This year at the ELI conference in Houston, TX I’m going to be participating in the Leadership Institute. Much to my chagrin, we have homework. Thinking some about my colleagues who have begun advocating for teaching in the open, I thought I’d try a little learning in the open. Fair warning though, this is also a little Tom Sawyer. I’m going to be asking for your help at the end.
In a nutshell, our assignment is to select a learning initiative at our campus, identify and articulate a vision for the initiative, ensure its aligned with our institution’s mission and strategy, find a colleague or two with whom to share and get feedback (hint, that’s going to be you all), and then bring our revised draft to Houston. Before I can get to the initiative, I think some context is going to be important. At a very general level, I’ve spoken about my vision for IT at a higher education institution, some strategies for reducing IT friction, and even shared some thoughts on academic transformation and innovation. I’ve apparently never really articulated any thoughts on educational technology (though you can certainly infer from my other work), and now is apparently the time to rectify that. You can think of this as my EdTech Pseudo Manifesto.
My thinking on educational technology is informed very heavy by the people around me, the friends and colleagues who discuss with me, challenge me, introduce me to new ideas, and make me an overall better human being. Honestly, I think I’d be lost without them. With apologies for those I leave out, special thanks to Amy Collier for introducing me to not-yetness (a concept I don’t think I totally get, which might me I totally get it), Kristen Eshleman and Adam Croom for exposing me to domain of one’s own and the concept of student agency, Bryan Alexander and Allison Salisbury for introducing me to education as social change via the online book club’s discussion of the work of Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking, and Michelle Pacansky-Brock for helping me understand the importance of humanizing online education. And while I’ve never met her in person, I’d also like to thank Audrey Watters, a person who’s writing and talks constantly force me to rethink some of my most basic assumptions about educational technology (for example, today). If you know these folks and hear their echoes in this piece, that’s not an accident.
So here are my general principles when thinking about education technology:
- Any educational technology deployed by a school should consider and enable student agency as a primary objective.
- All educational technology initiatives should empower the faculty to be better teachers, mentors, and learners.
- Educational technology solutions should collect only that data that is absolutely required to make the product useful, should keep that data for the shortest amount of time required, and be completely transparent with students about what data is collected and how it is used. Even better, students should be able to opt out of data collection and still get some minimum functionality from the solution.
- Educational technology should augment, not supplant the human connection. In cases where a solution purports to use algorithms to provide potential answers, those answers should be used as a consultative tool to assist professionals in serving students.
- At a nitty-gritty level, educational technology products should use open standards for data exchange and have published, understandable APIs. As a corollary, any user agreement should be both human and machine readable (and boy do I wish there was a standard for machine readable user agreements).
- Educational technology (and educational technologists) should not strive for efficiency. Learning is an inherently inefficient journey, and we should honor that.
Our homework asks us to make sure we tie our vision statement back to an institutional strategic plan or vision. For that I turn to the Characteristics of Marianist Universities:
- Education for formation in faith.
- Provide an integral, quality education.
- Educate in family spirit.
- Educate for service, justice and peace.
- Educate for adaptation and change.
My institution, as a Marinist university, strives to incorporate these into all the work we do, and that makes it an excellent framework to reference.
Having completed the longest windup ever, now to the actual homework. I’ve selected a perhaps atypical educational initiative, the new space for our campus Faculty Center. As part of a Federal Title III grant, we are renovating an old residence hall, and about half of the second floor is a new dedicated space for the Faculty Center. I have the great honor to be helping on a project championed by our provost and spearheaded by our new associate provost as well as the slightly less new director for the faculty center. Here are my thoughts on a vision statement for this project:
The new faculty center space should celebrate the unique perspective and history of my institution’s Ohana, inspire faculty to try new technology to enhance their teaching, and help them explore pedagogical options that put the student at the center of the learning experience.
We’ll call that the first draft. I think it specifically calls out the Marianist educational values of educating in family spirit and educating for adaptation and change. I wish it spoke more to service, justice and peace, but perhaps it’s a bit much to ask one sentence to speak to more than a couple of the values. I am open to ideas, and that’s where, as I promised, you come in. I’d love it if folks we leave comments on the vision statement as well as thoughts on anything else I said here.