Scintillating Friday

This “Fried Friday” post is not “Fried” at all! I titled it scintillating because I just returned from Chancellor Caulfield’s 2 -day retreat with 30 UAS professionals. We had an excellent facilitator, Susan Bell, a partner with the McDowell Group, a panel of community members, a brief inspirational video welcome from Jason Ohler, a luncheon panel of four articulate students, each providing a different perspective, and a lot of really candid and insightful discussions by the participants in the room. The conversations were thought-provoking and it was an honor to join into the lively discussion. It was wonderful to hear from faculty in the room that the FLC and iTeach, and other things that we’ve (the instructional design TEAM at Sitka) attempted really has helped and made a difference to UAS faculty and students. Thank you for your awesome public support and validation! And thank you, Chancellor Caulfield for asking for this dialogue and providing a structured venue for creative thinking to occur.

Here are some highlights from the retreat that I thought you’d be interested in, a sneak preview before convocation where Chancellor Caulfield and Maren Haavig will share more information.

In a very negative budgetary environment statewide, Representative Cathy Munoz shared a number of areas where she saw UAS expanding training and educational opportunities for Alaskans. She highlighted an aging workforce in statewide and the need for qualified younger employees to replace them. She also pointed to opportunities to increase the university’s connection with K12 expanding dual credit opportunities for students, as well as showing appreciation for intern opportunities. It was refreshing to hear possibilities instead of doom and gloom.

Brian Holst, Economic Development Council Executive Director, shared his perspective on being part of a global economy. He highlighted 4 important areas which, I think align pretty closely with the job of instructional designers. See what you think! He stated that a university must:

  1. Develop and attract talent (we are trained to help faculty develop their talent and enhance their teaching delivery and design, create opportunities for continual growth with peer review)
  2. Research is critical. It saves us from errors in thinking (instructional designers are constantly researching and staying on top of best practices throughout the country, both tool-wise and pedagogy-wise)
  3. Leadership is crucial, setting out a path for others, being aware of big challenges, taking a long view to get ahead of trends, spotting opportunities (Instructional designers try to look at faculty needs, IT support issues, ease of student use, while balancing the output with the inputs of production time and cost, but always looking for opportunities)
  4. Innovation drives productivity. Without change, you will fall behind (That’s my favorite statement!! Instructional designers are too aware of the competitive nature of online teaching and aware that students can take courses from anywhere from YouTube to other in-state or out-of-state colleges and universities. Our product must have quality to compete in this environment)

Brian also suggested that in this budget environment it is even more important that we network, communicate and build on each other’s strengths, removing the silos wherever possible.

Anthony Mallot, CEO Sealaska joined the discussion with some excellent comments on making sure that our mission statement aligns with our values. Having a shared value base helps, especially with community partnerships, to have a shared vision. He discussed feasibility gaps but suggested that working with community partners we can close these gaps, a real win-win. He invited us to look at the translated their value that have already been translated into a business environment. And, one of the things he said that really resonated with me, and what we do here at the Faculty Learning Corner, is you need continuous improvement. He said, “if you don’t change, you are falling behind.” I think that was a direct quote. I totally agree!

Jason Ohler, University of Alaska’s President’s Professor of Educational Technology and Distance Learning, joined us by video and shared a few thoughts:

  • Staying relevant in today’s world is hard. We need to think about what edge does a degree actually bring a student
  • He reminded us that in distance learning flexibility and quality are often in opposition and we should carefully balance these
  • He stated that one of the advantages that UAS has is smallness and the ability to move quickly. He suggests that we not allow ourselves to get bogged down, but take advantage of our agility to stay on the cutting edge of quality education

Our student panel was very interesting. I particularly enjoyed when one of the students, originally from the Fairbanks area said that “it just clicked” for him when he got to UAS. While he isn’t particularly going to college for a career he is loving the experience and the enrichment he receives from being in small classes with engaged instructors. I think this was echoed by all.

Susan Bell then led the group through a process of looking at the Strategic and Assessment Plan 2010-2017. Okay, here’s a confession that I shouldn’t make in public, but here goes. I think I now really understand the difference between a syllabus and a student-centered syllabus (see post from August 5th). In a day and a half, we took a document that was interesting and surely important, but not necessarily a part of my fiber and made it come alive. By talking about the document, by discussing the document, yup each section, in terms of what’s missing? what’s no longer relevant? what’s broken? are there opportunities to improve this document? does it speak to our values and what we do? well you get it, by dissecting the plan, it became a roadmap of what’s important, pointing out our weaknesses, our strengths and our priorities.

I’ll end this post by saying that a remarkable priority rose to the top. Throughout the retreat a common theme was spoken. For the success of UAS to continue, for courses to remain competitive and faculty to be able to perform at their best, the group recognized the value of instructional designers and a faculty support center (performing the role that Holst outlined above) and a robust IT infrastructure. This was echoed by faculty, and directors, and deans and most everyone in the room. And there were other important priorities too that we all agreed upon. I’ll leave those to the Convocation. Chancellor Caulfield asked us to share our thoughts so I thought this would help to get the word out. Oh, and we were asked to read a pretty interesting book prior to the retreat, American Higher Education in CRISIS? by Goldie Blumenstyk. More about that in next week’s post.

Have a great weekend!