Jul 242014

SCALE_Institute copy_strother9th Annual Cooperative Learning Institute at Patrick Henry Community College

The modified quote above is of course from the iconic Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke, and has no connection whatsoever to the institute except that Martinsville, VA was named after Strother Martin, the actor who issued the famous line from the movie. Actually, this isn’t true at all, but I wish it was. Anyway…

Patrick Henry Community College, known for its focus on and expertise in Cooperative Learning, is offering its 9th Cooperative Learning Institute this August.  The Institute will be held over two days from August 14th until August 15th. Breakfast and lunch on both days are included in the cost of the Institute.

Participants can choose from four Cooperative Learning tracks:

  1. Fundamentals of Cooperative Learning for the Community College Classroom – this track is required for all new faculty or those faculty who have not yet completed a two-day Fundamentals section;
  2. Fundamentals of Active Critical Thinking (FACT) – an advanced track with a Fundamentals pre-requisite;
  3. Advanced Student Engagement Techniques (ASET) – an advanced track with a Fundamentals pre-requisite; and
  4. Cooperative Learning for Distance Learning (CL for DL) – an advanced track with a Fundamentals pre-requisite (aka Active Learning in an Online Environment)

The two-day Institute costs $250 per person and  is open to full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, and educational administrators of the VCCS who seek to understand the importance of active and cooperative learning, now part of the full-time faculty evaluation process. Faculty from institutions currently active in the Achieving the Dream network of colleges (Danville Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, and Mountain Empire Community College) will have the $250 registration fee waived thanks to a generous grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Registration and payment deadline: August 8 by 5 pm

For more information on the Institute, or to register, please go to PHCC’s Southern Center for Active Learning Excellence website at http://scaleinstitute.com/

Jul 182014

It is encouraging that last year’s OpenVA conference wasn’t a one-off event. It easily could have been. The conference was initiated and supported by the McDonnell administration, now gone, and could easily have ended with a round of pat on the backs and atta boys after the conference’s closing session, held at the Stafford campus of the University of Mary Washington. But OpenVA has come back for a second year, kept alive by the passion and dedication of the conference organizers, an enthusiastic group of educators representing Virginia’s public post-secondary institutions.


TCC’s cool-looking student center, Virginia Beach campus

The  follow-up event is scheduled for Saturday, October 18th at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach campus. The event will be a little different this year, focused less on sharing best practices and more on the development of a framework of policies that support greater adoption of open resources and promote collaboration among institutions across the state. The summit, called Building OpenVA, will gather input from participants during four focused discussion sessions with the purpose of developing recommendations for a statewide open resource strategy.

The summit is for administrators, educators, legislators, librarians, and learning technologists involved with public post-secondary education in Virginia who:

  • have launched successful open initiatives that they would like to expand or scale,
  • know, or want to know, how to support an open initiative at their institution,
  • understand the importance of openness and want to better understand how ‘open’ is currently being deployed throughout Virginia,
  • believe in the promise of ‘open’ but aren’t sure how to start or sustain an open initiative,
  • want to learn how to form and write policy for open education.

You can find out more about the Building OpenVA Summit, as well as respond to an open call for submissions, at the event website: http://openva.org/. And don’t forget that the 2014 Open Ed Conference will take place a few weeks later in Washington, DC, another great opportunity for VCCS faculty and staff interested in learning more about OER and global open initiatives.

Jul 182014

CopyrightpiratesFrom July 21-August 18, Coursera will offer a free professional development MOOC on US copyright law for librarians and educators. The course, Copyright for Educators & Librarians, will be taught by instructors from Duke, Emory, and UNC Chapel Hill. Here is a brief summary about the 4 week course:

Fear and uncertainty about copyright law often plagues educators and sometimes prevents creative teaching. This course is a professional development opportunity designed to provide a basic introduction to US copyright law and to empower teachers and librarians at all grade levels. Course participants will discover that the law is designed to help educators and librarians.

A cohort of VCCS faculty and staff have registered for the MOOC. You can connect with them via Google Sites here.

For more about the Coursera course, go to https://www.coursera.org/course/cfel.

Jul 172014

Despite a great deal of time, money, and effort spent by foundations, educational institutions, and policy-makers to decrease the number of college students who leave college over the past four years, the opposite has happened. According to recent findings from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the portion of first-time U.S. students who return to college for a second year dropped 1.2 percentage points since 2009.

The 1.2 percentage point dip is substantial, as it applies to a total enrollment of 3.1 million students. That means an additional 37,000 students last fall would still be enrolled under the 2009 persistence rate. The largest decline was among young students who were just out of high school.


The report doesn’t address potential reasons for this drop but the news will certainly give pause to those organizations involved in national college completion efforts such as Project Win-Win, Achieving the Dream, and Complete College America.

You can read more at Inside Higher Ed:  http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/10/clearinghouse-study-finds-declining-student-persistence-rates#ixzz374bXvI7x


Jul 172014

airport_sleep_223295627_3a160199cf_zA few posts back I promised to share my open-minded and objective thoughts on Blackboard World 2014, now currently underway in Las Vegas. From the beginning this trip has been fraught with technical glitches and outright screw ups.  Due to a hung authorization page, my hotel’s website booked 5 hotel rooms for me instead of one (charging a $100 deposit to my credit card for each). I had planned to take a redeye on my return flight but booked it for the wrong day, necessitating a change and its accompanying fee. There was something else, but I’ve blocked it out. Finally, with all my travel difficulties smoothed out and my boarding passes snug in the digital ether of my smartphone, I showed up early at the airport for my flight.

That was yesterday. I am still in Richmond, VA. My reflections on the conference are going to be fairly brief.

Long story short: after two canceled flights, a full day waiting at the airport, and a flight rescheduled for the next day (today), the time I was going to be able to spend in Vegas became extremely brief as I had already scheduled a short trip. The airline offered me a refund. The hotel returned my deposit. I emailed my apologies to the various people who were expecting to be at the conference. I’d say I broke even.

There’s always next year.


Jul 162014

The badge I earned for completing the LTL

Last month I completed Educause’s Learning Technology Leadership (LTL)  Program, held June 23-27 in Seattle, WA. I have been meaning to post my reflections and have only now gotten around to having a spare moment to share them. The program was targeted at EdTech professionals like me who support and promote teaching and learning in some way or another within a higher education institution. The LTL program was essentially a leadership immersion experience, with a packed agenda and unwavering pace.  The fifty or so participants and I were engaged throughout the day and often into the evening, from Monday afternoon and to a mini-graduation ceremony on Friday morning. It was a taxing schedule, especially those of us from the East Coast (and South Africa and Singapore) suffering from jet lag.

Overall I found the program to be meticulously designed and well-organized, with plenty of hands-on activities and team-based work to keep me and the rest of the group engaged. The activities provided ample opportunity for me to get to know the other participants. Even so, with such a large group, I wasn’t able to meet everyone.  As usual, I felt a bit like an outlier, both because of my position and level of leadership experience. While many of the participants came from very large institutions, no one worked at a statewide or system level like me. Similarly, no one to my knowledge  was involved in advancing higher education policy to the degree I have been during my three years at the VCCS.  There was a handful of individual community colleges represented among the many public and private four year schools, which I found refreshing. Those are my peeps, you know.

There were two highlights to the program for me. The first was the completion of the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment (you can find out more about the Strengthsfinder here). The assessment identifies your top five strengths from a list of strengths that are organized into four categories:  Executing, Influencing, Relationship, and Strategic Thinking. It wasn’t totally surprising  to me that four of my top five strengths were in the Strategic Thinking domain. Having confirmation of this was not only helpful to me in the LTL program but will continue to be useful to me in my work, which hopefully will bring about lots of thinking and strategizing.

The second was a team-based project that required us to to develop a plan to bring significant change to a fictitious institution by applying the concepts of the five day program. The project culminated with a presentation from each group about their ideas, with the program faculty role-playing various higher education archetypes: the tightwad CFO, a self-interested college student, the even more self-interested faculty member, and a “don’t sweat the details” VP of academics. My team pitched repurposing the lecture classrooms of a small community college (Edgewater Community College, named after the conference hotel) into a technology-rich active learning classroom, with modular furniture and configurable student workstations to support learner-centered, collaborative instruction.

Some Random Take-aways

  1. The field of educational technology still doesn’t quite know what it is. This is reflected through the nomenclature used by professionals working in this field: we are IT, ET, EdTech, Instructional Designers, and Instructional Technologists. Some of us are considered administrators. Some of us are faculty. Some are staff. The field is amorphous and poorly defined.
  2. Despite this, unlike CIOs, “educational technologists” typically reside within a organizational hierarchy that makes it difficult for them to lead effectively. As information technologists advance toward becoming CIOs, their expertise remains in InfoTech. But to advance one’s educational technology career means moving  away from teaching and learning technologies to areas like transfer, student services, and research.
  3. I think the promise of the LTL program and programs like it is to help better define my field as well as create more opportunities for  EdTech professionals to lead.
  4. You gotta walk the talk: leading is much easier if you also a teach.
  5. Academic freedom is actually a thing, as in a formal set of principles drafted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940. I had no inkling about this. I thought academic freedom was like the famous definition of pornography: “You know it when you see it.” Having a better understanding of AF will help me address conversations with concerned  faculty in the future. I plan to write a separate post on this topic.
  6. Effective communication is a crucial aspect of successful leadership. But effective communication is no longer a simple matter of sending out a blanket email to all faculty and staff. The communications landscape is now extremely fragmented, and this fragmentation has added new layers of complexity to messaging, PR, and information sharing.

Have  you participated in the LTL program before, or one like it? I’d be interested in any thoughts or reflections you had about the program’s value to you, personally, professionally, or both.



Jul 032014

I just returned from a weeklong professional development program and one of the many things I took away from the experience (a more substantial post about the program can be found here) is that, for a blog like this one to succeed in reaching an audience, I need to post more. Nix that. Not just more. I need to post every day.

I know this blog is of value to me, simply for forcing me to reflect on the day-to-day challenges, trends, and happening regarding educational technology at the VCCS and beyond, so I am going to( try to) commit to a daily blog post. So, there’s that. Also,  if you find this site of value, then there is one simple thing you can do to motivate me to post more and build an audience for this blog: subscribe. When you subscribe, you receive an email with the subject of the post and a link to the full post. It is a handy way to be informed of new content without having to remember to visit.

Subscribing is easy: just scroll down the column on the right. Right below Events is a Subscribe box where you can enter the email address where you want notifications of new blog posts to be sent.


 Posted by on July 3, 2014 Tech Tools, VCCS News No Responses »
Jul 032014

death_starI have just finished making my flight and hotel reservations for Blackboard World 2014. I finalized these plans with a somewhat troubled heart, loathe to participate in an event that to me is a frenzied celebration of the commercialization of education,  couched as a probing, open, academic conference. Let me just come right out and say it: Blackboard®, Inc. is an easy company to hate. Once an inferior product with a sizable market share, Blackboard went on a buying spree, gobbling up smaller web service companies and absorbing them into their product ecosystem. Angel integrated with Learn. Elluminate and Wimba became Blackboard Collaborate. TerribyClever Design became the platform for Blackboard Mobile. iStrategy became Analytics. Presidium was transformed into Blackboard Student Services. Moodlerooms. The list goes on.

Over the past year, Blackboard has been civilizing the Frankenstein monster they’ve created from the spare parts of other companies, trying to build an integrated product line that can compete with some of the new upstart in the LMS market, notably Instructure’s Canvas. I’ve generally liked the direction Blackboard is headed, and how much more responsive they have been to both customer and user feedback. But, like all LMSs, no matter how good Blackboard is or becomes, it will still be a problem disguised as a solution. More on that later.

The VCCS is a big customer of Blackboard, Inc., and part of my job is to oversee our LMS, Blackboard Learn, including xpLor, and Blackboard Collaborate.  It makes sense that I should go despite how uncomfortable I feel about attending. Appropriately, the conference is being held in Las Vegas, the City of Mammon, which only adds to my sense of loathing (to reference Hunter S. Thompson). Any fascination I had for Vegas has long worn off. Regardless, the die has been cast. It’s Vegas or bust. I have been to Bb World once before, in New Orleans in 2012. I  spent most of the conference agog at the sheer monumental size of everything:  from the clamoring hordes of badged participants to the soaring spaces of the  Convention Center that seemed to stretch on for miles. I felt I was strolling through a gigantic product placement. For 2014, I have been invited to be on a panel titled Instructional Content & the LMS in which the moderator, a Bb employee, offers a rather vague description of the session: “The LMS has transformed education. It has brought traditional teaching online and has enabled a level of experience in education that was not previously possible.” You could read this in a number of ways, depending on how you define traditional teaching and level of experience.

I will use this blog to reflect on my experiences at the conference, and report on any notable announcements that Blackboard inevitably makes at these events. Until then, what are your thoughts about the various products Blackboard offers? About the LMS in general? Have you been to Bb World before? Was it a valuable experience?


Jun 062014

Thoughtvectors_in_Concept_SpaceToday, VCU launched a brand-spanking new MOOC-ish thing, Thought Vectors in Concept Space. The official name is UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument. I am using this blog as my platform for my participation in the course which, if you are not a VCU students who is formally enrolled, is totally free. Totes.

So, if  “Take a MOOC” is on your bucket list–which would be kind of weird, but whatever–or you want a learning experience that more a cross between a roller-coaster ride and  than a college lecture, you should head to http://thoughtvectors.net/ and reveal your intent.

Jun 052014

BooksBelow you will find a link to the VCCS Bookstore Operations Request for Proposals. This RFP was developed in response to the findings of the VCCS’s Textbook Costs and Digital Learning Workgroup. For the past two years, I have co-chaired, along withe Dr. Mark Estepp, President of Southwest Virginia Community College, this workgroup. While the TCDLR group’s work is still ongoing with its final report scheduled to be released this summer, one of its early findings was not only how much a college’s bookstore contract dramatically influences textbook prices–something that was well-known–but also that the terms of the contracts of various VCCS colleges were wildly disparate. We also discovered that of our 23 colleges, 9-10 had contracts expiring within the next several years.

As a result, Virginia Western Community College, the college with the bookstore contract expiring the soonest, lead the development of this RFP that is not only a systemwide agreement that all colleges can use, but include requirements for the support of OER as well as a reduction in the percentage of commission colleges receive from book sales. A total of 12-13 colleges have indicated they will sign on once their current contracts expire, making it pretty darn close to a systemwide bookstore contract.

Feel free to download and reuse the contract.

VCCS Bookstore RFP by richardsebastian