Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

50+ Stories of Digital Learning Frontlines

Faculty and staff from the University of Minnesota just accomplished a miracle of publishing: in 10 weeks, 130 volunteers collaborated to release a 317-page e-book . This free e-book — Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012 — is online, available in ePub, mobi and PDF file forms, or you can just read the whole content on this website: Cultivating Change. The work is openly licensed under creative commons.

This collection of 50+ chapters showcases a sampling of academic technology projects underway across the University of Minnesota, projects that we hope will inspire other faculty and staff to consider, utilize, or perhaps even develop new solutions that have the potential to make their efforts more responsive, nimble, efficient, effective, and far-reaching. Our hope is to stimulate discussion about what’s possible as well as generate new vision and academic technology direction. The work underway is most certainly innovative, imaginative, creative, collaborative, and dynamic.

As a collection, these chapters are about cultivating change at the University of Minnesota. Each team has worked in their patch of land. Each team has prepared the soil, chosen the seed, applied a small amount of fertilizer, and tended the garden with great care. It’s not all corn and soybeans. Some planted bulbs and flowers, others planted vegetables, and a few planted acorns in hopes a huge oak will emerge in time.

When seen together, they represent a new landscape, a new academy.


So, what needs to change?

We need increased focus on student success. 

Second, while online activity is clearly at the core of the academy’s future, we need to challenge the assumption that we need a big, expensive program to get things to happen. These projects do just that.

Most recently, Harvard and MIT have committed $60 million to offer free online courses, and two Stanford professors along with U. Michigan, Penn, and Princeton have formed a company, Coursera, to offer interactive courses. Key to these massive initiatives is a focus on a big investment in mainstream courses.

Consider the theory of the Long Tail (Anderson, 2012) and that our culture and economy is shifting away from a focus on mainstream products and toward a huge number of niches in the long tail. As the use of academic technology in these chapters attests, we can move well beyond traditional and even online “one-size-fits-all” thinking. A faculty or staff member does not need to be a superhero to get things to happen. Most projects herein were realized with limited (if any) support. These projects illustrate that everyone at the University of Minnesota has access to an outstanding set of digital tools to cultivate change in the academy. What’s missing may be the critical connection with others who are
already using a myriad of digital tools to cultivate change. Therefore, we need to connect faculty with innovative work in academic technology across our academy, and we need to then extend this work throughout our state and world. These projects are a good beginning.

We have clustered the 50+ chapters into four sections:

1. Changing Pedagogies – teachers become the designers of learning experience

While all chapters throughout this eBook are about cultivating change through the innovative use of technology, those in this first section focus on the use of academic technology to transform pedagogy. Contributors address aspects of pedagogy that have seldom (if ever) fully been addressed, moving decidedly beyond memorization to explicit attention on problem solving and interactive coaching.
These innovative pedagogical approaches remix and flip the classroom; the imaginative uses of technology emulate the behavior of expert teachers and allow students to be creative in how they explore and address critical problems. Students access computer coaches and 3D simulations, work in teams to design their own experiments, and engage in course evolution. Contributors share processes they follow, definitions and theories which influence them, challenges they face, the impact on accreditation, and the “new landscapes” that emerge.

2. Creating Solutions – how technology tools are utilized to solve classroom problems

The chapters in this section focus on how to create solutions to very specific problems. The solutions include imaginative uses and development of videos, podcasts, vodcasts, and simulations; they indicate how faculty and staff are using GoToMeeting, Moodle, Blackbag, iPads, Camtasia Relay, Skype, Ning, and Google Apps. Those on the digital frontlines at the University of Minnesota are indeed focused on student success.

3. Providing Direction – about innovative leadership – at system-wide, campus, collegiate, and departmental levels, also faculty and student influence in providing direction

These contributors challenge the assumption that we need a big, expensive program to get things to happen. In contrast, they illustrate the power and potential of strategic, focused investments.

For example, the University Digital Conservancy (UDC) provides free, worldwide access to research and scholarship contributed by faculty and staff at UMN, currently hosting over 23,000 works that have been downloaded over 1.5 million times. Growing exponentially, the UDC provides the permanent URL for this eBook collection: And in another Libraries initiative, with no budget but armed with great social science expertise, the authors used a free resource—Dataverse– as a solution for making data available….

4. Extending Reach – using technology to reach well beyond the fences of the academy

While all chapters in this eBook represent the University’s Land Grant Mission in action, the chapters in this final section most explicitly indicate our expanded engagement via innovative uses of technology.

The innovative use of iPads extends the reach of teacher education through supporting the assessment requirements in the field; iPads likewise assist field scientists with 25 unique studies across 50 experimental sites in 30 locations across the state. Digital storytelling deepens engagement and cultural awareness for students studying locally as well as preparing for and studying abroad, and online training modules raise the visibility of children’s needs among battered women’s shelter advocates….

The project takes the seed savers exchange as a model example – since 1975 gardeners collect and distribute thousands of rare seeds to others (

When my beets grow better than yours, I give you some seed. I’m glad to share it with you. Our hope is that as you read these chapters, you’ll think, “I could do that!” And you know that when you contact a contributor here, the person is ready to share, ready to help, ready to envision the future together, ready to cultivate change.

cultivating change, #CC50 Read the stories and share your thoughts or spread your ideas by tweeting #cc50 !


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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