Professional Development

In the 'MERLOT' Category...

Kevin at MERLOT

Monday, August 11, 2008 7:45 am

The eighth annual MERLOT Conference, held in Minneapolis, had much to offer. Under the banner of “Still Blazing the Trail and Meeting New Challenges in the Digital Age”, there were an impressive number of sessions (from 15 minute mini-sessions up to 2 hour workshops) shared among several different conference tracks. The library track, ‘Reinventing Libraries in the Digital Age’, unfortunately, seemed rather lightly represented.

Sessions ran the gamut: from the opening plenary’s ‘stuck on an escalator‘ video to Saturday evening’s consideration of learning and cognitive neuroscience. In between, I attended many other interesting sessions: the challenges of repository creation in the context of sharing educational resources; an analysis of effective online instruction and hybrid course development; the use and importance of self-assessment in asynchronous class discussions; the integration of social network environments within the campus learning context; and an examination of accessibility and deprecated development techniques in the context of online education.

Overall, it was a informative conference, where the varying perspectives on and degress of hybridity indicated the value and complexities of the changing landscape and its new opportunities.

Susan’s MERLOT Report

Sunday, August 10, 2008 4:34 pm

I’m starting this report with a disclaimer: I arrived in Minneapolis to attend and present at MERLOT International Conference this weekend AFTER a long week of intensive learning in Cambridge. So, I am admitting up front to the fact that my brain was already on overload. Thus, my notes are much more brief than Lauren P.’s, so I recommend you move on to her report for thoroughness and insight.

I’ll restrict my comments general ones and will tell you all about our presentation. We talked about our initiative to provide blog and wiki services campus-wide. I provided an overview of the environment that made it a desirable and doable project. Lauren talked about the library’s role in supporting and growing the program by integrating instructional design and technology training for the faulty and other users. Kevin shared the details of the technology specifics of the implementation and on-going maintenance and support of this locally hosted open-source service. The presentation was very well received with lots of questions about how we made this into a viable program. One might think people were being polite (but I will say that both Lauren and Kevin were fantastic presenters), but we continued to have people come up for the rest of the afternoon and again today to say how they had really enjoyed our talk.

Announcing our Session

This conference is one that targets educators who incorporate technology to enhance learning in higher education. This year, a library tract was added, “Reinventing Libraries in the Digital Age”, which prompted us to submit a presentation proposal. I had attended a few years ago and had found it valuable but mostly as a way to see what faculty are doing with technology in the classroom. So it was a bonus that libraries were invited to be specifically addressed in our roles to support campus learning.

One session I’d like to report on was presented by Peter Juvinall from Illinois State University, who has used Facebook as the delivery framework in classes he teaches for freshman students. His anecdotal findings paralleled what we experienced in our pilot to use Facebook in LIB100 last spring. It was encouraging to hear that we may be on track with our goal to meet the students where they already are.

One other session I’d like to¬† mention was a bit different. The presenter, Mike Buetner, spoke about the potential for video-based learning as a delivery method in a majority of situations. To make his point, he had the audience watch a video on how to tie a blood knot as we attempted to actually tie the rope. A few people were successful (I was way too brain-dead by the 5:30 session time yesterday to even attempt it). Here is an example of the type of video instruction he was promoting.

Finally, I have to tell about my new conference/class/meeting technology tool: the LiveScribe Pulse Smartpen! We weren’t allowed to use computers to take notes at the leadership institute, but one of the students had what looked like an expensive, but normal pen. It turns out it was really a computerized writing implement. It was so cool, when I got a few spare minutes yesterday, I rushed out to Target (Minneapolis is their headquarters city) and bought one. The technology uses a camera and custom paper with millions of microdots to capture every stroke and notation you make on the paper. You can download that onto your computer.The real fantastic part, though, is that the pen records every sound that is happening (read: presentation speaker or instructor teaching) and connects the audio to the image that was captured by the camera. All the captured material is time line based, so turning back to any page in your notes and tapping the pen on a word will restart your audio at the precise moment your wrote that word. I tested it out this morning at both the plenary session in a huge conference room and at a smaller session. The audio was clear and I was able to go back through my notes and hear exactly what was being said (helpful when I can’t read what I scrawled). I’m hoping it will become a useful tool for all the meetings I now seem to be attending.

Lauren at MERLOT

Sunday, August 10, 2008 12:10 pm

This was my first MERLOT International conference. I had heard it was really good from Susan, so Susan, Kevin, and I proposed a session on blogs and wikis, were accepted, and went to Minneapolis for MERLOT.
fancy signage in main room

As a somewhat techy conference, there were power strips on every table in almost every conference program room. Fabulous touch! There was free wireless in the conference area, and the presentation areas were hard-wired with good technical support. Each session also had a session chair who introduced the speaker, gave time limit warnings, and helped distribute and collect things during presentations. This really made it much smoother for the presenter than most conferences in my experience.

One of the most interesting things to me about this conference is that there is a diversity of presentation lengths. Some are over an hour, some are as short as 15 minutes. I wasn’t sure about the 15 and 30 minute presentations, but I ended up really liking them. If they’re great, they’re chock-full of information; if they’re not great, they’re just 15 minutes, you can go on to something else. It also means you can go to a large diversity of events as you can see here:

Minneapolis was a great place for a conference. It’s much more of a city that I expected, and there are a lot of pretty and interesting places around there–enough to want to take a trip here for fun! It’s walkable, there are nice places, and I ate some great food.

Great conference all the way around!


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