This past Friday, the University of Houston College of Education hosted the 2017 Innovative Teaching and Learning at a Distance (ITLD) conference. Over 130 people attended the conference, including many UH faculty, staff, students, and alumni now working in the Texas Medical Center. Teachers and administrators from HISD and surrounding districts were also present.
The conference theme this year focused on Engaging Students in Learning. It was an energizing day with four extraordinary keynote speakers and ten breakout sessions featuring faculty and graduate students in the College of Education as well as UH instructional designers.
As a recap of the conference, here are my top three takeaways:
Harness the specific skill sets students bring to your course
Derek Bruff, Director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, kicked off the conference with an excellent talk on “Students as Producers,” showcasing a number of projects across Vanderbilt where faculty are finding intentional ways for students to consciously and creatively become knowledge producers. These projects can take a variety of forms, but the key, Bruff states, is that that each one contain three elements: open-ended questions, authentic audiences, and autonomy.
For Bruff, allowing students autonomy in the way they express their learning enables them to bring their own skill sets to the course. Multi-modal, creative assignments lend themselves to leveraging students’ talents by giving them a range of options to represent their knowledge. Bruff shared one particularly compelling example from a course at Vanderbilt:
Humanize Online Courses with New Technologies
Both in her keynote address and her breakout session, Whitney Kilgore, Chief Academic Officer and Co-founder of iDesign, outlined the current issue facing online learning. For Kilgore, the problem we face is how to incorporate presence through human interaction and learning technologies in order to deliver a more powerful sense of instructor, social, and cognitive presence. One positive advance is that new technologies afford more human connections and conversations in online learning spaces.
With tools like FlipGrid, VoiceThread, YouTube, Google Hangouts, and YellowDig, we can increase instructor-peer and peer-peer discussion, allowing students to construct knowledge through communities of inquiry. In the same vein, Dr. Susie Gronseth, Clinical Assistant Professor in the UH College of Education, , and graduate students Haoyue Zhang and Waneta Hebert, suggested in their presentation that Group Me, Twitter (w/Storify), and vTime are apps that can also foster robust online discussions that lead to student success.
Teach out in the Open
The last theme that kept recurring throughout the conference was the move toward out-of-the-box teaching styles, both online and on-ground. The presentations advanced a vision of modern pedagogy that isn’t tethered to an LMS or a pre-structured classroom. Increasingly, instruction is leveraging the resources of the open web and open technologies that provide students with the experience of creating knowledge similar to the way learning happens in the real world. Of course, the way you scaffold these types of learning experiences can take more time, but the payoff for students can be considerable.
As an example Vanessa Dennen, Professor of Instructional Systems & Learning Technologies at Florida State University, outlined six types of online learning activities that social media and the open web make possible: collecting, curating, sharing, brokering, negotiating, and creating. Similarly, the physical classroom is changing as well. The College of Education collaborated with MeTEOR Education to build a new active learning space in Farish Hall and was debuted at the conference. What’s different about the room is that all the furniture in it is modular, flexible, and easily reconfigurable so that just about any kind of layout an instructor can think of is possible.
The conference as a whole was a great opportunity to think through some of the possibilities and challenges of teaching out in the open. If you didn’t make the conference, feel free to check out the keynote videos below.