COLTT conference sets attendance record as educators network, gain inspiration

Technology in teaching demonstrated, debated at CU-Boulder
COLTT Conference 2013
Helen Macfarlane and J. John Cohen detail how they are transforming Mini Med School information into a MOOC. See more in the gallery below. (Photos: Cynthia Pasquale/University of Colorado)

Helen Macfarlane and J. John Cohen detail how they are transforming Mini Med School information into a MOOC. See more in the gallery below. (Photos: Cynthia Pasquale/University of Colorado)

Technology – its wonders and warts – was debated, dissected, and demonstrated at the 16th Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT) Conference at the Wolf Law Building on the University of Colorado Boulder campus.

While the Aug. 7-8 conference provided a learning opportunity for hundreds of educators, staff and students from CU and elsewhere in the state, it also served as a springboard for networking as well as inspiration. Presenters offered tips on using technology in the learning process, but also encouraged attendees to work together to influence and improve the ever-changing technological dynamics.

CU Regent Stephen Ludwig, in his keynote address, told attendees that higher ed needs to change but that transformation must occur through collaboration. “Your understanding of how people learn and how we can make education available through new channels is absolutely critical because we know that more people than ever, including growing numbers of first-generation college students and working adults, will need to get a college degree or certificate.

“We know that the idea that where you live equals your educational destiny is bankrupt. We know that geography matters: Sometimes people can’t come to us; we need to go to them. We also know … we have to stop thinking that getting an education beyond our walls is secondary to our lovely buildings and classrooms. We need your help to get all this figured out. You need to keep us honest about what is possible and where we need to invest to make sure we can meet our needs for today and tomorrow.”

A record number of participants at the conference chose from more than 70 sessions that addressed everything from smart devices in classrooms to virtual labs and how students learn. A sampling of the presentations:

Not Into Twitter? Can We Change Your Mind? – Mark Gammon, Office of Information Technology at CU-Boulder, offered strategies for using the social media platform. Once the domain of friendly patter and event announcements, today’s Twitter is more often used to keep abreast of trends and news, especially in the education world. Gammon’s tip: Choose those you follow on Twitter wisely for maximum value and to avoid the “noise” of unwanted information.

“Finding and filtrating is important in terms of getting a good experience out of Twitter,” Gammon says. “Have an intention. What are you trying to get? Try to find resonance. If you can find people and content that you resonate with, I think Twitter can be really powerful,” otherwise there is too much content out there that is of no interest.

How Faculty Can Affect Student Texting, Distraction, Grades and Attitudes – Douglas Duncan, a professor at CU-Boulder and author of the first book about teaching with wireless student response systems or “clickers,” told session participants that while students believe they can multitask, studies show that the grades of students who “text” in class are lower than those who ignore their cell phones.

“Students are poor judges of their own abilities and their own learning,” he said. Faculty members must set policies concerning what types of technology will be allowed in classrooms and ensure students know the rules. At the same time, students who spend time discussing and interacting in class are learning more because they must fully concentrate on educational topics and aren’t distracted by electronic devices.

Online Textbooks: Translating or Transforming Media? – Mark Werner and Caroline Sinkinson, colleagues at CU-Boulder, conducted studies of a national pilot project that measured the efficacy of e-texts. (To view the report, click here.) At CU, more than 700 students in eight courses last year were given free access to electronic textbooks, then were surveyed about use.

While most students found the tool and the platform easy to use, one of their big concerns was that the book could only be accessed during the semester and was not available for later reference. The survey found that most faculty members did not model features of the e-text for the students, and that led to less satisfaction by participants. The study found that faculty involved in the project believed that e-text learning is inevitable, and said their reservations concerning access and advanced features should be addressed before a mass rollout of the technology.

How to MOOC a Mini Med School – J. John Cohen and Helen Macfarlane, colleagues at CU’s School of Medicine, are converting the current live Mini Med School into an eight-week MOOC (massive open online course). Through video, animation and screen capture, the two are producing 90-minute modules that help educate the general populace about medicine and encourage them to take charge of their health.

The pair described how, with readily available computer programs, they will produce educational segments, each lasting about six minutes – about the length of the average adult’s attention span – to expand the reach of the popular live program.

Winning the Higher Ed Game: Technology Edition – David Thomas, director of academic technology at CU Denver, introduced session participants to a game that enabled them to consider the variables and tradeoffs of investing in technology. The game illustrated the need for higher education institutions – already facing financial challenges -- to predict which technological tools will pay off and which aren’t worth the price.

A Dialogue on Student Learning, Teaching, Technology and Everything – Noah Finkelstein, a CU-Boulder professor whose field of focus is Physics Education Research, and Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president of digital education and engagement for the CU system, challenged participants to determine whether technological advances will lead to an education “technotopia” or a “courserapocolypse.” The groups then argued their cases.

While technology offers nearly instant information as well as a massive reach, participants said some technology still favors the privileged wealthy and lacks support, especially when it comes to instruction on how to fully use the tools.

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