Two Days in Billings

I spent an enjoyable two days in Billings, Montana (May 6-7, 2009) for a series of faculty development workshops at Montana State University Billings. Tim Tirrell, Director of e-Learning at MSUB brought in Corinne Hoisington (books authored) and myself to work with about 40 faculty members and instructional designers over the two full days. Corinne and I started things off with a shared plenary session that was intended to set the stage for the breakout sessions that we would lead over the next day and a half. The theme for the workshop was using free or low-cost technologies to create content for use within Desire2Learn. MSUB switched to D2L only recently and many faculty were looking for new ways that they could add content and create engaging assignments and projects for their students using Web 2.0 tools and similar technologies. (CC Photo: “Breakfast at Stella’s” in Billings byMike Willis)

Corinne and I work well together because we have complimentary but very different presentation styles and because we each are evangelists for complementary but different tools that can be used effectively in education. Corinne is a proponent of many Microsoft tools as well as several other very useful free tools that primarily fall into the Web 2.0 category – if there is such a thing. I definitely concentrate on how Web 2.0 tools can be used (and are being used) effectively in education settings. After the morning plenary session on day one, we spent that afternoon in two separate three-hour breakout sessions. Corinne led a group through a hands-on demo of several “hot technologies” including Poll Everywhere, Cuil, ChaCha, Slideshare, Google Translate/Latitude/Maps, Newseum, LinkedIn, OneNote screenshots, and more. At the same time I was leading a group through their paces using several tools from my PLE that can be useful for faculty members to provide engaging course content for their online classes, including mindmaps with Mindomo, customized feeds shared through Google Reader and adding RSS feeds into D2L widgets, Delicious and Diigo bookmarking tools, videos and digital photos including several Flickr tools and add-ons. screen capture videos using Screencastle and similar services, and finished with Netvibes as a way to bring all sorts of content together in a single place for student access.

On day two, there were again two separate hands-on, three-hour breakout sessions for participants to choose from. Corrine concentrated on using multimedia to engage students such as OneNote 2007, UStream, Screencast-o-matic, Flip cams, Media Converter and much more audio and video goodness. During the same three-hour time slot I spent most of my time on collaboration and communications tools such as blogs and wikis, Zoho suite of collaborative tools for web office functions, as well as Zoho Creator and Zoho Notebook (both crowd favorites) and Toondoo which is always an eye opener. After lunch, we finished off with a final three-hour tour and allowed the participants to select which session Corrine should repeat and which session I should repeat. That allowed people who missed one of the breakouts (because they were attending the other) to catch up on some of what they missed earlier. That worked out pretty well.

This workshop was coordinated through Innovations in e-Education, a new service from my employer, Lake Superior College. It was basically our first experience of the concept we are calling “Conference Comes to You.” The main difference is that normally the Innovations group does most of the event planning and handles registrations and similar tasks. In this case Tim Tirrell and his MSUB staff took on those tasks since he already knew what he wanted to see happen and had made most of the needed plans.

For the same cost as this two day mini-conference, MSUB could have sent three people to a national technology conference where they could have had a similar experience. Instead this is what occurred:

  • 40 faculty and staff were engaged, including three people from other MSU schools.
  • Attendees spent much more time on task, rather than rushing from one 50 minute breakout session to another.
  • Attendees still had some choices about which sessions to attend.
  • Attendees had a preview of what the sessions would cover so that they could make informed selections.
  • No out-of-state travel concerns.
  • Efficient use of limited professional development funds.
  • Better opportunities for future contact compared to most national conferences.

Next time maybe the conference will come to you. Whaddya think?