EDUCAUSE Attendees and Presenters Presage the Future of Higher Education
#1: The campus computing environment has never been more important and the student computing experience has become an especially critical success factor for colleges and universities. The quality of the Wi-Fi in particular has the potential to either attract students or drive them away . One CIO said students who find their dorm does not deliver game-capable WiFi will often quickly move out and find a residence with more adequate connectivity.
#2: Adaptive Learning has risen to the top of the agenda, in large part due to a $20M investment by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The five finalists of the Foundation’s Next Generation Courseware Challenge were announced on Tuesday: Acrobatiq, Cerego, CogBooks, Lumen Learning, Rice University OpenStax, Smart Sparrow, and the Open Learning Initiative at Stanford University.
#3: As technology rapidly develops, forecasting the demands of the student of 2020 has moved up in priority. The session on that topic was heavily oversubscribed. Even though it was held in a room that could hold an audience of several hundred, every seat was taken and an equal number were turned away. For our view on the topic, see What Will Higher Education Look Like in 2020?
#4: Interest in Digital badges continues to grow. Not only were there three sessions on the topic, but Educause as an organization is now using them.
Clayton Christensen on Disruptive Innovation and the Future of Higher Education
The timing for Clayton Christensen delivering the EDUCAUSE kick-off keynote, Disruptive Innovation and the Future of Higher Education, could not have been better. Higher education is undeniably at a transition point. With student debt now over $1 trillion and economists like Robert Reich questioning the value of college, a discussion on how best to keep higher education relevant is well underway. Meanwhile, a heated debate on the concept of disruptive innovation has been raging throughout the summer, triggered by a scathing New Yorker article, The Disruption Machine, written by another Harvard University professor, Jill Lepore. Staunchly defending disruptive innovation was Christensen Vs. Lepore, with quantitative evidence that, “whether or not disruption theory can predict the future isn’t a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact.”
For those not familiar with the concept, disruptive innovation typically comes from a new market entrant using new technology to sell a product to previous non-consumers. Initially, the new product is deemed inferior by established consumers and vendors. There are many vivid examples ranging from disk drives to hydraulic backhoes, but the one nearest to my heart since I had worked there at the time, is Digital Equipment being disrupted by the personal computer. Christensen is quick to point out that management at disrupted companies always make the intelligent decisions to add the features that their customers are demanding and to maintain high margins. These managers choose not to offer feature-reduced products at lower margins and lower prices that might sell to an entirely different set of buyers for slightly different uses. As Christensen states, what good manager would want to offer “worse products with bad margins?”
The theory of disruptive innovation would predict that the Harvards of the education world will ultimately be threatened by new entrants who use technology to successfully sell to previous non-consumers at scale. Christensen offers the analogy to the automobile industry. While the electric Tesla is going directly at the core of the internal combustion car market, the more likely path of disruption in that market will come from smaller electric carts, electric shuttles, and then as battery technology and electric motors mature, they will progress into the mainstream market.
The reason Christensen asks his audiences to “pray for Harvard” is that this sort of disruptive scenario is well underway in higher education. A technological core exists for not only delivering courses on line and by video conferencing, but also for creating the interactive classroom experience for remotely-located students. Courses are becoming modular. Standards are emerging to define what students should know when they complete a course. In general, there are now fewer diplomas and more certificates.
Harvard agreed to let the University of Phoenix create an online course with Christensen on an experimental basis. As he recorded the delivery of his lecture in a carefully selected location, he noticed something unusual about the type of student in the classroom. He later found out they were all professional actors. Christensen describes the final produced lecture product as magical. No unnecessary pauses or “ums”. Instead, a perfectly-complementing musical soundtrack was added. The lecture reached 135,000 business students. Harvard is pressed to reach 900 students a year. It’s very hard to compete against that kind of scale for very long.
My next EDUCAUSE 2014 blog will drill down into the attendee discussions on campus Wi-Fi including contributions from the Wireless Local Area Networking Constituent Group, as well as more on adaptive learning, competency-based education, digital badges, MOOCs/SPOCs, and how to become an IT hero through creative use of Wi-Fi analytics.