Teaching & Learning

Hidden Leos (Part 2)


In early January, we released Lions SHARE – a multi-tool / single experience, learning ecosystem, rich in data, social connectedness, and driving toward artificial intelligence.  After we got the system up and running, I wrote a blog detailing the not-obvious-at-first-glance learning experiences this platform empowers or enables.  But as myself and my team have stated all along, it’s not about the tech, it’s about the teaching and learning – it’s about the people. 

You may not yet believe the hype, so you’re hanging around trying to find out if what we claim is true is indeed true.  Fair enough – I would do the same. 

But Lions SHARE has now been presented at two major, eLearning conferences and people are actually seeing the power.  They’re starting to ask really good questions.  They want to know how Lions SHARE was built and how it’s being used.  So, Hidden Leos is going to become a campaign for us.  I’m going to kick things off with this 3-part series showing people, processes, and possibilities…

NinjasThis blog might have been better titled, “Curating Ninjas” or “Avengers Assemble!”  But I think the former will only get traffic on sites for guys living in their mom’s basement and the latter is likely a trademark issue.  However, the ideas noted in those titles is really what this is about.  A tiny bit like the Hidden Figures movie regarding the women of color who played a crucial, albeit unrecognized role in getting us to the moon (you MUST go see this powerful film), we created a hyper-connected, next generation learning ecosystem by assembling some top talent who have little visibility in the Saint Leo community and letting them do “what they do” so well…

(Note – part 3 of this series will conclude by talking about faculty and students.  In other words, I will try to showcase some of the stories of end-users.  But in part 2, I want to talk about more behind-the-scenes people.)

To start, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t start by talking about Saint Leo’s very own ed tech ninja.  I ask him a lot if he’s sick of that moniker and he just shrugs and raises his eyebrows.  Jamie is one of those rare, although not impossible to find people (he’s not a unicorn or anything) who works at the 10,000 foot and 5 foot view simultaneously.  He can talk about virtual reality, a learning management system, and API’s in the same conversation with actual references and citations, from memory.  He reads release notes voraciously and then creates tiny scripts to leverage free and open tools for open and/or commercial experiences.  He is, quite frankly, one of the few people at the University who are not currently replaceable.  (As he reads this, he is slapping his head and screaming out about the ineptitude of such a single point of failure…)  But Lions SHARE would look vastly different had Jamie not helped with the infrastructure, the architecture, and the implementation.  He translated between learning stakeholders and technologists.  He helped both of those groups train and build.  And then he vanished with a plume of smoke!  (Ok, that last part didn’t happen – I just like the ninja story a lot.)  Thank you Jamie.

I’ve talked before about the way the we brought departments together that previously hadn’t been aligned.  My next set of specialists are from the learning perspective.  Most work in the Learning Design area.  And most took some…convincing to start thinking about their craft and their outputs differently. Not all team members were able to do it, by the way.  Whether because the request was so different, the work was so demanding, or the change was just too great, we lost some along the way.  But those who stuck around and even rose to the top, are definitely Hidden Leos.  From Karen to Colleen to Gina and Christina, we have started really “clicking” in terms of pushing next-generation learning assets out through our next-generation learning ecosystem.  Far beyond standardized, text-centric content like you’ll find in 85% of eLearning, these guys have started to leverage Easter Eggs, immersive sims, gamification, narrative based learning, all while taking a much healthier and stronger stance on outcomes, assessment, and engagement.  We moved to an Agile framework which allowed us to speed up while also creating a far superior, flexible, and creative scheme to produce courses. 

But if I’m going to talk about the new system and the new course types, I have to mention the trainers.  I have to talk about some people who built training experiences a la the learning experiences we are trying to push out, at scale.  Claudia and Darcy picked up the proverbial ball and ran hard and fast for the end zone.  In the end, their work gave us 1200 faculty who had been trained at various levels – each level corresponding to the toolsets available for use.  Along the way, they also crafted and are facilitating an optional enrichment series, tying current research and best practices in neuroscience, learning research, and ed tech, to the next generation learning ecosystem we have surrounding the experiences.  They earned the marker of Hidden Leo to be sure.


Rounding out the framing team though, has to be Steve and Greg.  These guys were the ones who got to look across technology, services, and content and try to make them all work together.  They got to wrangle our partner communications, connect the right externals to the right internals, and crack a whip whenever a stakeholder missed a deadline or changed direction.  The organizational Yin to my vision casting Yang, these bulldogs got the job done, regardless of the fires, excuses, and barriers.

In addition to these people who are likely easy to see at a glance, I’d like to finish the roundup with some unconventional players who made a huge impact on what we’ve done here.  To start with, the Lions SHARE system is designed to start leveraging meaningful data.  Afterall, if we are going to generate legitimate artificial intelligence, shave risk predicition times by 50%, and push the egagement envelope, we needed a psychometrician to ensure we were moving in the right direction.  Enter Maridelys…whom I can now correctly address as DOCTOR Maridelys (Congrats).  Giving our design team insights about trends and course peculiarities, she is the math wonk who tells a SME that Module 4 is a “choke point” for students as large numbers drop healthy percentages or that course X, Y, and Z are not a good idea to be taken together by our students.  Brilliant!

TimeCostQuality.jpgAs I said previously, we moved our design team from Waterfall to Agile this year.  So, we needed a legitimate PM and we found one in Kim.  She led us toward smarter collection of time management as well as helping set up our scrums and the people who would make up the teams.  If Jim Collins, “Good to Great” organizations inspire the metaphor of a flywheel, Kim was one of the people with a fulcrum and a big lever, trying to get it started.

Then there was our adoption (poaching) of an already proven rock star, whose existence in our little ecosystem just made sense.  Abbie brought more knowledge of publisher relationships and course materials know how to us than any multi-person department I have ever seen do this work.  Helping us drive costs down dramatically while ensuring students and teachers needs are met every 8 weeks is her super power, and I’m so grateful for it.

And then there is Gordon.  Our semi-retired professor, biologist extraordinaire (the world’s leading expert on teeth), who boasts a pedigree of running a Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence for a decade while also the architect of one Lions SHARE component (MeTL – we call it Whiteboard), is absolutely a Hidden Leo.  He always keeps us grounded in what we do vs what we should do, and he deftly walks the line between ed tech and real life quite effectively.

I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t also mention the outside partners…and I mean partners.  I think many in Higher Ed need to grow up a bit when it comes to working with for-profit companies.  Yes, they are seeking to make a profit, but no, that doesn’t mean they are evil, nor that they cannot be professional or even generous.  (By the way, how many universities seek to make no money again?)

To that end, I have to mention Josh, Chris, and Dave.  Fellas, to call you guys partners is like calling my dog a tame wolf.  He’s a family member, not a wild animal!  And so you guys are like members of our Saint Leo family.  Your help, grace, guidance, and patience has really pushed us to do things we would never have thought to do on our own, and we’re all so much better for it.  Thank you.

So, I’ll leave it at that.  Is this list exhaustive?  Not a chance.  From mentors who went into the field for 8 weeks during launch to specific design staff finding work-arounds to our admin who stayed late to cover phones…this took a village.  But these are a few of our “ninjas.”  I highly recommend your school get some of your own.  It makes life so much better…

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D. Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

Recommended for you