Each year, the program delivery department at TRU Open Learning hosts a workshop, although it’s become more of a conference than a workshop, for our Open Learning Faculty Members (OLFMs), who are typically spread throughout the province.
Last weekend (May 13-14) was the seventh workshop that I’ve attended and the sixth which I have planned along with my colleague Marie, who does the hard work of managing all the logistics. I typically get to do the fun stuff like organize the program, recruit speakers and such.
Each year, as our number of OLFMs has grown (from just over 150 in 2010, to almost 250 now), the workshop has grown as well. If I recall correctly, we hosted about 80 in 2010 and 150 this year.
We have worked quite intentionally to keep changing formats, options, and both plenary and breakout presentations in the hope of keeping from getting stale and complacent.
This year, our keynote speaker was Donald Clark who shared his views on emerging technologies like virtual reality and current technologies like artificial intelligence. Clark was an engaging and dynamic speaker and had an Oculus Rift headset with him which he offered for people to try out.
Several people took him up and it was interesting to see the diversity of reactions.
Among the claimed benefits of VR technology is that it is completely immersive, and therefore better at engaging students in ‘authentic’ environments. Well, when I tried it, I was distinctly underwhelmed. The graphics being fed through the headset reminded me of early 8-bit video games, and while it was neato to be able to look around and have the display respond to my movements, I was not the least bit compelled to believe that I was actually riding an amusement park ride.
So does my 3 minute experience mean that VR is useless for education? Clearly not, but it does suggest that it will not be any sort of revolutionary panacea.
What did get me excited were the breakout sessions. There were a number of encouraging signs that this event was gaining traction as a valuable place for our OLFMs to share. First is that there were more OLFMs and OL staff involved in giving presentations on topics that they proposed. In my mind, this is the essence of what an event like this should be.
TRU-OL has the distinct advantage of drawing faculty from all across the province and they often work f2f in their local institutions and pick up a course or two from OL. This means that we have a built-in diversity of ideas, opinions, and perspectives that provides a rich environment for sharing experiences and de-siloing higher ed. Our greatest asset will always be our people, and OL has some great people!
Another highlight for me was listening to @brlamb talk about his recent work with the BC Open Ed Tech Cooperative. I am really excited about the stuff they are working on and encourage you to have a look and get involved.
Finally, I was thrilled to be able to include a student panel discussion titled ‘Mindset Makes a Difference’. I have wanted to do this for a long time, but it has been difficult to wrangle local students in the middle of May. This is where Elizabeth Templeman, Coordinator for Supplemental Learning at TRU stepped in and recruited her student leaders, who had previously presented at the campus Teaching Practices Colloquium in February.
All told, it was another great weekend of reconnecting and sharing across and within disciplines.
If you’d like to dig in a little more, you can find the schedule here.
2016 OLFM Workshop at TRU by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.