EDUCAUSE’s Top 5 Teaching and Learning Challenges

EDUCAUSE has created a list of top 5 teaching and learning challenges for 2009. This list caught my eye because I think all of these issues have been dealt with rather intelligently at UMW, so I’m gonna annotate this list and suggest how Mary Washington is kicking ass on a point-by-point basis. With my overall thesis being if Woody would have gone right to UMW, none of this would have ever happened 😉

Creating learning environments that promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.

We have a little learning environment called UMW Blogs (powered by WordPress Multi-User) here at Mary Washington which powers an academic community of over 2,000 users and 1800+ blogs (the student population is roughly 4000+). It’s a space that puts the power of publishing, archiving, and showcasing work squarely in the hands of faculty and students. Moreover, it’s relationship to the web is symbiotic, it allows users to easily integrate resources from all over the web into the academic environment, while at the same time giving the administrator (which in this case is not an IT person but the faculty member or student) the option to protect what need be, and share what should be.

But the technology only frames such an environment, the active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation can only be a feature of the willingness on the part of both students and faculty to engage these tools and experiment with them, and this is where UMW has truly seen some unbelievable examples.

Developing 21st-century literacies among students and faculty (information, digital, and visual).

Jeff McClurken’s Digital History course positions students to critically consider and engage the implications involved in choosing a particular technology to accomplish their project’s goals. The groups all published their own research using a variety of tools and media that they both experimented with and learned more fully as they were tasked with being information architects of the scholarly resources the created for the community at large.

Reaching and engaging today’s learner.

Claudia Emerson’s Literary Journals course (which is three years in the running this Spring) will dovetail with her new role as Poet Laureate of Virginia. The class will not only create a series of literary journals from scratch, they will also record interviews with poets from around the state and publish them on the course website. A collaborative process that create a unique resource for all Virginians, and well beyond given it will be openly published on UMW Blogs (although the domain we just got may suggest otherwise: And despite the intense workload of this course, it remains one of the department’s most popular because it engages “today’s learner” by providing them the means to both analyze, collaborate, and create simultaneously.

But, don’t take my word for it, listen to the always cool Claudia Emerson speak about it in a recent promotional video I just discovered last week.

Download Claudia Emerson on the “Practices in Professional Publishing” course

Encouraging faculty adoption and innovation in teaching and learning with IT.

Professor Marie McAllister’s Eighteenth Century Audio site was a conception for podcasting. But given the possibilities available through UMW Blogs it became much more. The students both collected and aggregated audio of eighteenth-century poetry readings from around the web, as well as recorded their own interpretations and published them online in the public domain. Their work remains an frequently visited online resource, and has even inspired a group at LibriVox to create an anthology of 18th Century poetry, which is currently well under way.

Advancing innovation in teaching and learning (with technology) in an era of budget cuts.

What does all this innovation cost? Well, the price tag for a dynamic publishing platform and an array of powerful web-based tools is next to nothing. The cost resides in the investment in people. Technology represents a key development in this moment of education, let there be no question about that, but it does not by extension lead to good teaching and learning. The faculty listed above are consummate professionals and would do projects like this where ever they taught. The difference at UMW is, however, that they teach at a school that has invested in a staff of instructional technologists who are encouraged to innovate and proselytize these technologies to the community. All of these projects, and many more, were born from real relationships and conversations between people premised as much on ideas, bad jokes, and re-conceptualizations, as they were on new technologies and possibilities. And while these projects could have happened here in isolation, they didn’t. And they didn’t because they worked in collaboration with a group that both collects and promotes the work happening all over campus, a veritable propaganda machine that features what’s happening in a wide variety of classes in an attempt to make the great stuff happening all over campus both more visible and more imposing 🙂 The tools we promote also allow us to promote good teaching and learning across the disciplines, and frame a community of innovation. Technology is key to this in many ways, but it is in the thinking it together—not the further isolation of another un-inspired LMS ruled over by a zombie-like IT schlep—that makes UMW so god damned badass.

So, in short, if schools are serious about taking on the challenges outlined above over the next year, they should invest in (which means pay, damn it!) people who are creative, innovative, and ready to engage professors around ideas as well as technologies, for it is through the idea imagined, then quickly and effectively executed, that these challenges are met. And at this moment in the emergence of technology in higher ed, the difference between a good instructional technology staff and a bad one, is, well, the difference between a UMW Blogs, or not.

So, can you tell it’s game time? The semester has officially started (it’s currently  2:50 am, on January 15th) and I’m ready to bring BlackBoard to its knees for yet another semester.  And how do we do that, pray tell? Well, by engaging the rich imaginations all around us, and then amplifying them with new fangled publishing tools that are so cheap and so good.

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5 Responses to EDUCAUSE’s Top 5 Teaching and Learning Challenges

  1. Gardner says:

    It’s all about the augmentation, baby.

    Great post. Proud to know ya. Do keep an eye on the newest Little Engine in town, It’s a shiny new WPMu install that’ll get the show on the road at Baylor University. Listen for us as we come up that hill after you: “I know I can, I know I can.”

    After all, it takes a lot to laugh, and it takes a train to cry. 🙂


    • Reverend says:


      You installed your own WPMu on a Bluehost account and are gonna circumvent central IT and deliver courses in an open environemnt using all sorts of new-fangled tools? I guess some would call it boot strapping, but I like to call in EDUPUNK!

      You know I’ll be watching closely, I might even pull all the feeds in for old times sake 🙂

      I’m thinking of a new video series called 72 hours, it’s about edtech terrorism, and the we’re the only chance the instructional technology world has 🙂

  2. Andy Rush says:

    Gee, off to kind of a tepid start to the semester huh? Seriously, I’m ready too baby! Oh and it’s Jan. 12, but you always were ahead of your time 😉

  3. Leslie M-B says:

    Excellent examples, Jim. Congrats!

    We’re inching toward some of these solutions at UC Davis, but we have a big challenge/opportunity to address before we really plunge into more of these technologies: accessibility. Yes, it’s one thing to make web sites accessible to federal standards. But it’s another thing entirely to make sure every podcast has a transcript and every video offers closed captioning and every clicker is accessible to anyone with any kind of disability. So that’s fun. (Guess who’s on the campus’s new Electronic Accessibility Steering Committee.)

    Of course, at the UCD Teaching Resources Center we’re a “Damn the torpedoes!” bunch, so we went ahead and used WordPress as our site’s CMS, even though we were told to use HTML and the campus’s dull, dull, dull template because it was “accessible.” However, when one of the tech guys came over to investigate, he found that our WP site was actually more accessible according to his tests than the campus’s template or the new CMS they keep talking about debuting.

  4. Reverend says:


    Accessibility, therein lies the rub to much of this, and a while back I was convinced I was going to do everything I could to live by the best formats/standards possible, that faded as the labor involved presented itself. I could imagine the WP platform is a bit better than the avergae LMS, yet I think most of what is out there is pretty bad when looked at closely–which raises a much bigger question—why are we not developing towards this? Part of the answer lies in the old issues with learning objects, you have to enter a certain amount of data manually as you add links, images, videos, audio, etc ., and when you distribute authoring, that extremly hard to manage or guarantee.

    I always wondered whether technologies like RSS, tagging, or some other way to loose or folksonomic meta data would actually help with accessibility, in may just muddy the waters further, but perhaps not if the person with a disability was part of the context of a course more specifically. And that might be where we need to think about this, how might our standards change, or at least be modified, id we understand the web-based resources we create as part of a course that is already contextualized and necessary part of a face-to-face experience? Might it change the online experience, I guess this depends on all sorts of factors, and suggests why accessibility is such a moving target, what are the range of concerns, how do we understand them within a specific context, etc. I don;t know, but the question do need to be asked and answered, despite how some may feel about how “sexy” such a topic is when you are proclaiming the innovation of your institution and all that nonsense 🙂

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