Saturday, October 17, 2009

Institutional Governance: Technology for Teaching and Learning

Institutional information technology needs clear
  • principles,
  • leadership,
  • management,
  • and practices
that reflect the changing needs and opportunities of the 21st century. A careful examination of the current environment in educational institutions can not adequately address any one of these needs without doing so in relation to the others. Unexamined assumptions, habits and practices in any one of these areas will only lead us to strain (maybe fruitlessly) to address the key shifts in the wider world that should in fact be informing what we do as institutions of higher education.

By now in 2009 it is pretty much cliché to mention the dramatic changes within which higher education faces its 21st century challenges and opportunities. As presented in the frequently viewed YouTube video Did You Know?, the challenges of global and technological 'shift' are solidly with us and have us questioning what we do, right to the core of our colleges and universities. (Shift Happens)

Another shift that has likewise made its way into our institutions was spoken about over a decade ago by educators Robert Barr and John Tagg in their often cited article, From Teaching to Learning, a New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education. This dramatic change has been driven, among other things, by waves of new insight about how people learn, and how they learn in quite diverse ways; this in turn has caused teachers to reexamine their understanding of effective environments and processes in which our students can pursue their own learning goals.

We struggle in the process to break from potentially constraining models of "traditional" teaching--but we are aware that much has been institutionalized even into the very physical structures of our colleges and classrooms that continues both to support as well as to constrain our practices and imaginations. As we try to implement new practices of collaborative, experiential and "whole-brain" learning, we struggle to do so within the chalkboard-oriented, ordered-chair environments of our brick and mortar classrooms; the teaching and learning practices we are drawn to seem to call us out from such constraining structures, as the Herman Millers offer us visions of readily shift-able, collaborative meeting spaces. The introduction of "virtual learning spaces" adds to our growing sense that teaching and learning needs to become more fluid and flexible, both inside and out of any standard classroom environment. (See John Tagg's 2008 article: Changing Minds in Higher Education: Students Change, Why Can't We?) See pdf version here.

Whether fully online or technically on-ground, our college environments of teaching and learning rely increasingly on the information technology infrastructure--the hardware and software environments--we have come to build with our brick and mortar-shaped imaginations. Like the early adopters of cinematic film whose first productions were like traditionally lit and performed stage plays in front of a camera, we struggle to break out of the previously shaped habits, to adopt new technologies of teaching and learning in fundamentally new ways.

New technologies are not just new ways to deliver old materials, or new opportunities to clone past practices into a virtual environment. Instead they are both drivers and opportunities to reshape education toward what are increasingly recognized as "21st Century Skills." We realize in the process that as we stress these skills to our students, we ourselves are challenged, personally and institutionally, to embody the change we are talking about (to "be the change we wish to see").

This shifting world of the 21st century, which Thomas Friedman suggests is flattening and Kurtzweil suggests is facing accelerating technological change, is demanding of us the ability as institutions of education to learn what struggling business institutions have grappled with for more than two decades: if we do not find fundamentally new ways to imagine and support what we do, we will find ourselves increasingly obsolete in our basic mission. Business management experience that precedes us--through now countless case studies of successes, relative successes, and failures--should help to inform us so that we do not simply repeat their history of experiments as if we were pioneering something new.

From teaching to learning (from "content delivery" to multiple environments and experiences in which faculty facilitate learning)
Technology is rapidly changing
Students (and communities) have a variety of abilities and needs when they come to us; some are out ahead of us, some are where we are at, and some are behind
Faculty and staff have a variety of abilities and needs;

(Proposal of) Principles in the Connecticut Community College System Shaping IT Governance and Management:
  • Our core mission is learner centered (with each tool, each decision, each policy, we should have to ask ourselves, how do our decisions affect learners?)
  • We are teaching and learning centered-- both philosophically, and practically
    • Both in what we provide academically in our courses and programs
    • And in our community role of outreach and business development
  • We are a twelve-college confederation of learning organizations
    • We are each a learning institution
    • We are learners in our institutions
  • We operate on a principle of subsidiarity (responsibility is defined at the lowest level of the organization/system most closely affected by decisions)
  • Providing 'enterprise' tools and resources where practical and mission-focused
  • We understand technology as a matter of changing tools:
    • tools that serve us,
    • rather than us serving them
  • We need to foster and encourage practices that enable us to keep up with change
    • supporting innovation and experimentation
    • while supporting ongoing use of shared resources
  • Students (and communities) have a variety of abilities and needs when they come to us; some are out ahead of us, some are where we are at, and some are behind
    • we cannot afford as professionals and/or as institutions to lag, or to just "keep up"
  • Faculty and staff have a variety of abilities and needs; we need to support innovation as well as basic professional development in the same 21st century skills we expect in our students
    • we cannot afford as professionals (as learners ourselves) to lag, or to just "keep up"
  • To exercise and develop the imaginations we need to engage the change around us, we need to realize that individual tools--business management systems, course management systems, portals, etc.--are important resources, but should each be understood as tools in service to our mission not definers of our practices and services
    • LMS's are potentially useful learning environments, but they are one set of tools among many that can serve our mission of online and distance learning
    • Student information management systems serve us well when they serve us well. When we begin to hear "you can't do that in ________" we should be open to the question "why not?
These principles depend on effective leadership at all levels of the Community College System. Further they depend on practices of management and implementation that do not too easily sacrifice them in place of the challenging deliberations they often call for. Innovation, and addressing the challenge of "shift" that face our colleges, will not be served simply by doing things the way we have always done them; nor will they (or our students) be served by simply tweaking what is already in place. Like the chalkboard-oriented, ordered-chair environments of our brick and mortar classrooms, the familiar environments of our current IT management are more radically ("to the root") challenged than this by the dramatically shifting needs and possibilities of the communities in which we exist.

Resources: See this Twitter Widget, which displays results from a search on #actechgov
Managing Institutional Change

1 comment:

Brian D-L said...

The "statutory mission of the Connecticut Community College System"

Pursuant to the provisions of Public Act 92-126:

The primary responsibilities of the regional community-technical colleges shall be:

1. to provide programs of occupational, vocational, technical and technological and career education designed to provide training for immediate employment, job retraining or upgrading of skills to meet individual, community, and state manpower needs;

2. to provide programs of general study including, but not limited to, remediation, general and adult education and continuing education designed to meet individual student goals;

3. to provide programs of study for college transfer representing the first two years of baccalaureate education;

4. to provide community service programs as defined in subsection (b) of this section; and

5. to provide student support services including, but not limited to, admissions, counseling, testing, placement, individualized instruction and efforts to serve students with special needs.