October 29, 2015

The Tempestuous Relationship of Education and Technology On the Educause 2015 Courting Grounds

The Tempestuous Relationship of Education and Technology On the Educause 2015 Courting Grounds

The delicate liaison between technology and higher education is both at its best and its worst at the annual Educause conference. Here is Indianapolis, many of the 307 vendors will show you why their technology is the sole path to higher education salvation. On the other side, frequent topics of attendee conversation include the over-hyping of technologies like big data, and vendors with over-featured technology draining IT budgets. Outside of Educause, the discussion veers to whether technology is even good for education.

Many of the sessions during day one of Educause 2015 got to the heart of the vital relationship of educational technology to the future viability of higher education. One session that stands out is Michelle R. Weise’s session What’s After “Next” in Higher Education? Michelle is the executive director of the Sandbox ColLABorative at Southern New Hampshire University. She is formerly a senior research fellow in higher education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and co-authored the book Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution with Christensen.

Weise presents a well-documented case that not only is disruption underway in higher education, but it is helping to reduce the inequity in our higher education system. Our most selective schools which nurture students to completion are 82% white; while open-access schools, where the completion rates are low, are disproportionately African American and Hispanic. Today 13.5 million students are attending schools outside the top 250 colleges ranked by US News.

Dr. Michelle R. Weise prepares for Educuase 2015 session, “What’s after ’Next’ in Higher Education”

Dr. Michelle R. Weise prepares for Educuase 2015 session, “What’s after ’Next’ in Higher Education.”

Disruptive innovation is driven by scalable technology that initially addresses the needs of non-consumers at the low end of a market. Today, these non-consumers are represented by the 91 million Americans with high school, but not college degrees. They are looking for the skills or competencies necessary to fill one of the 3 million jobs now open in the US, the most openings in 13 years.

Another marker of disruptive innovation is unbundled modularization. Universities have bundled together teaching, residency, entertainment, sports, tutoring, coaching, and counseling, to name a few. On the other hand, a finite set of competency clusters (nine to be exact) has been identified that include foundational skills, personal and social skills, and content knowledge. Note that these extend well beyond simply technical skills, into soft skill areas formerly thought to be the exclusive domain of liberal arts colleges. Without unbundling, a professor must be a subject matter expert who is excellent at instructional design, academic coaching, tutoring, assessing, and teaching. Through unbundling, innovative schools can address specific needs with much lower priced offerings, and better address the needs of today’s non-consumers of higher education.

Weise acknowledged that higher education should prepare students for a career, not just their first job. Indeed career paths today are more are unpredictable than ever. There is no reason that preparing for a first job is mutual exclusive with preparing students for their careers. The unbundled competencies taught by the innovative schools can set the foundation for a lifetime of evolving careers.

Extreme Networks on display at Educause 2015

Extreme Networks on display at Educause 2015.

New potentially disruptive providers of education include General Assembly, Pluralsight, the Flatiron School, Nanodegrees/Udacity, Hack Reactor, Dev Boot Camp, Minerva, Coursera, and Mozilla OpenBadges. These entities are not tied to the business model that constrains the country’s top educational institutions. Yet, according to the model of disruptive innovation, these providers will continue to scale the quality of their product, using technologies like competency-based education, online production values, electronic assessment, and learning analytics.

Meanwhile, the top 250 colleges in the country must continue to make sustaining investments in order to compete with each other. Unfortunately, these investments consist of better residences and dining halls, more student activities, and retaining the top campus professors; all of which drive up the cost of their tuition. By contrast, disruptive products or services “take root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

Other day one sessions, which I’ll review in subsequent blogs, described how online testing is revolutionizing education in ways you would not expect, and how technology is enabling better personalized and adaptive education and helping to reduce costs.

About The Contributor:
Bob NilssonDirector of Vertical Solutions Marketing

Bob Nilsson is the director of vertical solutions marketing at Extreme Networks. In this role, Mr. Nilsson leads the Extreme Networks strategy and programs for vertical markets including Healthcare, Higher Education, K-12 Education, Federal Government, and Hospitality. He has over 30 years of experience in marketing IT systems to Global 1000 companies worldwide. Before joining Extreme Networks Bob was VP Marketing at Clear Methods. Prior to that Bob held senior marketing positions at Digital Equipment and HP. Bob holds an SB degree in EE from MIT and MBA from Columbia Business School.

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