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While there are obvious individual champions among the members of the higher education community such as Arizona State’s Michael Crow, Austin Peay’s Tristan Denley, Kansas State’s Michael Wesch, and Bryan Alexander, the truth is that most of higher education is deeply ambivalent (or perhaps only superficially passionate) about the promise of technology for improving student outcomes or easing the costs of teaching and learning. This ambivalence and its corollary intrinsic trust in non-technological solutions, when mixed with autonomy or independence in the scholarly culture, undermine the effectiveness and increase the cost (versus benefit) of technology use. Perhaps the one technological solution that most, if not all, in higher education wish for is an interactive alternative to textbooks to give students more for the dollar and to match the life they lead while supplementing the classroom.
“Using social media and CRM-based online communities are essential to scaling our services rapidly without increasing costs proportionately”
A Comprehensive View for All Customers
The problems are internal and external. Internally, as all industries, higher education is awash in data. Add to it that colleges and universities share their data, and the haystack gets even bigger. What we lack most are the focus, discipline, and attention span required to prioritize decision making for tough challenges to the business model and its underlying assumptions. Externally, the problem is that the customers do not make a 360-degree view of them very easy. The moment we have put them in the demographically, psychographically segmented and stratified bucket we have inferred from their demonstrated behaviors or stated preferences, they change them. What else would one expect when the customer is between eighteen and twenty-two years old?
In Need of a Dynamic Technology
Education needs its customers—students, parents, employers, and community members—to be its partners and providers. The key to increasing capacity and eliminating a primary constraint depends upon doing so. Technology that opens the institution up—from the university model in which the institution is a nearly self-sufficient universe to an “extraversity” that opens the institution to partners in business, society as a whole, and offers immensely greater transparency. Using social media and CRM-based online communities are essential to scaling our services rapidly without increasing costs proportionately.
Most of my current nightmares are at the low end of the value-scale, so my wish list would start with less expensive ERP options for higher education. The solutions that have been offered for many years have involved rapacious vendors offering little more than hostage situations, and the pain is palpable. Solutions have always been a few months away, and they continue to be.
Second on my solution wish list is another item far from the mission—audio-visual tools. Most technology use is based on nothing more than convenience, and audio-visual tools are convenient, until they are not. Unlike printing, scanning, and copying tools or computing and storage tools where simple, resilient, nearly bullet-proof solutions exist, the AV industry is constantly pushing toward cool-but-fragile solutions that have little potential to make possible any sort of educational breakthroughs but hold the potential to bring the day to a screeching halt.
Technology That Would Transform the Industry
It would be hard not to focus almost entirely on algorithms. We are not users so much as we are used. Cathy O’Neil paints a vivid picture of the way that we as individuals are used by them, and she alludes in several chapters to the way that entire industries are used by them. Higher education is one that she explores in depth, and in the way she depicts them being used negatively she is right. On the positive side, the use of algorithms in self-paced, self-guided, independent learning could transform education entirely. We have already seen these developments for high school students, for Defense Department training, and for employers. We would expect to see it grow for higher education, as well.