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7 EdTech Assumptions
January 1, 2014 - 9:00pm

Our IHE community may disagree on many things, but the one thing we seem to agree on is the wisdom of our own thinking.

Read the pieces on Views, Blog U, and the Comments on IHE and you don’t get the impression that our community suffers overmuch from self-doubt.

We seem to understand how to judge quality in higher ed.

We appear to know exactly why costs are high (or not high), why faculty have too much (or too little) power, and why too many (or too few) PhDs remain underemployed.

We know what makes a great course (online, residential, or blended), and how we should (or should not) measure learning.

We know exactly what our institutions should do differently, if only everyone would figure out that we have this knowledge and follow our directions.

My hypothesis is that our confidence in our own opinions rests on an underlying set of assumptions.   These assumptions are mostly implicit and unexamined.  These assumptions are so ingrained and pervasive that we don’t even recognize them as such.  

Below is a first attempt to enumerate my own edtech and higher ed assumptions.  

I hope that you add your own assumptions to our list:

#1. The Productivity Assumption:

This is the idea that we need to increase higher education productivity, and that technology will be the means to do so. The idea of productivity captures both quality (however measured) and cost (however calculated). The assumption is that we need to find ways to simultaneously raise quality (which is variable at best) while bending the educational cost curve (which has gone up at about twice the rate of inflation for the last 30 years).

#2. The Technology is a Lever Assumption:

The belief that technology can be an effective lever to improve postsecondary education. The idea that technology is never strategic, but rather the tactical tools that we use to reach our strategic goals. (With goals clustered around the iron triangle of quality, costs and access). The assumption here is technology will a positive force, and that if only higher education can utilize technology as effectively as other industries that we will see improvements in postsecondary productivity.

#3. The Disruption Assumption:

The assumption that educational technology will also follow the innovators dilemma narrative. That the path to higher quality learning technologies will inevitably first go through lower cost and inferior platforms and services. That the system of higher education is not immune from the forces facing other industries. So today’s lower cost and lower quality postsecondary offerings will inevitably evolve and improve, eventually displacing large numbers of higher ed incumbents.

#4. The Active Learning Assumption:

This is assumption that active learning is good and passive learning is bad (however we define active and passive). In practice, this assumption translates into a goal to move away from courses-as-information transfer (the traditional large lecture) to courses as opportunities for creation and discovery. Technologies that make large classes feel like small classes (seminars) are thought to be beneficial for learning.   

#5. The Relationship Assumption:

This is the idea that authentic learning is inherently relational. That a valuable learning experience is one based on personal interaction, mentorship and coaching between an educator and a learner. The Web has dropped the price, and therefore the value (or at least what people will pay) of information to near zero. We can access more free online course based information, from MOOCs to iTunesU to OpenCourseWare, than we could have hope to consume in a lifetime. Therefore, what is valuable is not information (which has become commoditized), but the degree to which learning takes place in the context of relationship between educators and learners. Embedded in this relationship assumption is the twin idea that postsecondary education is valuable beyond the credential, and that authentic education does not conform to the economics of the Web.

#6. The Blended Learning Assumption:

This is the assumption that the best courses will usually be blended courses. Partly face-to-face and partly online. A blend where precious classroom time is utilized for those activities best accomplished in the same room at the same time.  Where we flip the classroom to provide content and opportunities for discussion and questions, and utilize classroom time to reinforce key concepts, clear up muddy points, and engage in activities that help learners build, construct and consolidate knowledge.   

#7.  The Consumerization Assumption:

This is the idea that consumer technology is setting the pace for educational technology. That the digital consumer experience is getting better faster than the digital education experience. The assumption is that higher education needs to in some sense keep up with the consumer world of technology if we are to remain relevant to our students. That it is bad if a student can watch Netflix or Hulu on any screen that she owns, but can’t access course materials and assignments. That Amazon is changing the book buying and reading experience faster than we are changing the higher education experience. That consumer technologies move much faster than our educational enterprise technologies, and at some point we need to get out of the way of our community and let them choose and bring their own technology.

Each of these edtech assumptions is no doubt wrong to some degree. Incomplete, poorly reasoned, or misguided.

In writing this up I found that enumerating my own higher education assumptions is really hard. Too much is left out. Too little is said about each assumption. Could you do a better job enumerating your own higher ed assumptions?

In 2014 I hope to explore, refine, and evolve the assumptions that I have about higher education and the role that educational technology can and should play in our industry. 

What are your technology assumptions as they relate to higher education?



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