Rideau Canal, Ottawa

I was in Ottawa in early May also to give a keynote at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference. I am ashamed to admit that this is the first time I’ve been to a CNIE conference since it was formed about 10 years ago by the amalgamation of CADE (the Canadian Association of Distance Education) and AMTEC, who represented campus-based instructional designers and technology support staff, as well as corporate trainers.

Conference theme: leadership and innovation in learning

The theme of the conference was leadership and innovation in learning and was organized by CNIE and Carleton University (Ottawa’s other university). My keynote was on ‘Leadership in Online Learning and Learning Technology: What Does it Mean’ and discussed leadership, strategies and resource allocation for online learning and learning technologies.

George Siemens on MOOCs

Despite my prior doubts (the conference had been poorly advertised outside the CNIE community), I very much enjoyed the conference. I particularly enjoyed George Siemen’s keynote, entitled ‘Getting tired of these flipping MOOCs yet?’, which focused on what’s important and what’s not important about the open education movement, and where MOOCs fit within that ecology. George is always insightful and thought-provoking (unfortunately I can’t find a link to his talk, either on the conference web site or George’s own blogs). George’s keynote was delivered by webinar (via BigBlueButton – developed at Carleton). I still find webinar technology somewhat erratic for presentations into large lecture halls – it was almost impossible to get a Q and A session going with George for technical reasons, which was a pity.

Parallel sessions

I enjoyed several of the parallel sessions that I was able to attend. Anne Forster was back in Ottawa for the conference and presented on her new job as Vice-Provost at the new Lithgow campus of the University of Western Sydney. Lithgow is an old mining town up in the Blue Mountains in Australia, and UWS is introducing an iPad-based program next September for all its students. Faculty are currently busy redesigning the curriculum and working out how they plan to use iPads in their programs. This will be an interesting development to follow, as much as for the university’s change management strategy as for its leap into mobile technology.

I also enjoyed a session by Catherine Yu of the University of Toronto on using animated comic strips to improve communication between patients and health care professionals through the use of narrative and empathy depicting a patient with chronic diabetes and their struggles.

I was also interested in a presentation by Corinne Bossé, Derek Briton and Cindy Ives from Athabasca University on helping faculty to design assignments that support students’ critical thinking skills.There is a lot of talk about developing critical thinking skills, but how this can be turned into action by instructors is less clear.

Lastly, I was fascinated by a project from the University of Ottawa (presented by Richard Pinet and Emmanuel Cadet). This project has developed (in Drupal) a template or platform (called PIPPA) for developing narrative-based learning material for inter-professional and interdisciplinary education, allowing instructors to customize options in story-telling, content access and collaboration. The example given was based on the life of a terminally ill patient and how he responded to different clinical events and interactions with care givers. This type of development – of creating open templates that allow for customization and individualization of learning – could be a very powerful way to ensure a wider spread of open educational resources. In other words, focus less on pushing out open content, but make available open tools that allow instructors to customize their teaching.

In conclusion

As always there were many other sessions I would have liked to have gone to (and a couple that I wish I hadn’t), but overall it was good to see a range of innovative (if generally small and isolated) online projects.

Just one criticism – very few of the presentations had been carefully evaluated to see what students had actually learned. Innovation without evaluation is an incomplete process.


  1. > very few of the presentations had been carefully evaluated to see what students had actually learned. Innovation without evaluation is an incomplete process.

    I hope that by ‘learned’ you mean something more than ‘retained in memory from the course content’. But this is about all that can be evaluated in the context of a specific project, and if this is all that is evaluated, then our evaluation of innovations is distorted and misleading.


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