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.

#ITC10 Tweetup – 9 PM

Join me, @NancyWhite, @jimgroom and a cast of dozens of other ITC eLearning tweeters at Jake’s Hamburgers at the corner of 5th and Main in Ft. Worth.

All we  are intending to do is have a few beverages, some adult conversation (for as long as that holds out), and maybe a few impromptu short presentations/shoutouts – maybe!!

There’s probably room for 25-30 people in the upstairs section of Jake’s. If we need to change on the fly you can expect to see an update on  ……  you guessed it, Twitter.

Map from the hotel to Jake’s. View Larger Map

ITC10 Conference Message Board

Don’t let this happen to you. This is a picture from the ITC eLearning 2009 conference held last February in Portland. Look at those pathetic little messages posted on that great big board. Of course the twittering bird was added later.

Compare that with the over 500 messages that were posted to Twitter during the conference by 20-30 different tweeters. This year will likely produce an even bigger difference between old messaging and new messaging. I expect the Twitter activity to be much stronger this year and I wonder whether there is even a need for the bulletin board and push pins.

ITC eLearning 2010 is being held in Ft. Worth starting Saturday Feb. 20 and ending Tuesday, except for those attending the post-conference workshop on eLearning Quality.

Twitter Tag: #ITC10

Please tag your conference blog posts, photos, tweets, videos (etc.) with this tag to make things easier to find for people at the conference as well as the remote followers. Also, check out the Twitter Hub at

Twitter Twub: #itc10

If you’re heading to Ft. Worth for the ITC conference on Feb. 20-23; join the Twub for eLearning 2010 Twitter Twub: #itc10. A Twub is an aggregator of Twitter content about the conference plus a place to view photos, videos, and the like.