Breaking news: EdTech makes learning a priority!

EDUCAUSE Top-10 IT Issues 2014

EDUCAUSE interactive graphic tracking top-ten IT issues since 2000

I was taking a look at EDUCAUSE’s 2014 list of the top-ten IT issues facing higher education and was struck that—for the first time in this century—EDU IT’s top focus is on improving student learning!

1. Improving student outcomes through an institutional approach that strategically leverages technology

Too often technology is the shiny cart put before the horse of learning, when we should always be asking how technology’s cart can be changed to speed and free learning’s horse. At long last, this EDUCAUSE list says it’s time for us to focus first on learning and then on what technology can do to support it, rather than our all-too-familiar custom of focusing first on new technology and then betting it will support student success.

Books are heavy

EDU IT can work—and has worked—to improve student outcomes in a variety of ways: a lot of them revolving around infrastructure for the delivery and consumption of teaching and learning. EDU IT has done far less, however, to support innovation in content for learning. The majority of K12 and higher learning still hinges on book-based materials that haven’t seen a radical technical change since Gutenberg. Books are heavy, expensive, linear, material and finite.

Meanwhile outside our schools, innovation abounds in the development and delivery of content for learning. One of the most powerful ways EDU IT can improve student outcomes is to focus on supporting the adoption, adaptation and creation of post-book learning experiences that make it easier and cheaper for students to access materials and that track learning pathways and outcomes to help students, teachers, institutions and curricula continuously evolve to improve learning.

I love books—and I’d like to thank books for all they’ve done for all of us so far—but books ARE heavy. It’s time for EDU IT to support lighter, smarter learning materials.

Top 2-10 EDU IT Issues

Looking over the other items on the EDUCAUSE list, I see how each and every one of them can work to support that first priority. If nothing else, this year’s list says more than any other year’s that EDU IT should focus on aligning its work with the central mission of higher education and measuring that work against mission-driven outcomes.

  1. Establishing a partnership between IT leadership and institutional leadership to develop a collective understanding of what information technology can deliver
  2. Assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology
  3. Developing an IT staffing and organizational model to accommodate the changing IT environment and facilitate openness and agility
  4. Using analytics to help drive critical institutional outcomes
  5. Changing IT funding models to sustain core service, support innovation, and facilitate growth
  6. Addressing access demand and the wireless and device explosion
  7. Sourcing technologies and services at scale to reduce costs (via cloud, greater centralization of institutional IT services and systems, cross-institutional collaborations, and so forth)
  8. Determining the role of online learning and developing a strategy for that role
  9. Tie: Implementing risk management and information security practices to protect institutional IT resources/data and respond to regulatory compliance mandates and Developing an enterprise IT architecture that can respond to changing conditions and new opportunities

What is a Doorman? Opening doors from Little Bird to Lumen

Arbour Hill Gardens

Arbour Hill Gardens used under (cc) from William Murphey.

After more than a year working to help local Portland social intelligence startup Little Bird take flight, I’m excited to announce I’m moving on to work with a wider variety of projects. In short, I’m bringing the role I played at Little Bird as a “Doorman” to organizations of all sizes, from startups to large enterprises.

What’s a Doorman? A Doorman opens doors for people to connect, working at the intersection of growth, community and product.

I’m really excited about my first/next project as a Doorman: working with Lumen Learning, another amazing Portland startup that takes me back to my prior experience in education and technology. Lumen works to improve student learning and lower the cost of education by helping educational institutions adopt, adapt and build open educational resources. Lumen is taking the collaborative economy to school.

Lumen was founded by Kim Thanos and David Wiley, two highly experienced and connected leaders in the education and open content worlds. I’m honored to have the chance to collaborate with both of them again to help spread Lumen’s valuable and worthy intervention.

It’s a hard time to leave Little Bird when so many things there are really taking flight, from today’s announcement that Carmen Hill will join the team to lead marketing, to some great new customers and product enhancements, to closing a second round of seed funding and making key CTO and COO hires back in February. I’m proud to have worked with Marshall Kirkpatrick and the whole team to get Little Bird in flight.

Curious about Little Bird? I’m happy to talk with anyone about this awesome team and the powerful engine and services they provide to harness social intelligence for your business or project.

Want to hear more? Need to get in touch? Reach out to me at any time.

Opening Education: A First Walk through Campus

Dist 29 Schoolhouse

Dist 29 Schoolhouse used under (cc) from Lane Pearman.

A lot of change is happening in education these days that has me thinking about where it’s coming from and where it’s going. What have been the openings and closures that have shaped and are shaping the social machine of human education?  As I collect research and thoughts, I’ll be posting them here under the general category of Opening Education.

When I want to learn something beyond the obvious about a topic I know very little about, I like to pick a random entry point and just dive in. To start a new exploration on the history of education, I decided to dive in to learn about the built space of schools and after only a short time, I started to connect some rather interesting dots.

My first—admittedly quick and shallow—exploration of the history of K12 school design and building in the USA leads me to jump to the—perhaps rather obvious, but I think important—conclusion that school facilities in the USA have not been shaped primarily by educational goals, but by larger patterns in demographics and economics: Influxes of immigrants, civil rights being extended to or taken away from specific populations, bulges in birthrates, decreasing child mortality, and economic changes such as the move from primarily agrarian to primarily industrial and on to primarily service/knowledge economies.

For example, the nostalgic view of one-room schoolhouses one typically gets from Little House on the Prairie doesn’t touch on how the funding and construction of such schools was generated by government policies encouraging the westward settlement of the USA.

Or in the 19th Century, social changes including industrialization, immigration, urbanization, child labor laws, and compulsory education combined to generate larger school facilities in cities, designed as educational factories to process growing student populations.

There are many more examples of the close ties of school construction and social changes that suggest learning—as we might like to think of it—was not the primary driver of school design.

On the flip side: from Catherine Beecher, Horace Mann and Thomas Dewey’s work on educational reform to Richard Henry Pratt’s work on Native American education, I also found lots of examples of efforts to improve learning—and thereby society—that led directly to calls for changes in school design and construction. At turns well-meaning or self-interested, enlightened or benighted, these ideas and activities had widely varying impacts on actual educational realities, but none appear to have shaped actual schools as dramatically as more basic social forces.

In short: we don’t really design or build schools to better educate people. We design and build schools to process large numbers of people to fit into current socio-economic roles. Resources and efforts to design and build schools follow demographic and economic demands—not educational needs. Despite accompanying lofty rhetoric, most school design and construction seems to be driven primarily by reactive and shortsighted efforts to deal with current social and economic pressures, rather than our desires to have education shape and improve our cultural, social and economic future.

If that’s the pattern, what socioeconomic forces are shaping today’s educational initiatives? I’ll be exploring answers to that question and I welcome yours!

A Little Bird Told Me

Little Bird logo

I’ve been working in educational technology for the last 14 years: first at OMSI, then at Portland State, and most recently at rSmart, focused on Sakai open source collaboration and learning technologies. As of February 2013, I have joined former data-journalist Marshall Kirkpatrick‘s startup, Little Bird, here in Portland, Oregon, as Doorman: leading marketing, sales, and support.

I’m profoundly excited by Little Bird. While it may seem like a dramatic departure from my edtech work, at its heart, Little Bird is ultimately a powerful tool for learning, bringing you directly to the leading people and most worthy content in any topic. Little Bird can help anyone do with purpose what I have done haphhazardly and organically: building my own understanding and relationships by connecting to people that matter, first online, but then also, almost always, offline as well. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be joining Little Bird if I hadn’t first learned from, and then met and developed a relationship with Marshall on Twitter. Now with Little Bird, we are working to enable everyone to learn and build relationships that can change their work and lives.

Little Bird’s team is an awsome collection of wildly unique individuals, who nevertheless share inspiring intelligence and worthy values. I’m honored to be able to work alongside Marshall, his Little Bird co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick and Tyler Gillies, and our growing team of folks including Danish AzizPeat BakkeDevin Gaffney, and Brennan Novak. As much as I have learned from and loved working with folks around the world in the Sakai community and at rSmart, it’s a like opening a present every day to spend time face-to-face with Little Bird’s team of smart, thoughtful people, deeply embedded in Portland’s welcoming, innovative tech and creative communities.

My connection to edtech remains: for as long as it makes sense (or until my term ends, which ever comes first), I still serve on the board of directors for the Apereo Foundation—the new organization formed in late 2012 by joining Sakai and Jasig. Maybe the new experience and viewpoints I gain from Little Bird can add some valuable perspective to Apereo. At the very least, I know I’ll be looking at education, and the technologies we hope to make serve it, with a new, avianette lens.

Looking back, I’d like to give my deepest thanks to the people that made my journey with Sakai and rSmart possible: first and foremost, Chris Coppola, who helped me start that journey and lead me forward with his thinking, drive, and values. Wende Garrison and Trish Harris, who put a lot of very smart wind and perspective in my sails and sailed along with me. Kim Thanos, who continues to advise and inspire me in so many wise ways large and small. The whole rSmart team, but most especially Brooke Biltimier, Brenda Chapman, Tom ChapmanDuffy Gillman, Paul HauserOrla MesterErik Mertz, and Lance Speelmon, who always seemed like close collaborators even though we were so often working at a distance. In the worldwide Sakai community there are too many to name who have been my brothers and sisters in the campaign to make education better: but I thank you all and hope to continue to serve you at Apereo and beyond.