February 4, 2015
Are you skeptical about the role of technology in higher education?
Our edtech establishment has done a poor job engaging in a meaningful dialogue with our critics. I find this lack of positive conversation disturbing, as I think that I share many of the same values as those most critical of the edtech profession that I love. Perhaps if we first enumerate the main objections to edtech, if we listen to our critics, we’d be in a better position to evolve and reform our own edtech discipline.
What are the mains objections to technology, and technology organizations, in higher ed?
Objection #1 - Money Spent On Campus Technology Is Money Not Available to Spend Elsewhere:
We are living in an age of higher ed scarcity. Revenues have not kept up with costs. Price growth (tuition) has outstripped wage growth (and everything else). The states have largely walked away from funding higher ed, shifting the cost burden to students and their families. There is a general worry amongst many in higher education that spending on campus technology organizations and big ticket technologies is taking dollars away from faculty. The faster rates of staff growth compared to faculty growth, including staff in IT groups, is often cited as a contributing factor to the diminution of the ranks of full-time tenure track faculty.
Objection #2 - Campus Technology Spending Serves Corporate / Profit Interests Rather Than Learner / Educator Interests:
There is little doubt that a great deal of higher education money is spent on technology goods and service from for-profit companies. The question is what value are the students and faculty getting from all this spending? There is a worry that interests of technology companies, and campus technology staff, may not be fully aligned with the interests of either educators or learners. This concern about the role of technology vendors is part of a larger concern about the corporatization of higher education. A concern that traditional values of discovery, dissent, and questioning are being sacrificed in an ever expanding quest for rankings, prestige, and the tuition and grant dollars that flow from these external validators.
Objection #3 - Non-Faculty Technology Staff May Erode Faculty Autonomy and Control:
Our not-for-profit postsecondary system is built on a system of shared faculty governance. When it comes to the curriculum and the academics, the faculty run the place. There is a concern that a growing cadre of campus administrators, including technology administrators, may erode long-held systems of faculty governance and autonomy by exerting too much influence on institutional decision making. These concerns are particularly relevant as more of the core functions of the academy are mediated by technology, such as the shift to more online modes of instruction.
Objection #4 - Enterprise Technology Solutions and Services Are A Poor Fit for Campus User Needs:
The enterprise technology systems purchased, rolled out, and supported by central IT organizations may be a poor fit for the needs of the academic end-users. One-size fits all technology solutions may not fit the needs of many on campus. Many researchers object to part of the overhead on grants going to central IT, as they believe they are in a better position to meet their own technology needs. Many on campus would rather use agile (and often free) consumer solutions, rather than be confined to the enterprise platforms and software approved and supported by central IT.
Objection #5 - Investments in Campus Learning Management Systems (LMS) Work Against Educational Aims:
There is a strong distrust of the rise of the ubiquitous campus LMS amongst many thoughtful educators. The objections are two-fold. First, many question why students should invest so much time learning a digital platform that they will never use in their work lives once they leave campus. Why not use the free or near-free consumer and social services and platforms, such as blogs and Twitter and Google Drive or DropBox or even Facebook, to perform the teaching and learning functions currently handled by the LMS? The second objection is the closed and siloed nature of most LMS courses. LMS skeptics ask why should students collaborate, create, and publish into systems that are closed off to everyone else in the world.
Objection #6 - All The Resources Spent On Technology Have Failed to Improve Productivity:
This last objection the higher ed technology is perhaps the most damning. Critics ask where the payoff is for postsecondary productivity for all the money that has been spent on postsecondary technology. Are we seeing the payoff in better educated students? In lower tuition costs? In greater access to higher education? How has all the technology, and the technology administrators, made any meaningful contribution to addressing the iron triangle of quality, costs, and access in higher education?
Can you help me better articulate the concerns of our critics?
What is missing from this list of concerns?
Am I right to believe that a first step in figuring out how to make common cause with all of the educators on campus, even our fiercest critics, is to understand where they are coming from?
Will open dialogue and discussion enable us to find some common ground, some areas where we can feel that we are learning from and supporting each other?
Will our edtech discipline have the confidence in our own value and in our own contributions to listen, and address, the objections of our biggest critics?
What are your concerns about technology in higher education?
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