The Calm Before the Storm at EDUCAUSE

Missing disagreements and missing provosts.

October 16, 2013

Like almost all of the ideas below, the title for this post has been shameless ripped off from the ideas that I've been getting from various folks that I've been chatting with at EDUCAUSE.   

The question that I've been asking everyone is: "So what is the big story at EDUCAUSE this year?". 

One of my colleagues, a card carrying member of our edtech tribe and an academic professional with a large and challenging set of technology leadership responsibilities, suggested the calm before the storm analogy to describe EDUCAUSE 2013.   

This seems about right to me.   

The mood in the sessions and the exhibit hall, at least the sessions that I'm attending and the exhibit hall people that I'm speaking with, is a somewhat subdued but positive vibe.     

If 2012 was the year of the MOOC and the coming of disruptive change, 2013 is maybe the year when we are catching our breath and getting ready for the next wave of change.

MOOCs are no longer unknown quantities or threats to our business models. MOOCs have become part of what we do, a piece of who we are.

There is lots of talk about analytics, but nobody is quite sure how all the potential of data driven decision making will translate into concrete actions and shifts in our organizational structure or operational practices.

The higher ed storm to come is clear for everyone to see.  

Costs cannot continue to rise in an environment of greater choice (badges, open learning), new models (competency based degrees), and the continued stagnation of middle class incomes in the context of eroding public funding.  

Something has to give, but maybe not right now.

Most of the discussions that I've witnessed at EDUCAUSE are marked by violent agreement. What one smart observer to the EDUCAUSE scene calls, '"point / point". The "counterpoint" seems to be absent from EDUCAUSE.

This missing counterpoint may be a function of all of us agreeing that IT is a bridge to serve the larger goals of improved quality, greater access and lowered costs.  

Nobody seems to be disagreeing that IT departments need to move their focus towards building partnerships to solve academic and institutional business challenges, and away from managing the data center

Technology may be the bridge that will deliver on our academic and institutional goals (along dimensions of quality, cost and access), but the bridge may be the least interesting part of the discussion.  

We need to have the provosts, deans, and college presidents at EDUCAUSE to have the discussions with about what their goals and their constraints. This is why the continued absence of a critical mass of high level academic (non IT) leaders at EDUCAUSE is becoming increasingly problematic.

One colleague suggested that EDUCAUSE should offer free airfare, hotel, and conference admission to any provost who agrees to come in 2014. Seems like a good idea.

My first full day at EDUCAUSE has been basically consistent with the mood of Sir Ken Robinson's opening keynote. Relaxed, low-key, and understated.  

But with an awareness that the future holds some very big challenges, and that we as a profession have very little idea of the roles that we will play or the steps that we will need to take to solve the fundamental contradictions and disparities inherent in our model of postsecondary education.

How can we shake things up at EDUCAUSE?

What do you think is the big story coming out of EDUCAUSE?

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Joshua Kim

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