supporting technology integration

In late 2013, our Provost struck a Learning Technologies Task Force, to develop a plan to sustainably implement and support learning technologies across all faculties at the University. The result of that task force was the production of the Strategic Framework for Learning Technologies in the summer of 2014 – a document that lays out some high level priorities and specific strategies to address them. Much of the document directly guides the work of my team (the Technology Integration Group in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, Educational Development Unit) – I keep a copy of it handy, and have a poster version of the priorities and strategies pinned to the wall in my office. One of the interesting aspects of the Framework is the emphasis on combinations of learning technologies and spaces – that we need to consider the physical as well as digital aspects of the learning environment.

One of the major strategies described in the Framework involves providing coaching and mentoring for instructors who are integrating technology in their courses. This is a model that was pioneered by some faculties during our recent Blackboard-D2L migration, and having coaches available in those faculties was an extremely important factor in the success of that migration.

Those D2L coaches were grad students, hired by the faculties as a special form of teaching assistant. They were given professional development (workshops, training, orientations), and community support and facilitation. It worked really well, and this is what the Framework strategies are designed to sustain and scale up across the university.

So, we will be launching a full Learning Technologies Support Program – this will offer Learning Technologies Coaches in all faculties. Funding will be provided to Associate Deans Teaching and Learning, with some recommendations for how they might implement the model in their faculties. The way we’re implementing the program, each faculty will have a high level of flexibility. Some might opt to have a Coach (or Coaches) providing deskside support. Some might need Coaches to be primarily supporting those instructors who are innovating in their course designs. Or, a combination. Or, something different. We will also need to figure out how to incorporate instructors and coaches at various locations – including the 4 campuses in Calgary and sites in Lethbridge, Edmonton and Qatar. With 13 faculties involved, each will need to do something different to meet their unique needs and context, and providing that level of flexibility will be essential to the success of the program – if we just hired a bunch of Coaches centrally and farmed them out, we’d lose the domain-specific context that is extremely important when working with instructors.

These Coaches – and we won’t know exactly how many will be involved in the program until faculties decide how they want to proceed – will be supported through my team in the Educational Development Unit. We’ve created a new position – Technology Integration Specialist – and that person will be primarily working with the distributed network of Coaches, forming a community of practice and providing professional development and communication across all faculties. The hope is that this community of Coaches will learn from each other, and that we’ll be able showcase successes from each faculty and use those to improve and enhance the learning experience for all students.

It’s going to be strongly based on a distributed community model, with a domain-specific focus in each faculty. The new Technology Integration Specialist role will be extremely important in connecting people across faculties and roles. At a high and abstract level, it might work something like this:

Learning Technologies Support Program

I firmly believe that this is the most important program to support the meaningful integration of learning technologies at the University. This goes far beyond licensing shiny tech, or installing new apps. It’s the careful and intentional allocation of significant resources to develop a strong community of people, working to support instructors in their practice. This gets to the core of how instructors can adopt new practices and appropriate technologies to (hopefully dramatically) improve the student learning experience.

This has been my main project for awhile now, and I’m thrilled to see it move from planning stages to actually beginning to implement it. We’ll be documenting the activities of the program, as well as other initiatives that implement the Framework, on a new-but-not-yet-public Learning Technologies website. More on that soon…

2015 week 31 in review

Work

It was a tough week – 7 high-profile layoffs over in IT. One of them was my partner for the Blackboard-D2L migration. The project would have failed miserably without her guidance from the IT side. She’ll be missed by many. Four of the layoffs were IT Partners – the team I was in for 3 years back when I did my tour of duty in IT. I know a lot of people, myself included, who were shocked by many of the names on the list.

The summer learning-technologies-and-spaces research project is really coming along nicely. We have to student research assistants working with the team for the summer, interviewing instructors, students and staff about how they use technologies and spaces, and what their needs are. Some really great stuff coming out of the project, and I can’t wait to release the findings at the end of the summer!

Read

Other

Not much time to get out for a ride this week – The Boy™ commuted with my on the train because he was in a golf camp all week. But, that gave me a chance to carry in the big/heavy 10mm lens on my DSLR to try to shoot the new building…

Taylor Institute Morning Construction

The saga of the XYZPrinting Davinci All-In-One 3D Printer

I was asked what we needed to buy for instructors to explore integrating technology into their courses. Although we have many 3D printers on campus, I wanted one set up in the Educational Development Unit so that instructors could come and experiment with it in a safe place on neutral territory. I also wanted to expose people to an emerging technology so they would be able to incorporate it into their evolving understanding of literacy and of the types of things that are now possible. Simply having a 3D printer in the Unit would help even through simple exposure and osmosis. And, once people start to try things, there would be opportunities for cross-pollination and discussion beyond the simple technology. I also wanted to try something that wasn’t just replicating what was being done elsewhere on campus – we have some absolutely fantastic Maker spaces provided by our libraries, and several departments and faculties provide labs for student project development.

So I went looking for an option that was novel, inexpensive, and provocative. I wound up recommending the XYZPrinting Davinci All In One 1.0 – at about $800, it’s far cheaper than the Makerbot family. Reviews suggested the build quality was comparable with Makerbot-class devices, for a fraction of the cost. And the AIO includes a 3D scanner. That sealed the deal. A single device that is inexpensive, prints well, and includes a high resolution laser 3D scanner? Done.

After unboxing the printer, we set it up in our slowly-emerging Faculty Design Studio – a room in the EDU where instructors will have access to new technologies such as the 3D printer, Oculus VR, Wacom Cintiq tablet/screen, document camera, object scanning camera, etc…

The Good

It’s a big box – about the size of a microwave oven – but is really solidly assembled. The printing surface is glass, and is heated, so it’s relatively easy to remove printed objects without having to wrap the surface with a layer of masking tape or similar. And when you (gently) chip away the printed object, the glass provides a solid surface.

the printing surface

The software works on Windows or Mac, so I installed it on the Mac Pro in the studio, and plugged the printer into the USB hub. It was ready to print. The first print job was a simple cartoonish dinosaur model, downloaded from the XYZPrinting gallery. Worked like a charm. Next up, we tried some more complicated models, including a full model of a heart, a scaled-up tartigrade, and some small test pieces. Then, it was time to try out the laser scanner.

first print job

Nancy volunteered one of her Donny Darko bunny figures to be the guinea pig. I assured her the laser scanning was non-destructive, and that she’d get the little guy back, with a new friend, if everything worked out. Scanning only took a couple of minutes, and we could watch the figure as it rotated on the turntable, glowing under the lasers. Very cool. But, the first scan didn’t work out – the little guy was a touch too reflective. So I adjusted the scanner sensitivity and tried again. Success! I’ve now printed 2 copies of the bunny – they’re not perfect clones, but basic details are there. I need to try scanning at high resolution and printing at highest quality…

lasers!

replicating Frank the Bunny

replicated bunny

We’re printing with PLA filament – it’s biodegradable and relatively less toxic than the ABS plastic filaments – meaning we can print in the office without needing special ventilation or worrying about slowly poisoning people. And it smells vaguely pleasant as it prints. But, the PLA filament is stiff and brittle after printing, so it’s not a highly durable product. Great for prototypes and for making more-durable copies of fragile objects – which is exactly what I want to do with it. I’m hoping how to get high quality scans of delicate structures, and then try feeding it biological samples such as insects or fossils that might be too delicate to handle in class, and print out scaled-up models that can be handled by students to learn about the specimens without destroying the specimens. This part is tricker than I’d initially though, as the scanner can be fooled by the complex structures. I’m using a Hula Girl figurine I picked up in Hawaii a few years ago – guessing that the grass skirt would be a decent proxy for insect wings. I’ve tried a couple of times, without much luck. I’ll keep trying.

The Bad

Shortly after the second print job, the extruder stopped extruding. We checked for jams, and it seemed clear. Next, we checked calibration (the manual says the printing bed has been pre-calibrated in the factory, and shouldn’t need adjustment, but we figured it’d be good to at least test the calibration). The measurements came in waaaaaay off. So, we needed to calibrate the printing bed. It has to be absolutely level, within a narrow range of tolerated distance from the top of the printing area. The problem is, the 3 measuring points that are used to measure calibration don’t correspond to the 3 screws that you turn to adjust the height of the printing surface. This made every adjustment an exercise in mental planar geometry. “If this corner needs to go up, that means I have to turn the screw over here up (or down?) by a bit (or a lot?)” Try it out. Remeasure. Curse, when it’s completely wrong. Repeat. A lot. We spent a collective 2 or 3 days just calibrating the printing surface, before we got it back into the tolerated range. Not fun. 

Then, the first time we tried to print afterward, nothing would extrude. Our theory was that filament had melted and pooled (and then cooled) inside the printing head. That would be rather difficult to fix. I reached out to XYZPrinting support to see if they had any tips, and they sent a link to a YouTube video showing the process. I rolled up my sleeves and gave it a shot. And after an hour or so of grumbling because pieces didn’t seem to want to come apart, or go back together, as needed – it worked. I removed 2 bits of filament that must have snapped off, gave the pieces a good scrub, and slapped it all together. Back in business.

If I accounted for the hours of staff members troubleshooting and adjusting the printer, it would cost much more than the initial $800 for the printer itself. I’m optimistic that this kind of futzing becomes less needed and more routine as we get used to the printer.

Conclusion

When it’s working, the printer really is impressive, and offers some pretty serious bang:buck ratio. But, it can be really finnicky, and may take some time to get t back online if/when things go wrong. But, now that I’m more familiar with how all of the bits fit together, I think troubleshooting will be much faster next time(s). If I had to buy a new printer, I’d probably buy the AIO again – it’s just so much less expensive, and does a decent job (when it’s working).

printer back online

Redesigning the UCalgary D2L homepage

It seems like a small, unimportant thing, but the D2L homepage is probably the single most important web page for students. While they occasionally use the university website, and periodically use the my.ucalgary.ca portal (to sign up for courses and pay fees), D2L is where they spend a substantial chunk of their time as they work through their courses and programs. We’d launched D2L with a news-centric homepage, so that we could easily push notifications and support resources during the transition from Blackboard. It worked well for that, but became a dumping ground for accretion – links added, blurbs added, until it was a wall of text that everyone basically ignored.

So, we took a look at how students use D2L, and what they needed on the homepage. It’s their place, not The Institution’s, so it needs to be useful to students with a much higher priority than anyone else. The first thing students need is access to their courses. That used to be tucked into a small widget in the right sidebar. Now, it has the prime spot at the top of the main content area (where it should have been all along). Then, they need to be able to see what’s coming up – important dates on the calendar. Also, now right on the homepage. And they can enable it to show events from any of their courses as well (and then integrate it into their phones etc… through the iCal format). One thing that surprised us was the seemingly-trivial idea of having a weather widget on the homepage. Why on earth would that be needed? Clearly not necessary. But it can’t all be about need and necessity – sometimes it’s important to have a subtle reminder to go outside on a nice day (or a reminder to stay inside and study when it gets crappy outside).

I also made the decision to take many of the “Important Links” out – they were important to the people that wanted them there, but not necessarily to the students. We looked through the aggregated (and anonymized) web analytics to see which links had actually been used since January 1, 2015. Not many. So we made the call to remove several.

Also, we added a link to let students (and others) give feedback so we can hear complaints or suggestions and respond more quickly.

The Instructor-focused portions are not displayed to students – they don’t see the Instructor Resources or Grades Export sections because they’re not relevant. Students now get a pretty streamlined homepage (as it should have been from day 1), which should help them get to what they need, and to help keep organized throughout the semester.

It’s a collection of many small, seemingly trivial changes, but the overall redesign should make things much less painful for students.

D2L homepage, comparing old crappy version and awesome new version.
Left: the previous version, accreting things since launch in 2013. Right: Redesign with student needs given priority.

Notes from InfoComm 2015

I was at InfoComm 2015 this week, touring some vendors that have been recommended by our AV consultants for the Taylor Institute construction project, The Sextant Group. This was my first time at InfoComm, and I was kind of stunned at the sheer size of the trade show – and at how many similar products exist, with variations and overalaps. It’s rare to see a product that is truly unique – and from what I saw, it comes down mostly to the overall experience and how people are able to actually use the tools, rather than the feature-list checkboxes. No surprise there. Sometimes, having the most features is not a good thing. It’s having the right features (and not having the others). Here are my rough-ish notes about some of the vendors and products that we visited.

Long(ish) post, more after the break…

Continue reading “Notes from InfoComm 2015”

Dee Fink’s keynote at #TICONF2015

Dee Fink, giving the opening keynote presentation at the 2015 University of Calgary Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching. The theme of the 2015 conference is Design for Learning: Fostering Deep Learning, Engagement and Critical Thinking.

We hadn’t planned to record the keynote, but Dee asked us if we would, so we set something up that morning. The video is usable, but we’ll be producing higher quality recordings for future events…

relaunching elearn.ucalgary.ca

This has been a project within the Technology Integration Group for the last several months – redesigning the elearn.ucalgary.ca support website so that it can be more useful to instructors and students who are integrating technology into their teaching and learning. The previous site was nearly a decade old, and had been designed by accretion – full of links, documents, links to documents, etc… but difficult to actually find things that are important. So, the redesign.

First, we moved from Drupal to WordPress – the new site runs on UCalgaryBlogs.ca. This gave us the flexibility to treat it like a knowledgebase, apply a more useful theme, and enable some additional functionality like tagging and live search of content.

elearn-relaunch
Previous Drupal-powered site on the left, new WordPress-powered site on the right. Both screenshots are of approximately the same square region “above the fold” on the homepage of the site.

With the knowledgebase model, content is available right away, without layers of drilling down. The search box is live, so people can just start typing what they’re looking for and it searches all content to find relevant bits. (no siri support. yet.)

I’m super proud of what my team was able to accomplish with this1 – and excited to see how we grow it from here. Now that we have more flexibility on what we can do with the site, we have lots of plans to revise some of the content, incorporate contributions from the community, and start a series of showcase articles to highlight innovative and successful applications of technology-enabled learning.

  1. and lots of other things – I need to write a post about our awesome new app for the 2015 Postsecondary Conference on Learning and Teaching! []

2015 Week 13 in review

Work

It was a pretty epic week – we had our 2nd annual University of Calgary Teaching Awards ceremony on Tuesday – lots of really amazing instructors doing interesting things on campus. We’ll be looking for ways to showcase their (and others’) work over the coming year.

awards ceremony

  • refining the EDU’s strategic planning document – it’s coming along really nicely, but we need to figure out how to condense some of it without losing the meat.
  • participated in a workshop on Public Pedagogy and Popular Culture in the Classroom – interesting discussion of the role of pop culture as more than just sprinkling superficial interestingness in a course – pop culture is pervasive and we are continuously learning and shaping our perception of the world through our interactions with it.
  • finished the annual reviews for the team. best team ever. most of them.
  • started reviewing the RFP responses for providing the AV equipment for the new Taylor Institute building. And realizing just how broken the RFP review process is, with checkboxes in spreadsheets rating administrative details rather than the actual qualities of the responses.
  • Met with some folks who are interested in adopting badges.ucalgary.ca at a faculty level – lots of interesting ideas, and we will be working to enhance the campus badges platform before the fall semester (it’s currently being used in a small-scale pilot, but it looks like adoption is going to increase rather dramatically soon.1
  • provincial budget season. Alberta budget delivers lower than anticipated cuts to universities. Hooray for lower-than-anticipated cuts!

Read

Other

I took a day off, to burn off vacation time that keeps building up. Finally went out on a decent bike ride to Cochrane and back. Ouch. I am so horribly out of shape. Lots of work to do.

bike ride to cochrane

Tonight, heading to the OK Go concert on campus. The Boy™’s first concert. Should be fun!

  1. I had a few meetings with people across campus this week, and each time they subtly asked if the EDU would be able to develop or host software development projects for them, as they are unable to approach IT. I’ve been told by many people in IT, at many levels, that they aren’t able to respond to anything that isn’t directly meeting their audit-response targets, for at least the next several months. Which puts us in a difficult position because, if anything, expectations on us are only increasing. I have a sinking feeling that I’ll need to make some decisions about how to route around that blockage in IT. Really hoping that doesn’t mean taking on responsibilities that belong squarely within IT. But stuff needs to get done. Good times. []
  2. they actually had a newspaper clipping that claimed people would convert to Islam if they learned yoga. Never mind that this is secular stretching for kids. And even if there was a historical connection to religion, it would be to Hinduism rather than Islam. Uninformed people are uninformed. []

2015 week 12 in review

Work

  • boxes are still arriving for the Faculty Design Studio and Technology Lending Library. We1 need to get it all sorted, set up, and configured before we can open things up. Need to set up an inventory tracking system for the lending library items, so they don’t walk away without a trace. Once things are ready, both projects will have a home on the about-to-be-relaunched elearn.ucalgary.ca website
  • annual review season. basically, best. job. ever. and with such an amazing team, too.
  • continuing work on some classroom redesign projects – can’t wait to see these learning spaces take shape. We’ll have a lot of work to do as a unit to support instructors as they shift to more active learning strategies, and that’s going to be a lot of fun.
  • shot another Instructor Intro Video™ – this one was completely different from any of the others I’ve done before. The instructor wanted to try something different, and read a storybook to share and model for her education students who are heading out to do their practicums. practica. whatever. The goal of these videos is to do fast intros for instructors, ideally in their offices/classrooms/wherever, rather than having a High Production Value™ professional marketing video. Seems to be working well so far.
  • met with our privacy, copyright, and com/media folks to try to figure out the process for documenting consent to record and broadcast various types of sessions on campus – everything from public events such as convocation, to registrar classes, to workshops. Each has different requirements from policy standpoint, and it’s confusing about what’s needed in order to record them. Hopefully some clarification coming soon on the relevant websites.

Read

Lots of other stuff to read. Not sure if this part is worth doing a recap. There’s the “Shared Items” from my Fever˚ RSS reader, and links.darcynorman.net for other stuff. Holy. This part takes forever to put together. May need to figure out a way to streamline this.

Other

last gasp of winter. too warm in the mountains to ski (a ski season that was just over 2 months long. crazy.).

chicken

  1. so, Irf []

2015 week 10 in review

Work

More focus on learning spaces, both for the new Taylor Institute building, and for a classroom renovation in Haskayne. Lots of interesting options for flexible use of space. We are looking at using hardware as the core platform within a space, with software adding the actual interaction stuff – that model makes it much easier to switch things around, without having to have monolithic devices and appliances that try to do everything. Small pieces, loosely joined.

Something like:

Software on Hardware layers

The exact brand name or application used for each function can be swapped out, and the rest of the pieces adapt to inherit whatever that piece brings with it.

Read

Other

Big Giant Head and blue sky