Kentucky Innovations Conference: A Few Thoughts

The Kentucky Innovations Conference is an annual event that allows participants “the opportunity to discuss the scholarship of teaching and learning, the latest technologies, best practices and to share innovative instructional techniques” (from the conference website). I attended the conference this past Thursday and Friday, and the following summarizes my thoughts and opinions on the workshops and venue.

Over the two-day conference, participants could attend eight different breakout sessions and within each session attend one of several presentations. The presentations focused on the topic areas of pedagogy, libraries, instructional technology, e-learning, campus initiatives, and information technology. Being an instructional designer, my interests lie more in the instructional technology and e-learning realms, so I attended primarily presentations in those areas.

I attended presentations on tips for starting a blog, “advice from the trenches” in teaching online, innovative methods in delivering content online, implementing mobile technology in a university, team-based learning using a 3D environment, free tools for teaching online, teaching a studio-based course online, and a “birds of a feather” discussion specifically for instructional designers.

What were some of my takeaways from the conference?

  • With as many as thirteen presentations per session, I found the number and variety of presentations great but, at the same time, almost overwhelming. In a few instances, as many as four presentations within the same timeframe caught my eye, and I was left having to make tough decisions on which presentation would be most valuable.
  • One of my colleagues and I recently suggested the idea of a blog to our instructional design department to provide instructors with best practices, tips, tools, and other information. The presentation on blogs helped me to better understand the need for good organization, preparation, and consideration of elements we might not have thought about otherwise. I don’t believe our proposed blog needs to be quite as complicated in creation as that presented, but I was pleased to hear some tips and advice from someone who has recently organized such a project.
  • I am disappointed in the level of “presence” that some online instructors display in their courses, but I was thrilled to hear examples from one instructor on how he demonstrates presence throughout a course term. He also made clear the need to plan and prepare the course ahead of the term so that the course term may then be spent in “maintenance” mode. A large number of instructors seem to believe that creating an online course is a simple process in which they can add each week’s content as the term progresses, with little preparation in advance; those instructors are sadly mistaken when they then try to just keep their heads above water throughout the term. What was most impressive was that the instructor was not simply presenting best practices: he had obviously taken everything to heart and implemented best practices into his courses.
  • The term MOOC came up a few times throughout the conference, and I sensed neutral or negative attitudes about the idea. I would have to ask of all those who did mention MOOCs in their talks: have you personally enrolled in and tried out a MOOC—or, preferably, multiple MOOCs? I say this because, after a couple of MOOCs in which I enrolled but never had the ambition to complete, I have just completed a MOOC that was possibly the best course I have ever taken—free or paid. (See my post on the Coursera “The Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” course for more information.) This experience made me realize that MOOCs can be just like any courses in education—on ground or online, paid or free: they can be wonderful, or they can be a complete waste of time. Advice: if you mention such a topic as a MOOC, have some experience with the topic.
  • As I expected, Northern Kentucky University came across as likely the most sophisticated university in the state in terms of use of mobile technology. NKU’s Center for Innovation and Technology in Education (CITE), for whom I worked last year, helps instructors use mobile devices in their classrooms, assists instructors in discovering best apps for their needs, offers workshops to demonstrate and showcase apps and how to use them, and fully supports the use of mobile devices on campus. I clearly appreciate this, though my passions lie much more in the realm of making online learning more effective as opposed to using mobile devices in learning.
  • I had never seen Second Life or 3D virtual environments used so effectively and creatively in higher education as I did at one presentation at this conference. The instructor uses these tools to teach an anatomy course for students preparing to attend medical school, dental school, etc. Although I believe that such tools are often not worth the investment of time and effort, given the tremendous planning, design, and development—not to mention the tutorials needed for students in advance of its implementation—the instructor made clear that this was a worthwhile use of effort. I respect all the work she and her colleagues obviously had invested in making this project successful.
  • I discovered that even though I feel quite informed on many free online tools for developing instruction, I have a lot to learn. I was so pleased to hear one tip in particular about a tool I often tout to others: did you know that as you are recording in Screencast-O-Matic, you can “correct” a flub by pausing and backing up in the timeline? This one tip made my presence in the presentation well worth it.
  • As was evidenced in this conference, presenters still need to learn that PowerPoint presentations (1) are not essential to a presentation, (2) are not what should drive a presentation, (3) should not regurgitate word for word what you are verbally stating, and (4) should not contain elements that the audience cannot see. I heard more than one presenter state, “You probably can’t see this, but …” or “This is probably too small to see, but …” Would you write a book so that the text is too small to read and then tell your readers, “Sorry; you likely won’t be able to read this, but trust me: it’s there”? I think not.
  • Last year the conference was held in The METS Center near the campus of NKU. The METS Center is a great place for a conference of this size (about 300 attendees), as everything is contained in the same building, the rooms are adequate in size and acoustics, and there is plenty of space for exhibits and food service. This year, the conference was held on the University of Kentucky campus, and the venue was not ideal at all. Registration, the keynote speeches, and the meals took place in the student center, but the sessions were held in a classroom building about a five-minute walk away. Although this isn’t a huge deal for those in good physical shape, those with physical impairments likely found the commute back and forth difficult, and the walk was a wet one on the rainy Thursday afternoon. I don’t know how the schools determine the venue each year, but I would highly suggest that a location where everything is in one building and easy to access be sought out each year.
  • I won’t say much about the two keynote speeches, though I have to say that I was able to stay interested for only a few minutes in each. Though the content included some good stuff, the first keynote didn’t seem to have much point, and the second was simply much longer than it needed to be. I was bored.

I’ll close by saying that one of the things I enjoyed most about this conference was connecting with fellow instructional designers and others I have met and worked with in Kentucky’s higher education system. I had the opportunity to say hello to many colleagues from NKU, greet people I have met in interviews or at other conferences, meet a few new faces, and even formally introduce myself to a professor with whom I had worked briefly in the past but never actually met in person. It was great to see them all!

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