Ideas and EdTech

7 ideas at the intersection of learning, technology, and organizational change.

April 25, 2016

Could it be that those of us occupying the space where technology and learning intersect have some ideas of our own to spread?

Might we imagine a path where educational technology is the generator, as well as the disseminator, of new ideas?

Isn’t life - even the life of an edtech person - too short to be spent in the service of other people’s ideas?

Our influence and importance in higher education will be limited as long as edtech is only the mechanism in which the ideas of others are advanced.

What are the ideas that should be coming out of the edtech profession? 

And are our ideas the type that may evolve our edtech work from an academic practice (a profession) into an academic discipline?

Does edtech have something original and important to say?  And do our ideas coalesce around a recognizable set of theoretical frameworks, common and accepted methodologies, and a body of empirical literature?

Some nominations (for your consideration, argument, and rebuttal) for key ideas in educational technology:

Idea 1 - A Defense of the Bundled Traditional Residential University:

A full-throated defense of the traditional residential university might be an unexpected stance coming from a tech person.  Aren’t tech people all about disruption?  Don’t tech people love Uber and Airbnb, and think of the traditional residential university as something akin to the taxi and hotel cartels?

The fact that us edtech people are so interested in defending the traditional residential university should immediately set us apart from the cast of Silicon Valley.

We (the edtech people) believe in the bundled university experience.  We believe that the combination of knowledge production, learning, and living is greater than the sum of its parts.

We think that it will be the traditional residential institutions that are best positioned to discover what comes next in postsecondary education.

We are progressive traditionalists.

Idea 2 - Championing of the Liberal Arts:

Not only does the edtech community believe in the traditional bundled residential university - we are passionate also believers in a liberal arts education.

A liberal arts education - one that can be had at a small liberal arts college or within a larger research institution - is an education designed to teach students to think.  The purpose of a liberal arts education is to prepare students for a wide variety of roles and responsibilities.  These roles and responsibilities encompass work, citizenship, and service - and all coalesce around an idea of a shared responsibility for the common good.

Where our edtech community has fallen short - at least in my estimation - is in advocating for wider access to a liberal arts education.  If studying the liberal arts is the best preparation for today’s knowledge economy, than restricting access to a liberal arts education to only the most wealthy and talented is a moral and economic failure.

We think of postsecondary education as an engine for social mobility - an idea that is challenged if only the fortunate few have access to a liberal arts education.

Idea 3 - A Coalition With Faculty:

The edtech community must stand with faculty.  All faculty - including those adjunct, part-time, and contingent faculty that are most exploited by too many of our colleges and universities.

Learning technology people - and the associations and groups that speak for us - need to be vocal about the imperative to support faculty.  We need to be first in making the case that technology is only effective when paired with educators.  That technology is assistive - meant to support rather than replace educators.

We need to be vocal in our support of sufficient faculty compensation, autonomy, security, and status.

The edtech community should be the most skeptical of efforts to replace educational labor (educators) with capital (technology).  We need to fight against the idea that effective learning can scale.

Idea 4 - A Political Commitment to Greater Public Support for Postsecondary Education:

How much time, effort, and dollars are educational technology associations putting into the fight for public postsecondary support?

How much time at our edtech conferences do we spend getting educated about trends in state postsecondary funding?

What is the lobbying and advocacy that our professional edtech community is doing to reverse trends of public disinvestment in postsecondary education?

It may be time for our edtech community to move beyond thinking of ourselves as apolitical technocrats.  The time has come for us to get political.  To develop stances on public policy outside of our narrow field of technology and education.

Idea 5 - An Argument to Build Educational Practices on Learning Science:

The edtech discipline - if we are to be a discipline - must put learning science at the heart of our theoretical frameworks and empirical knowledge base. 

We must be advocates for our colleges and universities to design their core teaching practices around the research on learning.

We must be willing to spend our political capital to push for research based changes in our educational delivery practices.

Idea 6 - An Integration of Organizational Change Theory with Teaching and Learning Practice:

Tomorrow’s edtech leaders must be as fluent with organizational change theory as they are with learning theory.

Practitioners of an emergent edtech discipline should have a through understand of the organizational change literature. 

They should understand organizational change theory and research through a postsecondary leadership and learning science lens.

Idea 7 - A Counterweight to the Technology Hype Cycle and the Productivity Agenda:

The members of a new ideas based edtech discipline must be believers in the potential of technology to help everyone involved in higher education (students, educators, payers, and other stakeholders) reach their goals.

This belief in the potential of technology to improve higher education, however, must be balanced by a healthy skepticism. 

An edtech academic should have enough knowledge to understand the potential benefits of technology, and enough experience and critical skills to resist the latest fad and the biggest hype.

Members of an edtech discipline should be able to stand up to calls to increase educational productivity on the backs of faculty and at the expense of learners.

This ability to promote a measured and careful use of technology - one always backed up by evidence and research rather than anecdote and marketing - requires deep expertise in many areas of educational technology. 

This expertise cannot be theoretical or abstract.  Members of a future ideas based edtech discipline should have hands on experience in creating, evaluating, introducing, and implementing new technologies.

What ideas do you think could emerge at the intersection of learning, technology, and organizational change?



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