729 Miles : collaborations in educational technology across the Pacific Northwest

Educational technology is by nature a collaborative effort, with faculty, students, and staff working together to build an effective learning environment within and beyond the classroom. In order to foster relationship across campuses, in May 2015, Reed and Lewis & Clark co-hosted the first collaborative instructional technology event sponsored by the Northwest Five Consortium* (NW5C). We dubbed the conference “729 Miles of Technology”, a name taken from the distance of one route connecting the five campuses. (You can view the full program and other conference details at the project website.) 

“729 Miles” brought together instructional technologists and faculty members for two days of workshops and discussions. Since all five NW5C institutions have different approaches to support faculty in their use of technology in teaching, representatives from all five campuses gathered to learn from each other and build better practices from our shared knowledge.

After the requisite coffee and pastries, Friday kicked off with faculty presentations focused on technology and communication: from Nick Brody (Puget Sound) came stories of the challenges and opportunities of using blogs to increase collaboration in the classroom, and Daena Goldsmith (Lewis & Clark) shared her experiences teaching with social media. Albert Kim (Reed) regaled us with his “tales from the trenches” of teaching data science to undergrads (“data visualization… is a gateway drug for statistics”) and Erik Nilsen (Lewis & Clark) shared insights from years of teaching as classroom culture has evolved.  (Notes / snippets of the day : Twitter)

After lunch, we dove into an afternoon of workshops led by instructional technology staff. Topics included best practices for digital pedagogy, building students’ digital research skills, how to use specific tools (tablets, Google Apps) and technologies (e-portfolios, blogs), and some ideas for working with maps and spatial data. After a debrief, the conference adjourned to a nearby restaurant for further discussion before we broke for the evening. Saturday instructional technology staff split their time between the Reed and Lewis & Clark campuses, touring facilities and delving into the details of how each of our teams accomplishes the common goal of supporting technology in teaching, learning, and scholarship.

We asked all attendees to fill out a survey so we could learn more about their experiences. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive; almost everyone said their expectations were met and they’d be up for attending something similar in the future.  Comments included that “faculty presentations were interesting and informative”, and also that it was valuable to learn about specific tools and applications from technology staff. One staff member commented that “I will use a lot of what I learned … to create an even more meaningful tech environment on campus.” One of the unique aspects of this conference was the faculty/staff ratio (nearly 1:1); many people remarked positively on the mix of attendees and how that made for a rich experience.  

As one of the conference organizers, I delighted in seeing months of work come to fruition in an event which participants found engaging, and from which participants left with new ideas for engaging others. I was delighted to hear from at least one participant that they had been “exposed [to] many other ways of approaching the use of technology in the classroom.” The “729 Miles” team continues to talk about next steps for continuing collaboration among the campuses; we’ll keep you posted as things move forward.
*Through support from the Mellon Foundation, the NW5C brings together five liberal arts colleges in the Pacific Northwest — Lewis & Clark (Portland, OR), Puget Sound (Tacoma, WA), Whitman (Walla Walla, WA), Willamette (Salem, OR), and Reed — to share expertise and resources in support of students and faculty at all five campuses.

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