Celebrating a culture of learning and sharing

Last week, a colleague shared an e-book published by the University of Minnesota.  Titled Cultivating Change in the Academy:  50+ stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota, the text was designed to “showcase a sampling of the academic technology projects” underway across the campus.    Through the use of short narratives, the text offers examples which highlight how the UM faculty and administration are using technology to cultivate change across four different themes: Changing Pedagogies, Creating Solutions, Providing Direction, and Extending Reach.  The text include chapters such as Use of Screen Capture Technology to Record Student Presentations Promotes Active Learning in a Large Classroom, Writing, Speaking, and Digital Technologies: Multimodality in the Classroom, and Web-based Problem-solving Coaches for Physics Students.

While the text itself provides some great ideas that instructors at other institutions can attempt, what I like most about the book is what it represents.  The book aggregates stories from different contributors to UM’s annual Academic Technology Showcase.  Rather than act as a commendation for contributors’ innovative works, the text clearly communicates that the narratives are offered to start a discourse around learning.  As the introduction to the book states,

When my beets grow better than yours, I give you some seed. I’m glad to share it with you. Our hope is that as you read these chapters, you’ll think, ‘I could do that!’ And you know that when you contact a contributor here, the person is ready to share, ready to help, ready to envision the future together, ready to cultivate change.

The culture of sharing is apparent across the book.  Each chapter is written in a conversational style with contributors outlining challenges they faced during the implementation of their innovation and the lessons they learned from their work.  While the book was developed to initiate change and to “create a new academy” that is focused on student success, the book doesn’t just focus on student learning.  It celebrates the learning and professional development of faculty and administrators.  The editors of the book hope that it fosters “a renaissance in learning” at the institution and that it “helps to enable faculty to develop the skills, adaptability, and
resilience they need, not simply to persist through the challenges facing the University of Minnesota, but to be catalysts for creating the future of the academy.”

Big changes are on the horizon in higher education.  In a recent study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, over 1,000 education experts and stakeholders (technology researchers, university directors, etc.) relayed their predictions about the future of higher education.  60% of the respondents felt that by 2020, higher education would be “quite different from the way it is today.” Universities will adopt more teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage resources and learning activities will move to “individualized, just-in-time learning approaches.” There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings.  If the experts’ predictions hold true, the collegiate classroom of tomorrow will be a very different place from the ones on campus today.

But how do current faculty members develop the pedagogical knowledge base and technology skill set to be successful educators in the collegiate classrooms of tomorrow?  Following the University of Minnesota’s lead and fostering a culture of sharing and learning is a good first step.


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