CDL Dean's Blog

By Tom Mackey, Ph.D.

iStudy: Social and Community Informatics

Posted by tom mackey on January 22, 2011

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.

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Sports Coverage

Posted by tom mackey on December 18, 2010

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:

Fox News:

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CDL at All Area of Study

Posted by tom mackey on December 18, 2010

I drafted this post a while back and never completed it. So, here are a few pictures from this year’s college wide All Area of Study (AAOS) meeting in Saratoga Springs. This is our annual conference for connecting with colleagues from throughout the College. Better late than never!

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Open 2.0 Presentation at SLOAN-C

Posted by tom mackey on November 1, 2010

I’m looking forward to presenting this week at the 16th Annual SLOAN-C International Conference on Online Learning on the topic open learning with three of my colleagues from Empire State College, Betty Lawrence, Ken Charuk, and Mete Cetiner.  The title of our presentation is Open 2.0: Designing a Web of Learning and it describes current trends in open learning, explores our own open learning initiative at CDL and the College, and refers to the “web of learning” models developed by our colleagues at last year’s All College conference.

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Melba Tolliver Keynote at ESC Conference

Posted by tom mackey on October 31, 2010

One of the highlights from last week’s Student Academic Conference in White Plains, New York was the keynote address by Melba Tolliver, which is now available online:

Melba Tolliver Keynote Address

Melba is a graduate of SUNY Empire State College and she was the first African American to host a national network news program. She talks about this experience during her talk and it is a part of her biography available on her web site. She also mentions the book she is currently working on entitled Accidental Anchorwoman, which is a part of her blog title.


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Nursing Program Accredited by CCNE

Posted by tom mackey on October 27, 2010

We just learned this week that the R.N. to B.S. Nursing Program at SUNY Empire State College has received a full five year accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

We extend our congratulations to Associate Dean Rosann Urso, and all of our nursing faculty, including Kimberly Balko, Mara Kaufmann, Mary Guadron, Rebecca Hegel, and Teresa Smith, as well as Catherine Hoff, Erin White, and JoAnne Christensen.

As I stated in an email to the entire CDL community, this is an impressive achievement that reflects well on the innovative and dedicated work this team has accomplished over the past few years. CCNE is the top accrediting institution in the field of Nursing and to receive a full five years is a distinctive honor.

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Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Posted by tom mackey on October 23, 2010

In August we hosted a visit by Florence Lojacono from Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to explore potential collaborations between our two institutions. Florence just sent us a link to the images she captured during her visit to CDL. Thank you Florence!

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2010 Student Academic Conference

Posted by tom mackey on October 22, 2010

I’m attending the Empire State College Student Academic Conference in White Plains, New York. This is a great opportunity to connect with our CDL students in person. This is the 6th Annual Conference but my first chance to attend. I am impressed with the quality of the presentations and the learner-centered community of scholars that I have been observing. Here are a few pictures from today’s event:

Tom with Francesca from IP, Fitim from Albania, Linda, and Bob Trullinger from HVC

Tom with CDL Student Tracy Pickell

Tom with CDL student Rochelle Campbell

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CDL Awards in Grants and Academic Support

Posted by tom mackey on October 22, 2010

CDL has been on a roll lately with two high profile awards, one is a grant award with an international dimension and the other is a national award in academic support. First, our Interim Associate Dean Betty Lawrence and college wide Vice Provost for Global and Online Learning Meg Benke led the way for a successful HP Catalyst Initiative grant for $150,000. This grant will allow the college to partner with St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University, located in St. Petersburg, Russia, focusing on research about best practices in online education for STEM students specifically. This past week we learned that Craig Lamb and Terry Vamvalis, our Academic Support team, were recognized with a national Innovation Award in Online Student Services sponsored by the Center for Transforming Student Services (CENTSS). This award specifically recognizes the great work our Academic support team has been doing with the Peer Tutor Program originally developed by Craig Lamb, our Director of Academic Support.

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CDL Publications: From local to global

Posted by tom mackey on October 21, 2010

Our faculty and professionals at the Center for Distance Learning (CDL) are engaged in ongoing scholarly activity, and present their research in a range of venues from local to global publications. Several recent examples of this include an article in the Sunday Times Union from Miriam Russell entitled “A carol in autumn honors wonderful woman.” In addition, Sheila Aird and Cindy Conaway recently published a research article in Flow called: Black Guy White Corner: What the Upfront Photos Say about the State of TV. Also, this past week, Val Chukhlomin had a case study accepted by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education entitled Delivering a SUNY Degree in Siberia: What Works and What Doesn’t from a Host Institution Perspective. This is impressive work everyone, congratulations!

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