By Jenn Gutierrez, PhD, instructional designer, University of New Mexico, and IMPACTcommunity Ambassador, SkillsCommons

“Innovate has 1,200 experts showing up together—it’s not only the people at the front of the room, it’s all the people in the audience.” With that reminder, Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor for academic technology services at California State University and executive director of CSU’s MERLOT program, kicked off the 2018 OLC Innovate Conference. At Innovate, community colleges, industry experts, and workforce development leaders nationwide share their collaborative efforts to create sustainable solutions to common challenges across all sectors. Members of the SkillsCommons IMPACTcommunities were among the experts present during the conference.

SkillsCommons is a free and open online library for career and technical education programs and general education courses. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCT) $2 billion grant required each grantee (representing more than 700 community colleges) to create OER and upload it to the SkillsCommons repository. During the conference, members of each of the four SkillsCommons IMPACTcommunities, made up of TAACCCT grantees under the direction of the CSU MERLOT, collectively presented over half-a-dozen sessions on topics ranging from leveraging the power of lived stories to brainstorming the new and innovative uses for open education resources (OER). Here are highlights from a few of the various SkillsCommons sessions at the conference:

“How Would You Like Free Academic Chocolate?”

Community College Summit—Affordable Learning Solutions—Gerry Hanley

Hanley introduced the session with an analogy, explaining that providing free and open access course materials is like handing out chocolate—gratitude is the typical reaction. Even with states like Tennessee making college tuition free, students still struggle to meet the cost demands associated with higher education. In 2016, the Florida Virtual Campus conducted a survey of over 20,000 students that found nearly half of respondents said they took fewer courses due to costs. In table discussions, participants shared ideas for making education more affordable and accessible with free curriculum and program support materials from SkillsCommons.

“We Think There’s a Solvable Problem Here"

Community College Summit—StoryTelling and Growing Expert Instructors—Maria Fieth, Nicolette van der Lee, and Brenda Perea

In this session, Maria Fieth, program manager for CSU MERLOT SkillsCommons, introduced the IMPACTcommunities, groups of people who come together and say, “We think there’s a solvable problem here.” There are four communities currently in place with a fifth underway, all housed under the IMPACTcommunity umbrella. The Industry Experts to Expert Instructor (IE2EI) Community and StoryTellingcommunity were highlighted in this session. Participants had an opportunity to peer into the work of the projects and then brainstorm with one another about how they might be able to bring ideas from these projects back to their own institutions.

“It’s the Stories that Grab Us”

SkillsCommons IMPACTcommunity Meeting: Storytelling Workshop—Nicolette Van der Lee and StoryTelling IMPACTcommunity Members

It’s often said that data tells a story. With the help of experienced StoryTellers, participants at this session were introduced to the possibilities of sharing data in a compelling and memorable way. Using effective storytelling delivery methods can empower researchers to attract national audiences. Seeing and hearing research participants tell their story in their own words within their own environments grabs and holds the attention of audiences in ways data-rich reports often do not.

“Lesson Plan? What’s that?”

SkillsCommons IMPACTcommunity Meeting: Industry Expert to Expert Instructor (IE2EI)—Brenda Perea and IE2EI IMPACTcommunity members

In higher education and industry alike, industry experts are often hired to train and teach because they bring a wealth of real-world experience and knowledge of their respective fields, but often they have little to no experience in training or teaching. This session explored the resources created by SkillsCommons’ IE2EI project that can be leveraged to quickly and efficiently help industry experts learn the ins and outs of teaching and training. Course and class management, best practices in assessments, and content delivery are just a few of the topics covered in this open access course material.

“Exponential Potential for Growth”

Curating OER in Workforce Development—Christian Lagarde

CSU MERLOT SkillsCommons’ Skills2Work project shared their process for curating the more than 55,000 workforce development resources that have come out of the U.S. Department of Labor-funded TAACCCT initiative. Since its inception, other industry experts have used, modified, and re-contributed to the collection, with over one million downloads of resources to date. The potential for continued growth is exponential.

The MERLOT-OLC Innovate 2018 Conference was an opportunity for various TAACCCT grantees, higher education representatives, and industry experts to share success and challenges, and connect for future collaboration. As the need for sustainable, cost-effective solutions for higher education and workforce training grows, so too will the need for OER and creative training solutions. SkillsCommons’ IMPACTcommunities, nonprofit initiatives, and institutions of higher education alike are sharing resources and sharing their stories to meet the challenges of providing sustainable solutions for workforce training. If you missed the conference, or would like to access the resources shared, you can visit the Third Annual OLC-MERLOT Innovate SkillsCommons IMPACTcommunity meeting schedule to watch recorded sessions and access presentation materials.


Jenn Gutierrez, PhD, instructional designer for University of New Mexico and IMPACTcommunity Ambassador, plays a critical role in the development and refinement of the IE2EI instructor onboarding course.