It has been a busy few months with the CDL Graduation and the international SCOP 2011 conference in June. This week we had the chance to use the new video conferencing equipment at SUNY Empire State College to connect our new faculty who started this week in Saratoga Springs and New York City. We hired four new faculty for our Saratoga location and three new faculty who will be working at our Metro Center in New York City. Our new Tandberg video conferencing equipment now connects all of our centers throughout New York State. Our initial meeting with new faculty took place in Saratoga Springs and New York City and it was so interesting because after the conversation started we were not even thinking about the fact that we were communicating between two places in New York, we were just talking and sharing ideas about new technologies, mentoring, and teaching online. Remember the old days when we had to use video conferencing in the basement? Those days are over. We have portable units that can be used anywhere in our new building and we will soon be connecting via laptops. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation.
I appreciated the chance to present the keynote address at the Transliteracy conference sponsored by SUNY FACT2 and the SUNY Librarians Association. The conference was excellent and the theme worked well to bring together librarians, faculty, and instructional designers for conversations about emerging technologies and emerging literacy frameworks. This is an edited version of my keynote that examines the primary themes related to transliteracy and metaliteracy in a social media age, including the metaliteracy framework I wrote about with Trudi Jacobson for an article in College & Research Libraries. C & R L is now an open access journal.
One of the many advantages to teaching at SUNY Empire State College is having the chance to develop personalized learning contracts with students for independent study opportunities. As a College, we offer individualized and collaborative approaches to learning that include independent study, group study, and a range of open and online studies (with 500 courses to choose from). This sense of openness and innovation to multiple modes of learning was outlined brilliantly in the 1971 Prospectus for a a New University College to establish a non-residential, degree-granting University College, which of course became Empire State College. This document declared the importance of flexibility and experimentation (which is an ongoing activity) and established the emphasis on individualized learning, distance learning, prior learning assessment, service learning, and international studies.
It is within this framework of innovation and flexibility that allows current students who take online courses, for example, to also pursue independent studies with instructors (either F2F or online). Conversely, students who pursue independent study options in F2F settings can enhance their degree plans with online studies, and/or service learning.
In the fall term I had the chance to work with a student on an Independent Study (iStudy) that illustrates the value of this kind of flexibility. The iStudy emerged from a conversation in an online course I teach in Digital Storytelling. I happened to blog about a course I developed at another institution on the topic Social and Community Informatics. This was an Honors course that met F2F and included an extensive online component. Students completed service learning projects and worked collaboratively to document this work in blogs, wikis, and in-class presentations. I wrote about this experience for a chapter entitled “Developing Blog and Wiki Communities to Link Student Research, Community Service, and Collaborative Discourse in my second book, Using Technology to Teach Information Literacy. For the iStudy version, the biggest challenge was to develop a learning contract for an individualized study based on a collaborative course model. I worked this out with the student who completed the study and it was a highly successful experience. Student feedback on the learning contract and learner-centered observations made throughout the study contributed to the evolution of this project during the term.
Outcomes of this study include a course blog from the student entitled A Time to Help, as well as a multimedia presentation that documents her leadership in managing a community-based food drive for the Regional Foodbank of Northeastern New York.
The learning contract for this course also allowed for a comprehensive field study observation of the service learning location, and the exploration of social and community informatics as an emerging field through writing, reflection, technology exploration, and interaction with members of the community and community partners. All of the projects for this study, and communications between student and instructor were completed entirely online, based on F2F work, and at the local level. Imagine the network of learners we could connect, across the state and around the world, using Social and Community Informatics as a way to engage with diverse communities. In this 40th Anniversary celebration of Empire State College, it is important to note the accomplishments of our learners and to reflect on the openness and flexibility we have to create learning environments that take many forms.
This past week I participated in a press conference at the Jason Morris Judo Center in Glenville New York that was covered by a few local news stations (with brief stories that appeared during the sports segment of each newcast). This might sound a bit unusual but it actually makes a lot of sense. On Wednesday SUNY Empire State College signed an agreement with Jason Morris to provide a pathway to higher education for athletes in training; some of these athletes will be future Olympians. Of course Jason Morris is a four time Olympic athlete who won the silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and was head coach of the 2008 Olympic team. He could have set up his center anywhere in the world but he chose to return to his home town to develop the Jason Morris Judo Center. This partnership with Empire State College is consistent with the strong support we have shown for Olympic athletes in the past. Although we do not have the usual sports teams of our more traditional comprehensive college counterparts, we do have students who are actively engaged in sports, and some are Olympians. I highlighted these athletes in my brief remarks at the press conference and mentioned CDL students Tony Benshoof, who was on the U.S. Olympic Luge team, Tim Burke, a U.S. Olympic Biathlete, and Erin Hamil, also from the U.S. Olympic Luge team. All three athletes were featured in our Connections Magazine in fall 2010. The successful athletes in our program exemplify the positive experiences of all of our students who are designing their degrees with faculty mentors. While actively engaged in busy lives our lifelong learners study in varying modes including blended and online. Olympic athletes and adult learners are highly motivated and disciplined but they need a flexible, open, and learner centered approach to education that supports their demanding schedules while challenging them to take charge of all aspects their learning, including degree planning itself. With open and online learning, studies happen anywhere, anytime, and are structured around the individual needs of each student, while advancing collaboration among peers and between student and instructor. The sports clips are quick (and include ads) but here goes.
From Channel 6:
On Thursday we launched a new online “Conversation with the Dean” using an enhanced version of Elluminate, which now includes a video component.
Screen-capture of Elluminate Session
In advance of the session we surveyed students through a quick poll in the Student Community space in Angel and we received over 40 respones. The session went well overall and it was a great opportunity to connect with students. but we did learn a few things about how to do a session like this with video and audio (and not just text). When we set up the room we did so using one of our flat panel screens, camera, and microphone, but we could have done this with just a laptop, which is what we will be using next time.
Elluminate set-up in conference room
The problem with the larger set up is that it was necessary to look up at the screen to advance slides, rather than into the camera. About halfway through the presentation I figured this out but it took a while to adjust. We also had a few problems with the audio; the sound is somewhat distorted and we had echo problems in a few places. But these kinds of adjustments are expected when doing something new. In terms of the content, it was very helpful to have the questions in advance so that we were able to organize by topic and address a greater number of questions in a shorter period of time. We will definitely continue this online “conversatin with the dean” next time, perhaps as soon as the next term, but we may change the time of the event to include more students (perhaps an evening session next time). Overall it was a great experience and the response from students was very positive. One of the students who attended the live session even said that it was “heartwarming” and was a good example of building community! Thank you! I look forward to using Elluminate again! Tom
Here’s a great resource about the semantic web that one of my colleagues at CDL recently shared with me. In addition, I noticed that George Seimens recently wrote about the Semantic Web as well in his ELEARNSPACE blog, referring to Web 3.0 and the extended Web xWeb.