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An EdTech Thought Experiment

A Freaky Friday scenario.

September 18, 2014
 

The best way to understand learning tech people is to do a little thought experiment.  

Pretend that through some Freaky Friday magic, (think Lindsay Lohan circa 2003), you wake up as a member of your campus IT organization.  (I’m assuming that you are a faculty member or future faculty member of some sort).  Everyone around you is talking about deliverables, assumptions, critical paths, constraints, dependencies and milestones.  There is a hierarchy. Demands are coming at you from all directions.  Budgets are tight and getting tighter. Those around you in IT are talented, dedicated, and often brilliant.  They are also constrained by the need to provide a 24/7/365 rock-solid infrastructure, and to so with budgets that have not grown to meet all the new demands.

What do you do?  

You are now, magically, an IT employee. You have the same mortgage to pay, the same student loans to service, and the same college tuitions to save for.  You don’t want to get fired.  But you want to focus on learning.  You got into higher education because of your love of learning, of inquiry, and teaching. You identify with goals of creating opportunities for the next generation of students.  You think that education is the most powerful tool available for social change. 

But, magically, you now work in IT.

What do you do?

This is the situation that many edtech people now find themselves.  They work in campus IT because campus IT is hiring the instructional designers, educational technologists, curricular media experts, and directors of learning technology.

In many ways working in campus IT is great.  Campus IT runs the learning platforms that so much of teaching is migrating towards.  Campus IT is a partner to the academic library in bringing out new digital learning services.  Campus IT is building new types of classrooms that will support collaborative teaching.  Campus IT is partnering with the professionals in the campus teaching center.  Campus IT is exploring how learning analytics might be utilized to uncover instructional methods that will improve student learning and retention. Campus IT is staffed by dedicated and hard working professionals, colleagues who work in academic IT because they believe in the educational mission of the institution. 

But, for all the wonderful things about your magic transformation into an IT employee, for all the benefits of working with a set of amazing colleagues, you can’t shake the knowledge that you really don't quite fit in.  That higher ed IT culture is different from academic (and departmental) culture.  That you will always identify with the educators first, and the technologists second.

The answer, of course, is that you will set about to change IT culture.  You will work to make IT culture more open, more transparent, and more critical.  You will prioritize relationships over efficiency. You will build alliances with your old colleagues and mentors on the faculty.  You will struggle to somehow in both live in both worlds, existing somewhere betwixt and between IT and educator culture.

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