Friday, April 15, 2016

Perspective Through Film: The ACM Student Film Festival and Conference

It has been a while since my last blog post.  During that time, I have been traveling to member campuses meeting with faculty and staff, while simultaneously participating in the creation of a professional development course surrounding the economics of higher education at small liberal arts colleges.  However, one activity I really want to highlight is the first annual ACM Student Film Conference and Festival.  While you can find more detailed information and links to the winning presentations here, there are some personal impressions I would like to convey.
  • Student Engagement – During the reception on Friday evening, students, faculty, and judges were encouraged to have informal conversations that would help set the tone for the rest of the festival.  I was able to meet students from St. Olaf, Grinnell, Colorado, Macalester, and Lawrence just to name a few.  I learned about what motivated them to make films, their different approaches and their passion for the medium.  At dinner, I sat with students from Macalester and Colorado and discussed the important role technology plays in storytelling.
  • Faculty Engagement – Also during the reception, faculty were busy interacting with students and judges.  They provided tours of the Hurvis Center and other facilities at Lawrence, connected groups and made introductions.  Facilitating these informal conversations and making sure that everyone had an opportunity to engage was a large part of what made the conference successful.
  • The Judges – I cannot say enough about how approachable, honest, and personable the judges were while attending the festival.  Whether talking to the faculty members, students or me, they took the time to listen and engage on a very personal level.  During the panel after dinner, they answered pointed questions honestly about the power structure in Hollywood, what it takes to be successful, and where to begin the journey.  They did not shy away from tough questions or attempt to downplay the realities of the industry.
  • Diversity – Although I truly enjoyed the reception and dinner, my favorite part was the next morning, when I was able to view two screenings of student work.  I was in awe and amazed at not only the quality but the diversity of student projects.  The level of storytelling and emotion was captivating and impressive.  Whether irreverent and comical or serious and haunting, the students told stories that impacted you on a personal level.  Several told the story of an individual or family member in a way that truly made you feel connected to the individual. 


I have always enjoyed the film and believe the use of feature film or documentary clips can have a tremendous impact in the classroom.  However, after attending the festival, I have a renewed appreciation for the art of storytelling through film.  Capturing not only the emotion of those on the screen but also, that of the director behind the lens is an art that can draw the viewer into another persons’ world, bringing context and perspective.  I look forward to the subsequent years of the festival, and I hope to be allowed to attend and continue many of these conversations.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wrapping up 2015

As I have stated before, the most exciting part of my job is traveling and experiencing first-hand the creativity of ACM faculty and staff.  Whether it is in a classroom, a newly designed informal learning space, libraries incorporating technology into spaces previously occupied by books, or informal conversations at professional conferences, the focus on student engagement and learning is universal for ACM member campuses. 

For this final installment of 2015, I wanted to supplement my earlier series on innovation.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but provides a good starting point.  Feel free to add more information in the comments so we can share additional initiatives and projects.  As of now, however, here are some things to get us started:

  • Beloit has purchased a Vocal Booth with the help of a grant.  Although there is currently no equipment installed in the booth, students and faculty can check out microphones.  There are plans to install a computer and dedicated microphone based on feedback from users.  Also, Beloit is involved in an Andrew Mellon Foundation funded $100,000 English planning grant with Knox and Lake Forest surrounding the effective use of technology in English departments.
  • Carleton’s IdeaLab allows interested faculty to work with digital assignments and objects.  Carleton also continues to work with St. Olaf on the Andrew Mellon Foundation funded Broadening the Bridge initiative, meant to increase collaboration between the two schools.
  • Knox has begun repurposing space in the library to create both formal and informal learning spaces.  These include huddle stations and an instructional area.  Also, Knox is involved in an Andrew Mellon Foundation funded $100,000 English planning grant with Lake Forest and Beloit surrounding the effective use of technology in English departments.
  • Lake Forest received an $800,000 grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation supporting their Digital Chicago Project.  Also, Lake Forest is involved in an Andrew Mellon Foundation funded $100,000 English planning grant with Knox and Beloit surrounding the effective use of technology in English departments.
  • Monmouth has set up a test environment for a new release of Moodle.  Faculty members have been invited to participate in a pilot and then report out to colleagues and staff on their experiences in using new functionality.
  • St. Olaf is nearing completion of their Digital Scholarship Center (DiSCO), set to open in January.  Included in this space on the fourth floor of the Rolvaag Library will be: Open, collaborative study and work spaces; Computer stations equipped with media production and design software; a computer classroom; Production Lab equipped with large-format and 3D printing, scanning, and creative workspace; Audio recording booth; and a Video recording room.  Pictures soon to come.
In a world of constantly changing and evolving technologies, it is an honor to be associated with colleges on the forefront of taking purposeful and pedagogically driven approaches to teaching and learning.  I look forward to next year to arrive and cannot wait to see what is on the horizon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Motivations in Higher Education

Over 7,000 Technologists and IT professionals descended on Indianapolis for the EDUCAUSE annual meeting last week.  Attending conferences for me has always existed in two streams of thought.  I am so incredibly inspired by the presentations and conversations that I long for a photographic memory to catch every word and an army of clones so I can attend all of the presentations.  However, as neither of those are current possibilities (and the latter would be quite frankly creepy), I will make due as well as I can.  Secondly, there is the realization that a majority of the institutions represented are either large private or public institutions. 

This is not in any way an attack on large research institutions, but merely an observation in the way content and perspectives are relayed to the audience.  It is sometimes difficult to recognize the role that a design process or technology used in a large format course can influence the small liberal arts classroom.  Small residential colleges have an added benefit of proximity to allow the creation of deep and meaningful relationships between students, faculty, staff, and academic leaders.  Conversations can happen in a digital or physical space, both formally and informally.   

This realization led me to think deeply about the first keynote presentation by Daniel Pink.  In this talk, the key factor to embracing change was motivation.  What motivates the individual to be creative and experiment with different ideas and concepts?  According to Pink, creativity cannot exist in a task-oriented environment, and the old “carrot and stick” approach is ineffective if you want to spark creativity.  Instead, creating an environment that encourages exploration, experimentation and allows failure is a recipe for success.

As I was listening to this presentation, I began to think about the way professors on a small residential campus teach and the conversations that have come up while traveling through the ACM.  Technology can be a powerful ally when it comes to influencing students, but the most powerful component is a faculty member who is passionate and invested in the success of every student.  The conversations I have had with faculty and staff do not center around what the new cool technologies are, but on more effective ways to reach students.  Technology is an enhancement and not distracting.  Technologists and IT staff members are also committed to student success and recognize the importance of the “right” technology and not just checking a box.


Where does this leave us?  Do we now have to throw away all of the cool toys?  Absolutely not!  I am still in awe of the possible implications surrounding adaptive learning, active classroom design, wearable technology, virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.  I will continue to write and post on all of these topics and more.  However, this first presentation caused me to examine my own motivations and explore why it is so important to encourage experimentation, failure, and discovery.  What motivates you to continue to innovate, create, and drive forward?