Like many of us that work with the OLC, my engagement story starts with a single individual who felt OLC was a good fit and extended an invitation to participate. It was Spring 2017. We had just come off of a great year running the Accessible Learning Conference. I was serving on the planning committee that year and additionally supported the director, Kate Sonka (Michigan State University), with essentially anything she needed leading up to and during the event. I was also completing a year-long Graduate Assistantship with the College of Arts and Letters Academic Technology unit out of the Dean’s office. Kate was one of the amazing people in that unit I had the privilege of more closely connecting and collaborating with, and was serving as one of the two Co-Chairs for the Technology Test Kitchen (TTK) that year. To this day I am not sure if I can tell you exactly what Kate saw in me that made her invite me to be a “Master Chef” in the TTK at that year’s OLC Accelerate Conference. I had always had a passion for educational technologies, but up to that point, they weren’t taking a major stage in my professional journey. In fact, I was a PhD student in a Linguistics program, studying sociolinguistic perception and its intersection with identity/personality. Nevertheless, Kate saw something in me that I couldn’t yet articulate and knew that the OLC was a community for me. Importantly, I didn’t have any initial concept of what she meant by being a “Master Chef,” and apart from mentionings here and there (of scorecards, conferences, and friends), I didn’t really know what the OLC was all about. I include this level of detail in my story here for a reason: you don’t have to be working in public or positional leadership in ed tech to dive into and benefit from the Online Learning Consortium. Zooming forward to the conference itself, I learned that year that OLC Accelerate was the most fun (and when I say “fun,” I truly mean that here), coolest, and most welcoming conference of that size that I had ever been to. I left excited to implement the tools, strategies, and program designs I learned at the conference into my local contexts. I left with new and wonderful colleagues. And perhaps most significantly, I left feeling empowered by the fact that there was a group of educators completely willing and excited about working alongside an impassioned graduate student wanting to systematically make higher ed institutions more effective learning spaces. I left not feeling like a graduate student in that space; rather, I left feeling like a colleague, an innovator, and a professional. This is, perhaps for me, the most significant thing I took away from the OLC that year.
My entrance to the OLC and the TTK that year marked a meaningful turning point for me professionally. It coincidentally paralleled a shift in scholarly focus, as well (I moved from Linguistics to Writing and Rhetoric, where I largely study institutional change). I now also work as a Program Director for the Michigan State University Graduate School, designing and leading Teaching Assistant Professional Development opportunities, and coordinating with others on major efforts to align educator professional development more broadly. Across the many new and rewarding spaces I find myself working in, I have additionally begun to more intentionally focus educational technology as a main thread in my work. Finally (and excitedly), I have willingly jumped head first into all that the OLC has to offer. I was asked to attend OLC Innovate the Spring following my first Accelerate experience and have been to every Accelerate and Innovate conference since, taking on the role of Master Chef at Accelerate 2018, Lead Ed Tech Escape Room Designer at Accelerate 2018 and Innovate 2019, as well as a Lead Designer in the Innovation Studio (facilitating “The Great Denver Design Off”) at Innovate 2019. This coming November, I am stepping into the role as Chair of the Technology Test Kitchen (welcoming my amazing colleague Adam Davi as my Co-Chair), and in Spring 2020 am more than excited to serve as Chair of the Innovation Studio. I’ve also had the privilege to work with others on aspects of the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Advocacy) Initiative, and am eager to see how the OLC continues to commit to more equitable futures. Though it is still a few months away, I cannot wait for OLC Accelerate 2019. The steering committee has worked hard and planned some truly amazing experiences for this year’s conference, and I am looking forward to seeing and participating in them all.
My venture into online education has been filled with twists and turns. From teaching to curriculum development to instructional design, I have always looked for ways to expand my knowledge and grow my professional network. So when a number of colleagues recommended that I attend OLC Innovate a couple years back, I was excited about the possibilities. Little did I know it would open so many doors. I was immediately welcomed by a community of like-minded folks and learned so much from my interactions and collaborations. So much, in fact, that when I returned to my institution I immediately submitted to present at OLC Accelerate.
What I like most about the OLC conferences is the authenticity and excitement of everyone there. The folks I have met at OLC are genuinely good people who are always willing to listen to new ideas and contribute their own. Even though I have spent my entire career working in education, I was relatively new to the online learning world when first attending OLC Innovate, and yet I instantly felt that my voice was valued. There is an understanding that diverse perspectives lead to greater innovation, which makes the interactions with colleagues even more powerful. I left with more ideas and more people willing to help make my ideas a reality than any conference I’ve ever attended. The energy in the conference hall is positive and inspiring, and I credit that to those who help organize and promote the conference. While at OLC Accelerate, I spoke to Angela Gunder (who had long been involved with conference leadership and programming) about getting more involved with OLC, and a few months later I was invited to be Co-Chair of the Technology Test Kitchen (TTK). There is so much to do at OLC Accelerate, but the TTK is a place where you can collaborate with others, learn how to use new technology, and see real world applications of the technology. As someone who is curious and creative, this is a perfect fit for me. I’ve always had a passion for integrating technology into learning and the TTK provides an opportunity for me to share that passion with others and, most importantly, continue to learn. I’m excited about the opportunity to not only work with amazing people, but to also continue to have authentic conversations with other attendees. One of my favorite parts of attending an OLC conference is being able to bounce ideas off others, and the TTK is the perfect place to do that. I look forward to sharing my curiosity and creativity and building a space that is fun, educational, and inspiring with all those who attend.
Our Shared Vision and Mission for the 2019 Technology Test Kitchen
With all of this in mind, as Co-Chairs for the 2019 Technology Test Kitchen, we are first and foremost excited to design and facilitate an equally exciting, authentic, fun, and welcoming conference space where educators can grow, design, innovate, collaborate, and return to their educational contexts feeling invigorated to incorporate new strategies and models for changing digital and online education for the better. If you can’t tell by now, we have both personally gained so much from the OLC community and are excited to give back as this year’s Technology Test Kitchen Co-Chairs.
Based on who is running the Technology Test Kitchen, the space and therefore the experience has looked different from year to year. It has featured everything from Chef Battles and educational robot demonstrations, to open, free-flowing sandboxes where participants can bring their own devices for collaborative play. This year we welcome back the popular and challenging OLC Escape Room and the informative and engaging Chef Demos, and introduce a new and exciting narrative-based, gamified journey to the mix. Through a series of themed, interactive stations (each with their own set of fun challenges and tasks), the Technology Test Kitchen will invite participants to embark on a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-styled learning journey. We are excited to facilitate conversations around multiple pedagogical approaches and new and interesting ways to engage with educational technologies.
At the core of our TTK design for this year is a space that is a fun, low-stakes entry point to educational technology. We want the TTK to be a place where folks can come to collaborate, play, and explore in an environment that is creative and leads to valuable and practical learning opportunities, while keeping up with scholarship and leading conversations. By utilizing intentional storytelling and gameful, but critical, approaches we aim to create a space that provides scaffolded learning opportunities with scalable programming and models that attendees can use to continue their professional growth within their own educational spaces. Ideas around incentivization are also key for our TTK design this year. We want to make sure folks are leaving knowing that the experience was not only great, but that they learned something personally significant for them, as well as walking away with useful resources / ideas / contacts. We hope that the TTK offers opportunities for educators to continue to build their professional learning communities and that it facilitates transformative learning for all who visit and engage with the TTK space, our programming, and our amazing team.
We know we will only accomplish these missions if we all work with the common goal of learning and growing as educators. We recognize that knowing where to start on this journey, though, is often one of the first challenges to embarking on it. It is not always easy to locate impactful opportunities and is additionally complicated by dynamic and ever-shifting educational landscapes. For both of us, the Technology Test Kitchen was one such opportunity, and we look forward to taking the lead (following all the wonderful Co-Chairs preceding us) in making it one for you, as well.
In addition to the above, we also value sharing and transparency. A lot goes into the designing and developing of programs like the OLC Technology Test Kitchen, but rarely do folks get to see behind the scenes for such large events. As a result, we are excited to share that we will be engaging in intentional storytelling each week leading up to the conference via blog posts (housed on the TTK’s website) about our process, including everything from questions we are struggling with to how we make decisions. With this being the 25th Anniversary of OLC Accelerate, we also feel that it is important to recognize the history of the TTK and the people who have made it what it is today. You can therefore look forward to posts from previous TTK leaders and Chefs, as well as stories about the TTK journey / life / history, etc. As we near the conference, you can also look forward to spotlight posts about specific programming we will be offering during OLC Accelerate and opportunities to get involved (including the OLC Educational Technology Escape Room and the new “OLC TTK Pathfinder Mission”).
We hope that you follow along and join us in the TTK at OLC Accelerate!
Maddie and Adam
|Madeline Shellgren, Michigan State University (Co-Chair, Technology Test Kitchen at OLC Accelerate 2019)
|Adam Davi, University of Arizona (Co-Chair, Technology Test Kitchen at OLC Accelerate 2019)