The hardest part

OK, so here’s a quick follow-up on yesterday’s post about Blackboard’s complex rebranding of itself as an open source visionary. Phil Hill thinks this isn’t the key point, and I feel that he’s right.

As I mentioned yesterday, Ray Henderson has issued a significant challenge to higher education, in the form of an offer “to solve the hardest problems in education, comprehensively.”

Educators are really familiar with being the experience of being told that we have a problem that someone is either keen to point out, or worse, keen to fix.  This is the daily grind of personal performance evaluation; something we loosely call “feedback” is the grist that we take to the mill of change every single day.

The Blackboard vision of the “end to end” management of the “educational experience” that should “build on everyone’s best” is shown here in their key promotional video.  If you’re wondering what all these changes mean, this is three minutes of your life worth giving up to watch it again.  It’s a vision of college life that won’t ring true for everyone, but it shows how broad the expectation is that students in the near future (these are not students with pointy ears or flying skateboards) will have all of their financial, communication and learning needs seamlessly supplied through one integrated suite of college-life tools.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the wire, institutions and their employees will glide through a world of handsomely visualised data all effortlessly transmitted from wherever it is anything is hosted.

Everything will just get much easier for everyone, in this world in which all of higher education’s hardest problems are solved.

Except that on this basis, it looks as though higher education’s hardest problems relate to how students find their way around campus, pay fees on time, shop at campus services, and can more easily buy tickets to the game, all while remembering to do their homework. Faculty are now sitting in much more comfortable chairs because they’re working wirelessly everywhere, merrily keeping tabs on everyone’s personal educational growth, while lecture halls are packed with animated and highly engaged students with the world’s premier educational content at their fingertips.

So, OK, I think educators who are invested in this potentially significant culture shift need to be leading a different conversation, about higher education’s harder problems.  Here are four that pop out for this ordinary educator.

1. Adjunctification (or casualisation, depending on where you sit globally): where are we at with this? What’s the business services IT wraparound that will make this standout feature of global higher education less corrosive for individuals, and while we’re at it, less compromising for the integrity of higher education marketing?  Do we even have a plan for ensuring that as learning becomes more complex and diffuses across more opportunities and locations, the majority of actual teaching which is currently resting with the precariously employed doesn’t become an ever more onerous personal IT cost that they bear?

2. The higher education toxic debt swamp: why exactly should students take on the personal cost of a college education, and what happens when they can’t pay it back?

3. What are we really doing in terms of social justice and global regional equity, in terms of widening participation while maintaining the meaningful status of a completed higher education program as a significant professional achievement?

4. Open needs also to be local, so how are we ensuring that the world’s educational content isn’t supplied by a small number of big institutions, most of them located in the metropolitan centres of the northern hemisphere, so that all educational institutions remain effectively engaged in conversation about what matters to their regional communities?

These are hard, interesting problems.  Higher education institutions, in mostly effective partnership with our students, think about these problems every day.  If the mission of our former LMS providers really is to help us solve them, then we need to be a whole lot clearer in explaining our priorities.

Hint: for most of us, it’s not about the ball game.

3 thoughts on “The hardest part

  1. Some or even all of the problems may not be solvable (or soluble in the acid of praxis). Alas, neither that nor closing our eyes, clicking heels together three times will make them go away. So we are left with dealing with them, preferably with eyes open. Of course, doing the NewFac thing, I am invested in #1 but also recognize that disruptive change is happening, rearguard actions may stall the process (if only for tenured marooned on islands in shark infested seas). It’s also not the only consideration. Personally, I am as committed to #3 as to #1.

    Triage anyone? A goal with something for all or just about? What about for profits? Bad score card on all points. But LMS consolidators, providers of course packages and assessors look to be converging. That convergence point sure looks a lot a for-profit… the EdX of for-profits, a Bizarro World MOOC

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  2. PS OER, Downes/Cormier/Siemens MOOCs, Lisa Lane’s scaled down Pedagogy First! at http://pedagogyfirst.org/wppf, a retired poetry citing physics prof named Gordon, a snarky Dutchman, Bon Stewart and other mooc-met may not have all the answers but still give me hope, make me feel better

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