e.Scape Conference looks to the future of digital learning

Two-day event will feature a panel discussion and technology presentations
September 9, 2014
By Tom Peacock

Saul Carliner, Concordia’s digital learning fellow, addresses attendees at the last e.SCAPE Conference in March Saul Carliner, Concordia’s digital learning fellow, addresses attendees at the last e.SCAPE Conference in March.

On October 1 and 2, Concordia will hold its third e.Scape Conference, Innovations in Teaching: Getting The Most out of Online Learning. The event will explore web technology’s expanding role in higher education, and introduce participants to some of the popular pedagogical tools in use at Concordia.

Cathy Bolton, Concordia’s vice-provost of teaching and learning, says that like most other universities in Canada, Concordia is still in the early stages of developing a comprehensive digital and online learning strategy. But before barging ahead, it’s important to find out what’s working and why.

Cathy Bolton, vice-provost, teaching and learning: “We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our students.” Cathy Bolton, vice-provost, teaching and learning: “We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our students.” | Photos by Concordia University

The first day of the e.Scape Conference will feature a panel discussion titled Universities in the 21st Century: Wired or Unplugged?, led by Benoit Antoine Bacon, Concordia’s provost and vice president, and Anthony Masi, provost of McGill University.

This will be followed by a community conversation aimed at developing proposals for how to manage the implementation of online learning. Students, staff and faculty are all encouraged to participate, and contribute their ideas and concerns. “Hopefully we can take what we learn and use it to develop our future policies and strategies,” Bolton says.

Test-driving the technology

On the second day of e.Scape, conference attendees will have a chance to both learn about and try some of the new learning technologies in use at Concordia.

Tools such as Adobe Connect, Camtasia and Panopto are facilitating the development of flexible new course models that use both traditional classroom time and online resources, explains Saul Carliner, Concordia’s digital learning fellow. As such, he says, it’s important for professors to have a chance to see them in action and experiment with them, even if they have little interest in developing an entirely online course.

 “We’re still committed to developing all-online courses, but there are compelling reasons to integrate technology in other ways that are appropriate for what you are teaching.”

Carliner gives the example of a professor who’s out of town for a conference. Using Adobe Connect the professor can create a virtual classroom space and teach the course remotely, while interacting with his or her students.

20130424-saul-carliner-vg Saul Carliner

In another case, a professor might choose to use Camtasia to capture a lecture on video, thus freeing up time in the classroom to help students work out problems related to the content they’ve already viewed on their own time. The concept is what’s known as a flipped classroom.

“Since my lecture is already recorded, I can spend more energy on coming up with interesting challenges. Then the students can work on them in class and get some really good feedback,” Carliner points out.

On a broader level, Bolton says professors who adopt the use of online learning platforms in their own courses are likely to re-examine their whole approach to teaching as a result.

“You end up talking with other professors who are experimenting with these kinds of things, and asking them, ‘What did you do, how did you do that, and what advice do you have?’ People end up really thinking through where they want to go with their course, and also, how they can improve learning outcomes.”

New developments in digital learning

In the near future, the university plans to increase and improve its online course offerings, in order to make academic programs more flexible and accessible. “We’re really encouraging faculty members to think about how digital learning fits into their programs as a whole,” Bolton says.

In the meantime, as new courses are being developed and improved, the university has revamped its online course catalogue, integrating it into the redesigned Concordia.ca website. Students can now consult the catalogue and find step-by-step instructions on how to register, all from the main site.

Bolton says the move is an acknowledgement that the online courses offered through eConcordia are an integral part of the university’s educational offerings. “It will also make it much easier for our students to find what they’re looking for,” she adds.

Another upcoming development will be the creation of a web page dedicated to digital learning at Concordia. Bolton explains that the page will serve both as an internal and external information and knowledge-sharing resource.

“This will be our public face. We want to show our successes, of course. But we also want to ask questions, and show the issues that we're dealing with. We’re hoping that the external community will help us solve some of these problems, give us some suggestions or give us some warnings.”

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