If Day 3 at SXSWedu was a day of disappointment the Day 4 was one of affirmation. Affirmation of the fact that there are people that care, are looking at how we can change and actively working on those transformations.
The morning panel was titled Breaking the University From the Inside Out hosted by Allison Dulin Salisbury (EdSurge – Dir, Higher Education Strategy) and included Josh Kim (Dartmouth College – Dir of Digital Learning Initiatives), Sean Hobson (Arizona State University – Chief Design Officer EdPlus) and Paul Freedman (Entangled Ventures – CEO).
The discussion centred around how innovation was structured and supported in the two institutions while Paul provided an industry perspective on working with institutions. Josh and Sean offered quite different models for how innovation works in their institutions. Josh outlined how at Dartmouth it was often an outside in approach that worked. Innovation occurred at the edges and made it’s way into the core learning and teaching via the main learning and teaching support unit. Sean offered a radically different approach, where at ASU innovation has become a central part of the organisation. The EdPlus part of the organisation was in charge of developing new models and technology for digital teaching and learning. This central unit was also responsible for strategic partnerships and they’d developed relationships with 150 companies and ventures. Paul’s insight was that the only companies that are successful in EdTech do it with an institution – outside in is a design flaw & doesn’t work. One of the key hurdles noted here was that often University incentive structures work against innovation, which re-enforces a risk adverse environment. A model suggested to mitigate this was to start innovation outside the core, where the risk of failure isn’t there, but to ensure there is a transition path so that successes are bought back into the core.
The discussion around the links between the educational institutions and EdTech companies was interesting to note. Both sides seem to agree that the relationships with vendors are too often transactional. They’re not partnerships, or even collegial and maybe because there is little transparency and divergent interests. The reality is that Edtech can’t answer the questions universities are asking – is effective, does it improve learning, does it improve retention – and they won’t be able to until they start to show respect for instructional design and research. EdTech dishing out the “education is broken” narrative at every opportunity is reducing the possibility of collaboration because it shows little respect for the profession, for history and for the practitioners who are working damn hard. Partnerships are a better way of working but they need to be nurtured and based upon respect.
One thing that was said that I’m still mulling over was the statement:
Education is a system. An app is not going to disrupt a system – it’s too big and too complex.
While it’s true, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about what it implies. Particularly when you see the influence of the Khans and Gates on the policy and direction of that system. One app might not change the system, but the billion dollars made from one app just might.
After the panel I had lunch with Allison, Josh and Anne Keehn and discussed some of the issues that came out of the session. One themes was around collaboration – how do we get more meaningful collaboration happening at institutions? What are the mechanisms, tools and models for doing this? I liked Josh’s insistence that Centers for Teaching and Learning are an incredibly relevant and important part of this conversation. Just about every university has one, but the degree in which they collaborate, pool their knowledge and influence is pretty minimal. What if we empowered these unit and gave them greater visibility? What if they became a louder voice in the conversation? Josh outlines this argument in one of his recent blog posts EdTech Units, CTLs and the Postsecondary Subordination Narrative. I think this is a viable model and a way to quickly gain traction on a global scale. I know a lot of EdTech professionals, but more on an individual basis and what they do personally, not what their university is working on. There’s also little acknowledgement of the EdTech professionals out there – the actual people who work under a thousand different titles, perform similar jobs and have similar problems. EdTech is not a profession just yet, it’s something still undefined and under appreciated. Quite often they are the glue that makes everything work – from technology and systems to professional develop and training through to learning design and pedagogy. I’ve had a few conversations recently discussing this problem – how to we empower people in these roles? What do we need to learn? How can we gain recognition and become part of the broader conversation about education and technology? How can we access the kinds of resources and information we need to work better?
SXSWedu didn’t provide any answers, but it did connect me to more people – and that’s a powerful thing. The solutions will never come from technology, it will come from people. An app won’t change the system, but people can.