Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes view of the 4T Virtual Keynote

Yesterday I had the honor of presenting at the 2017 4T Virtual Conference. I am a tremendous fan of the conference and was honored that Liz Kolb and the 4T Virtual organizers asked me to be a keynote this year.  I HIGHLY recommend that you take a look through the sessions that were presented this year (and the archives!) It is a treasure trove of online professional development.

My keynote was titled: What is it you do again? Discussing the intents, purposes & vocabularies surrounding learning design.  The idea was prompted by a conversation I had recently with a colleague and in my talk I attempt to construct an argument for defining our work and remaining critical as we engage and define our profession as “learning designers” (or Educational Technologists, Instructional and Information Technology Manager, Program Support Specialists, Academic Specialists, Digital Coachs, Technology Guides, etc.)

I provided a virtual handout to go along with my talk which you can find here:

The recording of the session can be found here: 
(requires Blackboard Collaborate) and the slides are embedded below.

In my session, I invited the audience to continue the collaboration and discussion – and I would like to do the same here. If you’re interested in collaborating on an article around this topic, please let me know!

Thanks again to all who attended, to my moderator Kevin Upton and to the 4T Virtual sponsors who make this incredible (FREE) event possible.



I have tried to pinpoint the person or thing that made me Google while listening, but, I can’t quite put my finger on it. In the fall of 1997 (after quickly giving up on dreams of becoming a DJ) I started my career as “Technician I” at the International Academy. Google and the Internet as we know it now had just made a way into schools. (When I graduated in 1994 we had computer labs, floppy discs and Netscape navigator, but, Google (as we know) changed things.) In my role, I was not *just* a network administrator. I helped the faculty and students use the technology in their classes (we were not called “Tech Coaches” or “Learning Designers” back then!) Maybe it’s this early integration into educational experiences that led me to so much Googling when I started my PhD in 2004.

One of the earliest digital artifacts I have of this habit is a working bibliography I made while I was a student in Dr. Rand Spiro‘s CEP 957: Learning in Complex Domains. The class was a mixture of readings, lecture and discussion. When in lecture or discussing – if a resource/person was mentioned, I googled/looked them up in the library database and added to the document throughout the semester.

The file still exists in the original form here (long before google docs were a thing!) and I thought, 12 years on, that it may be time to modernize it and turn it into a google doc so I don’t lose it and so others can find it and contribute.  I often still reference it (as a matter of fact, that is what prompted this post!)

SO, if you’re looking for some resources on learning in complex domains – enjoy!

Click here to see the google doc (also embedded below) & add comments/suggestions.


I had a wonderful opportunity to make a (virtual) visit to Universidad de Murcia last week to speak with the students in . This was my second visit and it was wonderful to connect with Dr. Paz Prendes and her students again! I will be continuing the conversation over the next few weeks in their Moodle course and of course – on twitter!




Thank you UGS200H!

On May 2, 2017, in school, by Leigh Graves Wolf

It’s hard to believe another semester is in the books! Over the 2016-17 academic year, I had the pleasure of working with 10 amazing undergraduates (along with Jeff & Bill) in UGS200H. UGS 200H = Undergraduate Honors Research Seminar. This was my first opportunity to co-facilitate a freshman research seminar and work with undergraduates, and as I expected, it was incredible! Our seminar was titled – A Maker Approach: Crowdsourcing Knowledge & Transforming Research into Meaning.

Course Description: 
Make a contribution to the knowledge and understanding of Maker Spaces at MSU! Experiences will include project – based learning and reflection on identifying the purpose, developing a literature review, identifying and implementing appropriate (mixed) research methods, analyses, visual and textual reporting, and engaging multiple audiences. Topics covered include research design, epistemology/ontology, disciplinary research lenses, methodologies, and skills development with various analytical software for quantitative and qualitative analyses.

Over the fall semester we explored various research methodologies and the Maker Movement broadly. (Tonia, they helped contribute to our MakerEd bibliography!) As the fall semester came to a close, the students broke into teams to conduct research along different lines of inquiry over the spring term.  My team decided to center their inquiry around a case study exploration of the following questions:

  1. How do makers think about the quality of making? How do they understand the concept of “good” in relation to what they do? In relation to what others do?
  2. What relationships do we see between space and making with regard to our question?

Luckily, they were able to tap into the amazing Lansing Makers Network for their research. A few weeks back, the teams presented their poster at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF). I’m proud of all of these amazing Spartans and wish them the best of luck in their future studies and scholarship.



A lesson in tagging & Creative CommonsErik stopped me this morning and said “hey, did you know there is a picture of you sticking your tongue out when you search for “MSU” on Haiku Deck.” No, no I did not know this.

Sure enough, Haiku pulls from Creative Commons images on Flickr. I have been using Flickr for over 10 years and I’m a big supporter and contributor to the Creative Commons (it’s one of the main reasons I use Flickr for my social photo sharing!) I frequently tailgate, and, post pictures from MSU tailgates.  Thus, a few years back I posted this picture (and a few others) of the fun, with the tags MSU, Tailgate, spartans, gogreen.

Fast forward 7 years and Erik is searching for a nice picture of MSU for his presentation, and here I am, sticking my tongue out at him and who knows how many other Haiku/CC users.  It’s not the worst thing that could happen in terms of a digital footprint, but, it did make me take another look at my Flickr tags.  It also makes me think about Flickr’s auto-tagging feature and how they might influence my photo showing up on a CC search.  Just spent some time going through my Flickr tags and cleaning things up a bit. Thanks Erik!


I was fortunate to have the opportunity to facilitate a QuickFire challenge with the MSUrbanSTEM fellows last weekend. It has been a quite a while since I’ve facilitated a QuickFire challenge (thought it has been amazing to watch them spread!) and it was clear I was slightly out of practice. Things didn’t go completely off the rails, but I did want to take a moment to reflect here, just in case anyone wanted to take this idea and run with it in another context.

My challenge:

Our MSUrbanSTEM fellows have been reading Rocking the Boat and we needed an activity to bridge a discussion of Rocking the Boat with another discussion focused on teaching in urban contexts.  One thing I have learned in coming up with QuickFire challenges is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel – a lot of great content exists in the world – so I searched for an activity and came across this “Build a Boat” activity from Elmer’s Glue Teacher’s Club.

On the surface it may seem like we’re “just” building a boat to float on water and carry pennies (which, has lots of great connections to science and physics) but – the way the challenge had the added twist of calculating the cost of the materials made it extra intriguing.  Not only did this activity encapsulate all the individual letters in STEM, it had the interdisciplinary and interconnected components I seek out when looking for a QuickFire. For example, we could change the evaluation measures (what makes a “good” boat) which allowed the connection not only to the Rocking the Boat book but to our conversation about teaching in urban contexts.

To start, I edited the challenge a bit to resonate with our class:

Build a boat challenge instructions

The activity was relatively inexpensive to pull together (this was for 50 people, 10 teams of 5):

  • Popsicle Sticks (200) = 4.99
  • Roll of Aluminum Foil = 3.99
  • Straws (100) = .99
  • 12 School Glue Pens = 10.49
  • Corks (30) = 11.40 (purchased at hardware store, though probably could have found these cheaper at homebrew store)
  • Masking Tape = 5.00
  • 6 rolls of pennies = 3.00
  • Total = 39.86

You could easily swap out items to make things a little less expensive, you could leave out the corks, change masking for scotch tape, etc.  I repurposed two clear plastic containers from home to represent Lake Michigan – and we’re good to go, right?

Not quite – a QuickFire requires intense attention to detail. How will the groups be divided? (We had 10 teams of 5, split into our two classrooms.) What if we run out of materials? (I put in some material constraints.)  What if their boats are bigger than the “lake”? (They were shown the lake so they knew it had to fit.) I thought through all of these logistics and put constraints in place to account for everything that could happen – so I thought.

On the day of class, we decided to change the evaluation measure to “The boat which has the least cost per teacher (penny) is the winner.” We don’t have a printer in class and print our materials ahead of time, so, we dutifully crossed our our original evaluation measure and wrote in the new one, no big deal.

Teams were given 10 minutes to create the boats – which, after an initial panic moment (which is intentional in a QuickFire) teams got to work and created some amazing boats.

Here’s where the challenge needs revision for the next iteration. I should not have left the pennies out as teams started opening the rolls and testing the boats as they were developing.  Testing is ok, but, I hadn’t planned for it (and was afraid of losing track of all the pennies.) Next time, I will hide the pennies. Also, a few groups stacked the entire rolls on the boats when they were testing and they subsequently got wet. This made me panic, did I have enough pennies?? I honestly thought I had plenty of pennies….

Additionally, I didn’t take into account that it would take quite a while for me to float 10 boats and stack/measure pennies on the boats.  Our instructional days are tightly timed, so, I had to pivot and the team was gracious enough to move time around in the afternoon – so we delayed the “reveal” to the end of the day.  This was a let-down as a QuickFire usually is a contained experience. Delaying the conclusion takes away from the in-the-moment excitement.

A few hours later during some in-between time in the instructional day we carefully arranged the boats in front of the lecture hall with the two “lakes” ready to float the boats.  With the time re-arrangement, I would have about 5 minutes to float the boats and stack pennies – in front of everyone. Luckily I had the boat cost tallies up on the board and a colleague to help with the math as I would announce how many pennies each boat would hold and she would calculate the cost/penny on each boat. This is where (to me) everything really started to fall apart.  Some boats could hold 3 entire rolls of pennies (I did not think this would happen) and I panicked a bit and started with the boats that would hold the most.  I also did not take into account that taking the boats in and out of the water would be — messy.  As you can see in the pictures and video below, I did not have the most calm/serene look on my face! Unfortunately, it was a bit rushed – but – we did the best we could and declared a winner based upon the calculations.  Because of the rush – we didn’t have time to deconstruct/discuss how people made the boats and how we could have changed our evaluation metrics.

If I had to do it all over again, it would need a minimum of 45 minutes from start to finish.  I don’t think splitting into two periods (construction and floating) was necessarily a bad idea – especially since it gave time for glue to dry. If we went with this configuration I would budget 20 minutes for construction and 30 minutes for floating/calculating/discussing.

So, some big lessons (re)learned:

  • things always take longer than you think they will
  • when you’re out of practice, you forget how important every, single, detail is to orchestrate a smooth experience
  • don’t panic
  • a trial run would have revealed a lot of the flaws in my plan.

In reflecting, I didn’t feel it was all a disaster as several teachers commented to me that they found the activity worthwhile and were interested in taking this challenge to their class (thus the motivation to write this post so others can learn from my mistakes!)


Calendar Conundrums – #protip from @BeckyMatz1

On February 22, 2017, in random, by Leigh Graves Wolf

doodle pollThe other day our team was lamenting that a magic app has not yet been invented that would access all calendars, across platforms & domains to easily schedule meetings.  You know, that feeling of dread when a doodle poll with 50 options pops into your inbox?

One of the great things about working in an open office is that you, by chance, hear helpful things – and I heard a great tip/hack from Dr. Becky Matz!

When you’re limited to only a few meeting slots – use Doodle

When, you have 5-zillion (my words, not Becky’s) options (like trying to schedule a standing semester long meeting) – use WhenisGood

Simple, but SO SMART! Thanks Becky!


Last week I was very lucky to visit Galway and the School of Education at NUI Galway and St. Angela’s College, Sligo (via zoom link!) I was asked to talk about the emerging work of the Hub, specifically our adaptation of Scrum to guide and share our project work.  Below you will find the slides & abstract from the talk.  It was absolutely wonderful to reconnect with all of my dear friends in Galway and to meet new colleagues in Sligo. I sincerely appreciated the invitation and I hope we can continue the dialogue via twitter – or another Zoom session!


One year ago, Michigan State University (MSU) started a new campus initiative: The Hub for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (“The Hub”). The Hub’s mission is to “facilitate the passion and inventiveness of students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders both inside and outside of MSU to create, identify, and accelerate new ways to collaborate, learn, research, and deliver instruction.” While the core staff of The Hub is quite small, many on campus are working with and through the Hub. To facilitate this campus change, the Hub leadership team has anchored much of its “getting started” work and processes to sound design theories and processes. One technique which has proven successful in sharing our work openly and strategically is “scrum” – a framework for project development. In this session, I will share the scrum process along with other lessons learned from our first year as a campus entity.



It’s always fun to see your name and hard work in print! Sincerely thankful to Drs. Ann Marcus-Quinn & Tríona Hourigan at the University of Limerick for the opportunity to contribute to the handbook and to my wonderful and amazing collaborators!

Heintz, A., Hagerman, M.S., Boltz, L.O., & Wolf, L.G. (2017). Teacher awarenesses and blended
instruction practices: Interview research with K-12 teachers. Handbook for Digital Learning in K-12 Schools. Springer.


In our research, we talked to four early-career teachers who have adopted blended instruction practices for their classrooms. Through systems-based thinking that held in view awareness of self, learners, context, pedagogy, and interaction, these teachers established a blended classroom driven by a consistent vision and manifested through complex and diverse means.

For friends at MSU, here is the direct link to the eBook through the library:


One of the tenants of the MSU Hub is “Collective Power.”  As a Hub we “leverage, coordinate and scale MSU’s existing energies and creativity by connecting people, designing opportunities and facilitating innovation.”

On November 11th, the collective power was summoned to the Hub by gathering campus stakeholders involved in online or hybrid MA & Graduate Certificate/Specialization programs at MSU. This is the first time this group has been intentionally gathered. The purpose of this meeting was to make connections and have guided discussions to share strategies for advising, program development, curriculum development, marketing, economics, program data & reporting and to generate questions and possible innovations to serve our students and programs.

The invitation was intentionally inclusive – we wanted to invite/anyone who would have insight into programs (graduate TAs, administrative assistants, department chairs, etc.) or people who are considering developing online MA or certificate/specialization programs. We did not include current students in this invitation as we were focused on inward facing issues (we plan to include students in the future!)  The list of invitations was gathered by researching programs listed here:

The structured portion of the meeting was kept simple – we divided the participants into 4 tables for a modified SWAT discussion focused on:

Table 1: Finance & Marketing
Table 2: Admissions & Registrar office
Table 3: Curriculum Development & Technology
Table 4: Advising & Student Experience

SWOT usually stands for Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats – we substituted Tensions for Threats.


A rich (and rapid!) discussion ensued as we had 20 minutes at the first table (then 10 minutes at subsequent tables) to discuss each issue.  The groups moved from table to table so everyone had the change to air out their SWOTs.

After the SWOT participants had a chance to network.  It was fantastic to see the cross collaboration & discussions happening.  I witnessed relief that others were struggling with similar tensions and joy to find immediate solutions to some challenges. Immediate feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative of the chance to simply take time to meet and talk.

We ended the meeting by using the large whiteboards in the Hub and asked the following:

  • Did you know ……
  • I wish we could……
  • Help!!!!

More connections were made and the following comment in response to I wish made me very happy to have had the opportunity to facilitate the experience:

Response to "I wish" prompt

Looking forward into 2017 – more meetings will be facilitated and small working groups organized to discuss issues surfaced during the SWOT.