Day two at SXSWedu was a lot different to day one. I took a diversion from the main program and spent most of the day at sessions organised by the NMC and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I felt a lot more at home in this environment and spent the morning with a team of incredibly interesting people looking some of the challenges facing those working in higher ed. The event took a workshop style format where teams engaged around a specific problem nominated by the attendees. It was incredibly well organised and facilitated by staff from the NMC who engaged the talents of Phil Hill, Michael Feldstein and Allison Salisbury. Every table had a member of the NMC act as a scribe and had a student representative to ensure their voice was part of our discussions. At my table we had a member of the local university, a staff member of OpenStax and myself – the obvious outsider. Each challenge was facilitated by the individual who had submitted the initial challenge.
I felt more in my element in this space – discussing issues in higher ed. It’s interesting to note that despite their differences the US and Australian higher ed spaces are faced by many of the same issues – decreasing funding, increasing demand, increasing costs and greater competition. Plus the people I was discussing with were incredibly intelligent, articulate and experienced. This is especially noticeable in our student – 18 years of age and chock full of wisdom to share. The world of the student has changed so much just in the last decade, let alone the 20+ years many administrators might have between their student experience, so that voice is incredibly important.
“When a leader proposes something new, Faculty emit a natural antibody to change”.
This quote came up during our discussion about change in the university and I enjoyed the biological element it invokes. It’s something that most of us who’ve worked in higher ed for any amount of time have encountered. But it’s a trope, a broad generalisation that does little to further the argument. It was also countered by our wise student who noted:
“Can we all just admit we all don’t react well to change?”
And that’s pretty close to the mark – as fellow Aussie at the event Joyce noted in GIF form:
In the afternoon I went and spoke with a number of the companies who received Gates Foundation funding to explore Personalised Learning. Then it was on to a town hall about Personalised Learning. This was really interesting – and again well run (conference organisers please note this – well facilitated panels, workshops and presentations are worth their weight in gold. Consider sacrificing quantity over quality).
The town hall was run by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who have pumped a lot of money into the area of personalised learning. It’s a noble aim – to ultimately provide a tailored and customised education to each and every child – and that’s something I can believe in. But (and it’s a big one) we need to start discussing what that really means. Who is tailoring the education? What is being customised? Based on what information? What is being cut-out? What is being sacrificed?
At one point the conversation was steered to what would the critics say? That put me in a tough position because it depends on what purpose you think critics play? The facilitators seemed to treat critics as unbelievers – flat eathers who just don’t understand the concept – so what do we need to say to convince them? This is in contrast to my belief – that critique is there to make the work stronger. That by encouraging critique through the lens of the work at the outset you end up with something far stronger and capable. By socialising the work and exposing it to an audience you create an opportunity to learn, to reflect, test assumption and to change the work in order to make it better.
Rather than try and “solve” the critics those involved in Personal Learning should be encouraging and engaging in a dialogue with them. Invite them in. Listen, talk, learn.