on enabling innovation to enhance learning

When we work with instructors, there are 3 general groupings, in terms of their comfort level and technology integration and innovation in their courses.


There is a small group that doesn’t use much technology, doesn’t integrate much in their teaching, and don’t pursue any strategies that would be considered “innovative.” From the outside, this group is often labelled as Luddites or dismissed as being laggards, but that is definitely not always the case. There are important innovations happening in this group, but they may not be visible to outsiders because they aren’t using the shared language of silicon valley innovation. Not every innovation requires high technology, or even technology at all. We can learn much from the Reluctant adopters, because many of them are reluctant to adopt mainstream technology because it doesn’t do what they need.


There is a second, much larger, group that does integrate some technology, tries some new and changing pedagogical strategies, and basically is self-supporting as a status quo. This majority adopts technology because it’s there, and looks to their peers for guidance on what to do, and how to do it. Again, this is not a bad thing. These people are experts in their fields, and they adopt “innovation” when it suits their needs. And they ignore the new shiny when it doesn’t solve an immediate problem. And that’s fine.


A third group, at the “high end” of the bell curve, explores new technologies, integrates them into their teaching, and tries emerging strategies to try to engage students. This group builds stuff, finds new stuff, and tries new things. The Shiny. They take risks. Which is great, but not everyone has the time, comfort level, or experience to do that. So we need to learn from this group, give them support to help them do the stuff they’d do anyway (but maybe do it more? do it better? do it more successfully?), and learn from that.


It’s tempting to focus on the Pioneers, because that’s where new ideas are usually introduced, but we need to focus on all three groups in order to effect real and sustained innovation across the university. We need to work with all three groups, learn from what they do (and what they don’t do), and then showcase successes to help everyone adopt things that will help them in their practices.

This is basically just another way to look at Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations double-S-curve. Ron Newmann presented a version of it at the 2013 LiFT Conference. They’re looking at how to identify new innovations, and track their adoption from 0-100%, rather than trying to help foster adoption of constellations of innovation across a population, as we’re doing at the university level.

I see our job with the technology integration group as being the green arrows in the diagram. We work with everyone, and help them to enhance the learning experience. We work with them to identify, support, and enable innovation and successful integration of appropriate technologies, and to push the state of the art of teaching. That’s how we can help support and sustain real innovation broadly across the entire university.

I keep coming back to the guiding statement our group came up with:

To enable innovation and creative integration of learning technologies to continuously enhance the learning experience.

This is why we do what we do. It isn’t about shiny tech. It’s about working with everyone to help them enhance learning.

Quick demo of the Swivl robot camera mount

I picked up a Swivl robot camera mount to kick off our “tech lending library” here in the EDU. It’s a pretty interesting piece of kit that will let anyone record a session without having to spend $100K retrofitting a classroom with PTZ cameras and switching boards. Slap this thing onto a desk or tripod, drop your iPhone (or iPad, or Android device) into the slot, plug the microphone cable into the mic jack on your device, and hit record. Done. It now automatically tracks the lanyard, which also has a built-in microphone that sends decent audio to the recording device. Nice.

Swivl Demo from UCalgary Taylor Institute on Vimeo.

If you want to sign the thing out to experiment with it, let me know.

reflecting on the 2013-2014 academic year

Fall 2014 Block Week kicked off today, meaning we just pushed into the 2014-2015 academic year. Holy. The last one is basically just a blur. But, we did a surprisingly epic number of major things as a team1:

  • Migrating from Blackboard to D2L in about 8 months, including:
  • Doing an emergency migration from Elluminate to Adobe Connect, in response to the Javapocalypse of January 2014
  • Probably a bajillion other things that got forgotten in the blur. what a year.

To get the campus community through the whole thing, I’d been using a diagram to outline the flow and timeline:

Implemenation and Training Overview

The 2 stars indicate (left) when we got access to our D2L server, and (right) when we had to turn off access to the Blackboard servers. Everything was driven by those dates, and mapped out over the academic year with semesters defining the major stages. The surprising/amazing/relieving thing is that we actually stuck to the schedule. I didn’t have to revise that document once, after using it last summer to outline the process. Wow.

On top of that, the shiny new Technology Integration Group in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning’s Educational Development Unit had a bunch of other stuff to do:

  • providing instructor training and support for D2L and Adobe Connect (working closely with the Instructional Design team)
  • launching the new Teaching Community website
  • rebuilding the “team formation tool”, from an old java-based codebase to a modern application implemented using the D2L Valence API
  • producing a pretty awesome student orientation video
  • building a new intranet website to manage data within the EDU
  • preparing a new website for the new EDU (to be launched later this month)
  • building a mobile app for D2L, using the Campus Life framework
  • supporting the campus blogging and wiki platforms
  • investigate additional tools within D2L to support learning, such as ePortfolios, badging, repositories, etc…
  • exploring other learning technologies, including beacons, and a long list of other things we didn’t have nearly enough time to play with…

So, while 2013-2014 was a year of pretty epic and overwhelming changes, I’m looking forward to the big pieces stabilizing this fall, so we can start pushing at the edges a bit more. We’ve got lots of ideas for things we can do, once the major changes are done for a bit. That roadmap will be sorted out later this month, but it’s going to be a really fun year!

  1. this was a truly multi-department interdisciplinary team, with folks from the Taylor Institute EDU and Information Technologies working flat out together to get stuff done []