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An Interview With Maria Lorna Kunnath, CEO Of MLAKEDUSOLN ELEARNOVATE

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Below is our recent interview with Maria Lorna Kunnath, CEO at MLAKEDUSOLN ELEARNOVATE:

Q: Can you tell us something more about the company and what you do?

A: My company MLAKEDUSOLN ELEARNOVATE is a yet-to-be-monetized startup that began in 2003 as a Sole-Proprietor Educational Consulting Company (originally MLAKEDUSOLN) in Davis, California that offered educational solutions such as elearning design and development. In 2005 I got re-hired at the University of California Davis as an Analyst to produce two health-related e-learning projects-one being the Telemedicine Graduate Course (for a faculty) and the other the Pandemic Flu Course for Emergency Crisis Personnel for California Department of Health Services. I developed both these courses to fruition against all odds that stemmed from deficient media knowledgebase, unfulfilled (promised) manpower support, delayed software and hardware provisioning by the university, which in all accounts had nothing to do with my ability to do the work. After that stint I came to realize that faculty who have teaching/research duties should possess the right mix of technosavvy and sense of creativity. I also realized that being masters of their courses they best know how to present them in sophisticated ways in lieu of writing on chalkboard or whiteboard. To me they are the Steve Jobs equivalent in Higher Education who should be pulling the kid’s (who pay dearly for their education) attention away from social media and all the outside distractors into their own learning process induced by a compelling instructor.

Academically trained in Instructional Technology (obtained my Doctorate in Education) and been doing everything EdTEch since 1994, I was molded to look at instructional development pain points to deliver curriculum that makes it easier for students to grasp. Rather than simply focus on the learner, I see a teaching/learning gap that remains to be addressed: Lack of Instructor Technological Competence; Lack of Independence in creative course digitization.

Professors are a proud group but rightfully so since they are our elite transmitters of knowledge, culture without them education as we know it from the classical era to the modern times stops to flourish. In this age of Artificial Intelligence, professors are at a risk of becoming an endangered species if their lack of tech preparedness pushes them to the brink of giving up on the profession or retiring early if they deem the skills demanded of them (tech expertise) far exceeds the time and energy they prefer to dedicate to hone their teaching styles. This is the pain point my company has been aiming to solve for many years now. To be able to provide for this select group a digital space (server-based) with essential tools for Professors to extract research content so their courses are not same-old same-old they so often get criticized for, analytical tools to present data-driven information to the courses they teach so they are not mere repeat of the previous terms’ and with focus on a different aspect/topic of the course, give them mastery to become fluent users of presentation or otherwise called Authoring Tools where they can with confidence digitally mix the previously-mentioned content in a coherent media-rich as well as mixed reality modalities (AR, VR or simulation) format to make classroom teaching alive and exciting to hold a student’s attention, inspire them and perhaps excite them enough so they think of furthering their studies, expanding their academic backgrounds or specializing in critical areas.

I have supplemented my doctorate academic background in the past 18 years with my unquenchable enthusiasm and actions to learn in-depth on my own (non-stop) all the media technologies available on the web. With an eye towards a particular content development problem, I would embark on this self-learning journey on my own time. I made sure I grew with new modalities as well.

Another aspect of my problem-solving adventure was the need to be and interact with people much smarter than I where I can learn even more the skills during the networking process and to be in the know of the next big thing. By attending live media events and gatherings on topics that ranged from from cloud computing, SaaS, PaSs, IaSS, IoT, AI, Data Science nationally and globally, I made sure my solution was agile, lean and scalable consulting one on one with experts on the floor. My obsession for a complete solution is further galvanized and validated through computing knowledge from a wide array of readings published by the Association of Computing Machinery ACM and the IEEE, two renowned computing organizations that produce and publish seminal work (including mine) on computing including educational computing.

Over the years since Graduate School at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, I developed this habit and routine of publishing technical papers on every single project and subject matter I am involved in on a fairly regular basis particularly where I develop the projects myself using all the tech skills I have acquired over the years. I simply find it as an infinite source of personal and professional accomplishment (and satisfaction) to be able to document my problem-solving journey. I can say it has made my critiquing skills more acute therefore can only be a positive thing.

As a Solopreneur my daily routine consists of: Updating my collection of web servers, updating my websites and self-critiquing designs I use of same.

Q: Maria, can you tell us something more about your background?

A: I am an Educator, Instructional Designer and an Edtechpreneur, that is, I specialize in finding the best use cases for Educational Technology for Higher Education. I look at the use-case scenario on a more comprehensive scale so that if my solution is good for one university, it should also be good for other universities. My company is US-based therefore it follows why I’m centered on US Higher Education system. That’s not to say my solution is not applicable to other countries because it is without a doubt applicable to other countries. Other countries would have to utilize their local research knowledgebases though with additional customization on the Research Component since the research databases I recommend are unique to the US situation. Similarly, every country has their own version of those research tools unique to their country’s perspective.

Q: What were you doing before MLAKEDUSOLN ELEARNOVATE?

A: When the Kunnath family moved to Davis California as a result of my husband accepting a Teaching post at the University of California Davis from Orlando Florida with myself arriving as a fresh Doctoral graduate I was immediately hired as an Analyst at one of UCDavis media centers under the Information Technology Departments where I critiqued through papers I published their course creation and digitization attempts for professors which involved a large manpower and media assets scattered all over the place. In such a setup I witnessed a power brokerage and mini power silos wherever I turn; from a graphic artist to a programmer to the person in charge of powerpoint, it was unbelievable how much waste in manpower, salary, software and hardware, time and energy the university had to put up just to digitize learning resources.

This job was followed by a stint with the College of Education overseeing the Digital California Project DCP where again, on a different level of resource glut, I witnessed how the California Educational System grappled with understanding the essentials of technology use for education to justify among other things the importance of having a successful Digital California Project which is the CENIC Broadband Program to interconnect all the K-12 schools in California. I recall for months how both the CENIC and DCP group could not pinpoint what the mission and goal of the project was. Yet meetings and banquets kept happening that drove the cost up. Tired of attending needless meetings, I felt the need (in the end) to fill in the missing knowledge I hoped could cast some light to the missing piece of the puzzle. For that, I created a summary of videoconferencing solutions that covered existing ones i.e., software based, hardware based, both, open-source and proprietary discussed along the lines of how-to’s, technical specifications, brands, equipment, operating system and the like. I also published a paper on the Video Conferencing solutions as well as on the topic of Carnegie Universities instructional technology practices nationwide.

These amalgamated set of experiences helped me to deeply reflect on what I wanted to do next. I certainly did not want to be a staff again and be forced to dumb down and pretend I don’t know how to do digital just to conform. It is painful to do that. I yearned to solve a problem, knew what that problem and though it seemed to always confront me, I knew it has something to do with educating people on using educational technology. Grappling on the questions, it the need to have professional development on technology use for staff? For teachers? For K-12? Continuously wrestling on those thoughts, a pivotal moment happened when a need arose for a Course Developer to develop a Graduate (health-related) Course to be offered in the Fall for Informatics Masters Students at UCDavis UCDavis Health System. I signed the contract (on a measly pay believe it or not) with my prospective supervisor’s substitute senior staff with the understanding that the department will give me a team (did not happen), provide me with software/hardware (only happened after my continuous follow-up), secure my next project by writing a grant (which I did but was blindsided again) which I turned into a technical paper. With a backdrop like that you’d think I’ll quit. I didn’t. I completed the project and went on to complete another project this time for emergency preparedness. Though it was hard trying to satisfy many egos, I was better prepared on the second project and completed it in due time. I think for both projects the main problems I had centered on the undercurrents (what was not being communicated directly to me) rather than the work itself. So many people want to take credit but no one really stepping up to assist, its ridiculous.

Q: What’s PLErify App and how does it work?

A: PLERIFY is short for Personalized Learning Environment (PLE) transforming teaching learning ‘IFY’ using a digital space and the process of personalizing it in the allocated server space) for use by the teaching profession (Instructors). It is a server space with tools to research, quantify, measure, visualize, present electronically a classroom course organized within a Learning Management System LMS. It is secure a server holding a distinct set of tools for each user’s exclusive use so they can do their own experimentation and content creation. It has everything they need to digitize course content from start to finish up to the point where the course is uploaded to an LMS where students can access it and evaluate the quality of the course. Results of the evaluation process forms the basis for improving the course for next term’s offering.

PLERIFY’s last design was in 2014 and definitely needing a much-overdue redesign. Currently I am redesigning it and will continue to refine the design as I see fit.

Q: Why do we need a digital version of classroom courses?

A: There is no industry not affected by Technology so to embark on a teaching journey without technology would be an oxymoron in an era where robots and artificial intelligence are slowly yet surely weaving itself in every single phase of every industry from the science and engineering to the services industry. More importantly it is now slowly creeping into higher education sector as well with a growing group of proponents who advocate replacing humans with robot Instructors. With apocalyptic visions as such suggested, it only strengthens my resolve to shift the Edtech Balance of Power in the hands of the Professors to allow them to own the Smart Classroom with a teaching style that demonstrates their Edtechsavviness.

Modern universities nowadays are equipped with smart classrooms where courses can be taught with visuals, the moving visual, simulation and a mixed reality. This type of teaching requires that courses are in digital format with embedded URL links within the chapters where with a mere click by the professor a simulation or a virtual reality of say a laboratory, a microsurgery, an analytical model is magnified to a group of students. Speed, continuity and smooth delivery are of the essence.

Obviously, it is not possible (if not awkward) to have this kind of learning experience if classroom materials are not digitized for use in real-time. To demonstrate what I mean by that from a very simple experiment, imagine a professor trying to type in the URL from a paper pdf. In one session there would be 5-10 URLs to type on the smart classroom’s live internet-ready browser. To maintain a smooth continuity of the teaching and learning process, there shouldn’t be large gaps where suddenly you lose the attention of your students because no one can fix their eyes on the screen for too long where the topic being discussed has moved to a different topic but the URL of the mixed reality component is yet to be typed in character by character.

Our world is full of unimportant distractions that consume most of our time yet here we are in higher education who could be making the best utility from it, so much needing it yet completely left out, leaving out its precious assets who are the forerunners of culture and knowledge out of the loop. Sometimes I think this situation was pre-ordained by the Pro-Robot Movement; by the more profit-based Tech Giants who did not think how critical a situation can be; how bad it is going to be (if not reversed) for the survival of our human civilization to lose our human Higher Education Professors.

Q: What are your plans and goals for the future?

A: In the most recent Chapter Article I wrote for a book, I mentioned the MOOC Project, translated Massive Open Online Classroom which is the largest collection of University Courses from all over the world. I envision using PLERIFY against the backdrop of the MOOC course selection by both students and Professors. This activity will need the use of an AI Artificial Intelligence Recommender System RS, therefore I am doing a constant search and testing of AI software RS available in the market today applicable to my current app.

Apart from the Subscription Service of the tool-based server app PLERIFY, I’m also in the process of adding an investor component that will make it easier for individuals (including professors) and startups to launch their websites through my cloudsite offering. It will be very reasonably-priced, cost effective with well-designed templates to choose from. I’d set up a prequalification Q&A and when answers are satisfactory they get a website within a day. I am thinking of making it either a small fixed price for a year or, a donation-based or both. I’m still crafting the details but it is a good feeling to finally say my servers are rightfully in place.

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