A Toolkit for Developing Peer Leadership in Digital Learning: Updates from Solution Design Summit 2017 Winning Team

Concurrent Session 6
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Brief Abstract

In April 2016, Muhlenberg College’s multidisciplinary Digital Learning Team won the 2016 OLC Innovate Solution Design Summit.  Our winning proposal envisioned a toolkit for catalyzing peer leadership in the digital liberal arts. In this session, we share our progress, present the toolkit, and report on the value of participating in the Solution Design Summit.



Dean for Digital Learning, Professor of Media & Communication, champion of learning digitally, focuses on supporting faculty, staff and students exploring digital pedagogies, knitter of hats and digital stories, believer in imagining things as if they could be otherwise.
Instructional Design Consultant, Master’s in Educational Leadership, champion of student voice and agency, builder of relationships. Passionately drawn to the spaces where digital and social justice intersect.
Manager of Media Services, architect of classroom tech solutions, purveyor over event A/V, general tinkerer. Never afraid to roll up his sleeves, show off his tattoos, and dig into testing new tech tools with passion and expertise.

Extended Abstract

When the Digital Learning Team at Muhlenberg College entered the 2016 OLC Innovation Solution Design Summit, our challenge was to design a pre-orientation program to immerse first year students in digital learning experiences that help prepare them for college.  We arrived in New Orleans excited to pitch our idea to a room full of experts and leaders and leverage their feedback as we continued to iterate the model.  The entire SDS experience of working at design thinking in the open and within a supportive community was highly motivating.  Learning that we were the winning SDS team further catalyzed our initiative.  At OLC Innovate 2016 we proposed to develop a “toolkit” for developing peer leadership in digital learning.  We hope to bring that toolkit back to OLC Innovate 2017 and discuss with participants how the elements of the toolkit might be adapted for their own institutional contexts and goals.

Our current proposal to OLC Innovate 2017 focuses on sharing the outcomes of our SDS initiative.  We will highlight the design and implementation of our SDS-winning peer education model for digital learning and demonstrate how this model empowers students to develop the relationships, skills, and competencies they need to excel as leaders in digital learning environments.

As participants in SDS 2016, we actively sought out every opportunity for critical feedback and to meet the leaders at the conference whose work inspires us. We worked in the open and embraced the design thinking approach at the center of SDS, ideating and iterating our model through each conversation and brainstorm session.  SDS afforded us the concentrated time for deep and sustained collaboration and one of the things we took back to our campus from OLC Innovate was a renewed commitment to create opportunities for collaborative design thinking for our colleagues and students.

Our first challenge after SDS was integrating feedback from reviewers and judges into the design and curriculum for a five-day pre-orientation for incoming college freshmen. SDS kick-started this process and we followed up with several further iterations.  Crucially, once we recruited three pre-orientation student leaders, they were able to collaborate with us to develop our final schedule of activities.  SDS judges valued our inclusion of student voices in our proposal, and we continued to open up space for greater and greater student voice shaping the project.  If accepted to OLC Innovate, student Digital Learning Assistants will attend as co-presenters for this session.

Once the pre-orientation week was planned and student leaders on board, we turned our efforts to recruiting incoming freshmen to participate.  Recruitment efforts relied heavily upon Muhlenberg’s June Advising program.  Incoming students arrive to campus on one of five days in June to meet with academic advisors and to schedule classes for the year.  During this time, information booths are arranged in the College’s conference facility.  These stations provide information about dining services, the health center, and residential services, for instance.  Alongside these core services and offices, several other entities on campus also use June Advising information booths to recruit student employees or promote different groups and activities.  The Digital Learning Team staffed a booth and recruited most of the pre-orientation attendees through these efforts.

Additional efforts involved use of the College’s website, and various College-maintained social media sites (primarily the Class of 2020 Facebook page).  Two rounds of email announcements were also distributed to the incoming class.  Nine students registered for the pre-orientation, sharing their interests in the program via a Google form.  This response was common across most registrations:  

I'm interested in participating in the pre orientation to get a better feel of the campus before orientation with the rest of the class occurs. Also, I am interested to get to learn more about different tech programs and applications, because I already have a basic knowledge and in general I like using and creating things with technology.

During the week of August 22nd, Muhlenberg College hosted its first Learning in the Digital Age pre-orientation program.  Muhlenberg has a strong tradition of themed-based pre-orientation programs.  Incoming first-year students arrive to campus a few days prior to the general first-year move-in and orientation.  Programming is arranged, generally around a theme.  Other pre-orientation programs have been designed to address Muhlenberg’s Emerging Leaders program, its RJ Fellows honors program, and a ‘Connect with the Community’ program grounded in the efforts of the College’s Office of Community Engagement.  “Learning in the Digital Age” was new to the line up for Summer 2016.  Our program marketing leveraged the well-known fact that for many students one major incentive to participate in pre-orientation is to move into their dorm and claim their space before the rush of orientation and created this tagline:  “A dorm and a domain.”  

Our session will capture diverse highlights from the pre-orientation week, including:

  • Several icebreaker and college orientation sessions
  • LED night-time ultimate frisbee
  • Digital Identity workshop
  • Web-based mapping and mobile geospatial data collection workshops
  • Workshops piloting Muhlenberg’s Domain of One’s Own initiative
  • Time spent in Muhlenberg’s Library Archives and Special Collections, and a workshop introducing digitization and creation of online exhibits
  • A virtual meeting with Davidson student, Andrew Rickard, who has written about his experiences with Domain of One’s Own at Davidson College
  • Planning and hosting a culminating techno-dance party open to all pre-orientation programs

Additionally, all pre-orientation programs attended a minor league baseball game and a cookout and bonfire hosted by the Multicultural Life Center.  Our presentation will share data from these activities, and from student assessments of the pre-orientation program.

One of the most significant measures of the program’s success is that at its conclusion, eight of thirteen participants (including pre-orientation student leaders) applied for positions as Digital Learning Assistants. Those students have segued from the pre-orientation program to a new Digital Learning Assistantship training program designed to:

  • Introduce DLAs to diverse tools, technologies, and support that enable them to build a digital space of their own on the Web.
  • Challenge DLAs to think critically about digital identity: the spaces and practices through which it is constructed, negotiated and maintained.
  • Foster awareness, conversation, and reflection on digital literacies and personal agency in everyday learning.
  • Experiment with technologies to test their use for collaboration, community, and inclusive space and practice.
  • Build supportive relationships among students and Digital Learning Team members.

This ten-week training, a combination of face to face group meetings and online activity built in the Canvas environment, challenges students to deepen their digital literacies as well as their identities as peer leaders.  The Digital Learning Assistants are diverse in their course year and major interests.  33% are freshmen, 22% are juniors, and 44% are seniors.  Their major areas of study include Computer Science, Media and Communication, Psychology, Studio Art, Italian Studies, Political Science, Business, Biochemistry, History, German, Teacher Education, and a self-designed major in Statistics.  Based on their interest and prior experience with digital technologies, DLAs are selecting a “track” to specialize in: web publishing, digital storytelling, GIS and mapping, and digital archives and visualizations.

Our session concludes with a discussion of where our model for peer leadership in digital learning is heading next.  In Spring semester, DLAs will begin holding weekly office hours, presenting workshops and tutorials, and holding one-on-one consultations for students working on digital learning projects.  The DLAs will also take the lead in planning and implementing next year’s digital learning pre-orientation.  Beyond our own future planning, we will open up discussion with session participants on how the toolkit for developing peer leadership in digital learning might be adapted for their own institutional contexts and goals.