Reflections on OLC Collaborate NYC


Liz Ciabocchi, Devon Cancilla, & Russell Poulin

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Collaborate NYC ConferenceLiz Ciabocchi (Emcee and panel moderator)

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to participate in the OLC Collaborate Conference in New York City, co-sponsored by the host institution, Berkeley College. As a member of the OLC Board of Directors, I believe these one-day regional conferences, which are offered 4-5 times per year at various locations across the U.S., add value to our membership and provide access to a high-quality professional development program at relatively low cost. As smaller, highly interactive and more intimate events, they are also a wonderful vehicle for expanding one’s professional network in online higher education.

Such was the case at the event of August 7, when approximately 85 participants from online higher education, including senior leaders, program directors, instructional designers, faculty and staff from institutions throughout the New York metropolitan region convened at Berkeley College’s mid-town Manhattan location.

Three featured presenters explored the timely and important themes of regulation and accreditation in online higher education (Russell Poulin), use of predictive analytics to support student success (Diane Recinos), and student identity verification for online programs (Devon Cancilla).  Following each of their respective presentations, the speakers joined in small group discussions with conference participants to explore the topic more deeply and identify key takeaways that might impact online program policy and/or practice at their home institutions.

Following the featured presentations and subsequent break outs, the conference culminated in a panel discussion with Poulin, Recinos and Cancilla, who fielded questions submitted by conference participants throughout the day, as well as questions from the floor. Old friends and colleagues reconnected, and new relationships were forged. Lessons learned and knowledge gained at OLC Collaborate – NYC will ultimately become part of the larger national conversation regarding online higher education taking place at similar events around the country.

Devon Cancilla

Thank you Berkeley College!

OLC Collaborates are unusual as conferences go in that the line between presenters and audience is blurred or, better said, blended. The presenters role is to set the stage, providing contextual background and posing thoughtful questions about specific topics. In the case of Collaborate NYC hosted at Berkeley College: innovation and regulation, predictive analytics and student authentication. Once the stage is set, the audience becomes the stars of the show through open and moderated discussions. The reason breakout discussions are so engaging is that they bring together a cast of people with similar interests but widely different backgrounds and experience (can you tell the conference was near Broadway?). These open and moderated discussions highlight the diversity of institutions represented and the ways each addresses similar issues. The discussions on regular and substantive interactions provide an example of a theme that kept re-emerging throughout the day at OLC Collaborate NYC.

Introduced in Russ Poulin’s presentation on innovation and regulation, many institutions struggle with this on many levels. What does it actually mean to have regular and substantive interactions? Does it involve only interactions between the instructor and student or interactions between students and between students and the course materials as well? The interesting thing though, was how this topic crossed all of the presentations, from Diane Recinos’ presentation on the use of predictive analytics and the development of student support services, to my presentation on student authentication.

For example, if you don’t know who a student is within the course, how can you tell whether he or she is one of those participating in the class, and how might this skew the use of predictive analytics? What should an institution do first?  Develop a system to authenticate students in the course, or one to track students activities, even if there is uncertainty as to who they might be? As one participant pointed out in citing the continuing legal issues between WGU and the Department of Education over the interpretation of regular and substantive interactions, this has real world implications! Interestingly, these issues were highlighted during the same week as the OLC Collaborate NYC in an Inside Higher Ed article, as well as in an Ohio Court Ruling described in Education Week.

What is an institution to do, knowing that they too will eventually be caught up in having to address these types of issues? If not now, then in the very near future. Whether a community college, a liberal arts college or a large research institution, the problems each face have similar origins. This is what makes OLC Collaborates so much fun! Looking at real life issues, sharing information, and meeting and building a network of people who are struggling with similar problems happening now and into the future.

Russell Poulin

We’re about learning; and having intense conversations about real issues is a great way to gain new perspectives and new ideas. I was honored to be asked to participate in OLC Collaborate – New York City. My participation was limited as I made the bad choice to get sick enough that travel was out of the question. The OLC staff and local technical support were wonderful in creating a virtual space for me to present and to carry me from room to room (they could do that on the computer but not in real life) to participate in the breakouts.

In my presentation, I talked about the “shifting sands” of policies and regulations as we could see an unprecedented set of changes to higher ed policies in the coming year:

  •  Accreditation is under attack for being a barrier to innovation. While there is evidence that has happened at times, are the changes being proposed really to make life easier for institutions and currently non-accredited providers? How will students be protected?
  • “Regular and substantive interaction” and competency-based education, but few understand there are two aspects to it:
    • Interaction as an element of quality instruction
    • Tthe original intent of the language (and how it was applied in the WGU case) as an enforcement mechanism to decide who gets aid.
  • State legislators and governors are convinced they can save money with online education.

Finally, together we can make a difference. It will be important for us to raise objections to proposals that do not benefit student learning and to propose alternatives.

In the breakout sessions, the participants had excellent (and not easy to answer, thank you) questions for me. That was evidence of the great discussions in the breakouts. While I did not always have answers, I did try to provide context…along with my own opinions.

Thank you to OLC for the invitation to a great event.

Join us for our next OLC Collaborate event taking place September 25, 2018 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC).

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