francophone community in Ontario, where he was from, our linguistic misadventures in Paris (where he did a post-doc) and his love for the CBC.   At around the 7′ mark he starts talking about how he navigated away from the LMS in favour of wikis and podcasts and the blogs:


“…most of the course management systems are designed for keeping people out and I’m trying to make my material as open as possible.  For me, it’s actually easier to use a public wiki, a public blog, because those are designed to actually be open, and they’re quickly indexed in Google and I get all those advantages…”


At the 10′ mark he talks about how working openly has allowed him to meet several of his current research collaborators, citing this as one of the key advantages.  It’s incredible to think about this conversation in a 2009 context, especially since he was already on this path in 2006.  UPDATE:  There’s a great transcript of an interview with him  from 2010 about his whole approach to open notebook science,  open publishing, and even patents.

But what struck me most about my conversation with JC Bradley is how much he seemed to be an ego-free, enthusiastic advocate for doing something differently in a way that benefitted his students and his discipline.   I wished we could have crossed paths in person, had a beer, and continued this conversation.


Innovation in Higher Education

I spent the better part of last week at CNIE 2014 in Kamloops where I got to enjoy some good sunshine, great TRU hospitality, great music, and good presentations and conversations with old and new colleagues.  It was probably the first time I’d been to a conference where I left with a feeling that there was a common angsty thread in many of the discussions around innovation, nicely kicked off by Audrey Watters and already captured on her blog Hack Education (how does she do that so fast??) and wrapped up by Brian Lamb (not yet posted but hopefully captured).

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 2.39.05 PMThe purpose of my presentation–slides here–was to talk about how an over-investment in the LMS occurs at the expense of innovative tools that we need in our sector to address our teaching and learning problems.  I don’t feel like vendors really provide us  with the tools we actually need, and perhaps they shouldn’t be providing them anyways.  I use JIBC as an example of an institution whose roots are genuinely in experiential, real-life, and applied learning, but as more and more of our contact hours go online, we are left with few, if any tools that allow us to do appropriately.

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The LMS is both everything and nothing at our institution–it allows us to go online with our content and provide greater access to the students we reach in 183 communities across BC, but it is hardly the ideal tool for experiential and applied learning.  It is also not ideal for open courses such as this one (for which we increasingly use WordPress), 1-3 day short courses (the bread and butter of our institution), or very specific learning environments such as simulations.

In my presentation I point to three examples of tools created at public post-secondary institutions in response to problems that needed to be solved that couldn’t be solved by an LMS.  The first was Praxis, a web-based synchronous tool created at JIBC for conducting live simulation “exercises”.  This tool is now an increasing part of our programming, because it allows us to do online what we were well-known for face-to-face.



The second is Radicl, a BCIT- created tool for the Medical Radiography program which allows for logging and critiquing images between instructors, students, and preceptors.

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The third is one I was introduced to at the conference, a type of competency tracking tool called Power for logging medical student case logs, created at U of T Faculty of Medicine in conjunction with a vendor.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 2.46.29 PMAll of these tools demonstrate the degree to which public post-secondary education can be innovative and create innovative tools. Unfortunately, they are all currently closed innovations despite being tools that have relevance and use across the sector.  U of T shares IP with the vendor that developed it, and both Praxis and Radicl aren’t currently open for use in other institutions.  In an era of diminishing institutional resources these tools are viewed by administrators as potential revenue streams and there is really no incentive to offer them up as open source tools to be shared across the sector.  We would rather spend millions on low risk, yet low satisfaction (for the most part) vendor products than create tools that address our teaching and learning contexts and share them across the province.   We view open tools as risky and resource intensive, yet we have entire teams dedicated to enhancing the LMS experience for students.  We think that our institutions are too small or incapable of creating innovative things, yet we forget that  the sector collectively has the capacity to take back our agency that we so willingly give to vendors who don’t share our interests.

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There is no doubt that vendors have created a buzzword out of  innovation.  But in the same way that public education has been able to take back textbooks and scholarly publications by adopting an open approach, a parallel activity needs to happen around open and collaborative innovation of our teaching and learning tools.  To me, this is a much less risky, and more sustainable approach to our sector.



MOOCs at the expense of innovation: Micro-learning and community, subscription based, and micro-content elearning models

I’m a bit late to this party, but there have been some good 2013 summaries of the ed tech world, and Tony Bates’ summary was the one that has resonated the most with me so far.  I think he’s dead-on in his assessment of 2013 when he states:

“MOOCs have become a major distraction from developing more innovative and more relevant applications of online learning for credit”.

Of course, while we rode the MOOC mania from our respective positions, we may have failed to pay attention to other learning models and platforms that may inspire us to think differently about we can innovate in our institutions.  I’ve been observing the development of three different models that I find both interesting and relevant.  This is definitely a TLDR kind of post, and is really just a scratchpad of some things I’ve been pondering about innovation and higher education.

Affinity Group Learning:  MOOC-like without the course

Ravelry is well known “social network for knitters”  and is MOOC-like in its ability to provide a place of learning and discussion for a large global audience.  In fact, its geographic reach is impressive–the groups section, which allows you to find both and online and f2f knitting groups based on your geographic location or interest boasts 111 countries or locations including Antarctica (190 members), Burma (11 members), and Kazakhstan (86 members). This  Slate article does a nice job of explaining the success of this site for 1.4 million registered users, which remains free and open to its users, while finding other ways to make enough money to support its staff of four.

There isn’t anything about Ravelry that suggests “course” or formal learning, but I think it is a good example of an affinity space where informal learning is taking place.  Put simply, Ravelry is a project-based learning space and if knitting was a diploma program at my institution, I’d want to find ways for formal learning to tie into this much broader community.

Subscription-based learning sites

I see subscription-based learning as a variation of Ravelry with a different monetization model and with a bit more formal learning design.   Subscription-based learning capitalizes on two characteristics of an adult learner–1) they don’t have much time and therefore are best suited to small chunks of just-in-time learning, and 2) they don’t necessarily need a credential.  I’m surprised this model hasn’t found its way into the Continuing and Professional Education areas of our institutions since there are a several good examples  of non-higher ed institutions doing this.

The E-learning Guild offers several levels of membership ranging from free to premium, which gives you varying levels of access to content and types of content, ranging from discussion forums,white papers, webinars, training, and conference discounts to name a few.  The Guild model is about generating content through a variety of activities, and then repackaging this content to its free and paid subscribers.  This model has some parallels to the academic publishing world in that it is a somewhat (totally?) parasitic relationship between the producers and the bundlers/resellers, but offers enough value to harness 60,000 subscribers.  In my view it provides more of a value of convenience than anything else, but for a member starting out in elearning, it is a fantastic place to access a huge range of topics and information.

Rouxbe is an online professional cooking school boasting more than 120,000 subscribed members across 180 countries. It is a great example of a subscription-based learning site that may resonate more with those of us in public higher education, since it is built around a structured curriculum and formal course structure.   Rouxbe members pay a one time fee of 300$ in addition to a 5$ a month ongoing fee for access to a range of short courses and lessons created with really high quality videos and visual content.   (Note of interest–the Rouxbe development team  includes Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield as an investor and advisor).  Professional level courses can also be purchased for an additional cost, which is an interesting extension of this subscription based model and has some parallels with the idea that MOOCs offered by institutions will attract paying students to their institution.

Micro-content affinity sites

I see micro-content sites as a blend of the above, and again, am surprised that continuing and professional education hasn’t yet jumped all over this model.  Micro-content sites capitalize on the just-in-time learning needs of adults,while tying them into a community affiliation that provides them additional benefits.

One of our JIBC clients who was looking for a non-LMS option for a program introduced me to Craftsy, which is a bit like Ravelry with the option to purchase short courses.  A key difference is the Sympoz platform that Craftsy uses which is part community/affinity site, part learning platform, and part marketplace. (Sympoz also supports another site for woodworking). A browser through a  free online course illustrates some of the genius of both the model and the platform:  students access high quality video and short lessons, within a platform where they can take notes that are integrated into the video timeline, access the course on their own time, while still having access to an instructor and student Q & A in a space that gets away from traditional discussion forums.  To me, Craftsy/Sympoz  is an example of how our learning models can evolve when we have a different kind of technology available to us.

Harvard Business Review Learning is a model that builds on an existing brand and prestige and then extends this authority to delivery learning.  In many ways, it’s really not unlike the post-secondary sector.  The course offerings might not be revolutionary, but  they are cheap and  easily purchased,  which is not always the case with our institutional registration systems.  I suspect that the students of HBR learning are coming from its reader and subscriber base, which makes it essentially a spin off to HBR.  Again, it’s not a stretch to think of this as a interesting continuing education or alumni model, where an already invested audience of graduates continues to seek different kinds of value from the institution.

The big difference between these models and MOOCs that are being offered by institutions is that MOOCs are a product of institutions saying “hey, we offer courses, so let’s offer MOOC courses and hope that students will sign up for our paid courses”.  To me, this isn’t really radical innovation.  The models described here start at the place of “hey, we really know this community well, so let’s see how we can offer value to this community in other ways”.  In an institutional context, models like these recognize that students can have an evolving relationship with an institution, and that if we take a more nuanced view of these students and their evolving needs we might be able to come up with new ways of extending our value.

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