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.

2014 Week 42 in Review

The Coles™ Notes™ version: a super-short week that felt like a super-long one.

Thanksgiving. And 45.

Thanksgiving on Monday. And I turned 45 on Tuesday, and I took the day off because why not. We had a quiet family extra-long-weekend, and spent some time out in the Elbow Falls area. Wow, did the 2013 flood ever rampage that area.

Open Education

Picked up the plane ticket. Assuming air travel is still a thing next month, I’ll be in DC for Open Ed, and then Fredericksburg for the Reclaim thing on the weekend. Totally looking forward to both, and to reconnecting with the Open Ed crowd. It’s been far too long.

IT Partner

Not long ago, I was in the role of IT Business Partner. I gave that up when I moved into the new role in the EDU. The IT Partners have been working on strategic planning and figuring out the best way to cover all 14 faculties and various service departments, and we have an excellent partner working with us in the Taylor Institute. Looking forward to including Michael in as much of our activities as I can.

Learning Technologies blog

In our last team meeting, we realized that we needed a place that was:

  1. public
  2. outside the UofC domains so we could maintain an arms-length distance and write freely (and leave room for positive critique of campus technologies etc…)
  3. group-focused

I suggested setting up a Known site. And so I did. It’s still basically just “Hello World” but we will be using that site to document the stuff we do. It’s intended to be a “thinking out loud” kind of thing – like how I use my blog, but without me having to give everyone accounts on my own personal blog…

Conference Planning

Planning for the 2015 University of Calgary Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching is coming along nicely. Still lots to do, but the third annual event is going to be even better than the first 2.


We had our first EDU retreat, as part of the strategic planning process. We’re working together to define our mandate/vision/strategies, and to figure out what exactly we do and how we do it. The day was a fantastic opportunity for us all to work together to start the process. Exhausting, but extremely productive. We will have a 3 Year Strategic Plan for the EDU ready by July 2015. Dotmocracies, Star People™ and T-shirt designs.


2014 week 41 in review

A busy but quiet week.

Learning Outcomes in D2L

Working with the Schulich School of Engineering to figure out how to map the CEAB Graduate Attributes and supporting outcomes into D2L, so they can report back through the accrediting process about their curriculum and the students’ overall competency at The Attributes. Lots of struggling on my part, trying to work through the D2L documentation to figure out how to model the outcomes hierarchy, and then to figure out what kind of reporting and rollups can be generated. Hopefully, we’ll figure this out in time for them to use it for their faculty accreditation process.


Almost-final planning for our 1-day all-hands retreat next week. This is going to be exhausting, but I know we’re going to learn a lot about what the EDU is, and how we all see the pieces fitting together. We’ve got a really good plan for the retreat (and the overal strategic planning process), and I can’t wait to get to it!

D2L Course Administrators Community

We had one of our quarterly community gatherings this week. Almost 30 people, from every faculty across campus. We shared a whole bunch of info about the state of the transition from Blackboard (i.e., IT’S DONE), and tips/tricks/etc… for getting stuff done easily. Started to share info about the move to a more community-based support model, now that we’re done with the Big Surge of F2F Training Workshops to support the transition. More on that later…

Taylor Institute construction

We now have some roof, some of the upper floor, an elevator core skeleton, and a wall! progress!

vintage Calgary, 1976-1981

I did some googling1 on Michael Betzler, who was the director on the previous skateboarding documentary. Looks like he now is/was director at the olympic media consortium. Before that, he was involved in this bit of awesomeness.

I would have been the same age as my son is now, when this footage was shot. Wow. My dad had his insurance agency in the Lougheed Building downtown, so I would have been down there pretty regularly. Amazing, how much the city has changed in just a handful of decades…

  1. DuckDuckGoing? that’s not a thing yet, is it? []

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.

ghost media in iOS8 photos

I’ve been noticing this for awhile under iOS7, but had been hoping it was a storage bug that would have been fixed in iOS8. Nope.

I “cheaped out” by only springing for the 16GB iPhone5, which means that I effectively get 12GB of space for stuff like apps, music, photos, etc… Shouldn’t be a problem, but I’ve been hitting the cap pretty regularly now. I’ve resorted to deleting big apps, deleting all of the music that I’d put on the phone (thankfully the train ride is very short now), but still the danged phone reports no free storage.

Looking at the General > Usage reports, it looked like I was chewing up a couple of gigs just for photos. After grabbing then from my iCloud photostream, they’re all in Aperture anyway, so I figured I’d just turn off Photostream temporarily to flush stuff out. After deleting all local photos manually, and then deleting the “recently deleted” items, I still get:

IMG 4007IMG 4005IMG 4006

(3GB of the free space came from nuking the music I’d downloaded onto the phone)

Tethering the phone by USB and firing up Image Capture, it reports the iPhone completely empty of photos/video.

834 MB used for something, somewhere. But I can’t seem to find it, and I can’t seem to free it up. That’s about 7% of the storage space eaten up by mystery ghost media files. Hopefully there’s a way to force-nuke these mystery files so I have enough room for music on my phone (as well as room for software updates without having to delete stuff first).

Looks like when I eventually upgrade my phone, I’ll have to spring for the extra cash to have more than 16GB (well, 12GB) available. The Cloud™ was supposed to make onboard storage less critical, no? Anyway. I’ll keep trying to figure this out, and will post an update if I ever manage to clear up the phantom space…

UPDATE: @poploser recommended PhoneClean. I ran it, and it freed up over a gig of space (awesome!) but didn’t seem to do anything about the phantom media files. Progress, though…

2014 Week 40 In Review

Designing Libraries for the 21st Century

I attended the 3rd annual Designing Libraries for the 21st Century conference on campus. Library-design-folks from around North America (and Australia and the UK) came together to talk about what future libraries need to be. It was my first library conference, and I was struck by 3 things:

  1. What an amazing, open, inviting group of people. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you were from, people actively welcomed everyone in conversation.
  2. Librarians are really thinking critically about what a “library” means, and coming at it from how to best support the activities of the people. Books? Necessary but not sufficient. They’re doing some amazing design work on how to deconstruct and redesign library spaces.
  3. They sure do like to sit and listen to people talk. The presentations were good, but many could have been ably replaced by MP3 files.

I have 10 pages of notes from this, and it’s triggered and reinforced some plans I’m working on for our group in the EDU. Faculty Makerspaces? Hell yeah. Collaboration with the TFDL (and other library) folks? You bet. Technology lending fleet? Yup (already have some cool things to loan out for experimentation by profs). Field trips and site visits? Yeah! And more to come, once plans are worked out a bit more.

Designing libraries notes

Moving D2L from “project” to “sustainment”

We had been running the D2L transition as a full-on Project for the last 15 months. And now we’re moving it into ongoing sustainment mode as a regular production service. We’ll be seeing different composition of the D2L teams as we figure out the best way to run/support/extend it now that everyone is in the pool together. Lots of planning meetings to figure out that transition, made more fun by a re-org in IT.

John Dawson in the house!

He’s visiting for a few days, and the team got to pick his brain yesterday. We had a really great conversation that covered just about every topic from how to design a multi-year biology program, to how to do quick-and-dirty DIY classroom lecture capture, to how to set up a course in D2L to let students have as much access to their own data as possible. And lots of other stuff. We tried recording the session on the new Swivl camera mount, which worked GREAT!

John wound up his visit by giving a presentation with Natasha on “Using Curriculum Mapping as a Vehicle for Faculty Engagement in Teaching & Learning“. Great discussion of what is involved with the process, with an emphasis that it’s not about the data as much as asking “what are we trying to do? and what are students learning?” etc… Looking forward to seeing these conversations grow on campus.

IMG 3992

Planning for Peer Review

We started the early discussions/planning for what might be involved in building/integrating a peer review process into D2L (or offering it as a standalone tool/platform/service). Still too early to even have a timeline, but this is going to be an interesting project. We’ve been looking at options (including native D2L functionality, which is absent, and other tools which don’t appear to be shared or open source), but it looks like we may need to build our own tool. Which will, of course, be made available on our GitHub account when we have something ready to share.

D2L changes

This week, we saw a new Technical Account Manager, and a new Account Manager. We seem to burn people out pretty quickly. Not sure if we’re just extra-demanding, or if there’s something else going on…

The Boy™

12! Dang. Almost a freaking teenager. So fast.


Hooray for Brian blogging again! :-)1

I didn’t really (fully) articulate my position(s) on in my recent LMS post, either. I kind of ran out of steam at 1600 words. Maybe for the better. (I’m still not fully articulating things yet – more to come later, if I can come up with the energy – but I wanted to respond quickly to Brian)

I am really not a fan of the LMS as an end-state, but it’s a symptom of institutional models, not the illness itself. Unless/until the nature of post-secondary institutions changes pretty radically, the LMS (or something like it) is here to stay. Yeah. I feel it too.

Which leaves me thinking about how to proceed. I’m powerless to change the nature of The Institution™, so I have 2 choices – either give up entirely and write off online learning for anything larger than incubator/startup/pilot scale, or embrace the fact that the LMS (or something smelling awfully similar) will be around for awhile. How to turn that around so that we can still do interesting things?

If the LMS is set up to be the institutional plumbing – access control, grades, basic functionality for most users – what if we let it do that, so that the pressure of “scale” is taken off the innovators at the edges? Let the majority of people do their thing in the LMS, and slowly change as that beast evolves, while we work on the awesomeness in the fringes. Or something.

  1. I’m trying something – if I say people can respond by posting on their own sites and tracking back to here, I need to be doing the same thing. Reclaim all of the comments. or somesuch. []

2014 Week 39 In Review

I’m taking a page from Clint Lalonde’s book – he’s been writing “week in review” posts for awhile, and it’s been really interesting to see what he’s up to. And of course there’s the weekly recaps by Audrey Watters! I don’t think I’ll be able to recall that level of detail, but having some kind of record of at least the bigger things each week will be helpful to me. So…

New website launched

The new website for the new Educational Development Unit of the new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning launched on Monday. It was a highly collaborative design project, built within the Unit. I’m really happy with the website, because we managed to steer completely away from “hey! let’s reproduce an org chart as HTML and call it a website!”. I think it’s a much more usable/useful website, and early feedback from the folks that actually need to find people and stuff has been extremely positive. Awesome.

Teaching and Learning Committee

I was asked to give an update to the General Faculties Council Teaching and Learning Committee (basically, the Associate Deans from all faculties, coming together with Vice Provosts to make decisions and actually work on teaching-and-learning stuff – it’s a really amazing group!). I had to give an accelerated version of State of D2L and Connect (our 2 key institutional eLearning tools, both of which are new at the institution this semester). I’d forgottenblocked out that for about half of the campus, D2L is new this semester. We’ve been working on the project since last summer, and have been adding faculties and courses since then, but Fall 2014 was the first full-scale semester with 100% of online courses being run in D2L.

The slides I used are available as a PDF.

I described the semester launch, and that we are now basically done with the transition. It’s time to reduce the number of intensive F2F workshops, and start the shift to a community support model. The EDU will take the lead in coordinating and building capacity, but it’s time to move past the initial orientation-level sessions. Also, it’s finally time for us to move past “OMG LMS”, and get into the more interesting/impactful/meaningful things we can be doing to improve teaching and learning, and the tools we use to support that.


Still getting support emails for this – mostly from people who don’t receive the account notification email, so they have no idea how to login. I had a new blogs@ucalgary.ca address set up so that it would hopefully bypass spam filters that have apparently latched onto the account built into the server. Now, to make sure all sites are able to send mail via SMTP using that account…

Technology Integration Group planning session

We’re still a new group, and we need to find our voice. Part of that involves developing a shared vision and mission for the group within the context of the EDU, and within the broader University. We had a really amazing brainstorming session on Monday, and came up with a really great description of the purpose for our group:

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

Yeah. Still sounds a little marketroid buzzwordy, but we can work with it. It’s good.

Outcomes and Competencies

Had another great meeting with some folks who need to run a faculty-wide outcomes/competency analysis as part of their accreditation process. We’re looking at the tools within D2L (which appear to come up rather short from what they need, but we’re hopeful that this will eventually help), as well as dedicated tools to manage the data and analysis. Holy. That’s going to be a big project, but it has the potential to really change (and improve) the entire learning experience in the faculty.

Qatar campus

Met with the IT Partner for our Faculty of Nursing in Qatar, to talk about how we can better work together to support instructors and students over there. We have lots of great ideas (unfortunately, none of them involved “send D’Arcy to Qatar for a few days”).

Starting to plan our shift to community support model

As mentioned above, it’s time to shift from intensive face-to-face support – that was absolutely necessary to help people with the transition to D2L and Connect, but that’s just not sustainable. We have essentially 2 FTE dedicated to instructor support, and we need to plan how to change what we do to help people Out There, without them having to come to the mothership for support. Lots of ideas there – we’ll be rebuilding the elearn.ucalgary.ca and open.ucalgary.ca websites, and building many more resources to help out. We’ll also be working with the IT Support Centre to help build capacity there, so instructors and students are able to get many of their questions rapidly handled at that level without needing to be escalated over to the EDU for high-level support.

This is all based on the Strategic Framework for Learning Technologies, which was approved by the Board of Governors over the summer. The Framework lays out a plan to provide staff in each faculty to act as “coaches” or “educational technology specialists” to work within the faculty context to help instructors in a distributed/network/community model. We’ll be working closely with them (once they’re hired), to build capacity in each faculty and then share stuff across the whole campus. It’s going to be a really powerful way to bridge centralized support and services with the various unique needs in each of our 14 faculties (and we have a precedent in the IT Partner model, which has worked really well for the pure IT side of things).

President’s Community Report 2014

Holy cow. What an update! It’s easy to gloss over the whole “Eyes High” vision as just a marketing ploy, but dang have we ever picked up our game as a university! I’ve been (mostly) on campus since 1987 (starting as an undergrad, then an undergrad in another field, then as a consultant, staff member, and now a manager). I’ve never seen this level of activity on campus. We’re aiming high, and are actually pulling it off. Wow.

The biggest takeaway for me is that the University is counting on us making the Taylor Institute the “go-to place in North America” for research and innovation in teaching and learning. That’s a big goal, especially considering the building currently looks like this and we’re just getting started. Pretty amazing, to know we have that level of support at the university!

Research collaboration

I’m involved in a proposal for a research project involving theatre, library collections, teaching and learning, and some really high goals. Can’t share details yet, because it’s just starting to get fleshed out, but this collaboration has been absolutely amazing. My brain hurts after our last planning session.

disregard hype.