Tripping Out to the UAE

I leave April 2, 2010 for an exciting adventure to the United Arab Emirates. I’ll fly from Duluth to Dubai arriving on Saturday at 7:25 PM Dubai Time (GMT +4 hours). That looks like a bit more than 19 hours of travel time with plane changes in both Chicago and Washington, D.C.  I will be picked up in Dubai and driven by car for about 1.5 hours to reach the coastal city of Fajairah on the Gulf of Oman.

A friend of mine is now the Director (think President) of the Fujairah Colleges in the Emirate of Fujairah. We got to know each other when he worked for several years at Minnesota State University Mankato. He went to the UAE a few years ago and is now Director of both the Fujairah Women’s College and the Fujairah Men’s College.

They are bringing me to their colleges to provide a week-long series of workshops related to teaching with technology, Web 2.0, e-Learning, and other things related to technology in education. Their work/school week runs from Sunday through Thursday so I will hit the ground running (hopefully) on Sunday morning with the first workshop.

I’ve never been to this part of the world and am very excited about the whole trip. I hope to post several times from over there to share some of the things I’m learning about and some of the people I meet.

RUMOR MILL SQUELCHING: due to our recent budget cuts and the incessant rumor mill about who is doing what and why, let me clarify a few things about this trip.

  • This is not a personal trip. I am going in my official capacity as V.P. of Technology and e-Campus at Lake Superior College. I receive my normal salary for this week, with no extra nor lesser compensation.
  • The speaking fees for the workshops are all payable to Lake Superior College. The college will receive fees equal to roughly double my weekly salary.
  • All travel expenses are being paid directly by the Fujairah Colleges.
  • Any personal costs incurred while traveling are my own.

Another Brian Lamb Video Riff

A few months ago I posted a video of Brian Lamb (Who the Hell is Brian Lamb?) when he visited with the WCET Catalyst Camp leadership group at the WCET annual conference in October 2009. I have a few additional clips, so I thought I should get on the stick and share a bit more.

Here’s a 9-minute video of Brian talking about the importance of having skills to evaluate web resources, the value of having your own network of trusted colleagues, getting students to do work that matters to the world outside the classroom walls, and the value of lurking while learning. Follow him on Twitter @brlamb

Omni Hotel Rip-Off

There is an update to this story at the bottom of the post.

At the end of the ITC eLearning 2010 conference in Ft. Worth last month, a colleague and I conducted a post-conference workshop about e-Learning Quality. We spent about 8 hours (Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning) talking about different quality factors related to online learning.

My original plan was to make arrangements with one of my Texas educator friends to borrow an LCD projector from their college for the workshop. Alternatively, I could have easily brought along one of the portable units from my own college. Alas, old age being what it is, I forgot to make these arrangements in advance.

Never fear, the Omni Hotels A/V and conference staff could come to my rescue. As we stood there at the conference registration table, the guy gives me a verbal quote of $550 for a projector. Keep in mind that this guy knows that we are using their meeting room for both Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning for a total of about 8 hours. I’m thinking that $550 is a lot of money, but basically the price I have to pay for my own forgetfulness, slash, stupidity. So I agree and life goes on. They set up an old LCD projector, not quite like the old projector shown in the pic (cc photo by pedrosimoes7), but not much better either.

Imagine my surprise when the total bill for using this projector for 8 hours is over $1,440.

After I returned to campus, I filled out the online survey that I received from the Omni Hotel Ft. Worth. Below is the section of the survey comments that I provided to them about my projector unhappiness:

“I was conducting a post-conference workshop using one meeting room for one afternoon and again the next morning. In need of an LCD projector, the conference staff informed me that it would cost $550 to which I verbally agreed. My bill for this projector was $1,440. I didn’t receive the full bill until after I returned home. The projector was old and didn’t work properly, although we were able to continually reset it to make it work. This projector has a street value of no more than $200. I know, I buy them all the time. Rental charge of $1,440 for one day with a $200 projector – that’s absolutely ludicrous. There were also issues with the beverages for our small meeting of 10 people, but that pales in comparison to the projector outrage. As a board member for the Instructional Technology Council, I will strongly recommend that we not consider Omni Hotels for our future annual conferences of 300-500 people.”

“A little customer service training advice for your employees – do not tell a customer that something will cost $550 and then give them a bill for $1,440. Nobody will take that well.”

Not surprisingly, I have received no response from Omni Hotels from my survey submission. Obviously, they don’t give a damn.

The Omni Hotel charged me $1,440 to use a $200 piece of equipment for 8 hours. Payday loan companies have nothing on those guys.

UPDATE: March 29, 2010. Manager from Omni Fort Worth contacted me to discuss the situation and agreed to adjust the total charges to the $550 that I verbally agreed to. That type of response DOES differentiate them from the Payday Loan companies. Thank you.

4 Things I Learned at ITC10

Last week I attended eLearning 2010 (ITC10), the annual conference hosted by the Instructional Technology Council. Every year this conference seems to get better and better and this year was no exception. This post will share four new things that I learned during the conference.

1) Todd McCann is a friend of mine who works at Bay College in Escanaba, Michigan. Todd presented a session titled: “Taming the Tornado, Free Tech Tools for Very Busy People.” He demonstrated and explained several ways of communication with students beyond the basic email, discussion forums, and live chat tools that are commonly utilized in online learning. Most intriguing to me was his use of Broadtexter, a free service that can be used to send text messages.

Sending text messages to students might not sound very innovative on the surface, but as you get down a little deeper I think you’ll find some really interesting features here. One of the problems with using text messages with students is the need to share personal contact information – you need to know their cell phone numbers and they need to know yours. Not true with Broadtexter. The system handles the phone numbers internally and that information is not shared with the different senders and recipients of the messages. Additionally, Broadtexter is an opt-in service. Students will sign up to receive your messages only if they are interested in doing so. If they don’t want to be “bothered” by you, they won’t be. Since appearing in the Chronicle, Todd is now know as Professor Textblaster, apparently.

2) Rhonda Ficek is another friend of mine. She works at Minnesota State University Morehead as an instructional technologist and faculty member. Rhonda’s presentation was titled: “Creating Web-based CoursePacks that Move with You and Between Any Course Management System.” Rhonda demonstrated the use of several tools that can be used to develop electronic course materials that are LMS-independent. A tool that I was not familiar with is eXeLearning. Their website (insert link) states the following: “The eXe project developed a freely available Open Source authoring application to assist teachers and academics in the publishing of web content without the need to become proficient in HTML or XML markup. Resources authored in eXe can be exported in IMS Content Package, SCORM 1.2, or IMS Common Cartridge formats or as simple self-contained web pages.”

Using eXeLearning, Rhonda showed how easy it is to create content that conforms to the many standards (SCORM, etc.) that are being developed for e-content. I generally prefer web-based tools when I can get them, but exeLearning appears to be worth the download and install on my PC. Besides, I’m always willing to give up the web-based mantra when a FOSS tool is functional and interesting. Unlike some FOSS tools, this one is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Rhonda also shared a great set of tutorials that were created with SoftChalk.

3) Another friend who always provides lots of learning tightly packed into a one hour session is Maria Anderson (here’s her blog: Teaching College Math) from Muskegon Community College in Michigan. Her session title was “Technologies to Engage, Excite, and Delight Your Math Faculty,” and no, that is not an oxymoron or a mission impossible. Maria showed several useful tools, but the best thing I can do is just refer you to her mindmap of math sites and tools which can provide people with hours of surfing pleasure if they are so inclined. I also found out that Maria is a choir director at heart, and I’m glad that she had the opportunity to express herself at ITC10.

4) Along with keynote Nancy White, I learned how to use the free SAP Web 2.0 PowerPoint Twitter tools. In fact, Nancy and I learned together how to do this since she had to borrow a netbook from me in order to make this happen during her keynote. We both downloaded and installed the plug-in (she in Seattle and me in Duluth) and learned how to use the slides at the same time. She mainly used two features of the package: a) the auto-tweet service that sends out a Twitter message as you advance the PPT slides at pre-determined times for those things from your presentation that you want to share on Twitter, or questions that you want to ask of the backchannel, and b) the Twitter feedback slides that dynamically updates with the latest messages posted to Twitter as long as the posts contain the designated hashtag. In my opinion, these tools worked very well and added value to her presentation. It was also good modeling by Nancy of jumping into the pool by using new technology applications on the fly where everyone could learn at the same time.