Common sense for some and new and inspiring for others

I came across a blog post that was written in response to an article I co-authored in 2013 – Instructional Design Collaboration: A Professional Learning and Growth Experience. It was great to see that Stephen Downes read our article and also took time to post a critical, if cryptic, commentary. Too bad it took more than six months for me to see this post and associated comments before I got a chance to respond. This blog is a response to some of the ideas raised in Downes’ blog and a comment to his blog.

The brief commentary by Stephen Downes (2013) discusses the idea of relevance. I admit the content of our position paper (reflection of practice) might be considered common sense for some audiences familiar with online learning. The topic may not be as timely or important to some audiences, especially those who are expert in teaching online, collaborating with others in course design and using frameworks for updating online curriculum such as Hai-Jew’s (2010) fourfold approach discussed in our article. However, the topic of post secondary instructors collaborating on the design of online courses is relevant to a broad audience. My educational background and experiences are primarily in K-12 with over 20 years teaching/leadership. My own online learning and teaching experiences started in about 2008. I was surprised when approached by a colleague to consider co-writing about our experiences with instructional design and collaboration. At first, I questioned who would be interested in our reflections? Isn’t collaborative course design a common practice already in higher education?  Turns out, the majority of instructors in higher education work in isolation, do not have any foundation in learning theory and instructional design, and many do not have the benefit of collaborative design and teaching experiences with others. As I reviewed the literature, and observed practice across campus, I realized that disciplined reflection on our collaborative work in the context of the professional programs in which we teach would make an important contribution to the existing body of literature in the field. We sought an appropriate journal for a reflective or positional paper on the topic. Despite my own reservations about making my teaching and design work public, I decided to take time to collaboratively reflect on my design experiences, take a risk, and make my early learning and design work visible for others.

Writing the article with four others who bring diverse experiences to online education provided a valuable learning and growth experience for me as a new scholar and sessional instructor. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my practice alongside my peers. From the feedback received from the journal editor and reviewers, I realized the potential impact of this work. I realized there were other instructors and researchers who valued the paper, found the ideas useful and relevant and who might benefit from our work. For example, one of the peer reviewers was so excited about our work that she asked for permission to share the article with colleagues pre-publication. Apparently other faculties besides our own were also working on collaborative course design. Following the publication, we presented our work at two conferences and both sessions were well received by faculty from various North American higher educational institutions; participants commented on the value of this contribution to the field. Other scholars recommended that we should continue building a research agenda around this topic. The practice of collaborative course design and team teaching has been adopted across our graduate programs, and is influencing design work across our campus through various initiatives.  Furthermore, educators have also positively blogged and tweeted about the article. For example, Debbie Morrison (2013) posted a review – How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design.

Students enrolled in my school’s graduate programs also benefit from the backstory and practices around collaborative course design. Recently one student shared, “it was interesting to read about the development of the courses that I have been taking….I appreciated the description of the collaborative process that you engaged in to create the online course” (K. Hills, personal communication, June 2, 2014). In other words, the article was relevant for our audiences and also for audiences beyond our local context.

One aspect of the course we collaboratively designed is the goal of fostering a critical community of inquiry. It is important for graduate students in any program to critically and thoughtfully respond to the research literature. Downes (2013) mentions the article could have been written in the 90s in his commentary. Teaching experiences in the 90s were certainly not the same for everyone any more than they are today. For example, my teaching career started in the 90s so I just graduated from post secondary and did not experience any online or even blended course work in my pre service program at that time.  With an avid interest and enthusiasm in technology, I quickly embraced educational technologies of the day and adopted Apple II e’s that were available in my school. By the late 90s I was teaching in schools where using dial up connections, accessing basic information on the Internet and communicating via email with others was at the beginning stages. However, designing online experiences for students in collaboration with colleagues was not common practice in my work. According to Rogers’ (2003) diffusion of innovation theory, there is a range of adopters for any innovation. There will be categories of individuals readily embracing innovations as well as individuals rejecting the same innovations – at the same point in time. As such, in the 90s there were educators advanced in using educational technologies in K12 and higher education environments and there were those who were only at the beginning of these innovations.  So, it doesn’t surprise me that Downes, who is an early adopter, might think online collaboration is old practice and not relevant in the present. However, he cannot claim to speak for educators from across disciplines who are new to these ideas. Educators are not all at the exact same place or level of adoption with technologies and online instructional design, and each semester brings new educators into the online learning and teaching community.

A response to Downe’s post by Katrin Becker (November 26, 2013) questioned the use of the terms “signature pedagogies” in the article. I recommend that readers who are interested in the deep literature on signature pedagogies begin by reviewing Lee Shulman’s seminal work on the topic. Signature pedagogies are defined by Shulman (2005)  as teaching that is characteristic of the profession. Shulman also discusses the importance of learning “to think, perform and act with integrity” as part of signature pedagogies (p. 52). It is important the teachers and school administrators and individuals from across disciplines who are enrolled in the Master’s program learn to think, perform and act as educational researchers and writers no matter what their goals are upon graduation. As such, understanding ethics in research and ethics in academic writing is authentic and relevant to the discipline and part of the course assignments. In simple terms, the course was designed to emulate the work in the discipline of education, which is scholarship of the profession and scholarship in the discipline. In this case, the discipline is educational research. In this master’s level writing in educational research course, the assignments in the course were designed to engage students in writing and collaborative experiences similar to those of educational researchers. For instance, in the course described in the article, students wrote proposals to present a poster or paper at an academic or professional conference, which is a common task for educational researchers. The students worked with peers and provided peer review, making their own learning visible while learning alongside peers. Many students carried through with actual presentations at conferences making the assignment authentic and relevant for their studies and professional growth. Perhaps more exemplars are needed to help develop a deeper understanding of the processes of signature pedagogies in online classes– this might be a good topic for another article!

I would like to sincerely thank everyone that took time to read the article and provide feedback. In reflecting on the experience of co-authoring my first peer-reviewed article and reflecting on all the positive and critical feedback about the topic, I developed some related belief statements:

I believe early adopters should consider providing pathways to encourage advances in educational technologies and support late adopters. I believe reflective practitioners should be encouraged to take risks and share their practice. I believe that sharing signature pedagogies and making learning visible is needed to build and share contemporary knowledge in our discipline. I believe that what is common sense for some is also new and inspiring for others.


Brown, B., Eaton, S., Jacobsen, M., Roy, S., & Friesen, S. (2013). Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(3).  Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2013).  Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. Stephen’s Web [web log]. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from

Hai-Jew, S. (2010). An instructional design approach to updating an online course curriculum. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 33(4). Retrieved from

Morrison, D. (2013). How Online Educators Benefitted by Walking-the-Talk with Collaborative Instructional Design. Online learning insights [web log]. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations 5th ed). New York, NY: Free Press.

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 134(3), 52-59.

Ice Bucket Challenge Sponsors Family Discussion about Digital Citizenship

The ALS ice bucket challenge is a current phenomenon taking over social media pages and even family dinnertime conversations. I believe initiatives for raising awareness and funds for good causes are good ideas. The ice bucket challenge has definitely raised awareness of ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and increased funds for the ALS association. I also believe these types of initiatives provide important opportunities for conversations with our children about digital citizenship.  Our family was recently nominated to take the challenge. I do not wish to offend those nominating us or in any way suggest ALS is not a good cause, but we declined to take the challenge as a digital citizenship choice. In our house, this topic provided good conversation about charity donations, posting self-videos on the Internet and following the crowd.

  1. Charity donations – MacAskill (2014) http: discusses the idea that most individuals are limited in how much they donate yearly.  As such, charity donations need to be thoughtful.  So, as a family it is important to discuss how donations will be made throughout the year. For example, we have friends that have two children with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. This gradually progressive disease means these children are not able to walk and experience many physical and medical challenges. We support the Walk for Muscular Dystrophy and hope for increased research and medical advances to help those afflicted by Muscular Dystrophy to enjoy quality of life. We also donate to many other charities to support family and friends experiencing various medical challenges, such as Cystic Fibrosis, Cerebral Palsy, Diabetes, Heart and Stroke, Cancer, to name a few.  We are selective in the charities we donate and pay close attention the amount that goes to administrative fees.  In our home the ice bucket challenge has definitely increased attention to ALS and other charities.  Hopefully the increased funds going to one organization do not limit or reduce funds going to others.
  2. Posting videos on the Internet – We also discussed the idea of posting videos of yourself on the Internet.  Many family, friends and even well-known celebrities are posting videos and making their ice bucket challenge visible in online spaces. We discussed the importance of carefully selecting the type of photos and videos posted on the Internet and to consider the attire you might be wearing in the video.
  3. Following the crowd – Similar to the idea in chain letters, those taking the challenge, nominate three more individuals to take the challenge. It is so easy to become enamored with an idea because so many people are involved and participating in the challenge. Since _____ is doing this, then it must be a good thing and I should do this too.  We want our children to make informed choices and make decisions themselves.  We also want our children to take risks and go against the status quo.  So, I believe the ice bucket challenge is a good opportunity to have an open discussion with your children about the choice of either participating in the challenge or declining the challenge.

    Some other posts to consider:


    The cold, hard truth about the ice bucket challenge

    Post written by MacAskill (Aug 14, 2014)



    ALS ice bucket challenge: Do you know what you are supporting?

    (August 24, 2014)

RVS Research Conference Presentation Summary

My presentation at the RVS research conference (August 22, 2014) is based on my completed doctoral study guided by the following research question – How do principals cultivate teaching and learning improvements integrating technology that meet the needs of today’s learners?


In the presentation, I provide an overview of the literature based on the conceptual framework related to leading, learning and pedagogy in a digital age.  The research design, data analysis and findings are also discussed briefly. Overall, principals’ technology leadership is a pivotal practice foundational for growth-oriented leadership and instructional improvements in a digital age.


Several prevailing themes emerged from the literature review as interrelated antecedents for educational technology leadership, such as, visionary leadership for innovation; research-informed professional learning; attention to contexts for support; monitoring for continuous learning and growth; and creativity and openness for change.


Information was gathered from principals and teachers in three diverse school districts in Alberta that were in the midst of innovative reform involving educational technology through an exploration of the actions of the principals over a period of one year.  Both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods (selected-response and open-ended survey items) were followed by qualitative methods (semi-structured interviews, observations, artifacts). All principals in the three jurisdictions were surveyed as part of the first phase of the study.  In the second phase there were five schools (considered cases in the multiple case study) involved in various initiatives related to technology integration or leading a reform involving educational technology that agreed to participate in more in-depth interviews.


The online survey used in this study was primarily based on the seven interrelated leadership dimensions and descriptors of daily practice from Alberta Education (2009) Principal Quality Practice Guideline: (a) fostering effective relationships; (b) embodying visionary leadership; (c) leading a learning community; (d) providing instructional leadership; (e) developing and facilitating leadership; (f) managing school operations, and resources; and (g) understanding and responding to the larger societal context.  The survey items invited principals to reflect on their daily practice and how they perceive their role in leading teaching and learning improvements integrating technology.  Additional survey items were used to determine the extent to which principals report the use of social and technological networks to support professional learning.



Even though the survey aligned with the jurisdiction priorities and received approval from the jurisdiction superintendent and research liaisons and any associated research approval committees, the overall response rate (26%) was satisfactory.  What are the barriers for principals in completing online surveys?  Are there too many requests for surveys demanding time of principals? Is it common to fill out surveys and never see any results or changes?  Is it time to let go of the lengthy surveys and replace with one-item questions using social media?


Findings suggested there is a need to improve how principals are prepared for leadership in a digital-age. Overall, the survey results revealed that ONLY one out of three principals selected a high level of performance (can teach other principals) in leading teaching and learning improvements in the context of technology integration. Alberta principals in this study identified their weakest performance level in descriptors related to instructional leadership in the context of technology integration.


Summary of findings:


Question #1: How do principals perceive their role in leading teaching and learning improvements integrating technology?

Finding 1.1 Fostering effective relationships is an area of strength for principals

Finding 1.2 Instructional leadership is an area for growth opportunity

Finding 1.3 Managing school operations and resources is an area of least interest and requires time

Finding 1.4 Inconsistencies in visionary leadership need attention

Finding 1.5 Partnerships are desired (despite absence of descriptors related to this)

Finding 1.6 Recruiting and retaining staff is important (despite absence of descriptors related to this)


Question #2 – To what extent do social and technological networks support principals during an educational reform?

Finding 2.1 using social and technological networks for leadership support and professional learning is an area for growth opportunity.


Question #3 – In what ways does the principals’ conceptualization of their leadership practice change during the diffusion of teaching and learning improvements integrating technology?

Finding 3.1 Promoting open dialogue is an area for growth opportunity (shift from observations to conversations for monitoring student growth)

Finding 3.2 Considering multiple perspectives for informed decision making is an area for growth opportunity (shift from top-down decision making to including student voice in decision making)

Finding 3.3 Facilitating meaningful parental involvement is an area for growth opportunity (shift from ambiguous assessment to transparent assessment and reporting)

Finding 3.4 Fostering technology-rich pedagogies is an area for growth opportunity (shift from technical to pedagogical approaches for tech integration)

Finding 3.5 Understanding and responding to the larger societal context is an area for growth opportunity (shift from teacher-centered to learner centered environments)


Question #4 – How do teachers describe the leadership actions needed to support teaching and learning improvements integrating technology?

Finding 4.1 Teachers value principals who exhibit an increasing level of technological fluency. (growth-orientation)

Finding 4.2 Teachers value principals capable of fostering effective relationships through personalization, trust and collaborative approaches.



Question #5 – How are principals managing the challenges of planning, implementing and sustaining teaching and learning improvements integrating technology?

Finding 5.1 Attention to contexts of support is important in managing the challenges associated with planning, implementing and sustaining teaching and learning improvements integrating technology.



Three key recommendations resulting from the study are also discussed in the presentation: (1) design-based research should be considered for increasing practitioner-researcher partnerships and for intentionally cultivating innovation in schools; (2) technological fluency is needed for instructional leadership; and (3) more study is needed exploring the value of technological networks in supporting ongoing professional learning for school leaders.


At the end of the presentation I ask participants to “tweet-it or post-it” –

  1. What are the questions that remain unanswered for you about this study?
  2. What suggestions do you have for school leaders or for future research agendas?

    PDF of presentation

Spread seeds of happiness and buy chalk!

During my summer vacation this year I had the pleasure of visiting Kelowna, BC and spending a morning with one of my mentors, Susan Crichton.   Dr. Crichton was previously faculty at the University of Calgary and a member of my doctoral committee.  She is now director of innovative learning and an associate professor in the faculty of education at the UBC Okanagan Campus.


Susan gave my son and I and tour of the beautiful campus and open work spaces. I didn’t think visiting a post secondary campus would be exciting for a 13-year old but he seemed particularly interested in viewing the fitness facilities, high tech medical classrooms and the education maker spaces.  Susan also shared her work in organizing Maker Days, “a facilitated event that requires participants to thoughtfully and fully engage in design thinking and creative problem finding and experience hands-on activities.” Read more about Maker Days ….http:

She also shared the  “Maker Day Toolkit” that she created along with PhD candidate, Deb Carter. The toolkit is available as an EPublication and PDF at http:

This is a great resource for educators interested more details about maker days (great links and docs that can be tailored for your own use).

The best part of our visit was when we were sitting in one of the collaboration spaces and were discussing the value of having open spaces for writing with others.  On campus, it was evident markers are used to write on the glass walls and whiteboards that surround the classrooms and learning spaces. There is no lack of spaces for collaborative writing and sharing. I shared how one teacher I know buys large pieces of plexiglass for her students to write freely and share ideas.  It was at that moment that Susan contemplated using chalk on concrete walls.  She literally jumped out of her seat to go and retrieve a box of white chalk.  Within minutes, she had everyone adorning the concrete walls in chalk zentangles.  We were part of a true moment of serendipity. I can’t wait to visit the campus again and see how the chalk zentangles spread!


IMG_0972       IMG_0971

Krahula, B. (2012). One zentangle a day: A 6-week course in creative drawing for relaxation, inspiration, and fun. Beverly, MA: Quarry Books.

As a token of appreciation, I gave Susan a small strawberry ornament from the Krause Berry Farm http: in Aldergrove (another stop in my travels this summer) to remind her how important she is in spreading seeds of happiness.  When I saw the strawberry seeds of happiness ornament it immediately reminded me of Susan and her positive impact on others in cultivating learning!



Reflecting on year after defense…

Some might wonder, what happens after graduate students complete the oral defense.  I will share my experience over the past school year (2013-14) following my oral defense examination.  Three stages can be used to describe the year: (1) finalizing the dissertation in preparation for graduation, (2) sharing the work, and (3) exploring research interests.   During the oral defense, the examiners provided some valuable feedback about the dissertation and areas for improvement.   Prior to submitting the final version of the dissertation in digital format for sharing publicly it was necessary to make minor edits.  Once all changes were complete, the final version of the dissertation was submitted to fulfil graduation requirements.  There are also some administrative tasks required to apply for graduation especially if attending the convocation.  In my case, the convocation took place over two months after completing the oral defense.   Second, it is important to share the study beyond the dissertation.  I submitted a paper for presentation to http: The Canadian Society for the Study of Education Conference held in conjunction with the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in St. Catherines.  The paper was accepted and I attended and presented the work at the conference at Brock University in May 2014.  Currently, I am preparing for another presentation in August 2014 and drafting a manuscript for publication about the research.   Last, the year has been filled with numerous teaching and collaborative learning opportunities, such as: continuing to teach online graduate courses in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, conducting research and PD with the Galileo Educational Network, co-writing a literature review about technology in higher education for the Provost’s Learning Technology Task Force, and working with a team to develop a STEM course for pre-service teachers.   I also had the opportunity to co-present conference sessions throughout the year including the following sessions: