2015, Year of the ?

When I joined BU’s newly created Digital Learning Initiative in October 2013, I knew that the year ahead would be an exhilarating one. As DEI Director Chris Dellarocas and I discussed in our January 2014 Inside Higher Ed article, “Reversing the Odds, ” we were about to face not only the challenge of building a small, agile team to launch BU’s first MOOCs and of administering our first campus ed tech seed grants; we would also begin to grapple with bold questions about active learning projects, regional and interdisciplinary cooperation, and best practices for building accessible, learner-centered content and curricula to correlate with meaningful metrics of students’ agency, resilience and success in life.

2014 lived up to its promise. The DEI came together as a team to help launch four MOOCs, ranging from baseball analytics and astronomy to poetry and war in the greater Middle East. We were thrilled to discover that the courses we offered on edX.org tended to have higher than average student completion rates.  In November, BU also hosted edX’s Global Forum, a gathering of the global MOOC platform’s member organizations enthusiastic to share their experiences in online and digital projects, blended learning and educational research. To facilitate the development of creative uses of educational technology on campus, we were excited to fund seven seed grant projects, all of which are breaking ground and seeking to become robust seedlings as I write this.

Given the coordination, orchestration and collaboration required among multiple parts of our university to accomplish the above, the rest of the DEI wonder team will likely laugh incredulously at what I’m about to say. But here it is: that was the easy part.

In 2015, we will solidify our MOOC development capacities, including in areas of research and analytics. We will continue and strengthen our campus-wide program of innovation through funding seed grant projects. The resources we’ve built and the lessons we’ve learned in the last year will assure that this year’s projects, too, will be significant and compelling.

But the questions we raised a year ago –- questions about improving student experience, about changing educational ecosystems and necessary infrastructures for innovation — are more relevant than ever. And our engagement with them has truly only begun.

As a joke around our office goes, my phone is largely full of pictures of cats and whiteboards. Leaving aside reasons for emergency kittens for the moment, we tend to draw things on the board (and the glass walls of our seminar room, and those of our offices, and sometimes even on paper) around here a lot, because we like to make our questions and our thinking visible. Accordingly, on any given day, the boards are filled with complex diagrams of interconnected systems or fragments of insight or bewildering hoops we must jump through to find answers to How to Get Something Done. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, as the saying goes.

Given this — the complexity of both our questions and the answers we might find along the way — we have another exciting year ahead of us, one that we are called to meet with a mix of humility, curiosity, commitment to potentially long-winded processes and critical optimism.

To reinvigorate my own thinking and to help our team meet the challenges ahead, I’ll be attending the ELI annual meeting in a few weeks — in particular, the seminar on Leadership and Design for Innovation.

I hope to see some of you there. But whether we cross paths in Anaheim or not, I would love to learn about the big questions that make it to your whiteboards and notebooks this year.

Romy Ruukel is Associate Director of the Digital Learning Initiative.


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