We’ve been working to strategiclly align the things we do in ETS to those of the University for quite some time. One of the things we shifted attention to about a year ago was getting reengaged with academic units around large impact opportunities as they relate to curricular design. My first two years in ETS I worked hard to help establish a vision for the creation of platforms to support digital expression and in most cases these were infrastructure moves — Podcasts at Penn State, iTunes U, Adobe Connect, and the Blogs at Penn State are examples. In a few cases they were physical environments … the Digital Commons is the best example of that … but the Educational Gaming Commons is also an emergent example. Ultimately the goal with these platforms was to move our culture into a place where we had new infrastructure to help us think critically about new forms of scholarship and pedagogy.
The platforms allowed us to explore the ideas around Community Hubs and other group publishing platforms … these are places where the community could find new ways to connect, share, and support new thinking. The Community Hubs also helped us identify new participants and helped us rethink how we went about deploying our physical events like the Innovator Speaker Series, the Learning Design Summer Camps, Digital Commons Tailgates, and the TLT Symposium. These face to face events have become a new kind of infrastructure designed to coalesce community at a much larger level. This has paid big dividends.
Additionally we spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork for new kinds of faculty investments — we created the Hot Team process, Engagement Projects, and the TLT Faculty Fellows. At this level is where we are now seeing our ability to move emerging ideas into real concrete services that can transform large scale teaching and learning challenges into new opportunities. In almost every way, these approaches live on top of the infrastructure stack we took so long to build. In other words, we invested time and energy into people, processes, tools, technology, events, and facilities so we could find new ways to engage faculty around emergent conversations.
At the end of the day when I look around I see us engaged in quite a few big impact projects. A couple of examples include a redesign of an English course that impacts thousands, a Communications course that has 350 students in a single section, a Biology Lab designed, developed, and deployed openly in our Blog platform, and even an Economics course that most of our students in the College of Business take. Each one of these examples leans on the infrastructure we’ve built — regardless of if that infrastructure is physical or virtual.
My point is that as we go forward we can attack new opportunities in the teaching and learning space because we’ve taken our time to get the infrastructure in place. It doesn’t mean that while we were getting it all in place that we stopped working with faculty, it means that we spent less time doing big impact things and worked hard to show demonstrations of the ultimate potential. This requires a very patient and visionary administration and a powerful set of foundational technologies to build on (I am thinking about web space, authentication, a University wide CMS, help desk, etc). We’d never worry about building those things … we lean on them to empower new opportunities. In lots of ways the tangible outcomes we are seeing in the teaching and learning space have everything to do with every single piece of the stack. What is ultimately exciting to me is that we not only have the physical and virtual infrastructure to solve lots of cool problems, but we have a culture that is willing to explore its potential. The success of our large scale projects is really built on the foundations lots of people have built over the years. For that I am thankful and can feel confident that our current team is adding to that infrastructure so things we can’t even imagine can be implemented with speed and agility.