I’ve just spend an exhilarating three days at University of Mary Washington, the stomping grounds of the infamous Jim Groom. He and his crew at DTLT have pulled off an incredible event called #openVA, and it really was incredible, and I was all set to tell you about it, but then this happened:
What I started to tell you was how energizing it is to be around people who believe in education, who promote innovative uses of technology in an effort to make students engaged in their education; who want to create memorable moments of enlightenment. But what I find myself really wanting to talk about are these amazing people I’ve connected with, so since this is my blog (I say who, I say when, I say… who…), I want to talk about these people.
First, if you don’t know Jim Groom, you are truly missing out. The original Edupunk, this man has boundless energy, holds nothing sacred other than breaking rules, and believes in learning by doing. Yes, I’m kind of a fangrrl, but I’d like to think it’s because we vibrate on the same frequency. The lead innovator of UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT), The Bava surrounds himself with bright, bright people as he crafts his next step in world domination. While they were always poised to finesse anything that might go amiss (which, of course, nothing did), I got to hang with savvy ed tech people who speak my language—and my sense of humor. Ryan Brazell. Tim Owen (finally in person!). Andy Rush. Martha Burtis. It’s no wonder DTLT has the reputation it has. These are people I just might give my right arm to work with (hear that, Jim? We’ll talk.).
One of the reasons Reverend Jim is who he is is simply that he preaches with the best. For the ground breaking Minding the Future conference before the conference, he brought in some heavy hitters in the edtech field. Audrey Watters. Kin Lane. Alan Levine. Gardner Campbell. David Wiley. A powerhouse lineup, each had the opportunity to give us their views on the future of education, of open source and agency, and then spent almost two hours in a panel discussion. Some of these people I know and love (how can you not help but join in on the ribbing when Cog Dog bellows at you from halfway down the block? After all, I’m such a delicate flower.). Some I’ve met before, but had an opportunity to get to know better (really; I’ll never be able to look at David Wiley again without thinking of Captain Hammer. Or The Hero of Canton, for that matter. He knows what he did.). A couple were “longtime reading, first time meeting” situations — listening to Audrey Watters champion higher education, experiencing Gardner Campbell’s legendary storytelling; both amazing opportunities. While Kin Lane is a new voice to me, listening to him advocate transparency and openness in government, of giving people agency to control their data through APIs, made me feel an immediate… kinship (because he’s never ever heard that pun before, I’m certain). His observation that “your data is the new black gold, and APIs are the new pipeline” resonated internally, and was the perfect sound bite takeaway. I could, of course, give you a run down of all their talks, but why would I do that when other people do it so much better than I? That’s what links are for, people. So I point you to Giulia Forsythe‘s beautiful visual notes or search the #mindingthefuture hashtag. By the way, Giulia’s amazing. Follow her, too.
Inspiring. And that was official Day One.
Official Day two was OpenVA. Educators who are hands on in the work of using technology to create memorable education. There are a lot of people whose thoughts and presentations I haven’t completely unpacked yet. I’ll get there, I promise you. But there were exciting conversations being had about open educational resources. Students rewriting textbooks to create new resources. How leveraging platforms like WordPress and open source technologies could make things more accessible for students and transparent for all. I’ve never heard so many people get excited about teaching in the open. Seriously excited. Who does that anymore? I think we forget that there are more people out there trying break the shackles of the typical LMS and get beyond the rote education, and more towards — well, more DIY. Break the rules and create. Make. Reflect. Break more. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Search the #openva hashtag and see for yourself.)
This was one of those moments that stood out for me: I was sitting in a session where Seán McCarthy, an assistant professor at James Madison University, was explaining how his students create digital magazines using WordPress, and I could feel his passion about this topic. It was palpable and infectious. And as he scrolled through his Beyond Blogging presentation, I saw the golden nugget, my defining takeaway — the thing that illustrates why I love technology in higher ed. It’s a quote from another instructor who was most definitely not comfortable with technology, but willing to try it. And this is the kind of magic that can happen when we embrace the open.
When I couldn’t figure out why a student’s embed code for a photo wasn’t working, another student had already faced the problem and found a solution. When I didn’t know how TubeChop was supposed to work, a student taught the class. It was the perfect Paulo Friere students-and-teachers-as-co-learners classroom, and it did not always feel good. Given permission, though, students produced a result far better than anything I could have imagined. Toaster Shrimp was the creation of my 9:30am class. The name has no meaning; they chose it and they loved it. They designed the title banner, picked the colors, and wrote the introduction. We were all proud of the result.
~ Professor Sarah O’Connor
This is why open learning is exciting. Because technology (when used for the right reasons) makes crazy things possible, and I love it when everyone comes away with a new understanding of the possibilities. When you see instructors using Pinterest not because it’s a “girl thing” but because it’s a legitimate tool in curating educational resources. When we have access to reuse, remix, adapt; when we can grant those rights via Creative Commons licenses, we open the doors to others who can — and do — use our work to create and teach the in the next wave as well. It’s the creation of memorable, teachable moments for both the intended recipients (students), as well as the unintended students — the instructors themselves. I long for the day where we consistently have less “sage on the stage” and more of a “crowd in the cloud” approach. Gardner Campbell spoke about the synergism of combining instructors’ experience and understanding with students expertise in their own skill sets. I agree wholeheartedly. When we can acknowledge that skills and experiences come from multiple sources in education, then we can blow the socks off the standard, pedantic experience. That’s where the magic happens. Another fabulous post about the day: @shauser’s Think Local, Tell Stories. I haven’t read it yet because I wanted to get my own thoughts out first, but there’s a buzz and I’m betting it’s awesome.
Of course, I keep coming back to the people. And it’s those hallway moments where we often learn more than sitting in sessions. Sometimes it’s the Universe creating impossible overlaps. Like having dinner, talking to my new friend Tess (who is 7 and more grown up than some of my friends in double digits, thankyouverymuch) and we were speaking about when I lived in Saudi Arabia and the hotel staff brought me a birthday cake where my name was spelled ROPIN (Arabic has no letter B, and these people went to great pains to make me feel special). As I wrote my name in Arabic for her, imagine my surprise when the gentleman watching intently across the table told me he currently lived in Saudi Arabia. In Al Khobar. Only a few miles from where I had lived. I was astonished. A day later, as we continued to talk, he spoke of a project where he’d podcast his experiences of living in Japan — and this is where I discover I am speaking to Scott Lockman the creator of Tokyo Calling, one of the first shows to gain momentum in the podcasting movement. I think he was almost as shocked to find out I knew the podcast as I was to discover he was That Guy.
It’s easy to get lost in the every day deliverables of our lives. Believe me, I’m the first to admit there are times I look at the pile of work and sigh, “Meh.” But this week I’ve spent three days with people in multiple walks of life who are passionate about their work. It’s inspiring. It’s uplifting. It renews my faith in the work that is possible in higher ed, in the continual pursuit of excellence, and yes, even in the small victories we might win. I realize that when I’m no longer around these thought leaders (drink!) that things will get a little more dull, a little less bright, but the experience still fills me with hope, and renews my passion. And if, at the end of the day, we can still find our passion, then it has been a good day.
Thank you once again to Jim Groom, the DTLT staff, the educators and technologists who took their time to share what they are doing in the classroom, and these new amazing connections I now have. All of this *waves arms wildly* is really the rich rewards of what you’ve wrought these last few days. You remind me what this is really all about, and how important it is that we continue to move forward and question the status quo.
It’s all about embracing the open.