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Why Ed Tech Conservatives (like me) Need Radical Colleagues
January 18, 2012 - 8:30pm

Eric Stoller's 1/16 post "Where are the Radical Practitioners?" struck a nerve with much of our community, and at this writing some 40 people are debating and discussing the questions that Eric raised.

Eric's writing about the role of the academic radical (in the context of student affairs), makes me wonder if I'm an academic conservative (in the context of academic technology). I think so, and as an ed tech conservative I think it is extremely important to have some academic radicals around (in all departments) to keep people like me honest. Without a diversity of orientations and outlooks we risk stagnation, and ultimately irrelevance.   

If a radical academic person is a "…proponent of dissonance…[asking people to] think about those things that they see as "normative" and ask them why they believe in certain professionally accepted truths" (to paraphrase Eric) - then what is an ed tech conservative?

A High Value on Traditional Institutions:  

While I certainly believe in our capacity to improve higher ed, (and think that ed tech is an essential element of improvement), my orientation starts with a love of the traditional college and university experience.  I want to "conserve" the classic residential, campus based bundled experience - the experience I enjoyed and that I hoped my daughters will also experience.  Yes, new models of higher education (such as online learning) have an important place, but my work in higher ed is motivated by a deep love of the campus, the seminar room, the library, the laboratory, and the relationship between the learner and educator.  

I depend on my radical colleagues to point out where the traditional college does not work, and help me see beyond my rose colored view of our campuses.  

A Fan Of the Market:  

The further I go in my career, the more I have come to see market mechanisms as efficient allocators of resources. Or to put it more plainly - I like ed tech companies, andI  like for-profit education providers. Non-profit institutions are important counterweights to market forces (missions not markets), but it is the mix of for-profits and non-profits (sometimes working together) that makes our education sector so vital.  And even us non-profits need to figure out how to earn as much as we spend, or none of us will have jobs (or students) tomorrow.

One hopes that my more progressive colleagues will take a more critical view of for-profit ed tech providers and for-profit universities, and be willing to point our where the market produces inequalities and sub-optimal results.

A Career Orientation:  

We need to take more risks in higher ed.  We need to learn from the dynamic tech startup culture, and be comfortable with small experiments and fast failure.  As I progress through my career, however, I find my appetite for risk is balanced against a desire for stability and career progression.  It is hard to be radical or disruptive when you have a mortgage to pay and kids college expenses looming (starting in 2015 and 2017 for me).   

When my careerist tendencies overshadow my enthusiasm for risk, I hope that the people I work with push me to screw my courage to the sticking place.   A mortgage and a college tuition bill are reasons, but not excuses, for playing it safe and not rocking the boat.  Sometimes, the boat needs rocking.

Are you also an ed tech conservative? 


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