EDUCAUSE and the Technologization and Corporatization of Higher Education

Thinking about the Vendor Floor.

October 27, 2015

There are 307 vendors at EDUCAUSE 2015.  

There could have been more. According to the EDUCAUSE website, "Booth space for EDUCAUSE 2015 is sold out.” 

Every year I come to EDUCAUSE, and every year the Exhibitor Floor seems to get bigger. The booths seem to get flashier. The presentations get louder. The screens are bigger. The colors are brighter. The swag gets fancier.

And every year higher education gets more expensive and less accessible.

Each year the excitement about educational technology as a business seems to increase.

And year year the states cut back how much money that that send to their public institutions of higher learning.

Each year the vendors at EDUCAUSE promise to solve the challenges that our schools face if we can only find the right platform, the right service, and the right company.

And each year the number of full-time tenure-track faculty positions decline, and the number of contingent faculty increase.

Each year the new technologies on display at EDUCAUSE hold out the hope of improving outcomes while lowering costs.

And each year we return to our campuses certain in the knowledge that technical solutions to social and political challenges will prove to be inadequate.

Each year we marvel at the new cloud-based and lightweight systems that will allow us to consume technology as a service, enabling us to focus on our core competencies of teaching, research, and service.

And each year we realize that edtech companies have locked us into proprietary standards and platforms that can’t easily integrate with other systems.

Each year we hear from our vendor partners how they have increased the features and capabilities available without raising prices.

And each year we ask for a transparent pricing scheme and the end to special pricing contracts, and each year we are told by vendors that this is impossible.

Each year we hear about how big data and analytics will fundamentally change how we do business on campus, allowing us to make data driven decisions and to justify our investments.

And each year the hype of big data and analytics far outstrips the actual capabilities of any of the systems.

How big can the EDUCAUSE vendor floor get?

How long will we keep going to EDUCAUSE with the belief that the most effective path to solving our higher education challenges will be found in technology, found in companies?

How long will we let the efficiency narrative of higher education guide our thinking?

What needs to happen that allows us to get to the place where we are willing to use all of our platforms and capabilities to lobby for great public funding of higher education?

When will we understand that we in educational technology need to make common cause, and do everything that we can do to support, our contingent and non-tenure track faculty colleagues?

When will the growing and fancy EDUCAUSE Vendor Floor feel less like a sign of progress and potential, and more like a failed experiment in the technologization and corporatization of higher education?



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