Top instructor impresses students, colleagues

Conniff named Colorado Mountain College adjunct Faculty of Year for campus

    Michael Conniff was recently named the campus adjunct Faculty of the Year for Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen Campus. Colorado Mountain College instructor Michael Conniff sees his students in the Isaacson School for New Media as full partners in their own education, and his classes are designed to help them make substantive changes in their lives. Conniff’s hands-on, real-world approach paid off with a surprising dividend recently, when he was named adjunct Faculty of the Year at the college’s Aspen Campus. Every year, each of Colorado Mountain College’s seven campuses, as well as the college’s department of online learning, can nominate adjunct and

Michael Conniff was recently named the campus adjunct Faculty of the Year for Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen Campus.

Colorado Mountain College instructor Michael Conniff sees his students in the Isaacson School for New Media as full partners in their own education, and his classes are designed to help them make substantive changes in their lives.

Conniff’s hands-on, real-world approach paid off with a surprising dividend recently, when he was named adjunct Faculty of the Year at the college’s Aspen Campus.

Every year, each of Colorado Mountain College’s seven campuses, as well as the college’s department of online learning, can nominate adjunct and full-time instructors for the Faculty of the Year award. From those honorees, senior administrators then select a collegewide award recipient in each of the two categories.

Focus on greater good makes Conniff stand out

Conniff’s colleagues credit him with an infectious enthusiasm and limitless energy. Rick Johnson, an instructional chair at the campus, said one of Conniff’s key strengths is his personal investment in the success of his students and the Isaacson School for New Media.

“I have been in higher education for 35 years,” said Johnson, “and Michael is among a handful of people I have seen who have given enormous amounts of personal time to effect an equally enormous result for the greater good.”

Conniff played a critical role in the founding of the Isaacson School and has been an advocate setting high standards for excellence from the beginning. “His own instruction is consistent with that vision,” said Johnson, “as is exemplified by the work students are doing, using the tools they’ve learned from Michael.”

Collaboration, storytelling at heart of teaching style

When Conniff learned he’d been named adjunct Faculty of the Year for the Aspen Campus, he was quick to credit his co-instructor, Stefanie Kilts, who began teaching alongside Conniff last fall. “She shares in this award,” he said.

Together the instructors bring experience in reporting, social media and videography, which informs the way they teach their popular noncredit workshops. “What distinguishes our approach from any other new media school,” said Conniff, “is we’re coming at it, like Walter Isaacson, as storytellers.”

Much of his focus as an instructor is teaching students how to tell the story of their business in a compelling way, using social media as a tool. “If you’ve got knowledge but no story to tell,” he said, “you’re out of luck.”

Likewise, if you have a story to tell but your audience is small, Conniff’s classes are designed to help expand that audience. His students include many returning learners who want to update their tools and re-envision their businesses to reach a wider market.

The Isaacson School’s noncredit Black Diamond Workshops have been in high demand, from Aspen to Rifle. The day-long workshops continue in Aspen this spring on Fridays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., featuring Facebook in a Day, Twitter in a Day, LinkedIn in a Day, and YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram in a Day.

Team approach heightens creativity

Conniff approaches teaching as a creative venture, and he invites his students to participate in the creative development of one another’s entrepreneurial pursuits. “We’ll zero in on someone’s business,” he said, “and I’ll invite the class to act as the consulting firm to help get it to the next level.

“Social media is about building communities,” he said. “With cheap, inexpensive or free tools, you often have the same ammunition as very large enterprises.”

This ammunition is helping Isaacson School students achieve some successes of their own. Recent workshop participant Tamela Kenning came in with drive, an idea and a fledgling website called createasinger.com. Her goal was to help parents and grandparents foster the innate musical abilities of little ones by singing with them. With insights from the class and input from her peers, she left with a powerful media platform and a revamped website that instantly generated more traffic. “The class was great, really beneficial,” she said.

“We’ve had a stampede of entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers, sculptors, artists, people of all kinds united by the entrepreneurial instinct and the belief that social media could be a game changer for them,” Conniff said.

He credits his Faculty of the Year honor, in part, to the importance of the material he’s teaching to students who are hungry to expand their horizons. “I think it speaks to the wide-ranging appeal of the Isaacson School within the Roaring Fork Valley community,” he said.