MOOCs and Learning in Las Vegas

MOOCs and Learning in Las Vegas


Who said a trip to Sin City can’t be good and productive? Last week, the Planet Hollywood conference center in Las Vegas hosted the SLOAN Consortium’s Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium, where 887 attendees from around the country gathered to grok online learning. In addition to nearly 900 virtual attendees, this marked the largest gathering in the six-year history of the event.

The audience included many professors, along with instructional designers, directors of technology integrationist, and online learning specialists at postsecondary institutions. It was a feast for companies looking for this niche group of decision-makers. Derek Gordon, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer at Pathbrite, said “these are all the needles congregating all at one place, whereas many other conferences has mostly hay.”

There was much ado about MOOCs. Sessions covered the gamut from dispensing tips for those MOOC-ing it for the first time to sharing early findings on their effectiveness. We heard about “LOOCs” (yep, little!) from the American College of Education. Online assessments and cheating were hot-button topics, and companies like Respondus and Authentify shared their savvy solutions to authenticate student identity, including the use of voice biometrics. Ted Cross and B. Jean Mandernach from Grand Canyon University get our props for a peculiarly interesting session on “The Zen of Online Teaching,” which took a page from Buddhist philosophy and Parkinson’s law to offer tips on managing thousands of students in an online class. “The problem we have with online teaching isn’t time management, it’s focus management,” said Cross.

The closing day highlighted finalist startups in the Launch Pad program, marking the first time that the conference dedicated space and sessions for them. It kicked off with Wikispaces co-founder James Byers sharing lessons on how his team went from being “lost in the desert” while searching for a scalable model, to finding the right direction--all without venture money. “We didn’t know we were an education company,” he admitted, “but our users and feedback provided us a map.” He asked startups: how do you define success? “We know how VCs define success. “It takes guts not to measure your success based on other people’s definition.”

Afterwards, reps from BuzzMath, Ginkgotree, HireArt, The Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework, Scrible, and ValuePulse joined yours truly for the plenary panel discussion on breaking down institutional barriers in K-12 and higher-ed, product development, how technology has shaped what we think about learning outcomes. Should every kid still be striving to go to college? (The consensus: not really.)

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