More than a week ago I had the pleasure of spending two days on the ground at the University of Northern Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville, something I alluded to in my last post about sharks. One of the things I will say off the bat, and I’ve mentioned this before, is how nice it is to do a presentation after you’ve had some time, albeit brief, to embed yourself in the community. I spent the entire day before my presentation getting to meet numerous groups on campus. Everyone from the crew at the Center for Instructional and Research Technolgies or CIRT (the closest thing to DTLT on campus, and there were many similarities), the folks at Information Technology Services (ITS), a number of very cool faculty over lunch, the tech folks in the library, as well as the Computer Science department. It was an intensive day wherein I got an impression of the community and the issues they’re working through.
Like most colleges and universities right now, UNF is working on a strategy for integrating online learning into the culture of their campus. And what I really loved about UNF, is they’re doing it right. They’ve invested in a number of people (the CIRT is a group of 16 full-time positions!) that are both supporting faculty and experimenting wildly. They have a really interesting approach, they have roughly eight folks working with the LMS, designing course experience, transitioning folks to online, etc. and the other eight supporting faculty with whatever they want to do. They are doing both, not either or.
What’s more, the two sides of the shop seem to work together, share their respective approaches, and undertand their work as a broader unit is to support teaching and learning for the university. Add to that a well-trained cadre of student aides that do most of the basic LMS support, and you a happy group of folks. For a campus of 18,000 students they really have an unbelievable wealth of support and experience. Between Erin Soles, Michael Boyle, David Wilson, and Deb Miller there’s forty years of localized experience and institutional knowledge alone, and I often think that fact is overlooked when it comes to staff.
The ability for a group like this to stay together and build and identity focused around people over time is crucial, and UNF has that in spades. I can’t say enough how solid a base of instructional technology they have there, and I really believe it’s going to bode well for them moving forward. On top of that, it doesn’t hurt that they have a great advocate and visionary for what’s coming in the Dean of the Graduate School Len Roberson. What I’m learning from trips like this is that great groups don’t necessarily happen due to resources alone, but as a result of a group of people that have put in their time, share a philosophy, have resources to invest in people, have an excellent track record of supporting faculty, and can work with someone in the adminstrative brass who can and will advocate for them. These very stars have all aligned at UNF.
Interestingly enough, Andy Rush pointed out that UNF is hiring a new Director of Academic Technology, a positon that liasions between CIRT and ITS and will have a crucial role in making sure the misions and visions of instuctional technology and information technology align more closely. It would be an exciting place to work, and I can speak from first hand experience that the people are first class.
As for the First Annual Innovation Symposium, I was more than honored to be selected as their first invited speaker for an event that features the innovative work with teaching and technology that’s happening around campus. It’s an event that will continue to showcase faculty work, which suggests another thing they’re doing right. For my part, I spoke to the fact that we’ve only just begun to imagine the possibilities of online learning, using ds106 as both an example and one possible model. I was surprised how responsive most folks were, and thanks to encouragment from David Wilson I even spent some time talking about the possibilty and disappointment that was EDUPUNK—a first for me when it comes to presentations.
So anyway, you can see the slides here, and I think there may be a video out there somewhere as well—-or it maybe coming soon. One last thing before I end this rather long post, at the end of my presentation I was awarded a paver that will be placed on the walkway outside their unbelievably gorgeous student union: