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Do you work at the intersection of learning and technology?
Are you a grandparent?
Please tell us your story.
We have no idea about the numbers or percentages of our colleagues that have grandchildren. We don't know if these numbers are increasing as career span lengthens, or falling as fertility declines.
My guess is that there are more grandparent learning technology professionals than we realize. My guess is that you are everywhere. I'd like to say hello.
If learning technology is going to cross the chasm from a technocratic occupation to an academic discipline then we are going to need your wisdom and guidance.
3 reasons why we need our learning technology grandparents:
#1 - Longevity:
If you’ve lived long enough to have a grandchild then there is a good chance that you’ve lived through, and survived, many seasons of higher education change. I worry that an edtech career is a recipe for burnout. The pace of technology change is rapid and unrelenting. The boom and bust cycles of technology professions can make us conservative and fearful. Who amongst us has not lived through big swings in headcount and the inevitable downsizing?
We need to hear your stories about how you have surfed the fads, survived the hype, and managed to stay intact through all the rounds of department re-orgs. We need to understand how you have been able to navigate both pedagogical and technological change, while always staying up-to-date and future oriented. We need to learn from your ability to navigate university politics. We want to know how you’ve been able to stay upbeat, gracious, and generous.
#2 - Perspective:
Today's world of academic learning technology bears little resemblance to that of a decade ago. Back in 2005 we had no iPhone, no Kindle, and not much in the way of cloud based applications. Mobile learning was more a fantasy than a reality. Instructional designers, if they existed, were thin on the ground. Online learning was going strong, but open online resources were just emerging.
The rapid pace of learning technology change creates the feeling that we are constantly making it up as we go. We have few examples of people who have come before us, mentors who have faced and solved the big challenges. We need the grandparents to give us perspective on how they have navigated all this change and uncertainty throughout their careers. We need to understand the trends to which we should pay close attention, and those trends that should be ignored as fads. We need to know what battles to fight, where to put our energy, and the best way to develop allies and collaborators.
#3 - Future Orientation:
Today's grandkids will be tomorrow’s college students. Grandparents have reached the pinnacle in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They are concerned largely with the future world that their grandkids will inherit. When grandparents work on improving learning it is because their grandkids will soon be coming to campus. The work is personal and mission driven. The responsibility is to tomorrow’s students, as well as today’s.
We need to be reminded by you that our work has a history, not just a future. That not all of our ideas are new, and that even good ideas poorly executed will do nothing to improve things. We need you to help us understand how we got to where we are, and what this history tells us about our future.
Are you a learning technology grandparent?
I am concerned about the declining quality in our higher education lobbyists.
My worry was triggered by yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed commentary from Terrell Halaska, a former Bush administration Department of Education official and founding partner of HCM Strategists, which, best I can tell from the corporate gobbledygook on their website is a lobbying/consulting combo platter.
Ms. Halaska has come to tell us about Uber – Have you heard of it? – and how it revolutionized the taxicab industry and that something similar is happening, or maybe needs to happen, in higher education.
I’m concerned that our lobbying and consulting class has run out of ideas. Uber for education – Uber for anything – is so 2014.
Who is going to buy what the lobbyists are selling if they’re peddling such stale metaphors? If this keeps up, we’ll have a real crisis on our hands. Without lobbyists dreaming up increasingly farfetched analogies, how will we possibly disruptively innovate toward a better future?
Perhaps we need a Snapchat for higher ed lobbyists, an app that briefly displays their policy proposals before erasing them from view so that when they recycle the same idea three months later, we won’t be able to tell how closely it resembles what came before.
To be fair, I did learn some things I didn’t know before from Halaska’s piece. For example, in the concluding paragraph, I found out that three years ago it was “farfetched” to hail a car from the “comfort of one’s own bed.” This caused me to question a very clear memory from 1999 when I failed to set an alarm and woke up with not enough time to take the El to O’Hare on my way to a business trip. I reached for the phone, dialed Flash Cab and the car was waiting for me before I exited the shower. I didn’t even have to worry about being downgraded as a quality passenger because of the delay.
I also learned that the future of higher education will “focus on meeting students where they are,” which is apparently the great innovation of Uber, its ability to drop a “pin at the riders’ exact location.” I am now wondering how taxi drivers pre-Uber ever found me. Could it be that an address also worked well?
Sometimes, in an unfamiliar city, I managed to hail a taxi without having any idea where I was and still arrived safely at my desired destination. Amazing, except that I suppose now it never happened.
It is this aspect of education that really needs disrupting. Uber is great if you know where you want to go, but what if – like many students – you don’t really know what route you want to take, or even what routes exist?
Tinder for education! Swipe left for careers you don’t find attractive, right for the opposite.
HCM Strategists needs a team of a dozen professionals for these insights. I came up with that over my morning oatmeal. Get ready to be disrupted, disruptors.
One of the ways I can tell that a particular policy wonk or lobbyist has no actual experience working in education or with students themselves is when they theorize that students could effectively “build a degree from scratch” as Halaska argues. To Halaska, this could happen, “Once someone figures out an app that allows students to essentially build a degree from scratch, incorporating various institutions and alternate providers, and allows them to aggregate their sources of funding to pay for it, access to and success in higher education will be fundamentally changed.”
This is the major tell of the consultant class, the way they discuss the problem of “access” to education. For the disruptors, it is a matter of utilizing digital tools to bring Harvard to our laptops. This, somehow, equates to “putting students first” which really means casting them adrift into the marketplace.
But for most students, there is little issue with this kind of access. We have a nationwide network of community colleges and trade schools. Online education is a fully mature category with thousands of options.
The access problem for education in this country centers around one issue: cost. And the much more significant issue facing the newly educated – and everyone else for that matter – is the closing window of economic opportunity that education is expected to bring.
To be fair, Halaska recognizes the limits of her own analogy, saying “It is inappropriate to literally compare the individual demand born out of the sharing economy with cultivating the intellect and skills needed to succeed in today’s economy. Higher education clearly provides more to students than a transportation app does to consumers.”
I must ask, if it is so inappropriate, why do we keep doing it? Why are the very serious people of Washington D.C. subjecting education to models that are self-evidently ridiculous.
I have a theory. I imagine it is related to the $2.5 billion in ed tech investment in educational “innovation” that Halaska cites.
Lobbyists and consultants need to stoke these narratives because they are on the grift and that pile of investor cash is the down they use to feather their nests.
The lobbyists don’t actually create anything. They connect capital to the levers of government with pinpoint accuracy, on demand, taking a cut of the total for their trouble.
Hmm…that sounds vaguely similar to the business model of a so-called disruptive ride sharing app.
Maybe that’s why they love the analogy so much.
When I wrote a post on Connecting Technology Buckets in Student Affairs last year, I asked any and all technology companies to share their thoughts on connecting disparate data "buckets" in higher education. 14 comments later, a variety of comments and ideas were presented.
The last comment was submitted by Cole Clark, Global Vice President of Education and Research at Oracle. Knowing surprisingly very little about Oracle's higher education efforts, I followed-up to find out how Oracle is trying to use technology to improve the student experience. Thanks to Cole and his team for getting back to me with some well-thought-out answers:
How does Oracle (from big picture to in the trenches) actually measure improvement?
In the past and continuing today, higher education institutions struggle with providing the modern user experience which students, faculty, and staff are increasingly demanding. Disparate legacy systems have fueled a cumbersome and paper-based experience between higher education users and administrative systems. Today, many universities do not have a comprehensive approach to providing a frictionless experience and are not investing in a strategy to build critical relationships with their constituents.
To help institutions meet this challenge, Oracle is delivering new solutions for the cloud along with the adoption of a simplified and mobile first design strategy. This is a fundamental shift in thinking about how to approach IT systems - focusing on a student-experience-first perspective rather than simply enabling various transactions. With this approach, interaction with an institution should be simple and organic in nature students, faculty, and staff shouldn't even have to think about the fact that they are working with their university rather than say their bank or other online service provider. By achieving this simple, modern, holistic, and mobile-first approach, the improvement is obvious.
We certainly have internal measures we use to evaluate progress in the development of our products, and the ultimate measure is our success in the marketplace, but we also look at improvement from the customer side of the equation, evaluating how effective higher ed leadership is at changing the culture from a siloed approach to student experience to one that looks at it across the entire academic enterprise - from prospect to enrolled student to alum. This is also becoming more a loop rather than a straight line progression, as individuals interact with the education "ecosystem" at different stages of their lives.
What does friction-reduction look like?
Many institutions have focused on enabling mobile strategies, and/or marketing strategies, and /or social strategies or cost IT transformation strategies, but these too often are done independent of each other. What they are trying to do is improve the student experience, but to do that all these initiatives must be coordinated and be synergistic. Institutions should first develop a vision of what they want their student journeys to be across integrated student processes. Once this is established, they can focus on implementing solutions that support a truly frictionless, simple, and omnichannel experience.
Let me provide an example of an ideal, frictionless user experience (a scenario that we are still working toward today with our higher education institution partners). A current student is ready to start the normal registration process. As a first step, rather than ask the student to search for classes they may be interested in or required to take, a modern system could proactively provide class suggestions based on a series of criteria including the student's current major, classes they may be more likely to pass, or their past course selection. As a next step, the system could provide an easily navigable calendar that would enable them to map out their class schedule to determine which classes would work best from a timing perspective. Once they have confirmed their course load and fully registered, they can add their classes to a check out cart where they can easily and quickly pay. If they then need to update an element of their financial aid they can address it at that point as well.
Taking this ideal and seamless experience one step further, institutions can enable students to access services such as registration on their mobile devices. This would enable students to start the process on one device, continue the process on their desktop, and perhaps complete the process on their laptop or iPad. Again, this is a best case scenario for a frictionless experience, but it is one we think can become reality very soon.
What is the educational flow like from Oracle techs to staff/faculty to student?
Oracle will work with an institution to journey map a student experience. Oracle consultants or our partners will work with the institution to identify what the school wants the student experience to be, then determine what solutions/technologies are needed to deliver that experience. Also key to the effort is to assist the institution in developing the return on investment and cost justification models, as well as key performance indicators and success monitoring processes.
Once Oracle and its consulting partners work with the teams at universities, the goal is for students, faculty, and staff to seamlessly adopt the new solutions and functions without any formal training or education program. To help with this, Oracle can embed simple training guides and video tutorials that users can leverage to familiarize themselves with the new systems. This change in the approach to enabling users from a heavy-weight training investment to light, embedded user assistance is another positive result of leveraging cloud applications.
What have been consistent issues for the user experience team?
When working with higher education institutions, we often hear of several challenges they face. For example, operating in stove-piped IT infrastructures, sharing data across multiple departments, and establishing uniform business processes across departments. More recently, we have been hearing about the issue of data and insight gathering. Today, institutions are acting more as data stewards or safe-guarders, but they would like to act more like data curators. Their goal is to more completely leverage the data they have aggregated about their constituents so more university administrators and officials can use the insights provided by the data to provide better services across the various departments.
Does Oracle have a user experience team?
Yes, Oracle established its Applications User Experience team in 1999, and has since grown it into a global design organization with usability labs around the world. The professionals include research designers and usability engineers that are skilled in interviewing and interacting with our customers' students and other professional users to understand the challenges they face as well as their preferences. All of the Oracle user experience team members are focused on enabling the next evolution of the Oracle user experience - the simplified user interface for all Oracle applications - that embraces three themes that are increasingly important for today's higher education institutions and users: simplicity, mobility, and extensibility. Oracle is extremely proud of the breadth and depth of our user experience offering and we are continually investing and innovating in these areas to ensure the tools are easy to use and are "device aware" (i.e., tablet, smart phone, or traditional PC).
What kind of user testing is done to figure out use patterns before an app reaches a student?
As we mentioned above, we have a team of Oracle professionals focused on interfacing with students and other professional users to understand how they work, what applications and functionality will be helpful, and the challenges they face that our technology can help address. We embed our team members within the student, faculty, and staff to understand how they work and how they get their jobs done. Beyond that core research, we run usability testing as we design the solutions and applications. Further, we iteratively refine testing as we work with all applications in our product families.
What would you ask Oracle? How are you working to connect technologies at your campus in order to improve the student experience?
The winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine are William C. Campbell of Drew University and Satoshi Omura of Kitasato University in Japan, who share half of the award “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites” and Youyou Tu of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who receives the other half for “her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria.” Background on the winners’ research is available here.