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Recap of #BlendLAC17: The Sixth Annual Blended Learning Conference

September 1, 2017

We had the pleasure of hosting the sixth annual Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference May 17-18 at Bryn Mawr College, collocated this year with JupyterDayPhilly on May 19. We had 143 registrants for the Blended Learning conference, which featured nine workshops, over a dozen panels, a poster session, and keynote from Dr. Roopika Risam, Assistant Professor of English at Salem State University.

Trends that emerged over the conference included an emphasis on student making, digital communication, accessibility, and social justice. The myth of the student as "digital native" was repeatedly challenged, and speakers stressed the importance of good pedagogy and scaffolding in digital assignments.

One highlight of the conference was Roopika Risam's keynote on "Networks of Pedagogy: Notes towards a Decolonized Classroom" (abstract here; videos are posted in our 2017 Conference Archive). Risam set out a convincing case for how blended learning and the digital humanities can serve a social justice commitment in the classroom.

@roopikarisam: #digitalhumanities work helps students "envision a relationship between themselves and knowledge production." #BlendLac17

— BMC Blended Learning (@BlendedLAC) May 17, 2017

Risam helps her students engage with technology through a range of creative projects. As students learn how to figure out and build things with technology, the students shift their relationship with knowledge production.

Prototype new libraries & build twitter bots... these projects are #amazing! #BlendLAC17

— Laura Zaylea (@LauraZaylea) May 17, 2017

Digital literacy was another theme of the conference. Speakers repeatedly emphasized not just building digital skills, but also building the processes of reflection and metacognition which yield a richer relationship with the digital world. As at other conferences the Blended Learning folks have attended, we saw a push towards openness combined with an increased sense of care and responsibility in web interactions. This trend was embodied throughout the conference, but particularly at an early-morning workshop led by Muhlenberg College's Jenna Azar and Tim Clarke. Before using her article in a shared annotation exercise, the presenters contacted author Maha Bali and invited her to join the group remotely for the shared annotation activity. She joined the group all the way from Cairo, and the next day Bali reflected on the experience in a Chronicle article. The workshop provided a powerful demonstration of how digital tools, used responsibly, can push the boundaries of the classroom.

Love this post from @Bali_Maha reflecting on a workshop led by friends @floatingtim @JAZARHYPE at #BlendLAC17!

ltaub (@ltaub) May 18, 2017

We also explored emerging methods and technologies, with sessions on the HoloLens, Jupyter notebooks, 3D printing, and more.

Got to try @HoloLens at #BlendLAC17!

— Ben Hommerding (@BenInBeta) May 17, 2017

What's exciting about these methods is that they give us a possible hint as to where education might be going. Jupyter Notebooks, which promise new narrative ways for students to interact with computational material, are growing increasingly popular in some fields such as computer science, but they have not yet been widely adopted. 3D printing is already common in the world but is only beginning to be brought into classrooms (see Jen Grayburn's slidedeck for more). Others emerging technologies, like the mixed reality Microsoft HoloLens, are still very much in the exploratory stage in terms of educational applications, but the possibilities are particularly exciting.


See the full Twitter discussion for more details.

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