explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

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.


  1. Sorry about the error above.

    I had to come back and re-read this post. You really identify something important about where we are at in our region (and, I suspect, in most other public-post-secondaries in the western world) — in particular in that last paragraph, one I think I will be coming back to again. “…bureaucracies imposed to make sure innovators don’t go too wild and crazy (eg. gatekeeping business cases, committees) … just trying to get by and make do, and this is somehow acceptable because we are public sector.” Killer.

    Great to see you channeling more of your online energy into this space — I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I would do well to take inspiration from your example.

  2. Well, it was actually some discussions at the last ETUG that got me thinking about some of the challenges we are facing in our institutions around innovation. I was surprised to learn how similar these are for some of the ETUG crowd, many of whom I consider innovators. Innovation seems to be a buzz word at the upper admin levels, but it gets treated as a project that can and should be heavily managed and captured in KPIs, rather than an attitude or a culture that should be embraced. My 2c anyways.

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