by Julia Cummings | School of Education and Human Development
When Brad Hinson, the School of Education & Human Development’s (SEHD) new director of digital initiatives and innovations, joined CU Denver in August 2013, people got excited.
A self-described disruptive innovation enthusiast, Hinson brought a background as a technologist, online educator and digital media expert that quickly took shape in SEHD. Within weeks, his dot-com orientation and vision for next-generation education established him as an invaluable resource in our learning community.
“We are living in a historic moment as a society, evolving how we learn, teach and thrive in the wired world,” Hinson said. “Connected learning creates access and opportunity for students like at no other time in history, and it’s our job as educators to test, shape and embrace this evolution.” He said that educators are finding a new balance in the way instruction takes form, a balance in which students still go to school and have face-to-face interactions within a community of scholars but also do a portion of their work online.
“Our focus in the SEHD distinctly includes development of our online programs, but is actually more broad and inclusive, with a focus on blended learning. We’re combining the best of multiple worlds,” said Hinson. “Blended learning is a mix of learning spaces (online, hybrid, face-to-face and real-world experiences), a mix of media (text, audio, video, graphics) and a mix of technology (computer, tablet, phone, camera, etc.) to achieve the best possible remix for the lesson at hand.”
This is a student-centric philosophy and strategy, positioning SEHD distinctly as an ally to the connected learner of the modern era, he said. “This blend of options allows students to pursue learning that is individualized, self-paced, self-actualized and personalized.”
Hinson maintains that the real educational technology innovations begin when educators get fired up about new technologies and leave fear in the dust.
“There are an abundance of cool gadgets, web tools, hardware and software available for teaching and learning today,” said Hinson. “But the truly outstanding innovations come from the people who are using these tools effectively and creatively. It’s a key part of my job to find these folks, partner with them, empower them and nurture this digital development.”
Hinson said he enjoys the enthusiasm and creativity of educators who aren’t intimidated by technology. “This is what I consider digital literacy,” he said. “No fear and an open mind for what technology offers. I find great joy in partnering with teachers who have this drive, this willingness to try and to challenge notions of ‘how it’s always been done.’”
What Lies Ahead
He explained that SEHD’s five digital media priorities are: online student engagement, quality assurance, online community, digital media and blended learning. “Ubiquitous, mobile, on-demand and high quality … this is the new normal,” he said.
In the next year SEHD plans to broadly increase its use of digital media in courses and extend the school’s learning community via social media. “Social media is not just for fun and games; rather, it is the foundation for building personal learning networks (PLN) within and among our constituents,” Hinson said.
PLNs are “professional development 2.0” for modern educators – an interactive collection of colleagues, professional associations, artifacts and professional activities. PLNs are also personal guides, as an educator may ask questions and gather resources from his or her personal community of practice. The PLN has emerged as a core component of the modern educator, and as such will be embedded within the pedagogies and curriculum of digital initiatives. Starting this fall, SEHDwill start to see a steady growth of social media as an extension of the school’s learning experience and the broader SEHD learning communities.
SEHD is proactively experimenting with breakthrough models: adaptive learning, digital badges, alternative credentialing, gamification, massive open online courses (MOOCs) – the list is long and growing. Some changes to the physical space are planned as well.
“I would like to see our physical classrooms evolve to be smarter and more blended with online activities and the real world beyond our campus,” said Hinson. “The basic smart room components are in place, but we hope to up-level our classroom technology in a variety of ways. Foremost, we will move toward a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) classroom to allow students with a variety of personal devices – tablets, smartphones, laptops – to connect and interface, interact and collaborate easily. This will bridge the students within our facilities. This will allow mobile learning to emerge, connecting the classroom experience distinctly with experiences and people from the outside world. This will nurture our pedagogy to keep pace with the networked world, which is mobile first, cloud based, agile and adaptable.”
Hinson would also like to see active learning classrooms to facilitate small-group and project-based work. This is a proven classroom studio model in which the room orientation is redesigned with flexible furniture and technology to nurture small-group collaboration. Active learning classrooms shift focus away from a single lecturer in front of the room and toward greater peer interaction and hands-on work. This type of learning environment is another direction of emerging pedagogy. Hinson would also like to establish a small recording studio to empower students and faculty with a place to produce high-quality digital media, presentations and open educational resources (OERs) for the greater good.
For Hinson, who moved here from Oregon, adventure is calling, even outside of the tech world. “My wife and I distinctly selected Denver to put down roots and raise our boys. I would say that Colorado is proving to be everything we had hoped it would be, offering an abundance of activities and a very solid cool factor.”