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Unizin – a higher education digital learning consortium

I learned about Unizin from a colleague at Colorado State University (CSU), CSU is one of the founding members of the Unizin consortium. I still haven’t figured out what the “zin” in Unizin stands for but according to the Unizin website:

“the Unizin Consortium is universities coming together in a strategic way to exert greater control and influence over the digital learning landscape. It enables each institution, its faculty, and students to draw on an evolving set of tools to support digital learning for residential, flipped classroom, online courses/degrees, badged experiences for Alumni, or even MOOCs if desired. Unizin supports the differing missions and strategies of universities.”

In addition to CSU, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan, are founding members and investors in this membership-based higher education consortium. I’m still not clear about what Unizin is and how they will operate, but here are a few things it is not:

  • LMS – although all members are using a single LMS vendor, Canvas
  • MOOC – it will not offer courses, content or degrees in its own name

Unizin is affiliated with Internet 2 which will serve as Unizin’s financial home. To learn more about the Unizin Consortium, review the links below:

It will be interesting to see where this leads and which institutions will join the consortium.

InfoGraphic Tool – Piktochart

I discovered a great FREE tool for creating infographics called Piktochart. We used piktochart to create a summary of the 2013 eLearning Consortium of Colorado’s (eLCC) annual report survey.

For some reason, I can’t get it embedded on this site but you can find it on the eLCC’s Annual Report page.

What is Competency Based Education?

Competency Based Education is a major buzzword in higher education news this year and I was a little confused about how CBE is applied in higher education.  According to Wikipedia, “competency-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning more often used in learning concrete skills than abstract learning. Rather than a course or a module every individual skill/learning outcome, known as a competency, is one single unit. Learners work on one competency at a time, which is likely a small component of a larger learning goal. The student is evaluated on the individual competency, and only once they have mastered it do they move on to others. “ Two higher education institutions often referenced in conversations about CBE are Western Governor’s University (WGU) and the University of Southern New Hampshire.

WCET hosted an excellent webcast recently that really helped me better understand CBE in higher education. View the recording of the “Big Audacious Conversation About Competency-Based Education” below if you would like to learn more about CBE from two CBE experts, Mary Alice McCarthy from the New American Foundation, and Linda Howdyshell from Broward College.

Assessment of faculty readiness to teach online

There have been some excellent resources shared on the WCET listserv recently in response to a question about assessment of faculty readiness to teach online. This discussion is very relevant to my university, because like many other “responsible” higher education institutions, we require that our instructors complete an intensive Teaching Online Workshop before they teach an online course.  Below are a few of the resources shared by some of the WCET members that I found very useful:

Common Webinar Challenges – Can you relate?

I love webinars/online conferencing tools and usually participate in at least a few online meetings each week. This week I am scheduled to participate in the following 5 webinars:

  • Goto Webinar Meeting with a Vendor
  • Adobe Connect – Training with a DU Faculty Member who wants to use it for an online meeting
  • Bb Collaborate – Meeting with ECP Directors
  • Bb Collaborate – Sloan C Webinar on Competency-Based Degree Programs and Online Education
  • Adobe Connect – TLT’s schMOOC

Although we’ve been using web conferencing tools for many years, there are still technical glitches that always crop up, especially if you have participants who are new to online meeting tools. If you participate in webinars,  you will probably be able to relate to this funny video.

What’s a schMOOC? #tltg7FS2

According to the Teaching, Learning and Technology Group (TLT), a schMOOC is a:

somewhat connectivist, hypothetically Massive Open Online Course. This learning experience is “somewhat” connectivist because it combines structured and non-structured, along with social and individualized, learning options (choose to connect with others — or not), and it’s hypothetically massive because it could attract large numbers of participants in theory (but in practice it won’t).

What I love about about MOOCs and schMOOCs is that they provide a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow and connect with “like-minded” colleagues. I’m currently participating in a schMOOC sponsored by TLT called the “Seven Futures of American Education 2.0 schMOOC: Perspectives, Strategies, Plans.” This FREE course is based on John Sener’s “The Seven Futures of American Education: Improving Learning & Teaching in a Screen-Captured World.” I met John and purchased his book at a Quality Matters conference in October of 2013 and I am very excited to have the opportunity to explore this topic with the author and other learners in this schMOOC.

This course is delivered outside of a traditional LMS environment which takes a little getting used to but it is also a bit refreshing. The course content is primarily “housed” on a google site and we use Adobe Connect for our synchronous sessions and a Google+ community for asynchronous interactions. The course has provided some good examples of effective ways to  leverage online tools like Animoto and PowToon (thanks Beth!) and have inspired me to take some time to explore them further. Today we had a twitter chat which was new to me and several of my fellow schMOOCers. I hope to fully engage in this course but even if I don’t, I feel like I have already benefited from the experience.

So far I’m really enjoying all of the wonderful lifelong learning opportunities offered by MOOCs and schMOOCs and I’ll continue to take advantage of this professional development while these courses are still Free & Open.

Online Education: More than MOOCs – #iheONLINE

I just attended an excellent webinar titled “Online Education: More than MOOCs.”  The free webinar was presented by Inside Higher Ed editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman who clearly demonstrated that they have a solid understanding of the history of online education, which goes beyond the recent hype about MOOCs. They do an excellent job of explaining how traditional online courses and MOOCs are not synonymous, and acknowledge that too many pundits and non-experts do a disservice by not differentiating between the two which also drives me crazy.

Doug and Scott also discussed many of the key issues colleges and universities are facing today as well as changing faculty roles in the digital age. Many of their comments were based on data collected from recent surveys, recent articles on the subject, as well as conversations they’ve had with faculty and administrators. I was also very impressed with their responses to some of the questions asked by the people attending the webinar.

You can download a booklet from Inside Higher Ed that includes both news articles and opinion essays on this topic and click here to view a link to the recording of this brief, but very informative webinar.

Participate in the 2014 Blackboard Catalyst Awards! #BbECP

The 2014 Blackboard Catalyst Awards are open for submissions through February 17, 2014! There are several ways to participate in this excellent professional development program. You can nominate yourself, a peer, or a team in any of these four award categories: Exemplary Course, Innovation, Staff Development, and Student Impact or you can participate as a volunteer course reviewer.

In 2012, the University of Denver (DU) was honored to receive the Staff Development Catalyst Award for our Teaching Online Workshop (TOW) course and in 2011, DU’s Mike Keables was the recipient of an Exemplary Course Award.  This year I’m very excited to serve as an ECP Director.

The Exemplary Course Program (ECP) honors those whose courses demonstrate best practices in four major areas: Course Design, Interaction & Collaboration, Assessment and Learner Support.

By submitting your course, you will have the opportunity to:
•    Reflect on your own course design through a self-evaluation of your course and gain new perspective and insights
•    Receive detailed feedback on your own course development including best practices and areas for improvement
•    Apply lessons learned from the Exemplary Course Rubric to your own courses or those you are helping to develop
•    Gain professional development experience and recognition for your accomplishments and participation

If you don’t’ want to submit a course, consider becoming a volunteer course reviewer to:
•    Explore in-depth a variety of different online courses and get ideas and inspiration for your own online courses
•    Apply lessons learned from the Exemplary Course Rubric to your own courses or those you are helping to develop
•    Share your knowledge and experience with others by providing feedback on their course designs

If you have any questions about the program, please send an email to community@blackboard.com. For information on the Catalyst Awards categories, please visit blackboard.com/catalyst.

RFP Open for 25th Annual eLCC conference

Mark your calendar for the 2014 eLearning Consortium of Colorado 25th Annual Conference.
This year’s conference eLCC Conference logois on April 16-18, 2014 and at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado. Plan to help us celebrate a quarter century of success as we build on the past and lead to the future. Emerging technologies have created a dynamic, challenging environment that has caused us to adapt. What have we learned that can help us be successful as we move forward? Come and explore what the present and not-so-distant future holds for students, teaching, and learning.

Join us or submit a proposal for the conference. Deadline is January 10, 2014.

The Conference includes:

• FREE hands-on computer workshops
• Keynote presentations from elearning leaders
• Concurrent sessions featuring the latest elearning strategies
• Exhibits and demonstrations

Check out the 2013 conference program.

Outsourcing Online Instruction?

Once a peripheral offering in higher education, online and distance education is becoming essential to the mission of many colleges and universities today. More and more vendors, also known as “Bundled Service Providers” (BSPs), are competing to cash in on the continued growth of online education in higher education. Services offered by the BSPs include market research, lead generation and marketing, admission counseling, course development and 24/7 technical support. Most BSPs charge on a revenue share basis where the vendor keeps 20% to 65% of the gross revenue for a course/program. One vendor, Academic Partnerships made $4 million from its share of tuition from Arizona State, over $10 million from Florida International University, and $18 million from Ohio University’s nursing program in 2012. (Source: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/05/31/nonprofit-colleges-should-be-wary-new-breed-profit-players-essay).

Some of the major players in this space include:

The eagerness of for-profits to enter the online education higher education market sounds very familiar. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, dot-coms and for-profits were jumping onto the distance learning bandwagon to launch new online programs. NYU Online, Virtual Temple, US Open University and Arizona Learning Systems were very popular until the dot-com bust which forced the closure of many of these new online ventures.

Some faculty members are beginning to push back on some of these  partnerships. An October 11, 2013 issue of Inside Higher Ed, reported on a recent clash between faculty and administration at Rutgers about a partnership with Pearson. Faculty were concerned about intellectual property rights and academic freedom as well as sharing the revenue from tuition with an outside vendor.