Finding Impact Through Storytelling 

Thoughts from OLC Innovate

Nashville was buzzing with excitement last week at the third annual Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Innovate conference. I have been lucky enough to attend and present at OLC Innovate for all three years of its existence, and, once again, I have come away with a renewed understanding of the important impact that innovative practice and technology have in our conversations about student and faculty success.

The Intersection of Technology and Humanity

The tagline of the OLC Innovate conference was “Education Reimagined,” and, while the conference and those who attend are interested in redefining traditional educational spaces and experiences through the use of technology, what strikes me about the conference is the profound focus on humanity that permeated the event. So, while it easy to get a bit star-struck by cutting-edge technology with lots of sizzle, we all still have a hunger for the human connection that technology can provide. 

At the heart of many of the sessions I attended and conversations I was a part of was the theme of building engagement within and among institutions and organizations. My experience leading, scaling and sustaining innovative practice is founded in a belief of building coalitions of support and collaboration with all different stakeholders, so it was refreshing to hear a focus on finding ways that allow people to share experiences while working toward a common goal. Technology is a powerful entity, but the human community is paramount in sustained success and learning. 

Around the Campfire: Storytelling to Support Innovation

It is not surprising that the design of the OLC Innovate conference is unique. The exhibit hall houses an Innovation Lab complete with design thinking challenges, experimental sessions, demos and shared space for discussion and ideation. The Innovation Lab becomes a home base for connection during the conference, a place, as OLC states in their programming materials “to recharge, network and reflect throughout the conference.” 

In addition to the Innovation Lab, the format of the opening keynotes also focused on the collision of human experience and innovative practice, and how “failing forward” helps us grow. The keynote, structured as mini-talks by multiple presenters, were themed as “Campfire Stories” and, throughout the conference, storytelling was everywhere. Evening campfire gatherings were held nightly after the dinner hour with the intent of allowing people to connect over fun activities including crafts and games, and, while the experience was purposefully campy, it highlights one critical element within the landscape of teaching and learning: the importance of taking time to connect with a community of peers and share stories of what worked, what didn’t, and what is on the docket to be tried next. 

Reflective Practice in Action

In reflecting about my own experience at the OLC Innovate conference I am ever-steadfast in my belief of the importance of community and reflection as we solve critical issues facing higher education today. We need ongoing spaces for our storytelling. Faculty Guild offers just that—a community of practice that leverages technology to create connection around evidence-based instruction.