I’ve been in the edtech game for a long time. I started as a programmer in 1994, then moved into instructional design, and now am working with an amazing group of folks to integrate learning technologies into the practices of instructors and students.
I just came from a workshop that made it clear that many in the edtech field see innovation as something like “working out creative licensing deals with vendors and/or publishers.”
No. It isn’t.
Edtech is important because it can be transformative.
It can literally change the nature of the learning experience. It can shift people from consume mode, into collaborate and publish mode. It can knock down walls. Evaporate silos. Connect people across campus, across campuses, and across the globe.
None of that has anything to do with the lame excuses for “innovation” being described in the field of educational technology. Where brokering a 50% reduction in the cost of textbooks is an acceptable goal. If the textbook publishing model is broken – and it is demonstrably broken by any conceivable metric – the only acceptable goal is to either opt out of that model, or to toss a grenade into it.
This is akin to negotiating with a buggy salesman to get the best deal, when what we really need is a bicycle. Or a pair of shoes. Or a hovercraft. Or a factory.
Edtech is important not because of the tech, but because of the educational activities enabled by it. Which means that the licensing agreements seen as “innovative” are often necessary, but not sufficient.
This stuff is important because it can change the nature of the educational activities. It can make resources and people accessible to those who would not have had access otherwise. It can amplify the voices of people who would not have been heard otherwise. It can make what you do matter outside of your own isolated context.
And higher education is uniquely positioned in such a way as to lead the development and adoption of educational technology. It is in our mandate to create new knowledge, to disseminate this knowledge, and to share what we learn with as many people as possible. That is a truly awesome responsibility, and one that some would outsource to commercial entities.
To allow that to happen, to outsource educational innovation to commercial interests (or, really, to outsource it at all), is to shirk the responsibility that we have as members of institutions of higher education. It is our job to work in the interest of the public – the people that pay our bills – to build ways to share the research that we conduct, to enhance the learning of our students, and to make learning accessible to as many people as possible.
It is not our job to reorganize our institutions around managing and enforcing DRM that is designed to prop up companies who have built entire industries around bilking our students for every penny they can siphon out of them.
Our job is to provide the best possible learning experience to our students. Full stop. That’s it.
Now, if that happens to be best done through a commercial solution, then let’s do that. Let’s sign the best damned contracts we can sign.
But, there will be times. Many times. When that means going against the interests of commercial entities. To share what we have and do so freely and willingly, despite potentially reducing the direct profits of others. And so we shall. Our mandate is not to serve companies that profit from our students (or our taxpaying supporters). Our job is to provide the best damned experience to our students. That’s the guiding principal that should shape every decision, every project, every action. Is this the best thing for our students’ experience? If so, do it. If not? Don’t. It’s that simple.
Edtech is important because it is transformative. Because it has the potential to amplify (or mitigate) innovations across the field of higher education (and beyond). It is our responsibility to take this seriously, and to do what is best for our students above all else.