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3 Goals and 3 Challenges for our Educational Technology Leaders
August 22, 2012 - 9:00pm

If higher ed is to change then our educational technology leaders must play a central role.

This call for change in higher ed begs the question - what sort of change?

I'll suggest 3 dimensions that I view as imperative that we address in the next decade.  I hope you will offer your additions and alternatives.

1. Productivity: By productivity I mean steps that will simultaneously drive down costs while increasing quality. Higher education has failed to match the productivity increases in almost ever other industry (save perhaps health care). From the time that I graduated from college in 1991 until today we have witnessed exponential decreases in the costs of computer hardware and software accompanied by astounding increases in quality. The combination of the internet and Moore's Law has created a revolution in how we communicate, produce, share, and consume information.  Increasing the quality while lowering the costs of higher education is no doubt more difficult than creating a faster and more powerful smartphone, or a new cloud based productivity application. We can, however, combine incremental improvements (such as blended and online course delivery) with whole new educational paradigms (open online courses, consumer technology tools, mobile learning) to raise the productivity in higher education. Each project, each initiative, and each decision should be made with an eye towards simultaneously reducing costs while increasing quality.  Decisions that accomplish one but not the other are not worth our energy.

2. Relevance: We can measure relevance in many ways. The most important aspect of relevance is probably connected to employment (although many will disagree). When I send my daughters to college in 2015 and 2017 I expect that they will come out with the foundational skills they will need to keep learning for an ever-changing job market.  The days when higher ed could prepare someone for a specific job are long since gone. Jobs change too quickly. I continue to believe that a liberal arts education is the best possible preparation for a knowledge economy. Professional or graduate school should be much closer to employment.  Educational technology leaders are well positioned to partner with faculty, librarians and other educational professionals to create learning environments that prioritize active learning. If higher ed is about information delivery than we are doomed - as information is abundant and close to free.  Technology is an essential tool to enable our faculty to collaborate closely with learners, partnering in the co-creation of knowledge and understanding.   

3. Access: The demand for quality, affordable higher education dramatically outstrips the supply. Both higher education credentials and lifelong learning are essential in a meritocratic and globalized economy.  The for-profit sector owes much of its success to providing a service (flexible class schedules and online learning) that was not being met by our existing public and private institutions. The excitement about massively open online courses (MOOCs) is another example of unmet demand for learning opportunities (which will only grow when credentials are attached to these courses). I see huge opportunities to increase the supply of educational opportunities by growing our blended and online learning footprint within every sector of higher education.   

What are the obstacles do educational technology leaders face in driving change along these dimensions of productivity, quality and access.

1. A Powerful Status Quo:  The current system in which we construct, deliver, and fund higher education benefits many of the incumbents. I think we are very fortunate in higher ed that for the most part we can build coalitions for change, partnerships for improvement. The K-12 sector, with its unequal and broken (property tax) based funding models and entrenched teacher unions seems to me an infinitely more difficult environment than higher ed in which to bring about change.   

2. Limited Resources: Investing in the changes necessary to increase productivity, relevance and access will be expensive in the short term. These are long-term investments, made with an eye towards 2020 and 2030, not 2013. But public money is tight, tuition dollars stretched, and tuition prices already too high. Investing in initiatives that will bring about long-term gains will require painful choices in the short run. We probably cannot do everything that we have wanted to do in higher ed, teach every subject, fund every service.  This is why it is essential for our next generation of educational technology leaders to understand the economics of higher ed beyond the world of technology.  A strategic, holistic, and financially astute set of skills will be necessary if educational technology leaders hope to be effective advocates for investments in learning technology.

3.  The Necessary Leadership Skills: How will the next generation of educational technology leaders learn the skills necessary to change their institutions? Are the current leadership development and educational programs adequate to the scale of the challenges we face in higher education? Will our institutions invest in the long-term development of they're most promising leaders and potential leaders?

What do you see as the goals and challenges for our next generation of educational technology leaders?

 

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