Monday, October 31, 2011


Each fall and spring a group of individuals involved in working with faculty to support public post secondary teaching and learning in British Columbia gather together to share their work experiences and expertise. UCIPD stands for University, College, and Institute, Professional Development. Not a very fancy name, and members admit to spending too much time trying to explain the acronym to their institutional administrators. One day it might change to something more catchy, but meanwhile this grassroots group continues to collaborate, share, and gather together for what always amounts to the some of the most interesting days of my professional life. I feel privileged to be a part of this Community of Practice. Yet, at the same time, I've always been a little perplexed about how it functions.

I remember my first gathering about four years ago. I was there wearing two hats: one to fill in for my dean at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and the other to report on SCoPE, which at that time was supported by Simon Fraser University. We started out with quick round-table reports highlighting activities and challenges at each institution. My jaw dropped. I was astounded at all of the fantastic work, as well as professional development opportunities... that very few people know about! Well I assume that's right, since I was wedged right in a faculty support role and I didn't know about all of these great things. In fact, I had worked in post secondary system for over 20 years and I had never heard of UCIPD. Why?

Having been part of this CoP for awhile now, I think I can offer a few reasons.

  1. There is no web, and no social media, presence. 
  2. The main form of communication is a listserv. I'm sure that anyone in the teaching and learning field in the British Columbia post secondary system who requests to join would be welcomed. But first you need to know that it exists. Then you need to find out how to join. It's sort of a you-need-to-know-somebody-who-knows approach. 
  3. The group has a really good thing going. All members feel supported, and grateful for the access to such a fantastic resource. There is a long, interesting history spotted with challenges, and through it all the group has held together. There seems to be a desire, especially from the long-time members, to stay the same. 
  4. The governance of UCIPD is far from complex. There is no budget and no steering or advisory committees. The leadership emerged, and consists of a handful of people interested in investing the time and energy. Fall and Spring gatherings rotate around the province and are hosted by members at their institutions. Individuals are responsible for finding their own travel funds (and are not always successful in doing so, which is another story). Program committees form to plan those gatherings, although membership of that committee does not seem to change much from one year to the next. They really are committed!
  5. This Community of Practice is not under the umbrella of an organization, and as such there is no obligation to report out on activities, and no formal monitoring or recognition of the work the group does. There is also no marketing.

At one stage (~2006) there was a request for a space in SCoPE, mainly to share and build resources together, but also to take advantage of what a forum tool has to offer such as centralized history and topic-based and threaded discussions. It started as a private space on the site, but then, with consensus among the members, was opened up for the public to read along, and even join. However, the transition to the new, open CoP space was slow. The members continued to use and prefer the listserv, no doubt because it was already part of their workflow. So we had a short period of a web presence, open sharing and dialogue, but then reverted back to earlier practices.

This group exists because of its intense willingness to share, collaborate, and learn. Members are devoted to their work, and also to sustaining the UCIPD Community of Practice. There is not a resistance to reaching out beyond the existing group, or to try new tools and activities. There is just caution, and for a good reason. When you have a rich CoP there's something to be said for staying the same. It serves the purpose of its members -- to learn from one another. The members, in turn, take that back to their own institutions.

On the other hand, it's hard not to wonder if more open practices would benefit our work across the post-secondary system. Furthermore, would the group benefit from a wider profile? And would a wider profile in turn give more attention to teaching and learning at our institutions? After all, these people are very quietly doing amazing work! Are there times when OPEN is not better? These are complex CoP questions.

This started out as a post about the UCIPD event held in Vancouver last week, but I found myself writing about the CoP itself. Thanks for listening while I write to make sense of things! And I promise, more about the event later. :-)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Opening Education Conference Experience

Yesterday I participated in the Opening Education Conference organized by BCcampus. I didn't have the time to participate in person, and, in any case, I hesitate to use travel funds to experience events unless I'm presenting or one of the organizers.

At BCcampus we always attempt to offer some kind of experience for individuals or groups who are unable to attend meetings and events in person. Sometimes this is simply a shared recording of one or more selected presentations. Other times we live stream, but don't plan for other ways to engage the online participants. Occasionally the engagement just happens, initiated by participants through twitter.

The Opening Education event had some intentional planning around engaging distributed delegates, and for me it felt like a nice balance. I certainly didn't feel completely involved; my attention wandered throughout the day to other projects I'm currently working on. But in many ways, that is the advantage of participating from your office. You participate according to your own time and interest.

Here are some observations from yesterday's event:

  • A big monitor brought me closer to the activity in the room. I wouldn't have felt as connected using a mobile device. 
  • The split screen for viewing presentation slides and presenters simultaneously makes a big difference.
  • Good microphones, and remembering to use them, is a bonus!
  • Quality of the stream does matter. It's fun to watch spontaneous broadcasts from handheld devices, but it's not something you want to do all day. The live streaming done by SFU's Teaching and Learning Centre was exceptional.
  • A pre-determined and simple hashtag #opening11 helped to bring together participants on twitter quickly and efficiently.
  • Having a designated person to monitor the twitter stream (Tori Klassen - multi-tasker extraordinaire!) to respond, prompt, and also bring forward questions and comments to the place-based audience made a huge difference. 
  • When participating from a distance it does help to know some of the people in the room. 
  • Stating name/affiliation before speaking is a good practice, and especially helpful for those listening in. Sometimes the camera doesn't make it to the individual in time. 
  • The page "OPENING EDUCATION:  How do we create educator engagement with open education?" that David Porter fired up for the final session of the day was a great idea. Delegates on location formed small groups, and there were some who contributed to the sync-in page. (Designating scribes might have been better.) Online participants typed away. The real-time-ness of that activity made it especially compelling.
  • Attention to the details, like adding a time zone converter for the live webcast participants counts for a lot.
Here's a quick movie I put together to capture the experience of participating in the conference from my home office. It lingers on the final slide for way too long. Whatever! :-)