People First, Educational Technology Second

I’ve been following a thread started by Michael Feldstein on his blog and this last installment, Better Ed Tech Conversations, captures what I’ve observed for years. Whether intentional or not, the element of appropriate human involvement that should be embedded within technology selection at educational institutions tends to be very broken.

All too often today in education, we tend to get swept away by the potential embedded in technology. There is immense possibility woven into what technology can provide and it is easy to focus energy toward new possibilities and investment in innovation. What is often missed, sadly, are the people – the faculty and students who apply and are impacted by the technology choices an institution makes and mandates. The people make education possible; technology is useless without them.

I was reminded today that for most of my career, I’ve tried to place the student at the center of the learning process. Learning isn’t about the educational technologist nor the technology choice; it is about the student and his/her interaction an educator, regardless of grade level, delivery mode or anything else. Technology enables that interaction and sometimes, the right technology isn’t high-tech or something that can be tackled through an RFP. The culture of the institution, and its readiness and willingness to invest in evolving its culture with technology, is more of a factor than anything else. As I’ve said for years, one can have the best technology in the world and the most advanced processes for integrating that technology into education, but without the human connection to students and faculty that investment is worthless.

To echo a thread that exists within Feldstein’s posts, appropriately engaging faculty, students and others who are involved in the learning process is not simply a step in an RFP activity, it is a vital dimension for creating a healthy educational technology ecosystem that meshes with the institution, its mission and academic culture. If the cultural connection is broken, selecting a new tool, application or system through an “inclusive and transparent” RFP process won’t fix that. Inclusiveness and transparency have to extend beyond the period of IT evaluation; they need to be part of how technology is selected, used, and evolved within the institution.

Technology decisions today more dramatically affect what is possible and how learning can be achieved within an institution than ever before. People, students, faculty, instructors, local support staff, etc., need to be part of the conversation — not on demand for committee work, but integrated into the prioritization and decision-making both tactically and strategically. Educational technology choices do have far-reaching effects on teaching, learning and institutional health, and without appropriate human involvement in prioritization and decision-making, can have measurable impacts on recruiting, retention, student success, faculty hiring, academic reputation and even accreditation (a situation that I’ve personally observed).

The days of an IT leader or an IT-centric approach toward educational technology decisions that affect pedagogy, and ultimately learning and teaching on a campus are long gone. If the learners and educators are kept at arm’s-length from strategic decision-making and not involved in tactical prioritization, the likelihood of an IT-driven educational technology selection process succeeding is low regardless of how fantastic the “new” technologies and possibilities may be or what an echo-chamber of peer technologists claim. At some point (generally three years), the “new” technology will be old. If the non-IT side of the equation on campus is not properly supported and engaged, there will likely be unrest and calls to seek something new to fix the technology “problem.” Unfortunately, the “problem” will probably be a symptom of a cultural disconnect between IT and its faculty and students rather than an issue within the technology itself.

Learners and educators need to be involved at levels deeper than the committees within an RFP process and occasional advisory groups. They need to have the means to adapt to what technology can bring to education within the context of the institution at a pace appropriate to its academic culture. To do so takes an approach that is both enabling for and inclusive of multiple stakeholders, and include educational technologists and IT leaders as partners who enable possibilities for education, not dictate approaches through disconnected technology decisions.