Here’s the links from my presentation:

Speak! The Miseducation of College Students

Tim O’Reilly on Education as an Open System (vide0)

Tim O’Reilly: Government as a Platform (e-book)

Open Courseware Consortium

iTunes U


Academic Earth

Khan Academy



Flat World Knowledge

Open Learning Initiative

“Online Programs Push for More Interaction”, Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2010

National Center for Academic Transformation




Excelsior College




I thank the folks who asked me for these resources and who told me they got something valuable out of the presentation. I also thank John Fontaine, Jonathon Lunardi and the rest of the team at Blackboard for inviting me and treating me very, very nicely. Still, I have to say that I was kinda disappointed by the first question that I got, the gist of which was “Why should we, the technologists, be charged with making change in higher education? Shouldn’t you be talking to the students & the faculty?”

Well, yes, I do talk to students and faculty (visiting at least six campuses this September/October), and parents and college counselors and anyone else who will listen, but technologists have special tools and capacities to make change and so therefore it is both your responsibility and your opportunity to do so. That was the thrust of my entire presentation so it was disappointing to note that it didn’t come across to everyone, as evinced by Tweets like this one and this one.

I’ll quote Josh Kim from Inside Higher Ed on this point:

“Technology will be one of the essential factors if we hope to bend the educational cost curve…The leadership within our institutions, the presidents and provosts and deans and chairs etc., should be asking the CIOs and the academic technology directors about how we can increase productivity. And people in educational technology leadership positions should be making this our number one priority. We all need to participate and succeed in bending the educational cost curve.”

I’ll be first to admit that the speech I gave yesterday was not the best speech I’ve ever given, and it’s unfair to characterize an audience by a few naysayers. Still, I have to contrast this attitude with the glowing, excited reception that took place at Sakai a few weeks ago. I have to wonder if the most important reason to advocate openness is the difference in outlook and culture between a community of developers and a group of clients of a product/service.

Update: to expand on my last sentence per request: it’s the vending-machine analogy. If a university as a whole, and CIOs in particular, are labeled “clients” of a service like Blackboard, isn’t it more likely that they’ll conceptualize “technology” as a service to be consumed, a set of tools that either works or it doesn’t to do a predetermined group of things. It’s a very narrow, external-locus-of-control way of thinking about the role of tech in higher education. Two different audience members expressed this attitude to me as coming from faculty, namely “if I put my syllabus up on the web, I’ve “done my job” as far as technology goes.”

On the other hand,  if the institutions and the CIOs are engaged in developing the set of tools, ideally they’ll be thinking actively about the return on that investment and the possible ways to use tech to reinforce all kinds of institutional goals, not just those that are predetermined or pre-defined.

Obviously, this is just an ideal, and the Sakai folks talked to me about resistance from faculty too, and I don’t want to be accused of idealizing openness, but there it is. That’s the difference I’m alluding to.

4 Responses to “Links and Reactions from My Bb DevCon Presentation”

  1. Mark Notess says:

    I’d say you’ve nailed it, though you might find at least slight differences between clients of different kinds of companies.

  2. I think that the disconnect is here:

    “provosts and deans and chairs etc., should be asking the CIOs and the academic technology directors about how we can increase productivity”

    Speaking from my perspective, I don’t think the audience was comprised of technological decision-makers, rather the implementers of decisions. As a software developer, or a system administrator, your typical DevCon attendee does not have the power or influence to make changes.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your premise about the current state of higher education – when you spoke of crushing debt for recent graduates, you could have been talking about me in particular.

    I just don’t think that people in technological leadership roles (managers, CIOs, department heads) were present in the audience, and it seems that they were your target.

  3. The presentation was great and I think the challenge you laid out is important. I think it is vital that people with technology understanding recognize just how influential they are. My goal in driving openness in the Blackboard platform is to give system admins and implementors more power and more possibilities. I don’t want system admins to feel like they are mere consumers of technology dictated by someone else. I want them to recognize what a vital role they will play in the transformation of education.

    The Internet is creating new models for collaboration, research and discovery. My goal in inviting you was to plant the seeds in the mind of system admins about what is possible and what faculty and students are doing at the leading edge. I hope some seeds took root and we will see a blossoming of things in the expanding catalog of building blocks.

    I think what I learned is that I need to so more to help my community understand how they can be change agents on campus. I know that people with a passion for technology can make a big difference. When you are spending your days reviewing run books and checking backups or writing a minute by minute plan for the next maintenance window one can lose sight of the big picture. I will be taking up this challengee iin coming months.

  4. admin says:

    Hi John,
    Thanks for your response, and thanks again for inviting me! I know it’s not easy to make change from within, yet it’s so vital. look forward to hearing about how these conversations go in coming months.

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