Pima Community College Gets National Award from Global Tech Company

Pima Community College has received a national award from the global learning technology company D2L in recognition of the innovative design of the PimaOnline Educators’ Conference. 

In 2021, Pima was one of the first colleges nationally to design and host an educator conference that repurposed the D2L Brightspace learning platform as a conference management solution. 

Each year, D2L confers five “D2L Excellence Awards” globally to recognize innovative leaders in digital education and learning development. D2L is used by 14 million people in over 1,000 schools and businesses across 40 countries, “so to be a recipient of this award is no small achievement,” said Pima VP of Distance Learning Michael Amick.

This past fall, PimaOnline transitioned its annual conference onto D2L Brightspace, a learning platform previously used only for course design. Reed Dickson, Pima’s program manager for faculty development, designed this eLearning conference space with an aim to do more than echo the traditional conference. “We wanted a conference design that went beyond the simulation of speaker-driven, conference culture. We wanted more voice and more choice — for every attendee — on how to contribute and collaborate,” Dickson said.

Amick said this kind of innovation “required flexing the tool to function as both a comprehensive conference platform and learning tool.” By repurposing Pima’s learning management system, D2L Brightspace, Pima was able to create a sustainable, no-cost alternative to expensive conference management solutions – while providing enhanced capacities for peer interaction. As Mark Nelson, former PimaOnline Arts and Humanities Department head noted, “The move to a D2L shell is nothing short of brilliant and also will provide a stable long-term resource for us to return to in the future.” 

To help counter faculty isolation, the conference included 2D and 3D proximity-chat spaces through Mozilla Hubs and SpatialChat as well as interactive inquiry spaces utilizing the D2L Discussions tool and embedded Padlet corkboards. Such design elements, as one participant noted, helped them see “colleagues online that I would not normally see and interact with.” 

Another POEC’21 design consideration that featured prominently was the question of how to model practices and share learning objects and teaching artifacts within D2L Brightspace.  For instructional designer Anne Huth’s workshop, attendees celebrated the clear student engagement practices that could “be easy to implement tomorrow.” For videographer Kayla Shaw and Instructional Designer Aaron Holley’s workshop on 360° eLearning design, attendees noted that they actively engaged and modeled what can be done, while providing “a view of what online teaching will do in the future.” For Ernesto Trujillo’s badgification presentation, one participant shared that seeing how other disciplines use D2L was helpful “for rethinking how I can use D2L tools in my own discipline.” POEC’21 also provided these workshops both as live and pre-recorded workshops to better suit faculty schedules.

Within this conference design, various interactive elements also reinforced the conference theme, “Every Interaction Counts: Expanding Innovation and Inclusion in Online Learning.” All scheduled sessions were also accompanied by interactive notes, accessible slide links, and digital teaching artifacts.  Further, POEC’21 featured conference-wide, interactive discussions focusing on what equity looks like as it relates to assignment design and assessment practice. The design “reflected the theme in countless ways, right down to the modality and the technology and the presentations and participants––an impressive effort that sets the tone for the year ahead,” said Josie Milliken, dean for Distance Education.

In addition to bringing in two noted innovation leaders as keynotes, Melody Buckner and Kim Lynch, POEC21’s closing keynote featured a student panel focusing on what Pima students want.  During this keynote, students shared their personal experiences with everything from nested modules and publisher textbooks to instructor feedback. During the keynote, students also advocated for zero-cost textbooks and Open Educational Resources. As one faculty attendee noted, “I took a lot of great information from this panel and will be incorporating it into my courses.” 

A final benefit of hosting the conference within D2L was providing faculty new to D2L with a positive “student experience” of the platform.  For one participant who self-reported that they previously “hated and avoided online classes,” they noted POEC21 helped them “see the creative variety of ways instructors are now engaging students.”  As Amick said, “placing the conference in D2L was a significant accomplishment. It brought everyone into the space that our students learn from and that we teach from.” 

With over 200 educators attending this conference, Pima demonstrated how D2L Brightspace can manage learning conferences that enable educators to participate in dynamic, meaningful, interactive learning opportunities. Dickson, who advanced, led, and constructed this conference design, will attend and receive the award on behalf of the college at the D2L Fusion conference this summer. As Amick noted about Dickson, “His ability to keep pace with the speed of innovation in educational technology is an inspiration.” 

Other winners of D2L’s 2022 Excellence awards are Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio; Purdue University: Energy Safety Canada; and the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

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