If there was ever any doubt that we are in the midst of a new dot.com boom for education, that doubt was removed at last week’s SXSWEDU. The event brought entrepreneurs and educators to Austin, Texas for four days of panels and a competition for education start-ups. I had the great fun of participating in a panel discussion on “Are Courses a Commodity?” with Myk Garn, Mickey Revenaugh and Michael Horn. Vanessa Dennen and I helped Curt Bonk rehearse his “cage match” answers while sharing beers and ribs at one of the Cengage social events. I enjoyed hearing Bill Gates speak to the crowd about his vision for a transformed education system. It was definitely an interesting mix of energies.
Gotta say, not all of it felt all that good. The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the event with a headline that explicitly named the tensions between entrepreneurs and educators: “At South by Southwest Education Event, Tensions Divide Entrepreneurs and Educators.”
While I was there, I kept hearing that THIS dot.com is different because it’s about education, and because the tech is better and data will inform us and investors are smarter and the market is ready and there are business plans and people aren’t just throwing exuberant ideas at the wall and hoping that something sticks.
I have to say that the confident assurances that this educational technology boom is different just didn’t make me feel any less skeptical. Because in the same way that there are some who really DO believes that MOOCs are the birth of online learning, it is clear that there is an entire generation of investors and entrepreneurs who really DO seem to believe that the ideas thrown against the wall of the 1990s are somehow less legitimate than some of the ideas that are currently being thrown against the wall today.
So let me tell you why this particular new EDU.dot.com isn’t as different as visionaries and investors would have you believe.
It’s because no matter how new your tech is or how great the idea is, or how impressive the possibilities are, or the circumstances, or the bandwidth, or the platform, or the operating system we won’t figure out how to crack the code on transformation until we change the most important part of the equation. And that is the human factor. Eventually it comes down to people being ready to embrace the change. The ability to ride out the hype cycle and get oneself to a true plateau of productivity will all come down to the degree we can induce people to change their ways, completely rethink their practices, and help them figure out how to use new tools toys, apps, and the like to deliver on their promises.
The excitement around innovative technology futures for teaching and learning has energized educational researchers to think broadly and deeply about the possibilities they represent. The venture capital communities’ recognition that education may be ready for its “Internet moment” has also generated massive interest in developing promising ideas for products with commercial consideration.
Between these two exciting arenas of exploration live equally important opportunities for transformation that come from practice-focused solutions contributing to demonstrable improvements in student engagement, faculty performance, and institutional accountability.
People. We’ve got to get ready, too.
Executive Director, WCET
This is a version of a blog post that originally appeared on Ellen’s eLearning Roadtrip blog.