Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Friday, May 06, 2011

Roadtrip - May 2011

Finally, I'm starting to feel better - it's been a long winter and long cold season for me.

Originally, I didn't have much travel planned for the month of May but a request for a keynote session at the University of Maryland and another one at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario led to an opportunity for an extended road trip and a chance to visit with two of my sisters. The trip began with an all day flight from Calgary to Baltimore. There has been some very bad storms in the American Southeast (tornadoes that had killed a number of people in Alabama) and I was fortunate to be traveling just behind this weather system.

Upon arrival in Baltimore, I was surprised how long the cab ride was to the University of Maryland (located about half way between Baltimore and Washington). The U of M is a public land grant institution that was founded back in 1856. The school mascot is something called a terrepin, which I later discovered is type of turtle :) The weather was beautiful and the grass and trees were VERY green (wet weather). I took the opportunity to go for a long run around campus to admire the colonial (not New England) architecture. I made sure that I took lots of pictures and I was impressed with how the main section of the campus was laid out like the National Mall in Washington (the Library at one end with the Administration building at the other - complete with a reflecting pool in the middle). I had a wonderful set of Maryland crab cakes for dinner and then turned in early for bed.

The noise of TVs in the other rooms woke me up around 4:30am. It took me a moment to "clue in" that today was the Royal Wedding and that people had woken up early to watch William and Kate's wedding on TV. Sigh, I ended up watching some of the ceremony as well. Chris, the Acting Director of the Office of Instructional Technology picked me up around 8am and we headed over to the Student Centre for the University's Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference. This is a one day event that has been held each spring for the past 18 years. For the past five years, the event has been co-sponsored by the Office of Instructional Technology and the Centre for Teaching Excellence. The U of M is just about to begin a blended learning initiative (in the process of selecting faculty champions for the program) and I was the keynote speaker to "kick off" the initiative with my Blended Learning in Higher Education: Promises and Pitfalls session. From my perspective, the session went reasonably well. Most of the audience seemed engaged and a woman from the Centre for Teaching and Learning at John Hopkins University even asked me if I would be interested in repeating the same session next fall for this institution. I spent the rest of the day attending faculty led sessions on engaging students in a blended environment - before, during, and after a physical class session. The idea of a "flipped" or "inverted" class session really seems to be taking hold with a blended approach to teaching and learning. The idea of a flipped class session - is that students receive and digest information "outside of the classroom" and then discuss and apply this information during class time (e.g. labatorials).

At the end of the day, I took a taxi back to the Baltimore airport and managed to catch an early flight to New York to visit with my youngest sister's family. They have two little boys and it sure brought back memories of when our Eric and Alex were young. On Saturday we took a field trip to Coney Island to enjoy one of the amusement parks as well as take in the sights and sounds of the infamous boardwalk (which thankfully they have re-surfaced). We finished the day with an amazing home made pizza dinner - we've got to get one of those pizza stones.

We woke up to another beautiful spring day on Sunday, which we spend in nearby Prospect Park. It was the annual Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and we had a wonderful time viewing and smelling all the spring flower blossoms. After visiting the park with took a stroller tour of the Prospect Park neighbourhood - stopping off for a wonderful Mexican lunch. We were all pretty tired by the time we got back home and we had a quite evening.

Monday morning, we woke up to the news that the Americans had killed Osama bin-Laden in Pakistan and then I got to experience the trip to pre-school before flying onto Toronto and a visit with another one of my sisters. I arrived late afternoon and managed to get a neighbourhood run in before we headed down to the Beaches area for a stroll along the boardwalk and dinner at a very yummy Thai restaurant. We then headed back to the house to watch the Canadian Federal Election results. Some interesting results - the Conservatives got their majority (rats). the NDP became the official opposition (thanks to a bunch of NDP newbees being voted into office in Quebec), the Liberals lost many of their seats, the Bloc Quebecois was reduced to 4 seats (maybe the extinction of this political party).

I was able to sleep in on Tuesday and then get some computer work done before taking the GO train to Hamilton. It was a nice ride along the Lake Ontario waterfront and it brought back memories of the times that I used to take the train back and forth between Kingston and Guelph for university. Peggy French, the eLearning Coordinator for Mohawk College met me at the Hamilton GO Station and provided me with a tour of the Mohawk Campus before dropping me off at my hotel. She returned shortly to take me to the Augusta House Pub for dinner with the rest of the Centre for Teaching and Learning staff. We had a great time together and I had a wonderful rack of lamb for dinner (my tummy felt REAL big when I got back to the hotel).

Mohawk College in the midst of a blended learning initiative and I was keynote speaker for their Learning Exchange: Connections and Collaboration conference, an annual two day spring conference. Fortunately, again my Student Engagement and Blended Learning: What's the Connection? session was well received and I followed up with a Designing for an Inquiry-Based Approach to Learning workshop in the afternoon. Peggy took me out for an amazing dinner at the Thai Memories restaurant. This is one of the best Thai restaurants I have ever visited - the food and decor were both amazing!!

I enjoyed a final night in a hotel (great sleep) and then had an opportunity to enjoy a number of conference sessions on Thursday before flying back to Calgary from the Hamilton Airport on WestJet.