explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Category: innovation

Innovation in Higher Education…and other blasts from the past

I had the pleasure to be a keynote at CNIE 2017 in Banff last week, 14 years after first attending the very first iteration of this conference in the exact same location. This year’s theme was Exploring our past, present and future, which could not have been a more perfect theme to talk about a topic I’ve become quite interested in over the past year.  Last year I began looking into the past of concepts like open pedagogy/pédagogie ouverte  and delving into this past has really helped me gain some perspective on how we are currently talking about open.  Preparing for the CNIE keynote gave me a great opportunity to delve  more deeply into the past of other concepts such as innovation, ed tech, and open in particular.

The point of this presentation was to take a journey to the past, the 1960s and 70s for the most part, and talk about current day open, ed tech, and  innovation in relation to the past.

We started with the Then or Now game. I put up 4 slides of different quotes from 1960-present and you had to guess whether the quote was from the past or present.  As expected, this wasn’t an easy one to guess, the point being that a lot of the past rhetoric on open, ed tech, or innovation sounds very familiar to those of us who’ve been in the field for a while.  You can see the quotes in the slide deck, but the references for those slides follow:

  1.  The Erosion of Innovation in Higher Education, 1970. ( A dissertation written by the future president of Buffalo State College, or was it really written by Gail, his wife?). note: you need access to pro quest to access this one, full citation here:JOHNSTONE, DONALD BRUCEUniversity of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969. 7001794.

2.  The automated university: bots and drones amid the dreaming spires, 2017

3.  Technology and Education: who controls?, 1970

 

And my personal favourite:

4.  Radical Innovation in a Conventional Framework: Problems and Prospects, 1977

The point of the Then or Now game is that there are many recognizable tropes in those quotes, and what I learned in looking at 1960-1980 is that for every gushing Chronicle or Ed Surge article you can find a 1960s or 70s equivalent.  Of course, there is both great comfort and room for critique in that observation.


“The crisis facing higher education in our nation has been mentioned so often that I fear we may tend to consider it an old story. It is not.“

In 1963, where this quote is from, it turns out there actually was a crisis in higher education in the 60s and 70s. What we learn from reading about this time period is that the drivers for the crisis, perceived or real, are not dissimilar to today.

For example, there is a pressure of numbers- in an OECD report in 1968 Change and innovation in higher education pointed to the pressure of numbers (changing demographics) as a result of growth in population and demand for greater equality – for example, I was surprised to learn that in UK between 1961 and 1968 24 new universities were created.

Also noted is the driver of scientific and tech progress: “new disciplines must be introduced; boundaries between the old ones become artificial; the rapid obsolescence of existing technologies has to be taken into account”.  Those same drivers appear in this Huffington post article from 2015.

I then continue with more echoes from the past including:

  1.  Disruption 1960s style: “ there is a chorus of exhortations – articles beginning ‘Higher Education should’ or ‘must’”. From 1967 – Innovation: Processes, Practice and Research p.38.
  2. No shortage of buzzwords and technology solutionism: “technological revolution” is a term “used with great abandon and little definition”. From 1968 Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities.
  3. And no shortage of skepticism – the newest trend becomes embraced or critiqued:  “in spite of or because of its obscure meaning, individualized instruction is held up as a panacea for the ills of education”– 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities
  4. And of course, the obligatory tech as distraction reference: “Kids who are used to having blaring transistor radios around hem every waking moment have trained themselves to ignore anything coming into their ears, and therefore hear very little of what comes out the the earphones they we are in the language lab” : 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities

One of the greatest higher education innovations was the Open University. I find it curious that during the MOOC mania, there was little discussion about how open universities were a real solution to a demographic/accessibility/education massification problem, AND they actually provided students with real credits in a meaningful education “currency”. The OU UK was established in 1968, and many other open universities followed. Here in Canada, as a result of the Quiet Revolution, there was the establishment of a new higher ed system called CEGEPs in Quebec in 1968, resulting in 46 new 2-3 year colleges that were accessible and largely free.  The scale of higher ed expansion at this point in time is mind-boggling.  In a period of 10 years, 28 other open universities were established around the world.

In 1979 John Daniel writes somewhat retrospectively on this phenomenon in Opening Open Universities:  “They are designed to serve working adults, usually without any academic prerequisites for entry, and they involve the delivery of instruction at a distance. Best known of these new institutions is the Open University of the UK, which has identified some 29 other universities around the world which implementthe open university concept in various ways. For most of these universities, adult off campus students constitute the sole or primary clientele”.

Here in Canada, in 1972 a task force on the Télé-Université reported that the establishment of TELUQ should address these challenges.

— Lifelong learning

— Real accessibility for all.

— Social development.

— Needs of working population.

— Greater mobility of knowledge.

— Wide use of new media and techniques.

— Rethinking the learning situation.

— Taking account of people’s prior life experiences.

— Reduction of unit costs

What is striking is how incredibly ambitious this list is.

In comparing our current day solutions to changing demographics, population, tech change, accessibility, to those of the 60s and 70s, where there drivers were very similar, it is notable that in the 60s and 70s the open universities had very ambitious agendas.  Today, it appears, we lean on MOOCs and OERs to address our higher ed problems, and we are certainly asked to buy into a rhetoric of disruption.

What is interesting, however, is that in the 60s, disruption meant actual student protests and disruption on college and university campuses around the world.  Today, it means the creation of new tech products, that will somehow solve higher education problems.  This is the innovation conversation of today that many of us in the ed tech field are familiar with. As this graphic from 2015 shows, the sample of the ‘ed tech players’ are for the most part LMS or MOOC platforms. 

And we are breathlessly reminded that this is a growth industry.

Keep in mind there has always been an education market.  In 1966-67 it was estimated to be worth 48 billion dollars in the US, second only to defense. Today the ed market, however defined, is second only to heath care in the US.


The question is, how much of what we are doing is recreating the past.  To this, we can look at Open Pedagogy as a possible example.

When I began looking into the origins of open pedagogy, I didn’t find many references in the English literature, but found a body of work in the French literature that dates from the early 70s, associated with Claude Paquette, a professor at UQAM.

Open pedagogy in its current day form has been argued to be the pedagogy that results when open education resources (as defined by the 5R permissions) are used. Along with this definition are the 5Rs as articulated by David Wiley.

Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content

Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways

Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself

Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new

Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

As a result, this is a content focussed definition, and  Wiley has since reframed his definition of open pedagogy as OER enabled pedagogy.

What becomes interesting is when we contrast the current day open pedagogy, centred on the permissions surrounding content, with open pedagogy of the 1960s where learner emancipation, not the use of OERs, was the goal of open pedagogy. Claude Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation. For me, this is a much more ambitious definition of open pedagogy, focussed less on the how and more on the actual goal.


So what happened?  We can perhaps look to the 80s for some clues, although I spend less time in this era of the literature and there is more work to be done here.

The first hint I found is from Patricia Cross, speaking about community colleges in 1981:  “the message seems to say that the old ideals of the 1960s that used to excite and inspire, albeit midst frequent controversy, are gone, and new ones have not yet emerged”. She describes the emergence of a plateau “between 2 periods of high energy and a sense of mission in the community colleges” and notes that the early ideals have receded. In this article, she compares ‘should be’ goals at a 10 year interval and notes particularly the decline in the should be goal of accessibility, a significant decline in esprit de corps…mutual trust and respect among faculty students and administrators.

We also can see the emergence of corporate-speak applied to higher education as exemplified in this quote from 1982:“institutions of higher education lag behind most other sectors of the economy in their capacity to improve productivity”.  This article, which was published in Journal of Higher Education – is entitled The Impact of Organizational and Innovator Variables on Instructional innovation in Higher Education .

There are some interesting examples from the graveyard of dreams that also demand us to pause and ask how we came so close to getting it right.

Consider, for example, the case of the Earth Sciences department at St. Lawrence University. In 1977 Bill Romey (same author of the blobs of jello quote) writes: “An opportunity arose to implement a new program in a conventional academic department of geology and geography at St. Lawrence University. Would it be possible to bring about extensive change from within a conventional department in an old-line, conventionally oriented liberal-arts school? ”

The change Romey describes includes 10 or so characteristics of the new program that would have considerable appeal by current day standards.  These include:

  • Independent project work at all levels, for all students and faculty, would replace all standard courses.
  • Students would evaluate their own work.
  • Students would keep portfolios of their own work as an alternative means of showing what they had accomplished. There would be no more examinations of conventional types.
  • Students and faculty would participate fully and equally in the governance of the department.
  • The department was to run as an open organism with free access for everyone in the university, whether or not they were formally enrolled for credit.
  • Each person would function both as a teacher and as a learner.
  • The faculty accepted responsibility, in cooperation with the students, to create and maintain a rich and stimulating learning environment for the benefit of all.

Romey describes the evolution over a few years, and notes that conventional thinking is starting to creep back in but for the most part the department is operating as described above.

If you go to the department page today you will see there appears to be no essence of this spirit left and the now Geology department adopts a structure not unlike many other universities.  In fact, the only hint of this former time can be found on the academics page, where some amount of program customization is referenced, but this comes across more as academic strategy-speak than real.

It’s important to underline that there were lots of these types of idealistic experiments happening on campuses across North America (see the chapter on Recent Developments, p.10, for a good description of this) –St. Lawrence not the only one and it would take some work for somebody to dig in and explore how they look today.  Also notable is that there were several threads of open across concepts such as individualized learning, open enrolment, and open classrooms, to name a few.

Fortunately, there are also some examples of things that have only gotten better with time – in 1970, MacManaway writes what can only be described as flipped learning 1970s style – provide students with the lectures scripts for private reading and use the classroom time for small group discussion and assignments.


What the past and present version of ourselves shared was a common desire for teaching, learning, and student success. And this is where I think current day higher education can innovate with openness.  Of course, openness is often associated with Creative Commons licensing.  But increasingly I’m less interested in potential of CC licensing and more in the question of Open as a means to what? I feel like our 60s and 70s counterparts were much more clear and explicit about this question.

In this section of the presentation I describe some examples where I think we can clearly answer the question, Open as a means to what?  These include:

  1. BCcampus as providing the higher education sector in BC as a means to collaborate.
  2. The BC Open Ed Tech Collaborative
  3. The beginnings of a WordPress Cooperative as a new model for doing things together
  4. Some JIBC examples of open for the public good:  eg. Fentanyl Safety , which was recently written up in the Atlantic
  5. An international collaboration between JIBC and University of Guadalajara where early discussions and contract language included a CC BY NC license.
  6. JIBC’s work in developing an open textbook Zed Cred/Zee Degree in Law Enforcement Studies
  7. Virtually Connecting

If I can note anything about this journey to the past, it’s that the 60s and 70s literature is not dull reading…many of the articles linked above are written with incredible candour and passion, and there are plenty of LOL moments.

 

 

 

Considerations for ed tech and innovation

This is a continuation of a series of posts on innovation, and is my attempt to get a bit more pragmatic about the topic, namely because I was asked to frame some of my thinking into a workshop on innovation in higher education. There’s a number of ways to go with the topic, so I’m starting with some thoughts on considerations for innovation, which in this post I’m using somewhat interchangeably with educational technology. So if you are uncomfortable with the word innovation, you can swap in educational technology and arrive at a similar place.

For starters, it’s important to highlight Tony Bates’ well-established SECTIONS model for selecting educational technologies or media.  It’s a great place to start if you are an instructional designer trying to make decisions about educational technology in course and program design.  But when talking about innovation and ed tech at an institutional strategic level, I think it can be a good idea to take a step back and ask some bigger questions of your institution.

In considering considerations, I think it’s important to begin with a thinking (or erasing?) exercise that asks you to forget everything you know or think you know about ed tech and start over.  At many of our institutions ed tech thinking starts with the LMS, and whether we like it our not the LMS’s institutionally friendly attributes have an important role in shaping our thinking about teaching and learning.

Once you’ve erased your ed tech slate, you are ready to embark on some considerations:

  • Consideration #1:  What is the learning trajectory of students who interface with your institution? What data do you have about your students and does it tell an accurate story about the trajectory?
  • Consideration #2: What is the key driver of educational technology decisions at your institution (eg. access, best possible learning environment, institutional profile, institutional differentiation). You have to pick one, but you can acknowledge that others come into play.
  • Consideration #3: What does innovation mean at your institution by the various stakeholders? Does it line up with #1 and #2?
  • Consideration #4: What are the problems that need to be solved that could be solved by ed tech?  Is your current ed tech environment solving or hindering these problems?
  • Consideration #5:  Can you afford to not be/go open in some areas of your activities?
  • Consideration #6: What can be done to get at 4 and 5?  This is innovation.

If I was to go back in time six years when I started my role at JIBC, I would try to systematically engage in a process to get at some of these questions. In reality, the questions emerged over time and in a different order – #2, 3, 4, 6, 1, 5.  This is how it played out for us:

 Consideration #2:  It was pretty consistently stated that JIBC’s driver for ed tech came from a provincial mandate, meaning we have to deliver our programs across a very large geographic area, including rural and remote communities.  So for us, educational technology was primarily about access – making it possible for rural and remote communities to avoid expensive travel to Vancouver, and to give greater opportunity for BC communities to access our programs.

 Consideration #3:  Given #2, there was a very strong collective desire to innovate on how to do this.  We had an LMS, and had a web conferencing tool, but there was a sense that this wasn’t enough and was producing satisfactory but not good enough results.  So innovation meant finding new models of delivery, new formats for our courses and programs, and better tools.  There was also a common theme in that JIBC felt like it had been a leader in educational technology in the past (which they truly were, but that’s a subject of another post), but hadn’t evolved or kept up enough to maintain that status.  Anecdote:  In my first month at JIBC I was asked by the President in front of a JIBC -wide forum to comment on our ed tech status. I responded that I felt that they already had many of the tools to do what they needed to do  (LMS, video streaming, video production, web conferencing). This was clearly the wrong answer and was definitely a TSN turning point in my appreciation and underestimation of JIBC.  

 Consideration #4:  JIBC had a huge appetite and appreciation for educational technology, and unlike other institutions I’d worked at previously, there wasn’t a need to sell the importance at the institution, as illustrated by the above anecdote.  There was a greater need to push the envelope, but it took a while to get at the problems that needed to be solved. For example, it took some innovative people in some of our programs to turn me onto mobile (Consideration #6) by putting it into a real professional context (and that’s where the ball really dropped).  As the anecdote hints, the President, and JIBC generally, didn’t feel like the ed tech environment that existed was solving the problems that needed to be solved. But being able to translate this collective dissatisfaction into an articulation of a future direction emerged over time.  This is partly because we hadn’t really unpacked #1.

Consideration #1:  We arrived at a clear articulation of the JIBC learner trajectory through a number of data points.  Institutional data showed that a significant percentage of our students come back to do additional programs and credentials, many of which are very niche, unique kinds of course and programs not offered elsewhere. In other words, we are truly a lifelong learning institution for many of our students, partly because of the kinds of programs we offer.   And because of the kinds of professions and communities that we work with, we know that our students often have a relationship with JIBC before enrolling in our programs. Additionally, one of our research surveys showed data that most of our students are working full time while attending our institution, and age group distribution is fairly equal between 18 and 60+.

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The different data points about our students lead us to the following description of a JIBC student trajectory, where we tried to articulate the student relationship with the JIBC before, during, and after taking a course or a program. This, of course, had important implications for educational technology decisions and innovations, namely, that things that we create or implement should be things that students not only use while they are at JIBC but have direct application and use in the professions or communities in which they work. This is also how we ended up at # 5.

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Consideration #5: In BC we are fortunate to be part of a higher education sector that encourages and supports open, facilitated by BCcampus. Once we had an understanding of #1, the rationale to go open in some areas of our activities was clear. This is really the subject of another post, but using WordPress to make courses and parts of courses available to students at any phase of their learning trajectory ended up being a win for both students and the communities with whom we work.

Our current ed tech/innovation formula:

In some my posts on innovation, I talked about how we didn’t go the flagship innovation initiative route, but instead focused on a few smaller initiatives that have converged. Our new innovation formula -for lack of a better word – ended up being mobile + wordpress + open = innovation*. However it has to be underlined that the context for this is a combination and result of considerations 1-6, which obviously will be variable depending on the institution. This is why I think it’s important to scrutinize both current ed tech environments and the latest innovation flavours of the month, be they e-portfolios, mobile, augmented reality, etc., since it’s quite possible that it doesn’t make sense in a particular institutional context.

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*we also do a lot of scenario-based experiential learning and simulations, but this was already well established at JIBC.

Innovation in Higher Education

I spent the better part of last week at CNIE 2014 in Kamloops where I got to enjoy some good sunshine, great TRU hospitality, great music, and good presentations and conversations with old and new colleagues.  It was probably the first time I’d been to a conference where I left with a feeling that there was a common angsty thread in many of the discussions around innovation, nicely kicked off by Audrey Watters and already captured on her blog Hack Education (how does she do that so fast??) and wrapped up by Brian Lamb (not yet posted but hopefully captured).

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 2.39.05 PMThe purpose of my presentation–slides here–was to talk about how an over-investment in the LMS occurs at the expense of innovative tools that we need in our sector to address our teaching and learning problems.  I don’t feel like vendors really provide us  with the tools we actually need, and perhaps they shouldn’t be providing them anyways.  I use JIBC as an example of an institution whose roots are genuinely in experiential, real-life, and applied learning, but as more and more of our contact hours go online, we are left with few, if any tools that allow us to do appropriately.

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The LMS is both everything and nothing at our institution–it allows us to go online with our content and provide greater access to the students we reach in 183 communities across BC, but it is hardly the ideal tool for experiential and applied learning.  It is also not ideal for open courses such as this one (for which we increasingly use WordPress), 1-3 day short courses (the bread and butter of our institution), or very specific learning environments such as simulations.

In my presentation I point to three examples of tools created at public post-secondary institutions in response to problems that needed to be solved that couldn’t be solved by an LMS.  The first was Praxis, a web-based synchronous tool created at JIBC for conducting live simulation “exercises”.  This tool is now an increasing part of our programming, because it allows us to do online what we were well-known for face-to-face.

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The second is Radicl, a BCIT- created tool for the Medical Radiography program which allows for logging and critiquing images between instructors, students, and preceptors.

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The third is one I was introduced to at the conference, a type of competency tracking tool called Power for logging medical student case logs, created at U of T Faculty of Medicine in conjunction with a vendor.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 2.46.29 PMAll of these tools demonstrate the degree to which public post-secondary education can be innovative and create innovative tools. Unfortunately, they are all currently closed innovations despite being tools that have relevance and use across the sector.  U of T shares IP with the vendor that developed it, and both Praxis and Radicl aren’t currently open for use in other institutions.  In an era of diminishing institutional resources these tools are viewed by administrators as potential revenue streams and there is really no incentive to offer them up as open source tools to be shared across the sector.  We would rather spend millions on low risk, yet low satisfaction (for the most part) vendor products than create tools that address our teaching and learning contexts and share them across the province.   We view open tools as risky and resource intensive, yet we have entire teams dedicated to enhancing the LMS experience for students.  We think that our institutions are too small or incapable of creating innovative things, yet we forget that  the sector collectively has the capacity to take back our agency that we so willingly give to vendors who don’t share our interests.

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There is no doubt that vendors have created a buzzword out of  innovation.  But in the same way that public education has been able to take back textbooks and scholarly publications by adopting an open approach, a parallel activity needs to happen around open and collaborative innovation of our teaching and learning tools.  To me, this is a much less risky, and more sustainable approach to our sector.

 

 

The best thing I read this week…

The @alexismadrigal piece on reverse engineering Netflix made the rounds this week on Twitter and I was glad I didn’t ignore it.  As somebody with a background in linguistics and having spent some time in the discourse analysis and corpus linguistics world, I found the whole technical description of the Netflix grammar building  and analysis quite fascinating.  But it also had me thinking about innovation, and how innovation is positioned in the private sector as compared to the public post secondary sector.

A couple of years ago my institution hosted an online course showcase for a largely BC post secondary audience.  One of the presenters was an instructional design contractor who worked a lot with private industry.  She presented a project (see Rouxbe, Video/Part 10) that was created for a local private culinary school where comprehensive culinary training was created to be delivered entirely online, and then licensed globally to various culinary schools.  The quality of the videos, audio, and design of the instruction was remarkable, but it was the purpose built LCMS used to deliver that had several of us in the audience wondering how we could get our hands on it.  The presenter, sensing our questions, explained that the school had invested a lot of money into creating this system and it was unlikely that any public institution would be able to do the same but perhaps our own systems (read:  LMS’s to which we are tied) would catch up eventually.

The type of innovation that both Netflix and the small, private culinary school realized is obviously driven by the prospect of substantial financial gains.  Yet, both of these examples left me thinking that innovation was pushed well beyond simply satisfactory.  In contrast, in our sector, characterized by years of depleting funds, bureaucracies imposed to make sure innovators don’t go too wild and crazy (eg. gatekeeping business cases, committees)  we seem to have forgotten to push for more, to have greater expectations of what we can actually deliver.  Increasingly, we seem to be just trying to get by and make do, and this is somehow acceptable because we are public sector.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the problem lies in the many innovators that are in our institutions, but rather the knowledge and expectations of the leadership and the structures that we have created within our systems that impede our ability to do this.  When small, private culinary schools are able to innovate in a way that their public cousins cannot, to me this signals a problem that we should be paying attention to.

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