Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Should we promote "digital learning" as a banner for institutional transformation?

 Edward Maloney and Joshua Kim wrote a provocative blog post in InsideHigherEd. Here's my comment:

Eddie and Josh,

You wrote, "A model for digital learning is a set of integrated ideas, concepts and
frameworks that help us build hypotheses and make sense of data."

I think that, to advance digital learning, don't think of it as digital learning.

Based on my study of six institutions that have been gradually transforming themselves to improve quality, equitable access, and affordability:
1. Technology is essential for making such gains, e.g., as a tool for undergraduate research, as a tool to help institutions make sense of big data about their educational process, as a way for people to collaborate across barriers of time and space, as a platform on which students, faculty, and others can reflect about a student's achievements and learning; (and so on)

2. However, technology is not, and should not, be seen as THE way to describe educational transformation.

Advances in technology and increases in its availability are just one of many important enablers of transformation of higher learning, each helping reinforce the other. Some others include:
  • Pressures for institutions and degree programs to be more accountable for their outcomes, especially affordability, equitable access, and what graduates are now able to do;
  • Increased national and institutional attention to educational strategies such as high impact practices, essential learning outcomes, backward design, and authentic assessment; greater faculty comfort with such strategies;
  • Transformative leadership from many positions in the institution;
  • Changes in academic culture, e.g,, increased percentage of faculty who see evidence-based improvement of outcomes to be possible and essential; prioritizing continual improvement of outcomes; legitimacy and rewards for faculty and staff who invest significant time working with other faculty (including faculty from other departments) and with staff to achieve such improvements.
  • More learning spaces with lower density, furnished with movable chairs and tables;
  • Changes in accreditation practices so more attention is paid to quality, access, and affordability outcomes;
  • Changing public opinion about the goals and values of higher education (is digital learning the way to brand this change to the public?)
  • (and so on)

So should our announced focus be Digital learning? evidence-driven learning? culture-driven learning? improved learning through transformative leadership? accreditation-driven learning? or none of the above?

Analogy: if your family business were making salt, perhaps you'd write a cookbook entitled, "A Pinch of Salt." Perhaps that book would pay too little attention to other ingredients and how best to use them. So it wouldn't be a very good cookbook.

I've been engaged with improving higher education for fifty (?!) years, with special attention to educational uses of technology. I've seen way too many tech-driven educational improvements flounder because they were too siloed: they allowed technology spending to siphon budget and attention from other enablers; they suffered a fatal collision between rapid, somewhat turbulent rates of change in digital tools and resources versus human capital's comparatively glacial rate of change.

No comments:

Post a Comment