Because they require us to change, and most of us aren’t ready or able to.
At South by Southwest EDU, I had the chance to see Michael Staton, Brian Co, and representatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation speak about next generation student support technologies. As the panelists explained quite eloquently how their products could impact retention and student success, I was participating in the back channel and received the following tweet:
@lizgross144 Tech vendors do like to say, “Our product will work with your processes. No need for policy/procedure changes.” Never true.
— Tim Bond (@TimBond) March 8, 2012
— Liz Gross (@lizgross144) March 8, 2012
During the seven years I’ve worked on college campuses, very rarely have I seen vendor technology successfully implemented in a way that changes how we work, or reaches the full potential impact on student success. By and large, I don’t think this is the fault of the vendor or the product. I think it’s our fault.
On many college campuses, the policies, procedure, and infrastructure that make up our student support services have not changed much over the last 15-20 years. In many cases, the people in mid-level and senior positions haven’t changed much either. Neither have the associated job descriptions. Entrepreneurs are pitching products at us constantly, some of which truly have potential to change the way we serve students. But, changing the way we serve students requires us to change how we do things.
Our day-to-day practices, which generally need to be changed when we adopt new technology, are entrenched in complicated, institution-wide systems. The common practice of implementing new ed tech in one department without over-arching change management is like putting new tires on a car with 250,000 miles on it and hoping for improved performance.
Thinking about this issue led me to a series of questions:
- When someone comes to our campus with a great technology solution, how much responsibility lies on us to manage the implementation?
I say it’s an awful lot, and we rarely plan for this.
- On campus, are we anywhere near as innovative as the entrepreneurs in the ed tech space?
Maybe on a few select campuses, but over all I’d argue that we’re not.
- Is there any type of movement in higher ed to encourage innovation?
I’m not thinking about grants for innovative projects. I’m thinking about institutions changing their job descriptions to attract a different type of person. I cannot remember ever sitting on a hiring panel where we rated candidates on their ability to innovate.
- Are current campus/university employees being trained/mentored to manage innovative change in a way that makes it stick and impact student outcomes as intended?
No, once a year seminars don’t count.
There was a lot of chatter at SXSW EDU about the preponderance of vendors in attendance. At a conference that espouses innovation in education, I’m not surprised by this. Vendors and entrepreneurs are trying to get us to change the way we do things. Often, we’re pushing back with excuses why we can’t change.
Today’s college student is not the same as the student that came through our doors when we created our current processes. Many of our students never come through doors at all. It’s time for higher education to wake up and realize we are what needs to change. As Ghandi said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”
I’d love to hear stories of campuses that are truly changing the way they do business and serve students in the twenty-first century. Please, share your thoughts in the comments.