Category Archives: Culture of Innovation

The 2017 Horizon Report states that institutions of higher education must advance a culture of change and innovation if they are to keep pace with the rapid change in entrepreneurship. Models of change foster a campus climate that encourages exploration and implementing an iterative process of continuous improvement.

Improving outcomes with Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Over the past few years colleges have faced an increasing number of complaints from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) requiring their web content be made accessible to people with disabilities. Although the OCR complaints typically focus on publicly available web content, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all online instructional content meet accessibility guidelines. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) provides guidance on making web content accessible to people with a broad range of disabilities.

Usability + Accessibility = Successful Experience for All

Usability + Accessibility CC-BY J. Albert Bowden II on Flickr

Making course content accessible may at first seem a daunting task when faced with a lengthy list of rules or standards.  A recent article in the EDUCAUSE Review describes how University of Memphis integrated Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles into their online course development process. The instructional design team at Memphis developed a three phase professional development plan that helps faculty look beyond compliance and focus on the “what, how, and why” of learning online.

“…we conducted a needs assessment and determined that requiring faculty to address accessibility in their online courses was easier for them if they focused on the pedagogical concepts of the UDL Representation principle and its guidelines rather than the technical concepts of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).”

At the heart of Universal Design for Learning is the idea that people learn in diverse ways and therefore benefit from multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

By providing multiple means of representation – diverse forms of media – learners are able to understand the material or concepts in ways that make the most sense to them individually. Material may be presented visually (text / images), or through auditory (voice messages / podcasts) means, or both (captioned video).

By providing multiple means of action or expression, learners can represent their understanding in different formats (e.g. writing, video / audio recordings, presentations, etc.) – providing them with personally meaningful ways to demonstrate acquired competencies.

By providing multiple means of engagement, learners can master the material according to their individual strengths and preferences. Some students work well in groups; others may prefer to work alone. Assignments that encourage students to apply their individual talents and abilities are more likely to engage students in active, authentic, and relevant learning.

Integrating UDL principles into both online faculty training and the course development process helps to equip online faculty with a proactive rather than reactive approach to supporting student accessibility and learning.


V. Cullifer (2017).  OCR Website Accessibility Complaints Hit Schools and Universities Digital Accessibility Digest,  Microassist

R. Bowery & L. Houston (2017).  Reaching All Learners by Leveraging Universal Design for Learning in Online Courses  EDUCAUSE Review

WC3 Recommendation (2008).  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0


S. Burgstahler (2017).  ADA Compliance for Online Course Design EDUCAUSE Review


The Ninety-day Action Plan

A recent article in Forbes encourages business leaders to consider putting together 90 day action plans to be reviewed and updated every 90 days in an effort to improve organizational agility.

Falguni Desai: “Strategic plans that cast a five year look into the future provide a sense of calm. They coax management teams into thinking that there is still time to put the plan into action.” – The Digital Era is Crippling the Five-year Strategic Plan

The author points out that in this digital age the role of the strategist is changing, and if we are to keep up with change we need to become “fututists” – keeping up with current trends, we should consider shorter planning cycles allowing us to be better prepared to change course if necessary.

Speaking of looking toward the future, one of the publications I look forward to reading each year is the Horizon Report put out by the New Media Consortium (NMC). The Horizon Report is put together by a panel of experts offering insights into what is emerging in educational technology on the college campus. The report offers key trends and significant challenges in technology adoption, as well as emerging technologies for the immediate future (one year or less), mid term (two to three years, and longer term (four to five years) in higher education.

Horizon Report 2016 Trends, Challenges, and Technologies for Higher Ed

CC-BY New Media Consortium Horizon Report 2016

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning are listed in the current report as this year’s emerging technologies. Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Makerspaces time-to-adoption as two to three years. For four to five years, Affective Computing and Robotics are on the list.

The Horizon Report is not meant to replace the strategic plan but it can offer some useful insight into current and emerging trends in higher ed. In fact, our campus has implemented a number of these same strategies: in response to the BYOD trend we have implemented responsive web design and adopted mobile apps for our LMS. We are also planning to include a Makerspace as part of the Health Technologies capital project over the next two years.

Six years ago I would have agreed with the 2010 Horizon Report in that Open Educational Resources was set to take off but still today, we have yet to fully embrace OERs on most campuses and it is no longer listed in the report. Five years ago Competency Based Education (CBE) was not listed as one of the trends but with today’s focus on a campus completion agenda, getting students to degree faster has become a priority and that means considering new online delivery models.

The five-year strategic plan may no longer make sense for ed tech. Perhaps by employing such practices as the twelve to twenty-four month strategic plan and ninety-day action planing cycles we can learn to improve institutional agility and realize our efforts to embrace change and foster innovation on the college campus.

Advancing a Culture of Innovation

According to the 2017 Horizon Report , “Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation” is one of the long-term trends to watch for in Higher Ed over the next five years.

“It will require visionary leadership to build higher education environments that are equipped to quickly change processes and strategies as startups do. If these organizational models are designed well, universities can experience more efficient implementation of new practices and pedagogies.” -2016 Horizon Report

Changing direction by Kapapuka Argazkiak on Flickr

Changing Direction by K. Argazkiak on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA

The report references Eric Ries’s book, The Lean Startup (2011) as an example of an approach educators may employ to advance cultures of change on the college campus. The process is a business model for entrepreneurs to rapidly design and develop new ventures and involves a cycle of deploying “lean” (less than fully developed) prototypes, followed by collecting feedback from consumers, which in turn informs the next step in the development / design process. Fully developed products and services may have undergone several iterations, oftentimes resulting in a final product that may have changed significantly from the original prototype but has proven more attractive to the consumer.

This idea of rapidly cycling through numerous iterations is a method also used in DevOps – an approach to application development that brings together software developers (coders) and information technology (operations) upon the goals of improving quality and lessening time to market. An important characteristics of the DevOps approach is the focus on cultural change.

The word “culture” comes from the Latin – cultura, meaning to cultivate or prepare for growth. It seems to me this serves as an excellent metaphor for fostering change in the organization.

“When a college is undertaking a broader reform effort, a culture of inquiry can be used to define a framework for action, cultivate the engagement of a broad range of practitioners and identify discrete action steps at various levels of the institution.”

The Research and Planning Group (RPgroup) of California Community Colleges published a paper on Building a Culture of Inquiry: Using a cycle of exploring research and data to improve student success (2010). The project was funded by Completion By Design and describes the use of an Applied Inquiry Framework: a cycle of evidence based improvement consisting of five stages:

  1. Defining a focus of inquiry
  2. Gathering relevant and meaningful evidence
  3. Engaging a broad range of practitioners and exploring the evidence
  4. Translating collective insight into action
  5. Measuring the impact of action

This cycle of evidence can certainly be applied to advancing a campus culture of innovation. As an example, consider how the adoption of Open Educational Resources (OERs) may impact online student success. This would serve as stage one – defining our focus of inquiry. In stage two, we gather research about OERs and student success (e.g. Multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post secondary students (Fisher, L. Hilton, J., Wiley, D. 2015)).

The third stage where we bring together a broad range of practitioners to explore the evidence, is critical in advancing a culture of innovation. It is at this stage we share insights, explore and challenge our collective beliefs and assumptions in an effort to get to the fourth stage, where we translate this collective insight into action.

In our scenario we would invite faculty who use OERs as well as those who are reluctant to adopt open texts for whatever reasons. Instructional designers, librarians, and others would be invited to the table as well to engage in discourse and inquiry. Unfortunately, in higher education we often work in isolation. Even our classrooms, both virtual and physical, are essentially closed environments. However, they could potentially become environments of inquiry and experimentation, where not only students learn, but the faculty and the campus community learn as well.

Stage four is where we test our assumptions and collect feedback and data. If we already have instructors using OERs, what do students think of the course and materials? Is there any data on student outcomes that we can compare to similar courses where the materials are not used? Such feedback need not be especially burdensome. The “lean” approach is used to test our assumptions and evaluate the feedback. A simple survey or focus group may provide enough information for the next stage.

The fifth stage, measuring the impact of our action, is not actually the final stage. In a culture of inquiry and innovation, the feedback we collect is used to inform subsequent iterations of our innovation. We may find that students appreciate access to the free digital text but they may in fact, be printing out each chapter as the course progresses. How does this inform our next iteration? Should we consider offering a low-cost print alternative?

It seems to me the Applied Inquiry Framework is similar in many respects to Design-based Research (DBR) – a qualitative research approach used in authentic educational settings. The goal of DBR is to learn about learning in real-world settings which are often complex and unique environments. The virtual classroom is such a setting and to improve learning in the online environment is an iterative process. If our goal is to advance a culture of change and innovation, we will need to change our approach to that which fosters experimentation and to share with others what we are learning even as we are learning.

Airman learning online

Two Competency-based Education (CBE) models

Last Friday, I and three faculty members from our campus attended a one-day conference at Columbus State Community College on the topic of Competency-based Education for Ohio.

Dr. Sally Johnstone, V.P. of Academic Advancement described the CBE model used at Western Governors University. WGU is an online non-profit university where students can enroll at any time of the year progress at their own pace. The role of the faculty at WGU are somewhat different than for traditional instructional models. Student Mentors are faculty who work closely with students individually to engage them in their program of study. Student mentors must have a minimum of a Masters degree in the content area. Course Mentors have a minimum of a PhD or terminal degree in the subject area and are responsible for the curriculum and course design. In addition to student and course mentors, Graders or Evaluators oversee student assessment. Students are assessed both using objective proctored exams and performance assessment.

Dr. Johnstone emphasized the importance of secure and reliable assessment – “The integrity of the institution rests on the credibility of the assessments.”

Although students move at their own pace through the course, they still have the opportunity to interact with their peers through the campus portal social media technology.

Course content is provided through KSVs (Kahn Style Videos) much of which is sourced through Carnegie Mellon’s Acrobatiq – Open Learning Initiative.

Dr. Nancy Thibeault, Dean of eLearning at Sinclair Community College, shared about Sinclair’s CBE model and some of the challenges of rolling out CBE at a public two-year institution.

Community colleges in Ohio operate on a semester schedule. Although the semesters are typically sixteen weeks in length, Sinclair permits students to enroll in their CBE courses at any time up until the last four weeks of the semester. Before students are accepted into the CBE program they must meet certain guidelines including a minimum GPA of 3.0 and demonstrated computer literacy skills.

Students may work at their own pace but are expected to keep up with course milestones. An academic coach may work with as many as eighty students individually. Each course unit includes a pre-assessment to determine whether students possess the competencies in a given unit of study – if so, they may skip to the next unit and thereby accelerate their course of study. Coaches assume the role of case-manager, guiding students from point of registration through graduation.

As with WGU, Sinclair awards course credit on a pass / fail basis. Students must successfully pass with an eighty percent or higher in order to continue in the CBE program. Each course includes a comprehensive final exam covering all course competencies.

Antique Video Camera

Students ask for more video with their learning

A few years back we invested in the streaming video service – Films on Demand. The service integrates with our campus portal and the Lakeland Library to permit faculty the means of integrating educational video into their course materials. Compared with the former system of ordering individual media (VHS, DVD), this has proved to be a very good investment. Nevertheless, the level of adoption has been less than expected.

Fims on Demand - Collections

Films on Demand – Collections

In our recent survey of online learners, students reported that they would like to have more video content in their online courses. Streaming video is becoming an extremely popular way for students to view content as is evidenced by the rate of adoption of such services as iTunes U and Khan Academy.

According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed reporting on thePearson Higher Ed Survey on Student Mobile usage

“Eight in ten (83%) college students regularly use a smartphone, up significantly from 72% in 2013.  Smartphones are now close to laptops (89%) as the mobile device students are most likely to use on a regular basis.”

Perhaps the increased use of smartphones by students helps to explain the demand for more video content. Although I enjoy reading journal articles and other text-based material on my iPad because of the size and orientation, I am not a big fan of reading text on my iPhone. That being said, the iPhone works great with streaming video – especially with WiFi available both at work and home.

iPhone CC-BY-NC-SA by Alex Bartok on Flickr

CC-BY-NC-SA by Alex Bartok on Flickr

Films on Demand is available to both faculty and students and although we have promoted its use primarily with the faculty – demonstrating how to search for relevant content from among the more than 15,000 titles and 200,000 plus segments – students also may access these materials and find value in searching through the collections themselves.

Gamification and Student-to-content Interactivity

Learner engagement is considered to be an effective predictor of student success. We can increase learner engagement by focusing on interactivity in course design.

Playing game with Cards & Chips

Gamification of Life CC-BY VFS Digital Design on Flickr

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University published a paper on the topic: Predicting Online Student Outcomes from a Measure of Course Quality (Jaggars & Xu.) The purpose of the study was to gather empirical evidence regarding the link between online course quality and student outcomes.

The study looked at four main areas:

  • Course design: organization and navigation
  • Learning objectives and assessment
  • Interpersonal interactions (student-to-instructor & student-to-student)
  • Effective use of technology

Much of what was learned through the research reaffirms what we have shared here before – that there exists a positive correlation between student-to-instructor interactivity and student success.

What the study did not reveal was a correlation between student success and online course design, or for that matter, between student success and the alignment of learning objectives and assessment. That isn’t to say these aren’t essential considerations when designing the online course – they are. But rather, that the study did not provide evidence that these factors are directly related to student achievement.

Another interesting finding was that although student-to-instructor interactions showed a positive correlation to student outcomes, this was not necessarily the case with student-to-student interactions. In fact, students indicated their experience with online discussion and group projects was, to paraphrase, pretty much a time sink.

Initially, the findings appeared to support a relationship between the effective use of technology and course grades, but after controlling for student characteristics the relationship became less apparent. Most quality assurance rubrics and accepted practices in online delivery suggest that educational technologies need to be current or state-of-the-art. However, this study suggests when designing rubrics for online course design…

“…quality ratings for technology may wish to focus on not just the use of “current” technologies but how these technologies are used to support user interaction, confidence, motivation, and learning.”

It occurs to me that interaction, confidence, motivation and learning can all be supported by the introduction of games or gamification in learning design.

The use of games in education has gained momentum in recent years. Games can be very motivating (perhaps even addicting). In a game we interact with the medium, often are given problems to solve or challenges to overcome, make choices, and as we progress in skill we become more confident.

Tools like Respondus StudyMate and Quia can be used to turn objective type quizzes into word games: (matching, hangman, crossword, fill in the blank). This is especially helpful when learning new terminology. After integrating games into her Medical Terminology course a couple of years ago an instructor reported significant improvement in student test scores as students began to spend hours reviewing the content as they played games and tried to improve their scores.

The learning is not necessarily the learner’s primary goal when playing a game, but rather accomplishing a task, mastering a certain level, gaining points or credits, and ultimately to win. Of course learning happens as an outcome in the process. Games are by definition, competitive – we may compete against the computer, chance, ourselves, or others (bringing us back to the earlier discussion about student-to-student interactions).

According to Karl Kapp, “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”

“Through the careful application of game elements—such as the freedom to fail, interest curve, storytelling, and feedback—in learning programs, ordinary content can be made more engaging without the development of a full-fledged learning game.” – Karl Kapp

By looking for ways to implement game elements into our courses we may be able to repond to the several questions brought up in the study, including student to student interactions, and effective use of technology (student to content interactions).

For more information about gamification, check out Karl’s article Getting Started with Gamification on

Definition of Innovate from Merriam Webster: to do something in a new way : to have new ideas about how something can be done

Innovation, Risk-taking, and Unexpected Results

The very nature of innovation requires risk-taking – meaning sometimes we’re likely to get unexpected results.

Coursera, in collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology, enrolled 41,000 students in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on The Fundamentals of Online Education, that unfortunately had to be shut down this past week due to technical issues before it had a chance to get fully off the ground. –Inside Higher Ed.

Apparently, the concern had to do with the ability to manage small group discussions using Google Docs, but there were problems.

“If we tell people to just do safe things, we’ll stifle innovation.”
– Richard DeMillo, Georgia Tech

I couldn’t agree more.

Innovation means trying things out – oftentimes for the very first time – and that can be risky business.

In our efforts to foster innovation and experimentation we need to recognize that failure is part of the process. We make a  first attempt, when something unexpected occurs we try something else – and then we ask, what was the difference? Did we get what we expected? We try again – did we get the same or new results?

There will be those going forward who will likely not give MOOCs a try, pointing to this attempt that “didn’t work”. But the fact is, it did work. It worked by failing, and now we learn from it asking what happened, and trying something else. Hopefully the next time it will work better.

Technology Fail

Unexpected results are always a risk when we innovate. No guts – no glory!

Its just a bigger deal when 41,000+ people are looking than when you can’t get the damn projector switched from the laptop to the document camera on the first day of class.