OLC Collaborate: The Making of a Beautiful Quilt


Karen L. Pedersen, Ph.D., Chief Knowledge Officer, Online Learning Consortium

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It was great to read the personal perspectives of several attendees from the Northwestern School of Professional Studies at the recent OLC Collaborate event at Rush University in Chicago. Through their eyes, Aaron, Christine, Elizabeth, Jackie, Jessica, Krissy, Patricia, and William shared their personal perspectives and key takeaways.

Upon reading their insights, and because of my textiles background, my mind went to an image of a quilt. But, what kind of quilt are we making?

OLC Collaborate is a new regional conference model that we began earlier this year. It is a one-day event where we focus on three topics based on current and relevant issues in the region. In the case of OLC Collaborate at Rush University, the topics were ‘Innovation at the crossroads with Regulation’, ‘Learning Analytics’ and ‘Competency Based Education’. The idea behind the new conference concept is to spend a day doing a deep dive into a small number of topics.

For each topic, we have a keynote presenter who sets the stage and speaks on a topic for 30 minutes. At the recent Collaborate event in Chicago it was Marshall Hill (Executive Director at the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements NC-SARA) speaking on Innovation and Regulation; John Whitmer (Director of Platform Analytics and Educational Research at Blackboard) focusing on Learning Analytics; and Kim Pearce (Associate Vice President of Academic Quality Analytics and Accreditation at Capella University) providing insights on Competency Based Education.

Once the keynote gets the conversation started, the 150 attendees at the Collaborate move into three-to-four different break-out rooms to engage in a deeper dive conversation. A series of starting questions provide the direction for those smaller group conversations. A facilitator in each room guides the 45-minute discussion and an archivist summarizes the discussion (as well as each keynote session). In addition, the keynote speaker moves from room to room so questions can be asked in the context of the discussion in the break-out rooms.

Clearly this isn’t your typical conference! The fact that attendees engage with the topic by sharing what’s happening on their campus, highlighting the challenges they face and/or considering opportunities for forward movement deepens their thinking and connection with the topic. These discussions provide an opportunity for attendees to not only listen but also to actively participate in the conversation. Because it is a really dynamic, engaging, and energizing day, attendees walk away with new insights and perspectives as was evidenced in the blog post from attendees from Northwestern University.

So, what kind of a quilt are we making with these OLC Collaborate events? My conclusion, one that looks something like this:


Source: http://www.whyquiltsmatter.org/welcome/guest-blogger-series/wonderful-wools-by-bill-volckening/ 

We had attendees from large and small institutions, from public and private institutions, and with titles that varied from instructional designer to associate vice chancellor to librarian to professor. Some talked about a CBE initiative on their campus that was at full deployment and others spoke of initial conversations happening on their campus around CBE. Whether it is state authorization or supporting learners with disabilities, the balance between innovation and regulation brought different views and perspectives together. Plus, conversations on learning analytics to support student success and issues of ethics with regard to the use of big data all had a place in the discussion. While the keynote speakers provided a starting place, each break-out session transformed the conversation through the voices of those in the room. Like the crazy quilt above, each piece of the quilt fits together in a very unique way and each Collaborate conference is uniquely different.

At the end of the day, to bring the topics and conversations together, we had a final panel with each of the keynote presenters, a representative from the partnering academic institution (in the case of Rush University the panel included Frank Tomsic) and an OLC representative (which was me). Our goal was to bring all of the pieces from the day together. However, what I find so exhilarating were the key takeaways I read in the blog post last week from the Northwestern University attendees. It is great to see how each attendee is now embellishing this quilt with their own insights, perspectives, and actions.

While this OLC Collaborate quilt may not have a repeatable pattern from block to block like some quilts, it certainly encompasses the diversity we see in today’s online learning landscape. Issues are challenging, complex and multi-faceted, in addition directions are often predicated on an institution’s culture and context, plus there’s no right or wrong answer. Together we build an interesting and provocative design to our quilt that on the one hand is beautiful and on the other is never finished!

I hope you will join us for an upcoming OLC Collaborate!

In addition to being the Chief Knowledge Officer for the Online Learning Consortium, Pedersen is also a spinner, weaver, and fiber artist.

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