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“Unconference” tackles innovation in online education

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On February 25th, online educators from community colleges across the state converged on Santa Barbara City College to attend the first ever “Pedagogy to Increase Student Success: An Unconference for Online Educators.” The one-day “unconference” was conceived of by Kenley Neufeld and I, and was funded by the 2016 President’s Foundation Award. It has been well-documented that while demand for online courses is growing in the California community college system, student success rates are lower than in courses taught face-to-face. While there is ample support for online educators to solve their technical problems, rarely do they get together to wrestle with the opportunities and challenges posed by teaching in the online environment. In applying for the grant, I envisioned a day where instructors came together to share teaching strategies, voice their concerns, and problem-solve with other educators. Neufeld brought in the unconference model, which minimizes panels and presentations in favor of a user-generated environment to include ample time for workshops, brainstorming, and participant engagement. Student Courtney Knudsen joined the team as a student coordinator shortly thereafter.

In the months leading up to the Unconference, participants voted on the topics that interested them most. These included “Factors contributing to student success in online learning”, “Humanizing the online learning environment”, “Diversity in the online classroom”, and “The future of online education in…

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