11 Higher Ed Groups That I’m Thankful For

Giving thanks at the intersection of learning and technology.

November 25, 2014
My favorite Thanksgiving tradition is when we go around the table and everybody says what they are thankful for.  In that spirit, I’d like to share 11 reasons why I’m grateful to work at the intersection of learning and technology:
#1 - Our Students:   If you spend time with today’s students you will be optimistic about our future.  They are smarter and more creative than we were, and they will have options and opportunities beyond our own experiences.  Anyone who tells you that tomorrow’s generation will be worse off than today’s has not studied history.  Those of us that work in learning technology are really hoping to contribute to a better education, and a better future, for our students.  I am grateful for the hard working, inquisitive, and brilliant students that we work for.
#2 - Our Critics and Skeptics:  If you are not skeptical about the application of technology to education then you should be.  The history of educational technology is not a very happy one.  It is a history of too much hype and too little results.  In higher ed we spend too much technology money on non-mission related activities.  More troubling, those of us who work in edtech have failed to make common cause with faculty.  We have talked too much and listened too little.  The critics and skeptics of the edtech community are our best assets.  If you believe that most of us in our higher ed community share the same goals around teaching and knowledge creation (which I do), then we should view debate with those most skeptical of technological interventions as opportunities to learn.  I am grateful to all those educators that take the time and energy to engage with and critique our edtech community.
#3 - Learning Scientists:  Learning science will be amongst the most important and prestigious of disciplines in the next few decades.  In the postsecondary context we are witnessing an important industry wide shift towards defining and measuring learning outcomes.  There is a desire to evaluate learning outcomes beyond what can be assayed through traditional assessment techniques.  There is a general skepticism about the validity of high stakes exams, and a trend towards low-stakes assessment to encourage learning.  Learning scientists will be at the forefront of learning design, assessment, and learning research efforts.  The scholarship of teaching and learning will be increasingly core to the mission and practice of the university, and learning scientists will be in the middle of all the action. 
#4 - Librarians:  I am grateful to librarians and the academic library profession for their leadership on open educational resources and information privacy.  I am grateful to my librarian colleagues for their willingness to work on the teams that are designing online courses at scale.  I am grateful for the physical spaces that librarians have created to collaborate and to quietly contemplate.  I am grateful to my librarian colleagues who are thinking about the preservation of the digital learning assets that we are busily creating.  I am grateful to our librarian colleagues for the essential roles that they play in teaching and research at my institution.
#5  - Instructional Designers:  Every instructional designer that I know is juggling an enormous set of responsibilities and demands.  There are any number of forces in the postsecondary world that are pushing up the quality standards for instruction.  Chief amongst these forces may be MOOCs, as open online learning at scale means that residential (paid for) education must deliver value beyond information transmission.  This is great news for students, as the quality of larger enrollment classes is fast improving. (An under-appreciated higher ed story).  The task of collaborating with faculty to improve large courses, often via methods of blended or flipped learning, will often fall to instructional designers.  At the same time, instructional designers are being asked to work on new blended and low-residency classes, online classes, and even sometimes MOOCs.  It is also the instructional designer often at the front lines of managing an LMS transition, and of working with instructors to utilize the LMS in their teaching.  Combine the LMS with other platforms and instructor goals, and it makes for a very busy professional life for the instructional designer.  I’m thankful for the hard work, knowledge, collegiality, and social intelligence of the instructional designers that I work with.
#6 - Media Educators:  The people I’m calling media educators are two sets of campus professionals.  One group are those working on media projects.  These are the people that are called upon whenever a video project needs to get done.  Often these projects are non-curricular (public affairs, events, etc.), but increasingly they are teaching and learning projects. Blended learning, low-residency, online programs, and online learning at scale all require a partnership with media educators.  The other type of media educator that I’m grateful for are those professionals that handle classroom A/V, video-conferencing, and classroom capture.  The skills and knowledge of these professionals is increasingly critical in the development and delivery of high quality educational experiences.  I am grateful for the specialized skills, service orientation, and deep collaborative orientation of these media educator professionals.
#7 - Future Faculty:  Future faculty are grad students and postdocs.  Many future faculty may end up not taking a traditional faculty route.  They may go into research or industry or government.  They may embark on alternative academic (alt-ac) careers.  They may become journalists.  Or software engineers.  What many of today’s grad students and postdocs may do in the future is some teaching.  If they are not in a full-time tenure track faculty gig, they may teach as adjuncts or pick up a class or two.  Whatever direction our future faculty take, I am grateful for any opportunity to collaborate and learn from this group.  Have you noticed how amazing grad students and postdocs are nowadays?  You really have to love your discipline to decide to go to grad school.  This is not a rational economic choice.  Future faculty are excited about their research, and I think increasingly excited about teaching and learning.   Learning is now cool, and today’s grad students and postdocs will be tomorrow’s educators.  I trust that they will do a much better job than us.  
#8 - Current Faculty:  Innovation and experimentation in teaching and learning almost starts with the desire of a professor to figure out some way to meet a teaching goal.  I’m constantly amazed at the willingness of faculty to seek out collaboration and support to improve their teaching.  The faculty at the forefront of experimenting with new pedagogical approaches are largely motivated by internal goals.  They are interested in student learning.  Faculty career incentives and prestige for investing in student learning too often lags behind the payoff for publication and funded research.  At many campuses this may be shifting, as teaching and student learning are gaining new prominence and institutional importance.  (And at many campuses and systems promotion and tenure has always been based on teaching).  I am particularly grateful to those faculty willing to prioritize learning about learning, and to do the hard work to redesign their teaching methods to take advantage of new instructional methods and new knowledge of how the brain learns.
#9 - Communication Professionals:  I am grateful for all the communications professionals in our academic and edtech orbits.  The people who really know how to write.  The people who understand narrative.  The longer I work in my own alt-ac career the more I come to believe in the centrality of communication.  As with most topics, the more I learn about what constitutes effective communication practices the less I feel I understand how to communicate well.  Communicating is really hard.  Getting social media right is really hard.  Creating a good website, and keeping it fresh, is really hard.  Writing and speaking clearly and persuasively is really hard.  I am grateful for every minute that I get to collaborate and learn from the communications professionals on my campus.
#10 - The Risk Takers:  Who are the higher ed risk takers?  They come at every level and in every department.  They are the people that are pushing against the status quo.  They are the folks willing to challenge majority opinion.  They are the colleagues willing to take an alternate and often contrary view.  They care less about hierarchy and position, and more about the work.  I am grateful for these people because they are the ones that move us forward.  They expose our blind spots.  They keep things interesting.  I am grateful to my colleagues who are willing to keep asking questions.  Willing to make alternative suggestions.  Willing to push us out of our comfort zones.
#11 - Our IHE Community (You): The final set of people at the intersection of learning and technology that I am most grateful to is our IHE community.  On Inside Higher Ed I have found a home of colleagues, peers, critics, experts, and fellow lifelong learners.  The gift of IHE is daily high quality news and editorial content that is open, free, accessible and conversational.  That we can freely read and openly debate every news and opinion piece is truly wonderful.  I am grateful to every member of our IHE community who takes the time to write, read, reflect, debate, and critique.  I am grateful that our community comes together on this site 5 days a week to learn about and discuss what is new in our world of higher education.   I am grateful for you.
What are you professionally thankful for?
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.


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