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Barbara Fister’s discussion of the dangers of applying the disruptive innovation frame to higher ed makes for a great read.  

It is also well worth checking out the New Yorker article that inspired Barbara’s post.

Is there a pro academic disruptive innovation case to be made?  

Or more pointedly, can we ascribe to the values that Barbara describes and identify with the communities in which she belongs, and still find utility in Christensen’s theories?

Can we be for the educators and the HBS business theorists?

Is there a humanist argument to be made for disruptive innovation? 

Is there a disruptive innovation model for the liberal arts crowd?  

Let me give it a shot.

The key, I think, is finding out how to make the “hot” theories (and even buzz words) serve our goals.

I’m hoping that we can agree on a common set of higher ed objectives:

  • It is the relationship between the learner and the educator (both faculty and non-faculty) that determines the value of the education.
  • We want to do everything we can to maximize the time and intensity of educator / learner interactions.
  • Our real value proposition stems from our educators, and that is where we need to direct resources.

So far so good?  

Can we then take the thinking behind disruptive innovation to help reach these objectives?

What if the disruptive innovation is finding a way to lower the costs of non-core, non-education, non-educator spending?

It was disruptive to move many campus services from an ownership to a rental model.  Where in the past we maybe ran our own e-mail, LMS, and storage services increasingly we are renting these services from the cloud.  

Moving to a software as a service (SasS) model has been disruptive for many parts of academic IT.  It requires a change in mindset and behaviors.  A new tolerance for risk.  A new set of skills in evaluation and negotiation.  

Are there similar big changes that can be made in other parts of we run our schools?

Are there things that we can stop doing in other areas, things that we cherish perhaps, so that we can invest more in educators?

Maybe these changes involve working in a consortial nature with peer institutions, sharing services or collections in ways that require new methods of cooperation and new tolerances for compromise.

The very act of stopping doing things that we’ve always been doing can be extremely disruptive for both organizations and people.  

We are not very good at stopping services, we tend to only add new ones.

What would be disruptive for your campus organization, your work, but would free up time or resources for other activities that were closer to the academic mission of knowledge creation and teaching?

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