Planning to Plan

For those of you have been around this blog for a while (I can see all four of you out there!), you know that I was/am part of the original Apple Digital Campus group. Back in the day, Apple invited five Universities to help them think about what the digital campus environment might look like in the coming years. All five of us brought a very interesting perspective to the party and we had a great time figuring out what we did, why Apple selected us, and how we could help one of the most creative and educationally grounded companies on the planet think about the higher education landscape.

One of the things we decided to do are the ADC Leadership Institutes. I have gone to two of them over the last few years … the first, and my favorite so far, was put on by the people at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism (I did the wrap-up talk)… the second, was at Harvard where I was just a participant and spent the week with Kyle Peck thinking about what our event was to look like.

We’ve been trying for over a year to organize one here at Penn State. With two false starts we are close to finding a date that will actually work. We are thinking early March instead of the November date we’ve been working towards. Today, I was lucky enough to go offsite with three of the smartest people I get to hang around with (Kyle Peck, Carla Zembal-Saul, and Scott McDonalad … BTW, when are they going to start blogging?) — all of them are in the College of Education and all three share a real passion for teaching, teachers, and innovation.

We had scheduled this meeting before our planning committee decided to focus on March, so there wasn’t as much of a sense of urgency — just an opportunity for an informal planning session. We didn’t get the whole thing worked out, but there was a block of about 30 minutes or so where we went off on a real directed brainstorming session … I think the foundation for our event was in there.

It isn’t completely clear to me, but if we can somehow focus on the notion of transforming the higher education landscape so that we urge people to balance the needs/expectations of students with an instructor’s educational goals we’ll be successful. We want to expose people to all sorts of interesting things without making the whole thing solely about emerging technologies … you know, try to also emphasize there are really good things we should be doing in our classrooms and that the right technology choices can help us get there.

I am thinking/hoping we’ll be planning our event in the open — either here at this site, or at another open space. I’d like for a community to develop around this thing so that we can get closer to hitting the mark. Any ideas and thoughts to share?

7 thoughts on “Planning to Plan

  1. Well, it is good to see that guilt motivates.

    I think, as I said at the meeting, that what we are really missing is a focus on the teaching and the teaching goals that faculty have. This is the space where there has not been deep thinking in the technology and learning community. We have lots of folks interested in creating cool tools to help students learn, creating environments to support teacher learning, and interest in the skills that students should have in terms of working with technology and content when they get out of our courses. What we don’t have is thoughtful consideration of the teacher / faculty and their role in terms of interpretive flexibility. Tools, and by this I mean both technological and intellectual tools (like policy and curriculum for example), get interpreted by faculty in their classrooms. This is not a variable to control for and reduce (i.e. improve fidelity), but it is an opportunity for professional growth and improvement of teaching (and learning). I am tired of the idea that the teacher / faculty member is an obstacle to overcome when implementing a technology (e.g. they are not digital natives). What we need to think about is how to find out the goals that faculty have for how they want to teach and then help them understand how various technologies can support those goals. Let them choose which tech and how to use it. Otherwise you burn people out pushing blogs and podcasting this year, when a few years ago you were pushing message boards and email lists (And by you I don’t mean YOU, Cole).

    Why have my own blog, when I can just comment on yours, eh?

  2. that makes me #3…

    How about reserving a block for an “unconference within a conference”? Having at least some time to be planned/moderated/conducted by the attendees might bring some more flexibility into things, and/or provide an opportunity to further explore in depth any topics that come up in the “traditional” conference portion.

  3. Thanks … I knew there was a reason I did this blogging thing.

    Scott, guilt has nothing to do with it … your thoughts are well-taken and should be at the core of what we are attempting to do. I spend a lot of time either getting the technology is great thing or the ignore technology thing shoved at me. What I am after is how do we do both and do it in an integrated way? How do we turn people on to new opportunities that can be applied in pedagogically sound ways. That is a challenge and one we will have to address if this is going to be the type of event we think it can be.

    D, I love the idea of un-conference session? It is funny, I have been researching the BarCamp concept and have been planning a post about just such an idea. The Northern Lights Conference is very un-conference like … can people hang with an event like that? Is it too much (or too little)? I am bold, but letting people decide where to go is a little scary to me. More advice for us?

  4. I like the idea of the unconfernce or some open space in the program that allows for input from participants. It seems an apt metaphor for what we are trying to do and what the key issues are that underlie the use of technology in the academy. How do we open space for our students? Can we transform the concept of conferencing in ways that we hope to transform higher education? That may be too much to ask, but thinking about what the pedagogical goals of the conference are and finding technologies to support those goals seem directly in line with what leadership in technology supported pedagogy is about.

  5. So, let’s find a way to let participants create their own breakout sessions — maybe a living poster session built around an ad-hoc presentation? Give them a blank wall with stickies to organize and propose their own sessions … it would give us a chance to sit back, listen, and engage them from their perspectives and from an understanding of their contexts. Would people stand up and say, “I volunteer?” I would hope so.

  6. These are some of the most interesting and exciting alternative formats for conference sessions I’ve seen proposed — ever. You can always plant a few “takers” (myself included) in case it takes awhile for participants to warm-up to the idea. Not sure that will be necessary, but it may help you sleep at night.

    My two cents on transforming the academy goes something like this…
    The notion of transformation is powerful and should not be taken lightly. The fact that you (Cole and your shop) even want to play in this sandbox is a breath of fresh air. My concern is that some of the most potentially powerful technology tools for teaching and learning right now also can reinforce some pretty troublesome pedagogical practices. Case in point, podcasting. I’ve heard it numerous times already. “Wow! I can take the (rarely, if never revised) PowerPoint slides from my (dreadfully dull and didactic) lectures, couple them with (equally boring and monotone) audio, and have my grad student serve it out to the class as an enhanced podcast (of the same dreadfully dull lecture). That way, students can listen to my (dull, un-engaging, painfully pathetic) lecture any time and anywhere on their iPods.” I could go on, but you get the picture. There is no transformation, just the (mis)application of a new tool. My guess is that the prof in this scenario is actually having his goals and purposes met. By having the goals of the faculty member and the tools align in the absence of questioning one’s assumptions and practices, no substantial benefits to learning and teaching are likely to occur. So Scott and Cole, I see your point about faculty and raise you one. How do we bring together faculty and tools in ways that foster real transformation — of teaching, as well as learning?

    As for blogging…
    I’m awaiting the PSU blogging solution. Haven’t you built something yet?

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