Last week I participated in the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) 2016 conference. It was a powerful gathering of campus leaders and practitioners, organized around a common focus on liberal education.
I was there for a few reasons, starting with having the fine opportunity to lead a pre conference workshop, followed by presenting on two panels, helping out with a Twitter component, and reconnecting with dozens of friends and colleagues. The event became much more dramatic than expected, once the hosting city, Washington DC, was clobbered by the great snowpocalyspe of 2016.
Let me share some materials here, along with reflections on the conference.
- Preconference workshop
I helped start the conference with a half-day workshop on “How Technology Can Enhance Liberal Education: The State of the Art in 2016.” Around 35 professors, deans, provosts, program directors, presidents from several nations (mostly the US) and a variety of institutional types came together, some with very different levels of technological experience. On the latter score, several younger faculty and program leaders revealed themselves to be serious gamers, while some administrators described themselves as operating with a very basic level of digital knowledge.
A quick round of introductions revealed some interesting trends: a growing number of liberal arts institutions are launched or growing online learning programs; many sought to find the distinct ways liberal arts institutions, and campuses pursuing liberal education, can use technology. This last point has been a major theme in this quadrant of American higher education as far back as the 1990s. I also asked each person to specify their role concerning technology, and there were a lot of different roles: someone running a distance learning program, another in charge of a problem-based learning initiative, a prof looking for good examples of technology in liberal education, a provost to whom several tech departments reported, and more.
I kicked things off with a survey of major technological developments in a very top level way, then dived into specific, currently used digital tools (the LMS, ePortfolios, video, robotics, big data, social media, 3d printing, etc.). I hoped to move on from there to what I called “approaches”, ways of using tech that didn’t depend on a specific platform – i.e., gaming and gamification, blended learning, distance learning, MOOCs, mobile, and digital literacy.
But participants were very, very engaged from the start. The LMS section, for example, detoured into questions of copyright, FERPA (the major US legal regulations about student information), and privacy, after some contention about which LMS was better or worse than others. I had two measly slides for ePortfolios, the main thrust of which was “go to AAEEBL!”, but folks were keen on sharing problems they had in integrating their LMS to a specific ePortfolio program, setting permissions in their ePortfolio, questions of ownership, and more. Our social media section also went over to FERPA, with some audience members arguing for the LMS as superior to the social web for privacy reasons, plus some discussion of personal versus professional social media use.
One participant volunteered a fascinating use of 3d printing: to print objects in such a way as to simulate for seeing people the way blind people perceive the world through touch. Very interesting!
By the last 45 minutes we’d barely reached my slide deck’s half-way point, thanks to the sheer energy of the audience, so I showed them an outline of what remained, and asked them to determine which topics interested them the most. Consensus was: next steps, the future of tech and liberal education. So I told them about the way campus CIOs see the future unfolding (emphasizing security and getting more value out of academic computing investments) and some of the challenges faced by campus IT in trying to grow their services as technology and user demands grow (hiring and retaining the best staff, for example).
It was one of those situations where the audience had an awful lot to ask and express, and it was important and fitting that they do so. My slides are on the web, shared with you via this post, and with those participants via email; that’s easy to see. It’s those emergent discussions that are hard to set up, and so rewarding when they occur. I felt bad for over preparing materials, but am satisfied that we were able to thrash out these issues. Continue reading