So a robot walks into an elevator…sounds like the start to a joke, right? Believe me, this conference experience was anything but a joke! …and I really did see a virtual presence robot in an elevator, but more on that later.
Imagine that a conference dedicated to exploring emerging technologies for online learning and a separate conference to discuss blended learning possibilities had a baby and decided to throw a party in the Big Easy to celebrate and you might come close to the experience at OLC Innovate. According to the official site, the purpose of the OLC Innovate conference was to “build new foundations for stronger, better higher education environments. And because innovation scales best when ideas are shared, our work sessions will explore emerging technologies and adapted teaching behaviors aimed at informing policy, inspiring leadership, and evolving practice at all levels impacting institutions, universities and colleges.”
Here’s the deal: we’ve all been to conferences that claim to expose people to new ideas, network, and maybe have some fun while you’re at it. What typically happens? You come home burdened with vendor flyers, business cards, and a head that weighs 20 pounds from sitting and absorbing the best you can in talk-at-you sessions. This was not the case for me at OLC Innovate. I came back loaded with ideas that can be immediately implemented, projects that challenge myself and the whole TLT team to do more, and genuine connections to some of the most brilliant and open people in the field. If you’ll pardon the NOLA pun, I was jazzed to come back to work and get started.
Networking and Mentor Speed Dating
One of the things that I was looking forward to most was getting to meet people face to face that I’ve only interacted with via social media in text form through my own professional development journey. As excited as I was to meet finally, I have to admit the old adolescent fears crept in. Did we really have so much in common with how we view education? Maybe we only really worked online? Would they even know who I was? Don’t get me wrong. I am one of those people who has never really met a stranger and loves to talk to anyone and everyone. Networking at conferences is one of the best parts for someone like me who loves to talk it out (which classifies me as an Innovator according to the Keynote, but more on that later). I was not disappointed. After swallowing my fear I approached one of my colleagues that I’ve spoken to extensively online to introduce myself as she stood surrounded by people with whom she was obviously friends. Here goes nothing…
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to introduce myself. I’m Amy Ostrom, we’ve talked a lot on Twitter.”
At the mention of my name I heard a gasp to my left.
“Yes?” (color me confused)
“I’m Laura! We’ve talked about this conference for months on Twitter! Thank you for offering to help!”
**Nods of recognition and smiles all around**
Turns out it was several members of the steering committee that I had been chatting up in my ever growing excitement. Interested conversation turned into an invitation to dinner and hallway conversations about how to get more involved in the whole conference experience. Another instance of this was when I walked into a presentation that was being delivered by another colleague and just said, “well this is where I find you”. She immediately dropped what she was doing and gave me a hug. Repeat the experience from above when she introduced me to the crew she was with. It was amazing to be so readily accepted and made to feel welcome into a group of people who have been working together for years.
Moral of the story: TALK TO PEOPLE. Whether it’s online or face to face. Find colleagues from other universities that challenge your thinking and, to be frank, intimidate you. Those are the people that you can learn the most from. After all, why surround yourself only with people who can tell you what you already know? How will you ever learn and get better…and there is ALWAYS something that you can do better and you never know where that lesson will come from.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and focus of the presentations. Even sessions that I thought, “I already know about that. I can skip it.” would turn into presentations that became, “I can’t believe I missed that!”. For example, Michelle Pacansky-Brock from California State University at Channel Island (who gives fabulous online and face to face presentations if you get a chance to check them out) delivered a session entitled “Create Better Presentations”. Simple, to the point, and deceptively something that I “already knew”. Keeping my eye on the #OLCInnovate backchannel it turned out to be a transformative experience for even the most advanced presenters. One colleague of mine even stated that they were going to redo their whole presentation that they were delivering THE NEXT DAY due to the information that was presented.
Another session introduced me to one of the best “I can implement that!” ideas of the conference. Jackson Wilson from San Francisco State University and his colleagues talked about the QOLT initiative in the California University System. They gamified the quality assurance process for their online faculty using a deck of cards! I just fell in love with this process. They had one of their faculty members give ideas on how he uses his own deck of cards to look at the assessment process. He mentioned that assessment is typically long, involved, tedious, and hard to focus on. Can I get an Amen for that? However, with the deck he is able to focus on one standard at a time at his computer without having to switch browsers constantly and work his way through the deck. Other times, he would pick 3 cards from the deck and those were his “greatness” challenges that he would revise and redesign within all of his courses, online or not. It was a way to maintain focus while also progressing without getting overwhelmed. The participants of the session played a game that I thought would be fabulous for new to online instructors. We each were dealt 2 cards. On our turn we had to draw 2 additional cards. Someone then turned over a minute timer. In that minute we had to look at our cards and make connections to what was already on the table, laying down and explaining the connections for as many as we could before the timer ran out. It allowed us to see how the different parts of an effective online course are interdependant rather than just an arbitrary, stand alone standard.
More information from individual sessions will be coming over the summer.
Follow the Leaders
I can’t stress enough how empowering it was to be able to share ideas with the brilliant people I met at OLC Innovate. I’m looking forward to going again. In the meantime, follow these people for an interesting perspective on teaching online.