So we’re about 20 hours into this week, and so far I’ve spent over 10 of those hours on drafting an academic technology plan for my institution.
I have trouble explaining why it’s so hard to draft, but perhaps if you’ve ever tried to tie a policy document into the greater fabric of policy documents at your college or large corporation, you’ll understand. What seems to be happening is I’m coming at this downward, from the broad objectives of the college, and then trying to fit my thinking into that framework. Like all policy documents, it has to be a bit of a magic trick — I have to show how the aims of the college have led to this approach to technology the whole time.
But of course, my understanding of technology doesn’t really descend from the aims of the college. It comes from a lifetime of solving problems using computers and networks, from ten years of applying technology to “academic” problems, and from political blogging, where it’s become really apparent to me that even in areas where problems are not technical that a creative orientation to technology can quite literally allow students to change the world.
So here, completely off the top of my head, 15 minutes before the meeting where I will present my tortured institutional draft of the AT plan — here is what I would *like* to it to say:
We’ll use technology to help students and faculty to change the world. Sometimes that means pulling together people to colloborate and solve a sticky problem. Sometimes it means providing a service that no one has thought to provide. Sometimes it means setting up a Learning Management System to automatically import a student roster so that a professor can spend that time with students instead of Excel. Ultimately if you can show us an interesting problem, we can tell you how technology and network thinking can address it better. The more it would improve the world relative to the effort required, the higher it goes in the queue.
We’ll graduate students who think creatively about technology and loose processes. Today’s world belongs to the systems analyst, the person who understands that a loose process is as much a machine as a tightly programmed circuit board. The person that understands where it makes sense to encode a process in a circuit board, and where it makes sense to encode a process in a short verbal agreement. The person that knows how to evaluate a process as a whole, and swap out the defective or inefficient bits, and improve what they do incrementally. Our students when confronted with a task won’t ask where the application is that can do it for them — they’ll assemble new and old technologies in front of them, like a chef reverse engineering a recipe. And they’ll start to mix.
We will bring our own institution (and our learning) into the Networked Age. The Information Age has been supplanted by the Network Age. And while that network is technology-mediated, the ramifications of this transition exceed technology. Students will graduate into jobs that don’t exist yet. They don’t need facts. They need to learn to use the network to learn. We’ll stop teaching them in ways they will never encounter again, and embrace our mission of showing them ways to learn which they can use over their lifetime. This means more wikis and less lecture halls, more Just-in-Time learning, more distributed knowledge. What they need is on the network. Let’s show them how to get it.
Well, time’s up — Have to head to this thing now. That’s not complete, but it’s amazing what you can write in 15 minutes if you start from the direction you entered the issue. And it’s amazing how many hours it takes to write against the grain….