Archives for April 2014

Attending 7th Annual International Symposium on Emerging Technologies for Online Learning

I'm attending #et4online

For the next 3 days (April 9-11), I’m attending the 7th Annual International Symposium on Emerging Technologies for Online Learning, a joint symposium of the Sloan Consortium and MERLOT. This conference is devoted to the emerging and innovative uses of technology designed to improve teaching and learning online. The conference focuses on the technologies that drive online learning effectiveness, highlighting research, applications and best practices of important emerging technological tools.

Not only will there be fantastic keynote and plenary sessions, workshops, featured and information sessions, but also an unconference where participants set the agenda, discuss, and share just-in-time! I look forward to participating and on-site as well as the backchannel conversation on Twitter, hashtags #et4online and #unet4online. The Launch Pad is one signature element of this conference, showcasing online education startups who are helping shape tomorrow’s online learning spaces.

Whether you are attending in person, virtually, or simply wish to follow the backchannel, I encourage you to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn more about cutting-edge uses of emerging technologies for online teaching and learning. Follow @SloanConsortium, @MERLOTorg, and @et4online on Twitter as well as hashtags #et4online and #unet4online. Also, follow Sloan Consortium on Instagram @SloanConsortium

Looking for an easy way to follow the conference backchannel? Try setting-up a custom subscription for #et4online in Flipboard following steps here.

My blog posts related to the conference are here.

Six Trends for the Future of Faculty Development

Charting a Course for the Future

Having spent the past decade in the support of higher education faculty, I have had an opportunity to observe the evolution of the faculty development ecosystem. Increasingly, institutions are recognizing the value of providing centralized and systematic faculty development support services, programs and workshops. Providing this level of support for faculty seems to be at an all-time high with studies and reports from practitioners in the field confirming the need for such efforts and administrators giving priority on those initiatives.

As we look to the future of higher education faculty development, several trends will persist. Image: MourgeFile

As we look to the future of higher education faculty development, several trends will persist. Image: MourgeFile

In addition to the faculty development programs at their home institutions, there are also more opportunities to participate in a wide range of workshops, webinars, and open courses through other organizations and institutions. The rapid growth of virtual attendance options for faculty, combined with the sheer volume of information and resources available online have resulted in a large selection of programs from which to chose. Faculty are also developing professional learning networks and leveraging social media where they can share their own tips, recommendations and best practices.

As new technologies and pedagogical approaches are continually perfected, there are no shortages of opportunities for experimentation and innovation in today’s college classrooms, both physical and virtual. It is easier than ever for faculty to select a new technology tool or instructional methodology and incorporate it into their teaching repertoire. Adaptations of “traditional” teaching methods in physical and virtual classrooms are just a few of the many forces converging to bring about a significant transformation of higher education in both the short and long term.

Despite all that has changed in the field, many constants remain. Faculty requiring assistance still seek out personalized support and appreciate having someone they can call or email for a prompt response. Many needs are localized to specific technology or academic system configurations making support provided by the institution critical. As we adopt new systems and processes for meeting evolving student requirements, faculty training on new features and workflows are necessary for envisioned outcomes to become fully realized. Institutions must also continue to serve faculty at varying stages in their academic career, from junior to mid-career to senior faculty status. Furthermore, tracking completion of professional development programs and expressed support continues to provide important data points that can inform both administrators and support staff on the progress made and challenges still to be met.

As I look to the future of higher education faculty development, I see several trends that I believe will persist in the coming years:

1. More ‘Just-In-Time’ Training and Resources

As technology for easily creating and sharing information and learning artifacts becomes even more commonplace, the number of training aids and resources will continue to grow. Faculty are becoming quite comfortable searching online for quick answers to technical and/or pedagogical questions as they arise and likely will not wait for a formalized training session. Educators are seeking training materials and resources made available in bite-sized pieces; easy to find and readily at hand.

2. Curation of Available Professional Development Resources

As the vast number of resources expand, so will the necessity for curating and help options that highlight the most applicable and relevant needs for a given scenario. While we are beginning to see the use of bookmarking and other social sharing tools with surface resources that a mass of users have viewed, liked, etc., there is room for continued tool improvement and systems to augment manual curation approaches. I envision an Amazon-style recommendation paradigm to become commonplace; where after accessing a resource, faculty are advised on other helpful alternatives. In the meantime, collections of links, tutorials, and other resources curated by faculty development staff will continue to be sought.

3. Flexible Participation Options for Live Programs and Workshops

With workloads continuing to increase for a growing number of part-time and adjunct faculty in face-to-face and online programs, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a large number of faculty to attend live programs and workshops. Flexible participation options for live programs and workshops will go on to flourish and may cover a wide range of possibilities: such as live/online simulcast workshops and archiving programs for on demand access.

4. Recognition of Prior Learning

Given the availability of resources and a move toward credentialing prior learning experiences, faculty will continue to seek credentialing and reporting of their professional development activities for career advancement. This emphasis toward recognition will likely involve badges and other digital certification, but will certainly rely on institutions embracing faculty development initiatives completed while at other institutions, or through alternate organizations like the Sloan Consortium. It will be up to institutions to decide how they will accept and recognize certifications and trainings procured through other establishments while simultaneously ensuring that faculty possess skills deemed necessary.

5. Data-Driven Decision-Making

As it becomes easier to gather a wide range of data on faculty development outcomes, ever-increasing opportunities exist for this information to be used in guiding future offerings. As data is purposefully collected and analyzed, resulting trends can provide valuable insight into the utility of offerings and inform future decisions on prioritization of finite efforts and resources.

6. Renewed Focus on Mission and Offering Programming and Services to Meet Stated

Higher education is facing a time of unprecedented change and those leading faculty development initiatives will be well-served to sharpen their focus on their mission and offer programs and services to meet designated objectives. Initiatives that once met stated needs or requirements may need to be revamped, renewed, or perhaps in some cases discarded so that available resources can be best utilized.

Looking Ahead

What trends would you add to this list? What will shape the future of faculty development? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

Orignally posted 2/4/2014 on Sloan Consortium blog

Trends in Online Learning – April 2014

I was recently invited to participate as a panelist in a Blackboard webinar discussing results of study of 200 senior education leaders from universities across the U.S. exploring trends in learning management systems and online learning and engagement strategies. The webinar archive is available here via Blackboard Collaborate as well as YouTube.

In addition to commenting on the findings from the study, I was asked to try forecasting the future of online learning at my institution, in which I briefly touched on a few trends related to online teaching and learning at NIU (discussed below) that I see continuing.

Growth in online learning plateau

It’s unrealistic to expect the exponential growth that we’ve seen over the past decade nationally in students taking online courses to continue indefinitely. Rather, I believe we are going to begin seeing a plateau and stabilization in the growth of online learning in the coming years as online modes of learning become commonplace and are no longer perceived as “new” but are rather just part of the fabric of higher education.

New niche programs to meet student demand, targeted at students in region

I anticipate that we’ll see our institution develop new niche programs to meet student demand as well as market demand, targeted at students in our region. With the majority of our current online students currently within the Northern Illinois region and trends toward students preferring to enroll in online programs from institutions within a 100 radius, I envision that new programs that we develop will be tailored to students in our Midwest area.

Online programs to attract new students, increase revenue, and improve retention

Online programs will be one means for attracting new students, increasing revenue, and improving retention. Given the heavy competition in the online learning space, institutions will be well-served to identify their competitive advantages and clearly communicate these advantages to prospective and current students. I see some fantastic opportunities for institutions to leverage emerging learning analytics and outcomes data combined with new models of student support services online to see retention rates among online programs be equal to or even superior to traditional face-to-face retention rates.

Coherent online strategy and financial model is critical for buy-in from institutional leaders

In conversations that I’ve had with chief online learning officers and leaders at institutions that have vibrant online programs, it’s clear to me that a coherent institutional online strategy and financial model is critical for gaining buy-in from institutional leaders. Our institution is currently in the midst of a significant internal budgeting overhaul as we look to maximize our available resources to make academically responsive and fiscally responsible budgeting decisions.

Investment in central support infrastructure needed to scale current offerings

As we look to scale our current offerings, investment in centralized support infrastructure is needed. Our institution has taken a very decentralized approach to this point and left majority of development and support of online programs to individual colleges and departments. While this has provided a great deal of autonomy, duplication of efforts and inconsistency often results when each separate college or department tries to build their own infrastructure. For many aspects of online program development and support, we can be more efficient institutionally and offer a better online learning experience to our students by centralizing many aspects of the online program infrastructure to maximize expertise and resources. What specific support is centralized varies by institution.

Focus on student career success

With our current institutional keystone goal of student career success, we are aligning all our resources and efforts in focusing on this goal of ensuring that students leave NIU prepared to make and impact and be successful in their career. I forsee online learning as being one avenue by which we are able to make available to students high quality, engaging, and flexible learning opportunities that fit their busy lives. Especially for adult learners who have families, jobs, etc. and are seeking to improve their career or perhaps change careers, I see online programs as being a key component of our full complement of program offerings.

Articulation agreements with other institutions

We are continuing to focus on developing articulation agreements with other institutions that bring added value to the NIU education. An example of such an agreement is a recent reverse transfer pact that NIU signed with a local community college that was hailed by Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon as, “a student-centered reform that should be implemented at campuses across the state.” Basically, this agreement allows eligible NIU students who transferred from nearby Kishwaukee Community College without associate’s degrees to earn the two-year degree using credit from NIU courses. If for any reason a student then must stop-out for a period of time while finishing their undergraduate degree, they will have an associates degree credential. Students want a hassle-free transfer process and to receive credit for the work they do. Agreements like this and others will make it even easier for students to incorporate educational opportunities from multiple institutions.

Mix of online and blended/hybrid programs

I see a mix of fully-online as well as blended/hybrid programs to be offered in the future at NIU, where the benefits of a synchronous, face-to-face experience can be coupled with the flexibility of online delivery. An example is a new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Health Sciences recently approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education that is scheduled to launch in 2015. This program will be a hybrid program, consisting of fully-online courses with several on-campus face-to-face intensives each year. This blended/hybrid approach provides many benefits for faculty as well as students.

Accelerated courses (8-week terms)

I also envision growth in the number of accelerated online courses (those of different lengths then the traditional 16-week semester). From market research that we’ve done, many fully-online programs geared toward adult learners have taken an accelerated course model with students taking fewer courses at a time of shorter duration. For example, instead of a part-time student of taking 2 courses each lasting 16 weeks, students take 2 8-week courses back-to-back, focusing solely one 1 course at a time. There are some obvious benefits as well as challenges when moving to an accelerated course model, but studies are beginning to be published reporting student learning outcomes in accelerated courses as comparable, and in some cases superior, to the semester-long course.

Faculty continue to develop own content for individual courses, instructional designers to assist with online course development in programs

We will continue to see the lines blurring between online courses and those web-enhanced and blended courses where faculty are utilizing online technologies in the delivery of their courses. In many cases faculty at NIU will continue to development their own content for individual online courses, but I see instructional designers skilled in advanced technical and development skills as assisting with online course development for online courses that are part of a cohesive online program.

Ongoing faculty training and support is essential for success

Finally, ongoing faculty training and support will continue to be essential for successful online program offerings. No matter whether faculty are developing the content and building courses themselves or if instructional designers are building courses, faculty still need to be trained not only on pedagogical best practices for teaching online, but also need to keep current in their technology skills. LMS features change rapidly as do the software and technical processes that institutions employ in their online offerings. We need to be equipping faculty for continued success.

What trends do you see in online learning at your institution? Your comments are welcome!

Undergraduate Students and Educational Technology Infographic

When it comes to college students, technology is not only critical to learning, it’s an essential tool for communication and a means of engagement. This infographic presents which educational technology is most important to undergraduate students and how it helps their academic experience and achievement.
Undergraduate Students and Technology 2
Source: e-Learning Infographics