Big Picture points from the Campus Technology 2008 Conference
1. 1. Crises accelerate change: A speaker talking about the characteristics of IT departments of today and tomorrow stressed this point. He felt that IT departments need to make some crucial changes to meet the demands of the future. Russell Ackoff also felt that the only way for the education system to change from its current state is by means of a national crisis. Is this true or can we facilitate big changes without facing crises?
2. 2. Emphasis on “soft” skills: In books (ie. A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink), blogs, and the session about the IT departments of today and tomorrow, I’m seeing an emphasis placed on the importance of cultivating “soft” skills. It’s not enough for a leader to be intelligent, efficient, charismatic, and courageous – today’s leaders must also be passionate, positive, respectful, humorous, and adaptable (roll with the punches). They must be willing to take reasonable risks if they want innovation. I feel we are placing some of these same demands on education itself – it no longer suffices to transfer knowledge; it must also inspire us, engage us, and adapt to our ever-changing needs.
3. 3. Big Picture Thinkers: I promise I’m not trying to put in a plug for my own blog here. Again in Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind as well as the IT departments of today and tomorrow session, there is a call for “big picture” thinkers to be a part of decision making committees. With the increasing interconnectedness of everything ranging from cultures, to economies, to subject matter, to people, there is an increasing need to think holistically. After years of dissecting everything into the smallest possible unit of analysis, the time has come again to review systems as a whole. This fluctuation between small units (what sciences would call reductionist thinking) and larger wholes (holistic thinking) has been cycling since the days of Hippocrates.
4. 4. Clay Shirky: I’m not sure who he is yet, but his book “Here Comes Everybody” keeps popping up everywhere in my life. And you know what I do when a book keeps popping up everywhere? I buy it and read it. At a session by Sara “Intellagirl” Robbins on Second Life in Higher Education, she analyzed SL using Shirky’s paradigm of the promise, the tool, and the bargain. What is the promise of a product, what does it claim to do? What is the product in its entirety both good and bad? Does it keep its end of the bargain by delivering the promise if we the consumers keep our end of the bargain by purchasing the product?
5. 5. Informal Interaction: I had an interesting talk with Denis Saulnier, and I will simply link to his blog because if I list his credentials here I will be going against the very thing we discussed! We talked about the power of informal interactions and how sometimes when you leave titles and organization names out of an interaction, you can actually get more authentic information. It’s natural for businesses to worry about revealing too much information to competitors, but a lot of higher ed institutions could really benefit from having more interaction with one another. Also, there may be a certain fear of saying the wrong thing in a meeting with the CEO as opposed to with an employee who shares your same status in the organization. Even if the CEO’s and upper management are as open-minded as possible, perhaps the fear comes from years in the classroom where students develop a sense of fear of being wrong in front of authority figures. My mom brought up a good point that sometimes the opposite is true as well – that sometimes people with higher positions might feel the need to always be proper and on their “A” game and avoid becoming too personal. Denis and I talked about the possibility of having an extremely informal meeting, perhaps through a more anonymous online meeting space like Second Life or an online chat with an alias, where institutions can come and discuss current problems and possible solutions without worrying about affiliations and titles. If we all work together as nothing more than humans trying to solve common issues, we might come to more solid and universal conclusions.
6. 6. Chaos and Failure: As humans we are always trying to impose order on the chaotic world around us because, after all, the natural state of nature is chaos – entropy. So we assign labels, definitions, we create categories, we create hierarchies, we assign rolls and why do we do all of this? Well, it can be neat and tidy and it can help untie the knots in our stomach when we realize that most of what happens in life is beyond our control. We control as much as we can in our immediate vicinity to give ourselves a sense of safety in a world we have very limited control. More and more I’m hearing a call to unleash chaos from its cage because chaos is the father of innovation. At a session titled, “Supporting Net-Gen Academic Development in a Web 2.0 World”, the speaker said, “True innovation is always unpredictable and often disruptive.” But every business wants to be innovative in the era of innovation! He also went on to say, “If you’re not failing every now and then, then you’re not doing anything innovative.” Again Russell Ackoff would agree with this, as he is a big advocate of learning from mistakes. If you always do everything right, then you never learn much at all. How do we become more innovative? The speaker recommended, “have visionaries on your team and don’t be afraid to fail! “
7. 7. Revolution: Are we in the middle of some kind of revolution? It’s always hard to analyze culture because it permeates every caveat of our lives and it’s hard to objectively analyze something that encompasses you. It would be like trying to objectively evaluate your mother. In a session titled, “Worldware and Personal Learning Envrinoments”, the speaker emphasized that “Web 2.0 is not a technology revolution, it’s a social revolution.” I am reading this all over the place! Are we just wishful thinking or is something taking place that is bigger than we all have imagined? Again the crisis word comes into play. The speaker said that we are in the middle of an engagement crisis, a boredom crisis (coined by Marc Prensky), a critical thinking crisis. “There is an erosion of the public’s faith and good will towards higher education.” And again with the unleashing of chaos – the speaker called for an “Unleashing of the educational imagination.” There’s nothing all that structured about an unleashed imagination. The beauty of an unleashed imagination is that you never know where it will take you next! With all of this chaos and crisis and innovation talk, I truly wonder – Is there a revolution on the horizon?
8. 8. Disconnect: For as much interconnectedness in the world, there’s also a growing disconnect amongst the systems that need to change. My last session at the conference involved a panel of speakers addressing the question of whether or not the whole digital native movement is a myth or a mandate. The one point that really stood out to me at this session was the great amount of disconnect between faculty members, administration, and technical support. If the administration wants the faculty to do research, then how can they expect them to have time to learn new technologies that they aren’t being paid to learn? There is a gap between administrative demands and faculty capabilities. Technologists and administration often cite unwillingness of faculty to adopt new technologies as the biggest hindrance to implementing these tools in the classroom. Again, faculty felt that there are serious time constraints and they sometimes felt that technical support needed more knowledge of the technologies themselves. Before technology can advance further, I think universities need to make sure that there is some amount of homogeneity amongst the needs and demands of their departments.
9. 9. Freedom of Knowledge: Whereas knowledge used to be a commodity only for the wealthy, it has now moved into the realm of belonging to the public just like other natural resources. This will pose problems in terms of copyrights as well as authentic materials, but in a sense it feels natural because something like truth cannot and should not be owned. If truth claims to be objective then it shouldn’t have any claims to stakeholders. However, this freedom of knowledge has also led to more students questioning faculty, more patients questioning doctors, in other words there is a shift in what it means to be an authority figure. Authorities are now left no choice but to face questioning with open minds. Hey, that kind of sounds like a democracy!
Other issues that I have thought about and noticed have to deal with the overwhelming feeling of having too many choices, the concept of the “free agent learner” or self-directed learning, and how to cope with and keep up with change.
I never know and suppose I never will know what came first – the chicken or the egg. A friend once told me that writers drive revolutions. So are we creating these very changes in culture by writing about them and speaking about them or is culture ready for these changes and somehow inducing them?