This academic year (2013-2014), I am serving as a Faculty Fellow for Online and Technology-Enhanced Learning at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

This newly created role is meant to help grow innovation among faculty and collaboration between offices, committees, and resources. This year, there are two faculty fellows, myself and Eve Browning, who are working in close collaboration with our Associate Vice Chancellor for Outreach and Online Delivery, Kim Riordan. The fellows also work closely with our two ITSS Learning Technology Consultants, Bruce Reeves and Amanda Evans and engage a number of faculty groups and relevant committees.

As a pilot program, the position is a bit of work in progress. In fact, as part of the selection process, I was asked to develop a vision and proposal for what I would like to do as a fellow. My proposal was informed my research on networked learning and the diffusion of technological innovation. I feel strongly that facilitating connection, interaction, and mutual support between engaged faculty members and pedagogical innovators is a highly efficient and effective way to use resources.

In the following, I will record a loose summary of our activities in this first semester and a few reflections.

Online Community of Practice

My co-fellow, Eve Browning, was the primary leader for the UMD Online Community of Practice this fall. In its second year, our monthly meetings have begun to attract significant faculty interests. We continued the tradition of inviting faculty to present on their courses, lessons, and methods for online learning. At the same time, we sought to create spaces for broadly dialogue on our institutional vision for online and technology-enhanced learning going forward.

For example, at our November meeting, Eve and I, along with the help of Bruce and Amanda, facilitated a small group brainstorming session to discuss two crucial sets of questions for our institution:

How can we chart an optimal future for our institution, with respect to online courses and programs, and build strength?

What would an effective guide to developing and teaching an online course look like? What should it include? What kinds of support do faculty need to be successful?

We invited participants to document their discussion in an open Google Doc. You can read what they wrote here: The feedback we gained through this exercise has informed several specific initiatives including our efforts to develop a new online portal and guide for faculty with respect to online and technology-enhanced learning. We look forward to replicating the success of this series in the spring with a strong emphasis on showcasing a range of best practices and approaches to innovative learning design.

Educational Technology Workshop

My special project as faculty fellow this semester was to organize and facilitate a local-cohort of the Educational Technology Workshop (ETW). The ETW is a six-week workshop series that explores emerging web tools and pedagogies. A partnership between the UMN Office of Information Technology and the University Libraries, the ETW blends instructor presentations with collaborative problem solving.

This iteration of the workshop included a Twin Cities and a Duluth cohort of faculty who met via a telepresence setup based on our ITSS Active Learning Classroom, Google Hangouts, and Adobe Connect. Our Duluth cohort included 13 faculty and staff members from a range of departments and was facilitated by Bruce, Amanda, and myself. Presenters and activities were led from both campuses with a number of shared online interactions and activities.

I personally led a Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) Workshop which focused on a hands-on exploration of using Twitter for professional learning, networking, and dialogue. Our live “Tweetup” allowed participants to engage directly across with each other across cohorts and share “cool tools,” people worth following, and maps of their learning networks.

Google Community

In addition to these workshops and meetings, we were also interested in creating a space for shared communication for the innovative online and technology-enhanced learning work already occurring across campus. Toward this end, I created a Google Community, Faculty for Online and Technology-Enhanced Learning (FOTEL) to host discussions, publicize events, and to create a common audience of engaged stakeholders for addressing institutional challenges and opportunities.

Currently, the group is small, but slowly growing. We hope that over time it will attract a larger community and become an convenient way of coordinating the many events and groups who are contributing to OTEL excellence at UMD.

Faculty Consultations

During the semester, I worked with a number of faculty to think through issues in the technology-enhanced learning. In most cases, these consultation came about as follow ups to formal presentations, workshops, or ongoing conversations. I really enjoyed this aspect of my work as it was free-form, diverse, and because I learned a lot and was really inspired by the faculty that I met. A few examples of the topics addressed:

  • Brainstormed possible applications and lesson designs for linguistics diagramming exercises including a discussion of screen capture tools, collaborative writing tools, whiteboard tools, etc.
  • Consulted with the UMD Writing Center and Biology faculty to discuss available tools and approaches for assessing and managing peer assessment of writing assignments (see overview of resources here).
  • Discussed the theory and design of custom course sites as a replacement for the traditional LMS including the pros/cons of blog-based courses and the Google Apps for education environment.
  • Consulted on a range of assignment designs for social media, blogging, and collaborative writing, online discussions, and google docs for peer review

Initiatives for Spring 2014

There are number of additional projects that we started in the fall that we hope to complete this spring. Here are two of the most significant:

Faculty Guide to Online and Technology-Enhanced Learning: This will be website that will provide a common-goods starting point for faculty who are interested in incorporating technology into their teaching or developing an online course. The goals for the site are to consolidate existing resources across the UMN system, develop modules that introduce and provide information about resources and services, and to provide examples of faculty exemplars and best practices.

OTEL Unconference: Though we have debated whether to frame this event as an unconference, THATCamp, Hackathon, or workshop event, the basic idea is straightforward: we would like to culminate the semester with a day long series of sessions for hands-on workshops, brainstorming, community discussion, and work sessions for special projects (like the faculty guide website). We already have the interest and support of a wide range of faculty, staff, and administrative leaders. Planning will be ongoing through the semester.