Is Stone Soup Right?

Should edtech fight for faculty resources, autonomy and support?

March 9, 2016

Is Stone Soup Right?

In 3 Critiques of EdTech at SXSWedu I asked:

"How often do you see an edtech marketing message built around the need to provide faculty with resources, autonomy, and support?"

Stone Soup responded (in part):

"Once again, why do you think that anyone other than faculty should be concerned with these issues? Are faculty so infantile in your opinion that they cannot do these things for themselves, and that those whom you made clear they implicitly don't trust should stand tall for them?"

What do you think? Is Stone Soup on to something here? Am I missing something, and is this an opportunity to learn?

My assumption (that I’d like to unpack and challenge) is that those of us working across postsecondary education should build coalitions with our teaching faculty. This belief is both rooted in my own professional history (I spent much of my career teaching), and in what I have learned working in educational technology.

This assumption is based on the observation that the relationship between faculty and students is at the heart of a meaningful education. The best college experiences come when faculty get to know their students as individuals, and vice versa. When students can be brought into the knowledge discovery process as active co-creators, rather than passive recipients.

Much of my work in edtech is motivated by the belief that the world’s most productive adaptive learning platform is a highly trained and experienced educator. Unfortunately, the push across higher education seems to be away from investing in faculty - and towards trying to replace the art of teaching with the efficiency of the algorithm and the screen.

My argument that those folks like me who work in edtech should put educators at the center of our work does not originate from any particular fondness for faculty. I like my faculty colleagues very much - don’t get me wrong - but the reason that I believe in advocating for faculty resources/autonomy/status is that I believe that this strategy is the best one available to benefit our learners.

Put simply, if you care about learning, invest in your faculty.

From what I can see across higher ed is that save for only a tiny subset of well-resources institutions, the general trend has been to go in the opposite direction than investing in faculty. This is part of the larger story in the U.S., where educators at every level are under-valued, under-appreciated, and often blamed for the ills and shortcomings of the institutions in which they work.

Alongside advocating for the centrality of educators is the argument for an important (and increasingly central) role for non-faculty educators.  I tend to think that the way that we are going to move towards greater investments in learning, investments that will require the hiring of professionals such as instructional designers and media educators and academic librarians etc, is to build a coalition with faculty.

We need to have faculty calling for institutional investments in edtech and edtech people if we wish those investments to be made. This will not happen, however, as long at edtech is perceived by faculty as ignorant of their importance, and hostile to their contributions in learning.

Stone Soup is arguing that faculty do not need to be told by non-faculty how important they are.  Stone Soup finds this argument at best patronizing, and at worst disempowering.

In a comment on my earlier post Non-Faculty Educators and Zero-Sum Thinking, Stone Soup again quotes….

"Non-faculty educators should be leading the fight for greater faculty compensation, security and autonomy."

..and then asks:

"Why is this true? Are the faculty who don't need this assistance incapable of speaking up on their own behalf?  You make the non-faculty educators out to be toadies - that would be toadies with Masters and Ph.D.s for the record."

My assumption is that we all want to improve student learning.  Most of us believe in the educational missions of our colleges and universities.  I’m thinking that we share a set of common goals, and therefore we should have the confidence (and humility) to talk about the best way to achieve our shared objectives.

What do you think?  What should be the role of non-faculty educators and people in the edtech industry when it comes to discussing (and advocating for) faculty?

What do you make of Stone Soup’s critique?



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