Reflections on a year of CI Keys


It’s hard to believe that it was just a year ago that I sat in a room with some of the “greats” (e.g. Jim Groom, Howard Rheingold, Howard Gardner, Johnston Weirth, etc.) in the world of connected open courses at UC Irvine (hosted by DML).  I honestly had no clue what I was really getting myself into; heck, I hardly even knew what a MOOC was – never mind a connected open course!  As I’ve shared in a previous blog post, I really did not know what I was getting myself into.  But, I asked a lot of questions and as a result, I opened the door to a world of #Edtech I never new existed.   

I write this blog posts as a reflection of the year – what I did, what I learned and what I think will come in the future.  This post is sort of a part of a collection alongside my colleagues, Michael BermanJill Leafstedt, Michelle Pacanksy-Brock who also wrote a one year reflection. You see, CI acquired a license with Reclaim Hosting to pilot a project called CI Keys (introduced in the video below) for the campus during the 2014-2015 annual year so we all decided to write a reflection; I have no idea how our thoughts align (or don’t) since I haven’t read them yet. ;0)  

What I Did

As a reflect on how I used CI Keys, I can confidently say that it lived up to its name sake;  it gave me to a key to unlocking so much for myself and for others.  The interesting thing about this metaphor is that as I worked through life this year, I kept realizing doors existed that CI Keys could provide access to – CI Keys was an answer to quite a few things in my life; not just academic things (though this was the primary focus) but also personal things.  Here’s where my tour took me once the door was opened:

  • Open Courses:  Beginning the Fall semester, I migrated all of my courses (COMM 220, COMM 101, UNIV 349, UNIV 399 and EDPL 623) to CI Keys – creating an open course structure and opening the opportunity for connections across international boundaries.
  • E-Portfolios and blogging:  I integrated e-portfolios into three courses over the year, two undergraduate and one graduate.  My students created their own digital imprint with atheistically pleasing, professional websites. Here’s a few examples: Claire Langeveldt, Dorothy Ayer,  Robert Ornelaz
  • Business websites:  I created a business website for a friend of mine is opening a physical therapy business, my mother-in-law who officiates weddings and my brother-in-law who has a flooring business
  • My E-Portfolio:  It seemed appropriate to create my own digital footprint so I took a significant amount of time to aggregate my professional documents onto my personal webspace.  

I have dabbled in (and struggled with) making websites in the past – I just couldn’t believe how easy it was to create sites using WordPress.  I didn’t have a whole lot of training but I did become of master of googling and reaching out when necessary; I was provided great support from CI’s Michael McGarry and Reclaim’s Jim Groom and Tim Owns. Needless to say, I think I may have been the biggest user of Keys.  Plus, I ended up getting paid to train other faculty on how to use keys throughout the year, at a recent workshop and … in fact… here’s our support page that’s under development.

What I Learned

Admittedly, I have two blog posts forth coming about the very specific lessons learned through having open courses and assigning e-portfolios.  Therefore…  I will share my broad reflections.

  • Digital identity (huh?): Like my students, I hadn’t thought much about what it means to have a digital identity beyond posting appropriately on social media.  I learned the power that can be harnessed through optimizing my web presence — here’s a video I created summarizing how I define digital identity now.
  • Students aren’t really digital natives: Even though I provided my students with a statement (in advance) letting them know my class(es) are digitally enhanced, they were often shocked by the amount of technology I used.  They may be called “digital natives” but I think a more appropriate name is “smart device native.”  They do not know how to use technology for learning and their learning curve was often quite steep.  During the Fall semester, when I rolled out five classes in open format, I had so many students complain about workload that I felt compelled to write a blog post to them…. the moral of the story (with the blog post) was — “you may not like it but it’s good for you.”  I did read it to them… and they did like it. 😉
  • Sell it:  Along the lines of the above lesson, students aren’t necessarily going to be excited to learn new things about technology (contrary to what I thought when I set out on the open course journey). You have to be able to sell this stuff to students — and I don’t mean by simply writing a passionate blog post.  I mean you have to make them see how using THIS will make their lives easier.   I achieved big strides in this area when I created an interactive syllabus — which made course material just a click away.  I am not entirely sure why it took me a semester of embedding PDFs on my sites to figure this out.
  • E-portfolio reflections:  The most difficult piece of completing for students had nothing to do with technology were the competency-based reflections.  Attempting to ask students to reflect on their learning from the time they began their degree program was tough; I think reflections are best woven into the curriculum.  More to come on this topic in my follow up blog post.
  • Connected:   As you can tell by listening to my interview with Howard Rheingold, I went through a bit of a journey to discover what it really means to be connected;  some people see connected as joining together two courses (or groups of students) together, some see it as “plugging in” to social media, some see connected as being simply connected to technology.  I now see connected as being of those things and more (and I keep discovering what more is).
  • Not everything should be open:  Having something open on the web has some great advantages but not everything belongs out in the open.  Some pieces of class discussion or blog posts could be misinterpreted or altered as a result of a non-involved person intruding.  When I’m playing out in the web, I need to be VERY diligent about copyright — that goes for images and content.  Sometimes concern about copyright issues is enough to make me think about going behind the locked wall of the LMS.   I should emphasize that much thought should be put into what should be behind a wall because there’s really no clear answer.
  • It’s not the only solution:  I’m not going to lie; you can do A LOT of what I did with my work on CI Keys/Reclaim Hosting behind the dreaded LMS (after you log in and click around a bunch) and students might even like you better for it (because they may see it as easier); and I’m not going to lie again… it’s simply WAY easier using WordPress.  Plus, it looks cooler.  

I discovered that once I start coloring outside the lines (e.g. the LMS) …. it’s difficult to stop.

What’s Ahead

I have to be real here, I’m not entirely sure what’s ahead for me when it comes to open courses since I begin a new teaching position at USC tomorrow (July 1) and I do not think the concept of an open course aligns with what USC provides.  However, I do think (and hope) there will be opportunities for me to work with master’s and doctoral students on creating e-portfolios. Also, I recognize I pretty much speak of CI Keys and WordPress synonymously. I know there are MANY other applications available through CI Keys that I have yet to tap into.  As I think about my next role and the potential of CI Keys in the future, I am reminded that I don’t even know what I don’t even know.  I think CI Keys/Reclaim Hosting offers endless possibilities of which I am excited to see unfold in my journey.