OLC Partnership with PlayPosit Seeks to Collaboratively Explore the Future of Online Engagement


Madeline R. Shellgren (she/her/hers), Director of Online Engagement, Online Learning Consortium

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I had the chance to chat with Sue Germer, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships at PlayPosit, and Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer for the Online Learning Consortium, to hear their thoughts on our partnership and what we’re hoping to accomplish together. It became clear from the onset of our discussion that both organizations are aligned in a foundational commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and quality education. More specifically, we discussed our collective goal in launching a Foundry Day event and the decision to introduce our partnership in this way.

OLC and Playposit, respectively, are not looking to linger on the ideas of “translation,” “normal,” or “getting back” to what once was. Our two organizations, along with many others in our field, recognize that as challenging as the pandemic has been, it has brought to the forefront much of what we have been overlooking in myriad learning environments. In an Every Learner Everywhere and Tyton Partners survey of 852 introductory faculty from over 600 institutions, “increasing student engagement in class” was ranked as the highest instructional priority for both the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters (Fox et al. 2021, check out the full report here). Interestingly, the survey report also identifies “Keeping my students engaged” as the top challenge for introductory faculty, again for both the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters (Fox et al. 2021). With this in mind, we aim to celebrate the unique affordances of various engagement strategies, to push on the notions of “access” by exploring the potentials of the asynchronous, and to discover new ways to connect. It is time to reevaluate everything from our models of professional development and educator support, to the quality and accessibility of the student experience.

Sue began our discussion by drawing attention to the many layers of understanding that are involved when we talk about “access” and how it pertains to professional development, spotlighting in particular challenges such as requesting time off, the availability of funds, or even access to childcare and other basic securities and needs. Even in face-to-face contexts, these items often serve as barriers to engagement with development opportunities. We cannot offer people meaningful and high-quality education opportunities if we are not taking these challenges into account. Angela followed by acknowledging that even when educators do have the opportunity to participate in professional development, many struggle to have the time or even the resources to incorporate these approaches and new skills.

“One thing that I really love about the idea of a Foundry Day,” Sue said, “is that it will provide an opportunity for connection. It’s not about us…it’s not about PlayPosit…the connections are where I feel like people can move barriers. A lot of the time either you don’t have inspiration or you don’t think anyone else has tackled the problem that you’re tackling or you think of yourself as an island…and when you’re an island it’s really easy to drift into despair or just go with the status quo.”

“Absolutely,” Angela responded. “It’s really hard sometimes, particularly when faced with a lack of resources and support, to have the fortitude to want to continue. I completely get it when people are like, ‘You know what? I can’t even see how I could do anything other than what I’m doing right now.’” After a brief pause, she closed that thought out by sharing “You know…we’ve all been in that dark place as educators or leaders.”

Making an important connection to the student experience, we discussed how the pandemic has revealed, on a much larger scale than ever before, that the student experience is not an equitable one. “We have some students that are being addressed in these digital learning spaces,” Angela shared, “but many more that are not, including the disproportionate number of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, first generation, and poverty-affected students that were struggling even before the pandemic.” “And now?” Angela continued, “For many educators in our field, this is the first time they’ve created the intentional space and room to address these inequities in support of the success of all learners.”

Through our respective centering of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we discovered that the OLC and PlayPosit are also aligned by the shared value and interest in redefining what access means moving forward. Collectively, we see partnerships as one of the very few ways that we’ll be able to address big challenges and answer big questions. We recognize that if we try to replicate and just continue to build and do the things that we’ve been doing for decades, we’re not going to solve the challenges that are in front of us. Some of the big questions we discussed on our call included:

  • How do we create learning futures that support access to academically rigorous education while also affording students the ability to have a sense of wonder, engagement, discovery, and all of those things that we think that learning should consist of?
  • How can we create experiences that really allow learners to have a high level of excitement and a deep engagement with the content, but do so in a way that fits around the time that they have to connect and the many identities and lived experiences they bring to the content while also being responsive to the unique challenges that they may have?

It was from these overarching questions that we came to the inspiration for our upcoming Foundry Day event, a free, virtual gathering designed for the collaborative reimagining of engagement in online, digital, and blended learning environments. It is our shared goal to build, to design, to remix, to story, to transform, and to action-plan with our community. And it is our belief that intentionally designing with engagement in mind will help us reflect on and therefore move towards more diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning experiences.

As our conversation came to a close, there was one final thing that became very evident across our two organizations: Our goal is not to facilitate an event where participants feel like we are telling them what to do or what tools to use. Rather, our shared charge is to bring different perspectives together, to give people not only choice but to help them recognize their agency over what they can do. We want to support our community in the courageous act of trying things that are different, especially if that choice ultimately means a better student experience.

We look forward to collaborating with those who are able to join us synchronously on June 10th. That said, we would both argue that access to professional development via high-quality asynchronous content is a fundamental part of the conversation of equitable learning futures for online, blended, and digital learning. As such, if you are unable join us June 10th, we hope you consider contributing and further building with us into the future asynchronously.


Fox, K., Bryant, G., Lin, N., Khedkar, N., Nguyen, A., (2021, January 28). Time for Class – COVID-19 Edition Part 3: The Impact of 2020 on Postsecondary Teaching and Learning of Introductory Faculty. Tyton Partners.


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