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"The Ed-Tech Establishment"
March 17, 2014 - 9:00pm

Doc_Docorstein, in an exchange with Michael Feldstein in the Disqus / comments section of my post, talks about the existence of an “ed-tech establishment."

By “ed-tech establishment” I take Doc_Docerstein to be referring to those of us who are apt to find ourselves at EDUCAUSE, Sloan-C, or NMC.  Full-time administrators.  People working in and around academic IT.

First, I want to thank Doc_Docorstein for sharing his thoughts, and for his willingness to engage in debate and discussion on IHE.  Thank you.

I’d like to leave aside (for the moment) the specific discussion on the e-Literate TV episode that sparked this debate, and focus on Doc_Docorstein’s implicit (and at points explicit) critique of the ed-tech establishment.

My sense is that Doc_Docorstein is not alone in our community in the conclusion that:  a) there exists an ed-tech establishment, and b) that this ed-tech establishment is fundamentally hostile (or at least not helpful) to some of the core values that inspired many to a life in academia.

So let’s talk about this.

What are the intellectual and ideological dividing lines separating the members of the ed-tech establishment from those academics, like Doc_Docorstein, who may offer a similar critique?

The Future:

Members of the ed-tech establishment are generally inclined to view the future of higher education as positive.  Rather than looking backwards to a golden age of university life, those in the ed-tech establishment are excited about the potential for higher education to evolve new models and practices to meet new demands and challenges.  The role that technology will play, in particular in teaching and learning, generates much excitement.

This generally positive view of the future of postsecondary education will run up against deeply held concerns around the corporatization and commercialization of the academy.  For many, the future of higher education in general (and their institutions in particular) is fraught, as forces as diverse as declining public funding and a loss of faculty authority and autonomy (see below) signals a diminution of status and prospects.  Learning technologies are viewed at best as over-hyped and over-sold, and at worst as damaging to the core mission of the university.

Resources:

Everyone working in higher education is today acutely aware of the resource constraints that characterize our enterprise.   The days of rapidly rising public funding are long since past, as public disinvestment in higher education has corresponded with rapidly rising costs.  

There is little consensus about the roots of the economic difficulties facing higher education (i.e. the cost disease, the growth administrators, climbing walls, etc.) and therefore little agreement about the best economic path forward.

Those inclined to critique the ed-tech establishment would probably view most spending on educational technology with some suspicion.   A dollar spent on a learning technology, or a learning technologists, is a dollar not invested in the faculty.

The ed-tech establishment, conversely, is inclined to view spending on learning technologies and learning technologists as investments.   Investments towards improving quality, expanding access, and potentially creating new sources of revenue.

Governance and Autonomy:

The last few decades have inarguably witnessed a proportionally rapid growth of non-faculty employment.  The growing number of staff on campus, including academic technology staff, have led to concerns amongst some full-time / tenure-track faculty about the preservation of traditional rights and privileges around faculty governance and faculty autonomy.   The concern is that a growing cadre of administrators and technocrats will make decisions, invest resources, and enact policies that will primarily benefit their professional academic (non-faculty) class.

A counter-narrative might run that the emerging ed-tech establishment (if one does indeed exist) is populated by academic traditionalists - professionals dedicated to the support, and longevity of the academic enterprise.  

In this narrative, members of the ed-tech establishment are collaborators with faculty for the preservation of a shared set of academic norms and values, chief amongst these mores being the maintenance and faculty spheres of influence, control, and autonomy.  This is a model of partnership and support, (particularly around the introduction of learning technologies), with the benefits of this collaboration accruing to both faculty and students.

Does this description adequately capture the core of the debate?

What is left out?  What is flat out wrong?

Does there exist some fundamental divide(s) in our IHE community?  Or does the medium of online discussion serve to falsely amplify debates and disagreements?

 

 

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