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Recap of #BlendLAC18: The Seventh Annual Blended Learning Conference

June 6, 2018

Thank you to all those who attended the Blended Learning Conference 2018! This year, we solicited proposals that focused on process as well as product, gave hands-on practical advice and implementation tips, and/or showed methods and techniques over time. As always, the conference represented various disciplines and roles, all brought together by a shared interest in technology and pedagogy.

You can view all session descriptions here. 

Highlights and Themes

It's hard to make generalizations about any event like this one (as one of the organizing team members noted on Twitter: "I've gone from talking about memes to talking about Soviet cultures and digitizing libraries"). But there were some broad themes that emerged for us over the course of the two-day event.

Repurposed Technology

We saw several presentations this year showcasing unexpected, creative, and unintended technology use. The Twitter conversation kicked off early with a discussion from Nicholas Koberstein (Keuka College) and Brian Moritz (SUNY Oswego) on "Meme Wars" as a way to maintain student interest during the late-semester slump.

An interest in creative tech use to support student learning was also readily apparent in our hands-on workshops, which covered drones, screencasting for student collaboration (rather than exclusively for faculty lectures), and using the Digital Public Library of America for student-centered pedagogy.

This year we also mixed up our session formats a bit more than we have in the past, with a new panel of 5-minute lightning rounds and "The Stat is Right," a gameshow-style panel exploring the sometimes unexpected data about student and faculty use technology.

Programmatic Innovation

Several sessions this year gave participants the opportunity to reflect not just on technologies but also on the process of creating and maintaining digitally-oriented programs. Speakers on professional development, digital pedagogy within consortia, and similar topics lead to frequent conversations about project management, accountability, and sustainability.

The conference also reminded us that digital work also exists outside of planned and institutional boundaries--while our conference focused on faculty and staff, there were frequent reminders that students are often the drivers, as well as the creators, of digital programming.

Along the way, we encountered some sobering data about how technology decisions impact the lives of students. In a presentation on OER resources, Amy Sugar from Rollins College reported the results of a student survey asking how students would spend the money they saved on textbooks--and the top answers (food, health, transportation) shows that technology decisions can have a broad-ranging impact on a student's quality of life.

The Future of Programming

Watch: Keynote: What Should We Ask of the Liberal Arts in a Dis-integrative Era?

A highlight of the conference was the thought-provoking keynote from Randy Bass, Vice Provost for Education and Founding Executive Director of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University. Bass spoke on "What Should We Ask of the Liberal Arts in a Dis-integrative Era?" Bass argued that higher ed needs to be aimed at helping humans become better at being human.

To serve this goal, Bass proposes a "rebundled" version of education, which puts the "unbundled" Silicon Valley model of microcredentials and competency-based education into the service of a "bundled," Liberal Arts education. Essentially, he proposes embracing the best of both worlds in order to serve the goal of making humans better humans.

Bass's keynote raised many questions; many commented that they were looking forward to watching the video again to revisit his ideas. Some participants found that the speech provoked possible changes in their pedagogy; as Brian Moritz writes on his blog, he was "stopped cold" by Bass's comment that "The students we’re teaching, their careers will be peaking in the 2030s-2040s."

All in all, the conference has left us with a lot to think about! We are currently posting videos and additional materials in the conference archives. In the meantime, follow us at @BlendedLAC for updates!

This conference was supported by Bryn Mawr College, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Teagle Foundation.

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