explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Tag: strategy

A crash course in ed tech and online learning for higher ed leaders

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate is how challenging it can be for an institution to grapple with online learning and ed tech.  Leadership is so important and yet the top layer of an institution is generally not selected for their in depth knowledge of something many of us have dedicated our careers to. Even Directors of Teaching and Learning centres may specialize in other things, and have only an operational level understanding of ed tech and how it supports teaching and learning.

The online learning in Canadian universities and colleges 2018 preliminary data is pointing – with a few exceptions –  to the growth of online and blended in Canadian post secondary.  I think it’s fair to say that there’s an ongoing need for institutions to have a really good understanding of online learning and a strategy or plan to grow or support it.  However, often the people who have to make the strategic and resource decisions may only have a surface understanding of online learning and ed tech, and  in smaller institutions  they may be relying on a few known champions or people who have job titles with technology in it for information and guidance or to lead an online learning strategy process.

I’m starting to think there’s a need for a (unconventional) crash course for Deans, VPs and Presidents on leadership in online learning and ed tech.  This is tongue in cheek (sort of)  but is probably something that could insert itself into higher ed executive leadership training.

Topics or courses I would include are:

  1. The Basics – Online learning is many things
  2. The Vision – Being clear on why you do/want to do online learning and understanding the drivers for it
  3. The Data/evidence – Getting real about who your students are, and what they need
  4. The Consultation – Strategies for examining the internal and external environment and why you’ll probably need some liberating structures
  5. Academic innovation – What are open education, open technology, and open education practices and why should we care about open?
  6. The Systems – How to not to fall into the trap of conventional thinking or taking the path of least resistance
  7. Gurus, Evangelists and Privilege – Stop talking about millennials and digital natives:  Being critical about Edubuzz
  8. The Networks – You probably can’t do it alone:  Examining the sector and building networks and partnerships
  9. Innovation – It doesn’t have to be expensive:  Pilots, boundary objects, and creating fail safe spaces
  10. Sustainability – Getting clear on what you invest in, where you want to build capacity, and creative ways for doing that
  11. Strategy –It’s not all about the ed tech:  Building the culture you need to support the vision
  12. Evaluation – Keeping a check and balance on where you are putting your resources

What’s missing?

Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use

I’m that age where I can say I’ve been working in ed tech for 15 + years.  Like many of us, my life in ed tech in higher education began more or less with the LMS.  Through the years I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly with seemingly endless tentacles that the LMS brings to our discussions about teaching and learning and especially online learning in our institutions.

Here’s the short of it. LMS’s do some things really well and are not going to go away.  We still use an LMS at our institution, and while I would really like the vendor to invest some of our hard earned license fees into making it a more user friendly tool, we still need an LMS.  However, I’ve tried really hard to make sure our online strategy does not start and finish with the LMS, and yes, it is an ongoing battle.

That aside, I’ve observed (especially in smaller colleges) that so much institutional planning around online learning starts and ends with an LMS.  Online learning strategies are an opportunity to get clear about what online is trying to do and resources required.

What if it started by imagining a time before your institution had any ed tech?   If I was leading an online learning strategy, I would want the people involved to challenge themselves on some questions.  Why does the institution want online learning? What will it let you do?  What do you know about the students that is driving the need for an online learning strategy?

Is the online strategy covering all technology enabled learning and teaching?  Is blended/hybrid courses your thing?  Multi-access?  Is it a combination of blended and fully online?

Consider the following:

  • If you want to do open courses, you might not need an LMS
  • If you have applied programs that work closely with industry you might need more than an LMS
  • If you are doing primarily distance education you might need an LMS
  • If you are doing multi-access you might not need an LMS
  • If you are doing blended/hybrid learning you might not need an LMS
  • If seamless integration with your student information system is needed and a locked down IT environment are your reality, then you might need an LMS (but ideally you would challenge this in your online strategy discussions)

Explore how the landscape, of educational technology has changed since your institution first got an LMS.  If you care about student data privacy or don’t have a lot of resources to sink into one tool, take a serious look at open technologies that aren’t LMS’s  but could support teaching and learning in interesting ways:  Mattermost (student discussions, online group work), WordPress with any combo of extensions that make it course-like (course content and open courses, e-portfolios), Pressbooks with H5P (interactive course manuals or textbooks, or self-directed learning), to name a few.  Consider what needs to be enterprise, and what can be loosely supported for a few programs and departments.  Build the need for flexibility and a tolerance for ambiguity across the institution as part of the culture you want to emerge from your online strategy.

Instead of sinking money into vendor products, invest it in people to support a new kind of ed tech ecosystem.








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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