The Final Days of the Ed Tech Evangelists
Educational technology leadership is by no means uniform across institutions. The work is variously distributed among CIOs, CTOs, teaching and learning centers, academic administration, online learning outfits and sometimes even smaller-scale labs, institutes or departments. On most campuses there is not yet an ed tech center of gravity around which the others orbit. That must change. Institutions must empower chief educational technology leaders as true partners in developing the core university strategy for the next era of learning.
The modern era of ed tech parallels the development of information technology in general. First came the era of digital translation (or digitization) wherein the main role of ed tech leadership involved setting up physical spaces—computer labs, scanning stations, digital video editing suites—laying the groundwork necessary to help early adopters more quickly experiment with and embrace the digitization of content and resources. Then came the era of transitioning our practices to embrace the digital— to use the digital content we had previously digitized—the era of ‘digitalization.’ For ed tech, this era involved using the web to enhance teaching practices—connecting students with more resources, new tools (including Learning Management Systems) and new possibilities for interaction in the digital domain. And now we’ve entered the era of the so-called ‘digital transformation (or ‘DX’)’ which builds entirely new models and practices out of the resulting outcomes and effects of the previous two eras coupled with the shift to cloud computing and big data as a force multiplier for new innovations.
Ed tech is no longer ‘ed tech’—it’s higher education innovation and transformation, and to some extent that’s everyone’s responsibility. Helping our institutional communities think through, process and act upon these transformations is the new role for ed tech leaders
Once something to be bolted onto traditional disciplinary approaches, technology now permeates society in such a way that not only ed tech but indeed, our approaches to education at all, are now impacted by technology from the start. Institutions are rushing to address a growing gap between the needs of today’s learners and the curriculum they offer. Not unlike the way writing across the curriculum became more and more commonplace in the last century, we’re now seeing institutions create interdisciplinary data science programs (for example, Notre Dame and Duke) and even form new ‘colleges of computing’ as initial steps to address these gaps.
This era of digital transformation also comes with a dark side. In the wake of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, Uber’s multiple failures and the like, the ‘coolness’ and cachet of ‘big tech’ has given way to a new fear and distrust. People are waking up to the fact that tech might not be unbiased, and in fact, might even be used in ways completely devoid of ethics. Coupled with that, the growing prominence of AI and machine learning often inspire less excitement and instead induce more fear given the speed of advancement and scale of complexity.
What does this mean for the future of educational technology leadership? This is the moment to shed ourselves of the role of ‘ed tech evangelist’ and instead embrace roles as agents of educational change and innovation. We no longer need to expound on the merits of tech-enabled learning—but we do need to become advocates for real student learning and outcomes. We no longer need to pitch people on the importance of analytics and student data—but we instead should be focusing on how that data is analyzed and shared and what the impacts are, not to mention making sure our students have agency over how their data is collected, shared and maintained.
Speaking of students—this is where the shift begins. Depending on our positions, we’re likely inclined to think of our stakeholders in terms of the university’s core—especially faculty. But here’s the thing— the real stakeholders are our students. And not just our present and upcoming students—but our future students, and the students after that. When we start with the students, the future of ed tech is not about which LMS or clicker system we buy. The future is addressing challenges and barriers for all learners: how to make learning more equitable; how to meaningfully connect people across distances and time-zones; how to provide readily accessible, findable access to free and/or open content; how to design and ‘stack’ micro credentials to open funnels for more and better participation in our programs; how the future of work and society impacts how we learn now in, and increasingly, outside of the classroom.
We no longer deal simply in ‘solutions’ because the real challenges of higher ed are not so simply solved. Ed tech is no longer ‘ed tech’—it’s higher education innovation and transformation, and to some extent that’s everyone’s responsibility. Helping our institutional communities think through, process and act upon these transformations is the new role for ed tech leaders.