I’ve never really actively “looked for work”. In my late teens, my brother and I started a series of restaurants (we owned and operated seven in total). The hospitality field is very hard, however, on families and relationships as it consumes an enormous amount of time. Eventually, for a variety of reasons, I left the industry and started working in training and development and returned to University of Manitoba as a student.
A few years later, a colleague that I had worked with in the past informed me of an opportunity at Red River College. Somehow, I transitioned to this opportunity at the right time – the department I taught in at RRC was the first in Canada to go exclusively laptop (at least, that’s what I heard. I have never really bothered to validate that claim). Coming into this technical learning environment was a great experience. This was before the days of WebCT and broader use of learning management systems. I experimented with various blended and online courses (I remember, in early 2000, running a course in Groove – a P2P system since purchased by Microsoft – because I didn’t like the limited functionality of the web-based instructional systems we had access to at that time) and different types of media, video, and simulations.
In early 2000, I also started blogging and eventually set up this site. I also continued my education during this stage, wrapping up my masters, a certificate in adult education, and a series of distance education courses through different colleagues on database management, ancient Greek, facilitating online, and such.
I then made the jump to University of Manitoba, started my phd (now finished), and continued developing courses and programs, including the certificate in emerging technologies for learning.
By mid-2007, I was quite active in conference keynoting and significantly increased my international travel. In each of the last five years, I’ve traveled at least 100,000 miles (160k last year – never again) and have been very blessed to form a global network of contacts – former students, colleagues, and policy/gov’t folks.
It has been outstanding. The learning has been wonderful.
What I haven’t done as much of, however, is publish in traditional journals and texts. I haven’t really seen the need, to be honest. I still don’t.
In October 2011, a colleague sent me a link to this Canada Research Chair position at Royal Roads University. As with other opportunities, this wasn’t something I was actively looking for or soliciting. However, the focus of this research chair on learning innovation and analytics captured my interest and I decided to apply (obviously informing my colleagues at Athabasca University of my intent. I love my role at Athabasca U, but indications of provincial education funding challenges create some unpleasant uncertainty. My current role is slated to expire in 2013).
Over the last few months I engaged in various Skype interviews with HR and was finally short-listed as one of 3 visitors to Royal Roads for an on-campus presentation, meeting with faculty, and such. That meeting happened last week.
I just received a call that the position had been offered to another candidate. Congrats to that individual…given how small this field is, I likely know (or at least know of) her or him.
I’m not entirely disappointed. But, in another way I am. Let’s face it, the feeling of rejection is unpleasant. (I wish emotions would be more binary!)
I’m disappointed because my particular matrix of experiences and expertise did not mesh well with the criteria of a research chair in innovative learning. I was, in the language of an interviewing panel (who were excellent hosts and extremely courteous) not “SSHRC-able” because my profile doesn’t include sufficient traditional peer-review journal publications. I have over the years resisted and largely ignored recommendations and pleas from colleagues to increase my publication activity. I find conference presentations, blogging, open courses, and interactions online much more satisfying.
Sadly, being slow of learning, I don’t think I’ll change based on this experience .
As with any life marker, this is an opportunity to pause, reflect, and consider next steps. I have over the past few years been increasingly drawn to returning to the entrepreneurial vein. I enjoy being able to influence things and to work around structures that I see as impediments. I’m less capable at colouring within the lines. I enjoy being able to turn the page when needed and influence the rules and conditions that I function within.
The desire to play in the startup space is strong. Of course that is not at odds with higher education – I know of many colleagues who navigate both spaces. But, that’s just me thinking out loud.
I have appended a slightly revised research proposal below (I made a few changes where anonymity might be warranted). In a final interview with the selection committee, I stated that this is an area of research and exploration that I will pursue regardless of whether it is officially sanctioned by a research chair position. Whether as a startup, in my current role, or something else entirely, the intersection of social media, analytics, new pedagogical models, and networked learning are a lucrative and provocative area of exploration.
My Royal Roads Proposal:
Integrating social and technical systems for learning and knowledge innovation
Knowledge institutions have traditionally mirrored the structure and characteristics of information in a particular era (McNeely & Wolverton, 2008). In order to understand the evolution of universities, and specifically, learning, what is being done with information must first be explored. The influence of the internet has been dramatic in shaping many sectors of society.
Early generations of innovative online learning consisted of learning management systems such as Moodle and Blackboard. Several prominent researchers and organizations are now exploring next-generation online and hybrid learning models based social networked technologies: Goodyear (2011); SocialLearn (The Open University) 2011; and OpenClass (Pearson, n.d.). MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative in 2002 increased attention to open and free sharing of educational course materials (see MIT, 2011). During a similar time frame, rapid development of mobile technologies (Murphy & Meeker, 2011), the semantic web (Berners-Lee, Hendler, & Lassila, 2001), and new tools for data collection and analysis due to information abundance (Mayer, 2009) have increased the presence of digital technologies in classrooms and online learning. Additionally, the proliferation of data in higher education (i.e., data trails of learner activity as well as the development of personalized and adaptive learning models) has resulted in increased emphasis on data use in the learning process . Taken together, these trends provide a new reality for educators.
This new reality presents challenges for the existing higher education system (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009). In particular, how do people learn and solve complex problems in social, global networks in climates of information abundance? What role does the university play in preparing learners to participate in global information economies? These challenges present an opportunity for researchers and educational institutions to experiment with innovative learning models aligned with the information and interaction infrastructure of today’s learners and working professionals.
Research Areas and Questions
Specific research questions to be addressed by the proposed Innovation in Learning and Technology CRC include:
1. What impact do emerging technologies, such as mobile learning and social networks, have on the existing course model in higher education?
2. How do learners self-organize, through social and technological means, in complex and information abundant environments?
3. Which learning analytics and data mining models and algorithms assist learners in building self-awareness in ensuring learner success?
4. How can semantic technologies be utilized to create “intelligent curriculum” and provide personal and adaptive learning experiences?
5. How can social technologies bridge barriers between face-to-face and online learning and formal and informal learning?
These emerging trends require a research program in determining the impact on teaching, learning, and education. Such a research program should recognize the importance of both the technical and the social aspects of learning. On the one hand, data and analytics promise a “4th paradigm” of scientific discovery and research driven by data and analytics (Hey, Tansley, & Tolle, 2009). On the other hand, learning sciences (Sawyer, 2005) ensure that learning related innovations are grounded in research on the actual learning experiences of individuals. Learning analytics and learning sciences can be combined to provide educators and researchers with insight into the impact of learning innovations.
Research into complex subject areas, such as learning sciences and analytics, requires a different approach to research from what has been required in the past. Instead of a lone researcher running a lab, researchers today have the opportunity to connect with global research networks and to plan for in-context research in corporate learning settings.
The research proposed will have a direct impact on teaching an learning at Royal Roads University as well as through consultations and research partnerships with corporations.
- Establish an Institute for Innovation in Learning, Analytics, and Technology (ILAT), consisting of global advisory board and research partners. The research institute will bring together researchers within Royal Roads University and provide opportunities for graduate student research as well as visiting research fellowships.
- Develop a platform for innovative teaching and learning through social networked technologies. This platform will then become the primary innovation environment for experimenting with and evaluating new models of teaching, learning, and content delivery. The platform will be based on the open source ELGG tool and will include customization to reflect personalized learning content as well as advanced analytics on learner behaviour.
- Develop an analytics platform to evaluate and optimize learner experience with course content and resources at Royal Roads University. Analytics, based on successful results from business intelligence tools and techniques, have gained attention in higher education over the past several years. In response, a systems view of analytics, based on open platform with defined APIs for extension and use by researchers, is required.
Partnership and Collaboration
Multiple research partners are available for collaboration opportunities. Over the past decade, I have developed a global network of research and research institute connections. The research institute, as presented above, would target collaboration opportunities with other researchers and research institutes in Europe, UK, USA, Australia, Africa, and China. A global, digital, research institute can help to promote the work of RRU and increase opportunities for scholar exchange and for attracting new students.
Developing the research funding is anticipated from three sources:
1. Start-up infrastructure funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation
2. Provincial and national granting (SSHRC) agencies
3. Corporate partnerships with organizations involved in learning analytics
4. Foundation funding
Altbach, P., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. (2009). Trends in global higher education: Tracking an academic revolution. A report prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. Retrieved from here
Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., & Lassila, O. (2001, May 17). The semantic web [Preview]. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-semantic-web
Goodyear, P. (2010). Learning, technology and design: Architectures for productive networked learning. Retrieved from http://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/coco/research/projects/design/
Hey, T., Tansley, S., & Tolle, K. (2009). The fourth paradigm: Data-intensive scientific discovery. Available from http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/collaboration/fourthparadigm/
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2011). Open CourseWare. Available from http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Mayer, M. (2009, November 25). Innovation at Google: The physics of data [PARC forum] (3:59 mark). Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/PARCInc/innovation-at-google-the-physics-of-data
McNeely, I. F., & Wolverton, L. (2008). Reinventing knowledge: From Alexandria to the internet. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co
Murphy, M., & Meeker, M. (2011, February). Top mobile internet trends. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/kleinerperkins/kpcb-top-10-mobile-trends-feb-2011
Pearson. (n.d.). OpenClass. Retrieved from http://www.pearsonlearningsolutions.com/openclass/
Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2005). Cambridge handbook of learning sciences. Available from http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780511217685
The Open University. (2011). SocialLearn. Retrieved from http://sociallearn.open.ac.uk/welcome/index.html