Lagniappe – A Little Extra of Connectedness:  The E-Learn Diaries, Part 2

E-Learn day two dawned bright and early. A quick stop at the morning snack station revealed bagels were the snack du jour. This healthy turn was a somewhat disappointing switch from the first-day beignets. Still, on the positive side, no one presenting has to worry about unintentionally accessorizing with powdered sugar.

The morning keynote was by Saul Carliner on the topic, “What’s on the Horizon for Educational Technology.” You can view Carliner’s slides here. Carliner began the keynote with a little audience participation, encouraging participants to discuss first what they feel might be the most used software application for instructional content and next what they perceive to be the most exciting technology on the horizon. He then took a quick overview of the 2019 Horizon Report to see how our ideas compared to the “experts” who had put it together and offered some thoughts on the concept of “new” in educational technology.

Spoiler alert: in education, many things showcased as new are evolutions of past trends. While it is essential to stay aware of trends, it is also necessary to research and discern whether a trend is helpful or is merely “trendy” for now. The keynote ended with a discussion of technology adoption challenges, opportunities, and our collective hopes for innovations. I left the keynote with a renewed commitment to be sober-minded. It is easy to forget who your learners are and spend a lot of money pursuing something that’s not a good fit. The keynote recording will become available on the AACE YouTube Channel. Curious about the Horizon 2019 report? You can read my summary on the AACE Review.

After the keynote, the day continued much as day one had, in a variety of shorter presentations and roundtables. Once again, if you would like to see the full schedule of day two via the Academic Experts website, you can do so here.

I began my morning attending a roundtable on improving instructor presence through effective instructional message design. Eight other participants and I discussed the challenges of engaging learners and “being human” within a fully online course delivery context. The discussion was foregrounded heavily in the Community of Inquiry as well as Mayer’s Principles of Multimedia Learning. It was a wonderfully collaborative session and I left with new friends and several concrete ideas to implement.

After the roundtable, I attended several shorter sessions. That first one looked at how creating digital artifacts can effectively foster visual and multimodal discussions. The next one explored how to evaluate student engagement when students are all geographically dispersed. The final presentation was on the ways an online library can better serve those on the autism spectrum. The presenter was a distance education librarian who is soon to retire. Given this vantage point, he wove his own story into the presentation. His candid sharing was a reminder never to forget that education at its core is a profoundly human endeavor. We must always honor the humanity in our learners and ourselves.

At the beginning of the afternoon, I (virtually) traveled to the middle east, learning about the culture and landscape of Lebanon through a study seeking to understand student and faculty online learning readiness. This session alerted me to how important not only attitudes but also physical infrastructure is to successful online learning initiatives. Next was a presentation on a newly proposed plagiarism checking system that endeavors to proactively coach students on how to fix their writing when accidental plagiarism might occur. Plagiarism is a hot topic, and I was glad to hear ideas around more human-centric training as opposed to a punishment system.

After a much-needed coffee break, the remainder of my afternoon was spent learning innovative ways to connect with learners. It began with an investigation into how interactive multimedia problem-based learning might help improve the performance of students who are “at-risk”. Next, I learned about student social-emotional skills and the opportunity we all have as educators to embrace more holistic teaching. Finally, my day ended with a presentation about the Technology-Enabled Learning iMOOC, an initiative out of my alma mater, Athabasca University. iMOOC stands for an “inquiry-based massive online open course”. This MOOC has been very intentional at using technology to foster student-to-student connections and as a result, has seen higher than average participation and completion rates from a global community of learners.

This presentation, with its emphasis on the power of learner-to-learner connections, felt like a fitting metaphor for my conference day two. I left day two saturated with knowledge and gratitude for each presenter who was so generous with their ideas, experiences, and stories. We all have much to learn, and also, we all have much to teach. There is much magic in the synergy that happens when we make time to connect and share.

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