Quick question. In the last 3 years how many opportunities have you had to be part of discussions about the future of your institution? How often have you been able to get a seat at the table when issues of priorities, investments, and governance have emerged?
If your life is anything like my own, the last 3 years have been very different from all the preceding ones.
Today, educational technology is sort of hot. Tomorrow, who knows?
For many years the balance between the administrative side of the campus technology house and the academic side has (perhaps necessarily) tilted towards the former.
A university depends on a huge number of technologies and technologists to run.
The infrastructure and business operations depends on the flawless 24/7/365 operation of a huge number of platforms. The network. Financial systems. E-mail. Websites. Storage. Student information and registration systems. On and and and on.
The range and criticality of campus administrative systems have grown exponentially, and the professionals that make these systems run (often without enough visibility or credit) are essential to every postsecondary institution.
What has been fascinating to witness over the past 3 years is the expansion of influence and resources to the educational (courses, learning, etc.) areas of university technology departments.
I’ve observed this shift in talking to colleagues inside and outside technology departments across both public and private institutions. I’ve listened to CIOs and Provosts, talked to the people who run technologies companies that focus on education, and watched how conferences have changed.
What explains the tilt towards educational and academic computing?
Could this trend reverse?
My sense is that we (educational technology people) owe a few debts of gratitude.
Certainly, the hope and hype around MOOCs have focused the interest of higher ed leadership on the power of learning technologies to advance the core academic mission.
MOOCs are not, and never have been, the real story of online and blended learning.
That story is one of a growing understanding of how people learn, and the opportunities that developing a course for a blended or online format affords to incorporate new methods to achieve active learning Part of this story is the partnerships between faculty, instructional designers, librarians, and other campus professionals to collaborate on course development.
The real benefit to campus initiatives around blended and online learning have been all the teaching and learning conversations that these initiatives help catalyze.
The past 3 years have also witnessed some real improvements in the efficacy of technology-enabled education. We have seen some real improvements in learning management platforms, synchronous learning tools, mobile learning, rapid authoring, and the ability to leverage analytics to improve learning environments. The technologies are catching up to our understanding of how people learn.
All of this churn in educational models (online/blended learning, flipped classrooms, MOOCs) and technology improvements have taken place within the context of a growing awareness for the need to address issues around costs and access.
Leaders within and outside academia (including in the government and foundations) are calling for productivity boosting innovations in higher ed. Technology has contributed to the lowering of costs and the raising of quality of every other information industry - higher education can not be the exception.
Embedded within any new opportunities that educational technology folks have to influence and contribute to the future of higher education comes some important responsibilities.
Our educational and learning tech community needs to keep a firm and persistent focus on larger issues around quality, cost, and access.
We need to understand this moment for what it is, a rare and maybe once-in-a-career set of opportunities to participate in changing the postsecondary status quo.
Learning technology folks know lots of things about the intersection of pedagogy and technology - but do we know enough about the larger structural issues and challenges facing every institution of higher learning?
Seizing this opportunity will, I think, require us learning technology types to learn some things outside of our comfort zone. We will need to learn about postsecondary economics and finance. We will need to learn as much as we can about how the governance process works on our campuses. How decisions are made and how resources are allocated.
We are good at collaborating with faculty on course design. Can we build on these relationships to better understand the larger goals and constraints that faculty face, and find ways to advocate for their objectives?
We have a long history of working with librarians on courses and learning platforms. Do we have a deep understanding of the range of roles that our academic libraries and librarians play at our institutions, and how we can partner with these colleagues to help enhance their contributions?
How are you thinking about the evolving roles and new opportunities in learning technology?
What skills, abilities, and networks should educational technology folks be pursuing in order to take advantage of this (perhaps fleeting) moment in higher education?