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On Becoming an EdTech Conservative
July 27, 2011 - 8:45pm

My favorite educators are the risk takers. The academic tech colleagues whom I most admire are the innovators. But with each passing day, I find myself (in big and little ways) becoming an edtech conservative.

Perhaps this a natural course that most of us follow in our careers. We get a little more responsibility, and suddenly disruptive change doesn't look so appealing. We have more to lose, and are more accountable if things go badly.

Still, I'm concerned enough about my own creeping edtech conservatism that I'm hoping to open a dialogue about this syndrome.

4 Trade-Offs:

Stability vs. Innovation: Our edtech systems are now campus mission critical. The LMS (learning management system), SIS (student information system), lecture capture, course media, synchronous meeting tools - they are all utilized 365 and 24/7. As more of higher ed is mediated by digital platforms, if the edtech systems fail the business of higher ed stops. If innovation and stability represent some sort of trade-off or continuum, then I'm pushing for stability. Innovation cannot come at the expense of stability. If this means staying a cycle or two behind major releases and upgrades, and forgoing new and wonderful features, then so be it.

Support vs. Choice: I can come up with many good reasons why we need to accommodate all the different varieties of technology that our community wants to bring to campus. From operating systems to mobile platforms, we live in a consumer choice driven culture and will be providing a restricted educational experience if we limit technology choices. But I'm not convinced that limiting technology choice provides a worse educational experience. In higher ed, our goal should be for the technology to be transparent, or at least friction free. Supporting every device and every browser and every computer or mobile OS makes this near impossible. Educators may be critical of corporate uniformity, but we should at least own up to the productivity hit we take in trying to accommodate and support every technology. My mind is now at least open to standardizing.

Integration vs. Features: I think we'd be better off with campus learning platforms that are better integrated and less feature rich. A simpler LMS, e-mail system, media system, library system that hangs together seamlessly and offers an integrated user experience. We can have integration or lots of features, we probably can't have both. This desire for integration argues, I think, for vertically integrated edtech providers. If my push for integration is shared by campus technology decision makers, then I think it makes sense for larger edtech / publishing players to to be thinking acquisition, and smaller ones to be thinking merger.

Establishment vs. Entrepreneurship: This last emerging conservative tendency has me the most worried. I find that I take increasing comfort from big companies, vendors with a long track record and who make money, while I'm increasingly nervous about doing business with edtech startups. This emerging bias can be overcome if I get to know the startup founders and employees, and can understand the business model and long-term plans. If the leadership is not accessible and product roadmap is oblique, then chances are we will not be signing any contracts. This bias favors the large companies, which are often the least innovative and the least disruptive.

Thoughts? Your experience?


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