By Mike Raynes

Editor's Note--May 14, 2020: This year, the Conference will be delivered 100% online on June 1st and will include strategies, tools, and tactics to move rapidly online. For information and registration, visit:

New Brunswick, N.J. - The nation’s top experts in online education and hybrid learning gathered at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick for the 10th Annual Rutgers Online Learning Conference (RUOnlineCon) last March to learn about advances in learning technology and share best practices for effective use of that technology. Attendees discussed new instructional paradigms, ancillary software and sites, and faculty training and resources, among other topics.

During his opening remarks, Richard J. Novak, Vice President for continuing studies and distance education, emphasized Rutgers’ reputation as a pioneer in online learning. Twenty years ago, Rutgers was one of the first universities to use a learning management system (LMS) for online classes. Ten years ago, Novak and his colleagues founded RUOnlineCon. He said, “When we started, RUOnlineCon was a dream. We didn’t know if we could get 50 people to come. At the first conference, we had 100 people.”

RUOnlineCon had a record-breaking 302 attendees at the March 19, 2019 event. Each heard three featured keynote speakers and chose from over 30 breakout sessions. Many of the breakout sessions focused on effectively using Canvas to engage students, as Rutgers is currently in the process of making it the University’s sole LMS.

Jared Stein, Vice President of Higher Education Strategy at Instructure, gave the first keynote. He discussed the importance of democratizing learning to make it more accessible for students and how his company's Canvas LMS’ customizability can expand education’s reach.

To democratize learning, Stein advocates for renewable assignments. He explains, “That’s the idea that a faculty member creates an assignment that’s going to live beyond a given semester. A student’s work in a renewable assignment is almost always aimed at producing a real-world impact that solves a problem. The artifact of that project is shared with the world, so that the intended target can in fact benefit from it.”

The second keynote speaker was 24-year Veteran Producer at Disney Research, Jason Hintz Llopis, who talked about extending Disney magic using new technology, the internet and social media. He mentioned that young people have more choices in how they consume media, and what they choose to consume. For those reasons, Disney is moving to ways that allow people to experience the story they want rather than one story for the masses. Mr. Llopis elaborated that not all technology is a compelling storytelling platform and that there are two sides to technology: the human side and the tech side.

Aaron Trammell, Assistant Professor of Informatics at UC Irvine, gave the final keynote at RUOnlineCon. He discussed the use of digital tools in analog game design. Mr. Trammel also connected game design, crowdfunding, and social media promotion. To be successful, he explained, a game designer must be authentic online, engage their fans, and treat an idea in the same manner as a public relations specialist would treat a brand.

The event was a huge success, and a shining example of the strengths found in online learning at Rutgers and beyond.