Learning Technologies Symposium 2016 Recap

McMaster University holds a Learning Technologies Symposium every year and this year’s event was spread over two days just after (Canadian) Thanksgiving.  I have a bit of a biased view, as I’ve been one of the organizers over the last four years so unlike my other recap type posts where I share the things I’ve learned attending the sessions, this one will document the things that I did and the things I learned.

A few days before, we had some session cancellations so I, being the diligent jack-of-all-trades offered to run a few sessions to fill in the gaps. The first was on using PebblePad as a peer-review platform, the second was a session I co-presented with a colleague on WebEx, our new web conferencing tool and lastly I ran a quick introduction to digital badges.

I also had to dip back into my history as a media developer to help sort out (with the help of our current digital media specialists) how to get a video camera (actually two video cameras) with HDMI outs into a WebEx broadcast of our keynote (the answer was that it’s best to run it through a video mixer, in this case a Roland VR-50HD). It came together fairly well, without the caveat that WebEx is persnickety when you don’t connect devices in the correct order (ie. it accepted the video feed fine, but didn’t switch audio to match, a quick audio reset fixed the issue).

So I missed most of Barbara Oakley’s keynote, which dealt with a lot of scientific research into how we learn and pay attention, and a lot of the discussion that followed as I was busy with the setup and breakdown of the streaming rig.

The first session I attended was one I was presenting for 15 minutes about peer review – the other session was about Individual Assessment and Personal Learning – in the context of an Italian language course (which as an aside, uses an open textbook). Unfortunately, no one showed up. It was great to catch up with Wendy, who was presenting in the same slot as I, and we chatted about all sorts of educational technology things.

Onto day two… I missed the first block of sessions working on preparing for my own session on WebEx (and catching up on e-mail from the last week, when I was off). The WebEx introduction session went really well, people were happy with the visual fidelity and audio quality. They also seemed intrigued with the testing option, but who knows if anyone will actually take it up. I’m really hoping we could do something with it – maybe review classes at the end of a semester could take advantage of it?

Day two had a series of presentations on some of the VR/AR work that’s being done on campus right now, which is new and exciting even though I’m not involved in it. Every project I’ve heard about is using the technology in a way that makes sense and should enhance learning (unlike in the past where technology is used for flash and wow, without any consideration for it making any sense). I wish I didn’t present twice on day two, because those sessions would’ve been great to see more than for a few seconds.

At lunch David Porter (who I didn’t know I was following on Twitter) new CEO of eCampusOntario (our version of BC Campus) did an overview of how he sees eCampusOntario developing and essentially threw a job recruitment pitch out there as well. We’ll see how the latest round of funding for research and projects goes, because the call was very specific and rigorous – so that vision is really well defined. I did start a proposal, but of course, it was due on October 31st, and I was in Texas watching my favourite band play their last show (NSFW), so I was a little busy.

After lunch I did a presentation on digital badges (do we need them?) that was a brief introduction to digital badges and tried to answer whether we need them (the precis is no, we don’t need them but you may still want to use them in cases where you want to explicitly assess skills or document experiences – transcripts and portfolios can handle the rest). This was paired with an instructor who uses our LMS for exams, in a relatively unique way. The exam is a paper based math exam, mostly generating matricies. The students complete the exam using pencil, paper and calculators, then are given half an hour to transcribe the work into D2L. The instructor then uses the auto marking feature to grade exams using fill-in-the-blanks. It’s a pretty clever way to make marking easier.

After closing remarks – and a giveaway – it was all wrapped up for another year.



A Buffet of Educational Technology Thoughts

If you’ve read anything in this blog, you know that I’m subject to “oh look, shiny!”, constantly distracted and going in one hundred directions. This post will get as close to the way my brain works.

First up, we’re scrapping Blackboard Collaborate as our web conferencing tool and installing WebEx. As a conferencing tool it’s light years ahead in terms of usability and functionality. I’m sure some of our more advanced users will find the quirks, but hopefully we can manage to stay one or two steps ahead of them. We had been Collaborate clients for years, migrating over from a self hosted Elluminate install.  Over time, the product, and it’s terrible Java interface, caused our users issues. We did integrate it directly with our D2L installation, which solved a lot of the interface issues, but then we’ve been hit with conversion errors that can’t be fixed by the user but prompt a ticket to Blackboard support. While Blackboard support have been excellent in this particular case, they haven’t been great over the years. Combine that with the fact that Blackboard has been promising a lot, and not producing a whit of evidence that they’ll be able to pull it off. If they weren’t so big, I’d be calling all their promises vaporware, but I fully expect they’ll be able to deliver eventually. It’s the eventually part that’s the problem.

Second, I’m working through how we can roll out blogs effectively to faculty who want their students to blog, but want a campus install to do it from. I know WordPress Multisite is the way to go, but it’s going to be a slow going process as we need to work with other groups on campus to make this one happen. I personally think that having an academic blog is an important piece of the process of going to University and becoming an academic – how else do people disseminate their findings to the public without the filter of a news organization? How else do academics form their own personal learning network? I’m a huge believer in blogging as a form; and I see it as a reflective practice more often than not. It’s also a space that I can use to see how ideas sound, and it helps me articulate ideas better (by slowing my brain down to typing speed, which is much slower than my mouth goes).

Third, is the upgrade to Turnitin, will practically force us to convert our existing connection between D2L and Turnitin to the new LTI connection between the two parties. As always, this is a last minute addition to our semester startup, so it’s an added complexity that we didn’t really want to think about but will have to consider over the next few days. While Turnitin is forcing everyone to upgrade, there is an opt-out process, but from what I know (and I’ll know more later this week when we chat with our academic integrity office) we don’t know what that really means? How does opting-out effect us? Can we revert if everything craps out and nothing works post-upgrade?

Fourth, I’ve been asked to sit on a portfolio advocacy committee, that will push portfolio use to “the next level” campus wide. I have a few ideas, but I’ve never been fond of sitting on committees, more fond of the work that needs to get done out of the committees. I guess it’s progress when you have someone who knows what it takes and whether it can be done currently, rather than facing down the fact you can’t do what you had proposed due to technical feasibility. My boss is sneaky good at eliminating my ability to point the finger at other people’s decisions, so I guess this one will partially be on me.