Rough-and-tumble world of innovation
Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?
I have run a 'hybrid' graduate program for the last four-and-a-half years and have struggled (I believe with some success) to introduce and ramp up the use of new technologies in the teaching and learning process. I have worked with many others, both at my university and other universities, doing similar work, and I've found that we face many of the same challenges.
The first thing to realize is that increasing use of technology does not offer short-term help in reducing costs. The up-front investments required for hardware, software, and support infrastructure can be significant. Costs will increase, but over the long run, so can revenues, as the university is able to offer degree programs to greater numbers of potential students. So new learning technologies can be a good longer-term investment.
The more significant problem for university leaders is convincing faculty that embracing new technologies is a good idea. The university president can't simply decree that faculty must start using new technologies to reduce costs and improve quality. Maintaining the quality of a curriculum and developing new formats for teaching and learning require a partnership between faculty and administrators -- and both have to be on board to make it work.
Convincing faculty to 'embrace' new technology and to reengineer higher education is a hard sell for most university presidents. First, faculty are suspicious of fads and new trends in education and are reluctant to modify traditional approaches to university education that have evolved over centuries. Secondly, it can be challenging to train faculty to effectively use these new technologies and help them to appropriately modify their teaching methods. Some of these 'new tricks' can be very intimidating to 'old dogs.'
But as students and the marketplace demand innovative uses of technology, and as younger, more tech-savvy faculty take positions of leadership in universities, new technologies and 'innovative teaching' will be more rapidly introduced and accepted.
Another important new factor in this evolutionary process is the rise of for-profit educational institutions, where business decisions, and not faculty prerogatives, drive the direction and strategies of the institutions. I believe these new competitors will force more rapid innovation amongst the traditional players.
University presidents will have to lead carefully and build consensus by finding allies and champions who support new direction and processes. My recommendation is to fund pilot programs and centers of innovation in on-line and hybrid education. Create financial and other incentives for faculty to experiment with new technologies in their teaching. Publicize their successes and innovations. There is so much innovation on-going in the use of technology in teaching and education, it is hard to keep up.
Leaders in education need to stay plugged-in and continue to cajole, encourage, and promote innovation and experimentation in their institutions.
Is Facebook a fad or is it here to stay? How about Twitter? Linkedin? It's still too soon to tell. What's next? We don't yet know. As popular culture and the marketplace experiment with new technologies for sharing information and ideas, some innovations will stick, and others will be discarded. Some institutions of higher learning have gotten out front and are helping to lead the process of innovation, others are watching and trying to decide if, when, how to adapt. But most of us are convinced that If they don't adapt, they will be left behind. Kind of like in the real world.
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