Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Monday, November 15, 2010

MRU Centennial SoTL Symposium, Banff, Alberta - November 2010

Finally, a chance to attend a conference close to home!! I felt very privileged to be part of the Mount Royal Centennial SoTL Symposium that was held at the Banff Park Lodge over the Remembrance Day long weekend. The Symposium began with a series of workshops at Mount Royal in Calgary. I facilitated a session on Systematic Scholarly Inquiry Using Blended Learning Technologies and New Media. This was the first time that I had offered this workshop and I spent a fair bit of time researching this topic and collecting resources (it was great to be able to draw on past conference notes). Since this session was going to take place in a computer lab, I decided to use Google Docs rather than a set of PowerPoint slides. The beauty of using Google Docs is that I was not only able to provide the participants with access to this document but they could contribute to it - throughout the workshop. This really worked well from my perspective as the session was much more of dialogue (conversation) than a one-way monologue from me.

I kinda helped Richard Gale facilitate a Leadership SoTL workshop in the afternoon but to be totally honest - Richard ran this workshop on his own with me as an active participant. One of the participants shared an interesting TED Talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Here is another great one from Sir Ken Robson on Creativity in Education that Alex Bruton shared with his Community of Practice on the Future of Education at Mount Royal. After the workshops, I headed home to the family and we drove up to Banff in two cars (me in one and the rest of the gang in another as they were only planning to stay for one night). We had a lovely dinner at the Magpie and Stump and then Alex & I went for a swim in the hotel pool while Marie & Eric relaxed with Law & Order on TV.

We slept in on Remembrance Day and then had a lovely breakfast in the Chinook Room of the hotel, which has a large window overlooking the Bow Valley. After breakfast, we drove to the Banff Centre and then hiked up Tunnel Mountain together on a relatively sunny and warm November day. I used my new iPOD to take a few pictures and videos Summit of Tunnel Mountain, Tree Balancing on Tunnel Mountain, Tunnel Mountain Hiking Trail, Cave & Basin) en route. I must admit that I'm definitely not impressed with the camera on this device and I think I'm going to invest in one of those waterproof digital cameras. Once, we finished the Tunnel Mountain hike we headed down to the Cave & Basin for the brief boardwalk to the hot springs outlet and a look at the tropical fish that were introduced in the mid-60s and have since flourished in the warm water.

Later in the afternoon, the gang drove back to Calgary and I went for a nice run along the Bow River (I'm so happy that my left knee is recovering despite me not keeping up with my stretching and strengthening program). Around 5pm I headed down for the Symposium reception and banquet. I was so excited to see that the buffet dinner featured prime rib (my absolute favourite meat). Unfortunately, I still have not learned to cut my meat in small pieces and to not talk while eating - so I ended up with yet another bolus in my esophagus (e.g., stuck clump of meat). At least this time I could swallow a wee bit of saliva and I thought I could dislodge it by swallowing and patience. Sigh, no movement so eventually I had to walk next door to the Mineral Springs Hospital where they were able to get me to dislodge (vomit) all the meat out of my system through a combination of carbonated soft drinks and a liquid medicine.

I woke up on Friday morning feeling incredibly hung over from my bolus experience. Fortunately, I hit a series of great sessions on collaborative student learning activities that were supported be a series of emerging technologies. I was really impressed with how Katrin Becker and Carol Jefferies modeled the use of collaborative technologies by using the Google Presentation tool to support their sessions, Student Perceptions on the Use of Collaborative Editing Tools in a Freshman Engineering Communications Course and Supporting and Managing Group Work in Engineering Courses With Shared Documents.

I then had a chance to attend a couple more sessions on collaborative learning . One was by Jennifer Locke from the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary on Building Capacity: Learning Along the Way through an Online Collaborative Project and another by Teresa Snow from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia on the Evaluation of a Collaborative Online Note-Taking Project to Enhance Learning in Large Lecture Classes (collaborative learning is definitely becoming a theme in higher education).

After lunch I attended a session by representatives from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario . This Council is funded by the Ontario Government and supports research related to four themes:
1) Participation/Accessibility
2) Educational Quality
3) System Design
4) Accountability

The research publications from all of the studies are available for free online (link) and I sure wish we had this kind of organization in Alberta!!

I finished the afternoon with a run out towards the Cave & Basin and then had a wonderful fondue dinner with my Triad Research Group at the Grizzly House.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling exceptionally rested (the Banff Park Lodge is truly a great conference hotel) and I thoroughly enjoyed our session on Moving to Their Own Beat: Exploring How Students Use Web 2.0 Technologies to Support Group Work, Outside of Class Session. Great energy and from my perspective - great conversation with the audience about our preliminary research findings. Believe it or not, I actually headed out for another run after our session (3 for 3 days with no knee pain - yahoo), enjoyed one last conference meal (the food was superb), and then drove back to Calgary for the "boys" hockey games!!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Sloan-C International Online Learning Conference, Orlando, Florida - November 2010

I have been to Orlando several times in the past for conferences and I wasn't 100% sure about returning again but the Sloan-C International Online Learning Conference is a special one. This is the conference that Randy and I launched our Blended Learning in Higher Education book in the fall of 2007. It is also the conference where leading researchers in both the K to 12 and higher education sectors present their work. As usual, I took a series of notes, pictures, and even a video to record my visit (this time using my new iPOD 4 - sure wish it had a flash). A couple of conference highlights for me:

Participating in the pre-conference workshop about blended learning: big issues, strategies, and models. It was wonderful to work and learn with a group of passionate educators and researchers on this topic. Hopefully, I can find the link to the PowerPoint slides for this session.

Participating in the The Community of Inquiry Frameworks Ten Years Later panel session - an incredible diversity of approaches and applications

Barbara Means, the lead author for the Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies review of this study. A couple of key findings from this study:

The meta-analysis found that instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the observed advantage of blended learning is a product of redesigning the learning experience, not of the medium per se

And, my own session on Teaching Presence: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry in blended and online environments.