Monday, November 9, 2020

Connecting Partners for COVID-19 Response and Recovery

Today marked the announcement of a new research partnership model developed in partnership with the City of Toronto, the 8 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Greater Toronto Area, eCampus Ontario, along with our research funding partners Mitacs, OCE, NSERC, NRC-IRAP and Magnet. The announcement was conducted by Mayor John Tory, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Research and Innovation Ali Ehsassi, and Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano. 

When COVID-19 struck the City of Toronto and the eight Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Toronto started working together to support Toronto rebuild and recovery efforts. This includes mobilizing the capacity of the faculty and students at GTA HEIs to support capacity development for the City of Toronto and GTA businesses. The City of Toronto Mayor’s Task Force for Economic Support & Recovery — HEIs, led by Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, convened the Academic Institutions Task Force. One key remit of this Task Force was to develop partnerships between HEIs and the City of Toronto to support local businesses and organizations. In order to meet this objective, the partnership model was put forward as a solution to rapidly connect the expertise in the HEIs to City of Toronto COVID-19 research needs.

Under the direction of Manjit Jheeta, Director, Toronto Office of Partnerships, the eight GTA HEIs established the Toronto Collaboration Platform (TOCP) to support City of Toronto recovery and rebuild efforts, leveraging the design work conducted to date. The Collaborative helped to source faculty and student experts from across the eight HEIs to support City of Toronto staff in addressing important and urgent project needs.

An important facet of this partnership is that students are participating in all aspects of projects, from conducting the R&D activities under the supervision of our expert faculty, to project management, teamwork and communications. Students are paid as research assistants, and also receive a micro-credential as part of their participation.

It was a natural fit for eCampusOntario to help coordinate this important technology-enabled effort between three levels of government and Toronto’s colleges and universities. We are connecting our city’s best expertise to help mitigate the impact of COVID 19 on its citizens.

eCampusOntario not only helps bring together partnerships like these, but also designs and manages the technology that connects our brightest higher education researchers with our municipal leaders.

As the convenor for Ontario post-secondary education, eCampusOntario helps connect and support this kind of research and experiential learning that is essential to help in our province’s pandemic recovery.

Together we can build effective solutions for our current challenges that will help create jobs and keep people safe.

Read more about these projects on the City of Toronto website.

More information on the innovative Toronto Collaboration Platform is at this website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Virtual learning is real learning

Sharing my TESS 2020 opening remarks as we kicked off TESS2020 today. If you missed day 1 you can catch some of the presentations on our social – it was an exemplary day.

Image of TESS Conference logo

Thank you for joining us at The Technology and Education Seminar and Showcase 2020!

We at eCampusOntario are delighted you’ve taken the time to be part of TESS this year. I’d like to extend a special welcome to our colleagues from Kenjgewin Teg, who recently joined eCampusOntario as our 46th member and, significantly, our first member Indigenous Institute. 

As Lutfiyya and Daniel have said we have a great lineup – discussions, panel presentations, and breaks with a variety of entertainment. We have benefitted from support and help from many people – not the least of which is our fantastic team who have worked behind the scenes to make this event what it will be. We are also indebted to Jennifer Gordon from Humber College who provided key input and advice on running a virtual conference – thanks Jennifer. 

In this virtual conference we are all convening from different places. This is one of the things that makes the online environment special. The land acknowledgement Daniel read is an important way for us to begin our proceedings-- and we can build on today’s acknowledgement. Each of us can acknowledge the traditional territories from which we join the event today. To do this, I’ll ask you to go to the site posted in the chat

and find out which traditional territories you are on. Then please share this with everyone through the chat. 

I happen to be in east Toronto: the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinabewaki, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, part of the larger Mississauga nation. I’ve lived in many places in Canada, and was born in Saskatchewan, on Treaty 4 territory, traditional home of the Cree, Blackfoot and Sioux. 

It is important to acknowledge our relationship to the land and those that have lived here before us. Doing so is an important reminder of our responsibility to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls To Action.

This social context informs our work. It includes the imperative to join the fight against anti-Black racism and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do. 

Above all, we can seize this moment to rebuild and support an environment that prioritizes inclusion, representation and voice. 

Taking time to remember and invoke the land outside is an important way to remind ourselves that our lives are so much more than technology at a time when so much (including this conference) is mediated by screens. 

This is a significant time for all of us. We collectively have been navigating unprecedented changes due to COVID 19. We know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected those already experiencing marginalization. And so our theme this year – Humanizing Learning – is an appropriate way to think about the ways in which we can work together to make learning as human as it can be.

Because most of us are now teaching and learning online as our default mode, we are navigating the different tools and approaches we can use to help ensure our online courses are as engaging as our face to face ones. 

We have to remember a very important point: Virtual learning is real learning

Many of you joining us today are leaders in creating innovative, interactive and above all high-quality online learning experiences that result in meaningful learner engagement. We have the ability to ensure not only that our learners can access these quality experiences, but they can do so as part of their lifelong learning journey.

The online learning experiences continue to get better and better, precisely because we convene at conferences like this and share our stories, our successes, and our failures. These events – virtual or otherwise, are important conduits for our own professional development, that in turn have positive effects on our collective ability to model learning as an active way of engaged living. 

Our sector – with rest of the world – went through a sudden pivot when the pandemic first hit. You are all to be commended for navigating this sudden turn. The work we have done together over the past five years provided our sector with guidance and leadership on creating quality online learning environments, which greatly benefited this sudden shift to remote learning.

We now turn to the challenge of scale: how do we build on the work we have done, to continue to provide high quality learning environments that generate enthusiasm, engagement, and a sense of connection in our learners. We can do this by embracing the principles of human centred design that remind us to put the needs of the learner and the social contexts in which we all live at the centre of our curriculum design. 

So welcome to TESS 2020 – I am certain you will enjoy the program!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Future is Micro: Learning that is developmental, iterative, and experiential

Micro-credentials are having their moment. For those of us who have been working with them for some time it seems like this has been a moment a long time coming. 

I’ve been giving micro-credentials a lot of thought lately as we here at eCampusOntario start to ramp up our work in the space. Our micro-credentials Framework offers a highly useful guide to implementing these, and has been used by the 36 pilots we have funded across a range of industries. And the eCampusOntario fourth annual micro-credential forum will take place in February 2021: have a look at the 2020 Forum re-cap page to learn more. 

Micro-credentials offer iterative and agile ways for learners to mark milestones in their learning journey. In an ideal world these will always ladder into successive credentials that enable learners to build on their knowledge and skills throughout their lifetime. We already have models of practice for this in the ways that we can transfer from diplomas to degrees.

If I think about the credentials I have earned that have formal recognition these are broken into two types: those that have been part of a laddered series of credentials (BA, MA, PhD) that form the basis for my formal education, and those that I have earned through professional development that I have earned throughout my career. These credentials have been developmental, and iterative

Formal credentials earned by (bottom left to right) UNBC, Queen's University, University of Toronto; (top left to right) MIT, University of Windsor, Kellogg School of Management
The path from formal credentials to professional development

But learning is much more than formal programming, as important as this is. Informal learning has played (and continues to play) a significant role in my developmental journey. In this sense my formal credentials are complemented by the experiential aspects of service to my community and my participation in communities of practice. This experiential learning is significant as it represents the wider constellation of experiences I have had that have all contributed in meaningful ways to my overall professional development, and my development as a human being. 

Image showing the logos from the universities where I have earned formal credentials surrounded by logos of institutions for whom I have done service, and so have learned from
The constellation of credentials and experiential learning

I had the occasion yesterday to catch up with a colleague with whom I worked many years ago. We were discussing micro-credentials and reminiscing about when we first connected on these back in 2012. And last week I was interviewed by my friend and colleague Laurie Harrison as part of our upcoming TESS conference (next week! Register here). We chatted about the work we used to do together (I worked for Laurie at the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre back in the early 2000s). This included creating short, online courses for teachers working to integrate people with special needs in the classroom as part of the Special Needs Opportunity Windows (SNOW). We didn’t call these micro-credentials at the time, but that’s what they were. 

The difference now is that we are working as a system (or set of systems) to more rigorously stand up micro-credentials as viable pathways to learning, be this for formal or informal learning, as well as for reskilling and retraining. This latter point is very key to helping our society in the pandemic rebuild and recovery. There have been many people laid off, furloughed or otherwise under- or unemployed, including due to changes being wrought because of automation. Micro-credentials offer a viable and valid model for ensuring that learners can access vital learning to support career progression and transition. Scaffolding learning in this way helps us ensure our recovery and rebuild is as inclusive as can be.

There is much work to be done on micro-credentials, and eCampusOntario is here to help. I am confident that we can work together to ensure access to education as part of our role in supporting the postsecondary system. As our SXD Lab puts it: our goal is to promote and enable purposeful learning for a meaningful life through the ongoing development of prepared citizens to participate meaningfully in the economy. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

From Digital First to Digital by Design: Education for the Post-Pandemic World

I’m truly excited to be joining eCampusOntario today. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome to this integral organization.

The eCampusOntario team has done an amazing job of managing the pandemic pivot, led by Interim Co-Executive Directors Lena Patterson and Jamee Robinson. Their message from 3 August 2020 outlines the critical role eCampusOntario plays in the Ontario post-secondary education system, from supporting the student experience and faculty innovation in pedagogy and the use of educational technology, through to broader strategic goals such as furthering the development of micro-credentials and sector collaboration. We really are all in this together.

As we go forward we need to be mindful of the current social context. This includes the imperative to join the fight against anti-Black racism and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated challenges for people experiencing marginalization in our society. We will seize this moment to rebuild and support an environment that prioritizes inclusion, representation and voice.

I take the helm of our organization at a time when what we do at eCampusOntario is more important than ever before. The team has done a superb job of helping the PSE sector pivot into digital first. This work will take on even more resonance as eCampusOntario leads efforts to enhance the learner experience across all campuses in Ontario.

And we should remember that while we are navigating a wholesale transformation of society, not least the post-secondary education environment, these changes are not necessarily all new. The internet has been with us for several decades. My own undergraduate learning experience in the mid-1990s included online video conferencing classes with learners from across northern British Columbia campus connection sites. This enabled learners to access courses and credentials without travelling far from their homes. These were formative experiences for me, confirming that we could take new technologies and ways of communicating and create meaningful learning and access opportunities.

Having worked in Ontario’s post-secondary education sector for the past 20 years--10 years in colleges and 10 years in universities--I am struck by the incredible opportunity before us. We can position Ontario PSE to collaborate to compete together, supporting pandemic recovery and resilience.

Following the pandemic pivot, our focus can now shift to Digital by Design. Where the pandemic forced us all to scramble to put everything online, we now have the opportunity to more mindfully and artfully design digital learning environments that support all learners. For the future of digital learning must be about options: options to facilitate learning in distributed, online environments, to scaffold face-to-face and in situ learning via mediated communities of practice, and to provide ways for learners to access microcredentials that ladder into certificates, diplomas and degrees in support of ongoing career progression.

Over the next three months, eCampusOntario will consult broadly with stakeholders as we create a new strategic plan to take us through the next 3-5 years. How can we support system transformation and stability through digital by design learning? How can we create meaningful education when face-to-face interaction is limited? How do we ensure all learners can access education and support for ongoing career and personal development?

I look forward to learning with and from our community in this process. We are interested in your thoughts, your innovations, your caveats and cautions, and the excellent research that will help guide the way. Stay tuned to hear more about ways you can get involved, including at our upcoming annual conference, being held 20-21 October 2020.

Image showing a person looking outward with a telescope, atop a cloud with an arrow pointing up, signifying strategic planning

Monday, August 31, 2020

On the Importance of Art and Design Research

For the past four years I have had the pleasure to serve and support OCAD University as we have nurtured and expanded our research capacity.

None of this would have been possible without the exceptional team I've been privileged to be part of these past four years. The team in the Research Office has been nothing short of exemplary. It has been a distinct pleasure to work with everyone in our support of research at the University. Our committed and dedicated staff have brought a professional client services lens in support of research excellence. The team is small – but mighty! I will miss working with them - our time together has been fun, but we have achieved many serious things, all while supporting each other to achieve the best we can.

Some highlights of our work: In the past four years our Tri-Agency research funding has increased, our per capita faculty research funding has increased, and the number of faculty engaging in research has increased. I've been pleased to support three new Canada Research Chairs take up their positions and help to lead Art and Design research to new heights here and beyond.

Our highly successful This Is Research communications campaign is now in its fifth iteration. The no-cost Inside Art and Design Continuing Studies course featured a video series featuring the work of our talented faculty. The This Is Research campaign has achieved significant visibility for our research-active faculty across the campus and beyond. The posters, postcards and electronic posters displayed throughout the campus have fostered faculty and student awareness of the important research and research-creation activities undertaken by the OCADU professoriate. They have also been important instruments in our external relations advocacy for amplifying the visibility of OCADU research activities to important government and community stakeholders.

I am proud of the work we have supported, including the Research, Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion (REDDI) project. This project continues OCADU’s leadership to ensure that research at the University, and Canada Research Chair appointees, are afforded a supportive and inclusive research environment. COVID-19 has disrupted our work, but has brought to the fore the importance of supporting those who are further marginalized by the pandemic. The current social context emphasizes the need to continue the fight against anti-Black and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do.

I look forward to continuing to hear about the great work that happens at OCADU. Art and Design are so important to the wider research culture, and I hope that the momentum we have created continues to inspire and challenge.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Research, Remote or Otherwise (plus 3 geese)

Some really good announcements on the research front this week from the federal government, including ample new support for COVID-19 medical research and vaccine development in addition to Support for students and new grads affected by COVID-19 and support from the granting councils for research assistants to extend research scholarships, grants and fellowships via various programs for several months.

There is also an additional $250M in funding for firms to access via the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). The Logic's overview (paywall alert) also details changes to the SR&ED (mainly halting audits) that Minister Bains has outlined in the COIVD response package to supporting firms in Canada. One thing that should be done is to get the SR&ED program in line with its original terms and conditions and support more experimental development activities - the ED part of the SR&ED that has historically been ignored by those administering the program. This singular failure of the way in which SR&ED is administered needs an urgent fix now as we look to support firms to pivot and reframe their businesses in a COVID context. 

This new funding will go a long way to ensuring that we can continue supporting research as much as is practicable while some facilities are closed, and to pivoting into remote research where this is feasible. There are also new avenues of research opening up, for example in looking at ways in which we are collectively navigating the changes and challenges before us, from remote learning to remote systems and service delivery, through to how culture and cultural production is being adapted to mental health and well being. 

The opportunity afforded here is to enable Canadian researchers to help not only lead the world in navigating the immediate public health crisis, but also in adaptation of the economy. And speaking of local adaptation, below is a particularly Canadian adaptation to the 2 meter physical distancing rule - stay three geese apart!

COVID-19 sign from Toronto's Beaches that says Do Your Part. Stay Apart. The length of 3 geese.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Instructional Design for Extensible Online Learning

"In those tumultuous and kinetic times, the time of actualised desire, I myself had only one desire. And that was, for everything to stop.”

Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

Angela Carter’s fin de si├Ęcle science fiction novel presages an approximation of where we now find ourselves. The COVID-19 crisis has led to physical distancing and isolation from social context, with a concomitant social media “exercise in status display” taking hold in some quarters.

For postsecondary education we are told that “Universities, colleges face potential budget crunch as they assess impact of COVID-19 on international student enrolment.” This is an important reminder to the fragility of the economic basis in which we operate, namely the reliance on international student recruitment to fund the enterprise.

There is some hope: “time spent in an online course would count toward the time in Canada required to earn a work permit.” This is an important development that will aid our modelling of how we emerge from the current constraints, and into the mesocosm--an experimental enclosure--that will mediate and mitigate physical distancing in the time it takes to create a COVID-19 vaccine.

Scenario modelling could use a 50% probability basis for unpacking how we will return to in situ work. That is: we have a 50% chance of returning to face-to-face learning in September. And within this, that we will have to accommodate 50% less students on campus. This latter could be because of declining enrolments or physical distancing rules.

Basically this means we don’t know, but this should not stop us from modelling out the differing types of scenarios. We should do this while standing up the learning supports to enact a more flexible, distributed learning. Because either way, more remote learning is in our collective future.

Government and health leaders are advising that the current physical distancing practices will last months. This uncertainty, coupled with the COVID-19 experience of other jurisdictions, suggests that universities and colleges need to prepare not just for the long-term impact of the current physical distancing practices, but also for shorter-term approaches to address the continued need for physical distancing and isolation. Responsible, responsive curricula development necessitates significant changes to and adaptations of curriculum delivery, such as this is feasible within our programs, and which ensures that we collectively continue to provide positive teaching and learning experiences. This can be done while supporting and protecting faculty autonomy and prioritizing effective pedagogy.

Flexible learning is an approach that blends online (synchronous; asynchronous) teaching and learning with face to face (F2F) or in situ learning. While F2F learning will not be feasible in the short to medium term, we can start to anticipate a gradual return to this as it is imperative to reifying skill and competency development.

Alex Usher offers a good take on a post-pandemic collective effort in which the sector has an opportunity to collaborate on wider online learning development. This is smart--and optimistic--thinking. More and effective cooperation will help us build a system in Canada that can ensure students are provided with the appropriate scaffolding for learning now coupled with the ongoing iteration and development of a more robust realm of learning across sectors and levels. (As an aside, the National Research Council once had a whole research unit dedicated to e-learning, including the development of technologies, metadata standards; it was disbanded in 2006 or so).

Think of this as a way to offer a seamless student experience and a single point of entry into learning capable of bridging initial engagement to learning to employment to community building through alumni. Effective online learning as a core component of the larger pedagogical support structure will help us teach the skills and competencies that our learners will put into practice. This is the essence of “extensible online learning, where the goals of skills transference are made explicit in relation to online learning, and these skills are in fact transferred into practice” (Luke et al 2009).

There are various components to consider in the migration or transition into flexible learning:

1. Determining courses and course components that can be accommodated online
This will highlight curricula strengths, and it provides an opportunity to disaggregate programs and courses into microcredentials that can be stacked in potentially creative ways to achieve learning outcomes. This disaggregation will be important for our 50-50 scenario modelling.

2. Sequencing / Flexibility to continue delivering small–group f2f learning 
A modular, flexible learning approach will not only support new modes of teaching and learning but also allow us to continue to deliver core curricula. Online components of courses can be staged or sequenced to work in conjunction with in situ learning. This extensible online learning will help us achieve learning outcomes in a staged way, and also help us stage in situ learning with less people in one place at one time as need be.

3. Matching just-in-time remedial detours to support in situ learning
Having online content readily available and accessible and shareable via a robust learning object repository will enable learners to access content when and as needed to support in situ learning.

4. Exploring integration with other curricular models and systems provincially, nationally and even internationally 
By supporting an expanded set of learning approaches and curricular options for students, there is significant opportunity to explore integration of other systems, learning objects, courses, media etc, as per Usher’s point about collaborating to compete togethereCampus Ontario's Extend is one good example of this.

5. Ensuring iterative, agile development and evaluation
Develop and deploy evaluation instruments within courses that conduct formative and summative assessment on learning outcomes, in addition to faculty and student satisfaction, for continuous quality improvement. Online learning has been around for three decades at least. This is an unprecedented opportunity to not only leverage the research and insights gained through this time, but also to conduct ongoing research and evaluation of how best to stand up flexible learning.

Doug Saunders, writing in the Globe and Mail, reminds us of another science fiction writer, William Gibson, and the premise of “The Jackpot” that underwrites Gibson’s stories: “It’s not a big bang, but rather a lethal spiral of preventable disasters abetted by incompetent leadership and economic contraction.” “But there is hope” Saunders reminds us, in that “During this crisis, and in its long recovery, it would be a terrible waste if we did not spend in ways that also make the world a cleaner and more resilient place. If we have these higher goals in mind, though, we can turn a fatal spiral into a hopeful one.”

Friday, March 27, 2020

From anytime, anywhere, to all the time, everywhere

Many years ago (2001 in fact) I read a very insightful piece by Phil Agre: Welcome to the Always-On World. This piece has been on my mind of late as the world transitions into remote work. I am reminded of something a student once said - or rather posted in an online course I was teaching back in 2003 or so (in which I was referencing the above article). We were discussing the pros and cons about online learning, and talking about the phrase being bandied about then of the Internet enabling learning anytime, anywhere. This student said online learning is more like all the time, everywhere. 

While we all realize that working from home brings its own challenges - not to mention that it has amplified issues of accessibility, access and broader digital literacy - we are all realizing that it is important to have some boundaries, mostly time-based, but habitual as well. And in many respects learning all the time everywhere is what we do anyway. It is an apt representation of what we now call experiential learning. What the Internet adds is the connection to wider communities - communities of learning, communities of interest, and communities of practice. We are all engaging in some form of "legitimate peripheral participation" in which learning happens with our peers.

For those of us in post-secondary education making a wholesale transition into more online learning, as much to enable students to salvage current semesters as to scaffold the current reality into the new normal. In making this transition we have to recognize that not everything can be taught online, but we can - and we should - leverage the wider capabilities that online learning affords in order to support skills development and digital literacy more broadly.

This means we need to engage the cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning modalities, to help learners move from head, to heart to hand - to link thinking, with doing, and to do so with care.

I've been working on updating a model of flexible learning developed via research on this topic over the past couple of decades.

Diagram showing a circular model of flexible learning, connecting the conspicuous contribution of the academic enterprise with community learning and in situ making.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The skills that are in high demand are those most difficult to teach online

Global pandemic planning has led to emphasis on online learning to ensure that students can continue to learn and finish the current term. But maker skills, which are now more than ever in demand, are the most difficult to teach online. This conundrum underlies the transition to a new, social-distancing normal.

The current crisis has amplified a downside of globalization: the interconnectivity of market production has for the past several decades led to the hollowing out of manufacturing capability. Since the early years of the last decade there have been calls for and moves toward a reshoring of manufacturing--largely a result of a lack of jobs and the social risks of insufficient employment for large swathes of the population. This in turn has led to a commensurate focus on the skills and competencies associated with being able to build and make things. And herein lies the main irony of where we are in education: the skills that are in high demand are those most difficult to teach online.

As the global community starts to grasp the magnitude of the challenges we are collectively facing those of us in universities and colleges are starting to plan for unknown event horizons, including when to restart in-person instruction. While it is not feasible to think that whole societies can remain in socially distant quasi-isolation indefinitely, we are witnessing a wholesale move towards more online, distributed, or flexible teaching and learning. This means thinking through how we can translate educational outcomes adapted for distributed teaching and learning. It also means figuring how we might prioritize programming to account for and accommodate those whose programs have been disrupted. We'll need to work out the best means to stage online back into in-person engagements, and to adapt in situ learning to the inevitable new guidelines or rules around social distancing.

Throughout this it occurs to me that those same goals of globalization--of distributing the means of production to lower cost regions--has led to precisely some of the problems we face in online education. Everything from engineering to design to health care will have to adapt in the short term, which may lead to positive changes over the long term. Now is the time to focus on how effective pedagogy can drive the use of any technology, and to heed the decades of research into teaching and learning, particularly as mediated through technologies like the Internet.