EDUCAUSE conference explores relationship between learning, technology

By Stephen Strobbe

The 2011 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative began its spring focus Wednesday in the Garden Level Study Commons of Moody Memorial Library. The conference, entitled “Seeking Evidence of Impact”, was put on in part by Baylor University Libraries and the Academy for Teaching and Learning and will continued Thursday in the same location.

“The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) is a community of higher education institutions and organizations committed to advancing learning through information technology (IT) innovation. ELI is a strategic initiative of EDUCAUSE. While EDUCAUSE serves those interested in advancing higher education through technology, ELI specifically explores innovative technologies and practices that advance learning,” according to EDUCAUSE’s website.

According to the information from EDUCAUSE, the intent was to explore how innovations and investments made in recent years with technologies in the classrooms have impacted the learning environment. They sought to determine how effective these technologies and innovations for both teaching and learning have been.

A handful of people were in attendance, both from Baylor and the surrounding colleges.

Richard Leslie, a coordinator in the Center for Instructional Design at McLennan Community College, was present for the event.

“I’m interested in the subject, about data-driven decision making and how to create assessments to try and make sure you have the right data to make the decisions you need to make. Plus, I’ve been to several of these focus sessions over here at Baylor before and they’ve always proved to be very interesting and timely,” Leslie said.

“I’m hoping to get some good models for gathering data,” he continued, “Not being [a teacher] here at Baylor, I appreciate their hosting these things.”

Malcolm Brown, the director of ELI, opened the focus session remotely, speaking through Adobeconnect: a virtual web-conferencing platform which allowed the session to be both interactive and viewed at multiple locations, and served as the primary means by which the session would be run throughout the day. The use of a remote presentation allowed people to attend the session from across the nation, with attendees from Illinois State University, Bryant University, Virginia Tech University, Purdue University and more.

“It is our hope that in the course of the next two days, you will come away with a number of useful insights that will enable you to move forward with your campuses,” Brown said.

Discussing the importance of testing generic skills and how to best determine the development of students, the session presented information mainly directed toward university professors although it was open to any students or faculty interested in attending.

Viewers were able to ask questions of the presenters via a chat room within the Adobeconnect interface or by using the hashtag #elifocus on twitter.

During the first Q&A session, Trudy Banta, professor of higher education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, responded to questions from those in attendance through the Adobeconnect interface, and suggested that using electronic portfolios as a means for assessing students is a positive way that professors can aggregate student work in a very accessible way.

“You do need to think about changing your approach to student learning and instruction a bit as you’re putting portfolios into play,” Banta said.

The second half of the session focused again on using evaluation tools and surveys.