Monday, August 10, 2009

A. How to use TLT to Attract People & Resources (10 Things I Believe)`

To attract attention, people and money to your program (and to do some other good things), use technology to support important changes in how students learn, what they learn, who can learn, and what it costs for them to learn. This series of posts is about how to do that successfully. Each week, I'll suggest a commonsense suggestion now seems misleading or even false to me; the earlier post this week was about attracting people and resources by spending big bucks on a hot new technology. The second post each week suggests an alternative strategy that is more likely to achieve long term success. Today's counter-suggestion: to attract resources, use technology to help support an emerging academic strength of your program. This strength may depend crucially on some use of technology but will usually not be defined by that technology.

For example, in 1973, Alverno College was a small, obscure Catholic women's college in Milwaukee. That year they began to develop an abilities-focused curriculum. In the decades since, Alverno has become a global leader in this arena. That's one reason the College was recently named one of the nation's top ten institutions for teacher preparation by the George Lucas Educational Foundation and why so many educators and policy makers visit Alverno each year. In early years of this work, Alverno pioneered the use of video recording for assessing student performance (e.g., skills of group work). In recent years, they have developed a distinctively useful electronic portfolio system for their students. They used technology one of many tools to develop their academic strength.

Another example: Over the last decade, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has become well known for its popular study abroad program. Thanks in part due adroit use of common technology, most WPI juniors now work on team projects while studying abroad for a term. It took many years for WPI to build the relationships, skill sets, and reputation needed for the program to expand to its current scale. But, for that reason, their lead over competing institutions in this area can't be erased just because another university has bought into a new technology (or built an expensive building, or hired a high profile professor). And WPI's home page today reports that, according to, WPI graduates are in the top 10 nationally for starting salaries.

A third example: In 1969, MIT became one of the first institutions in the country to create an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Computing and the Internet have vastly expanded the variety and importance of these undergraduate projects. Over the years a growing fraction MIT's staff and students have become participants, and UROP has gradually become a major asset to MIT's recruitment.

Technology isn't the star at any of these programs. But each institution has made pragmatic use of technology to continually develop the programmatic strength that has made them so visible and attractive over recent decades.

So focus on how students learn as you think about using technology as a lever to make your program more attractive to students, potential staff, benefactors and others. I stress 'how students learn' because we're talking technology, and technology is a tool for doing things. So what do you want your graduates, students, and faculty to become known for doing? Undergraduate research? 21st century communications skills? teamwork? their response to climate change? ethical behavior? community engagement? Every new year new academic options are opened, and others are enriched, by the increasing range of inexpensive, flexible technologies.

Achieving this kind of academic success will usually a range of improvements across your program: staff skills, curriculum, library and other support resources, relationships outside the institution, and more. It can take many years before your success is real, visible, and widely valued by the world. By that time, this year's hot new technology will have long ago become irrelevant, so it's usually a bad bet to start your planning with such a technology.

Instead, ask yourselves, 'How can we use today's (or yesterday's) technology to take the next step toward distinctive strength for our program?" Consider technology that is easy to learn, inexpensive to maintain, and flexible for use in changing circumstances. Rely only on technologies that are likely to be painless to replace and/or extremely long-lived; if the vendor goes out of business, would your staff or faculty need to develop new materials or skills?

Measure of success for this strategy: is the academic program developing sufficient visibility and reputation to attract people and resources (relative to competing programs), over many years? (But don't expect your admirers and supporters to know exactly what technologies you're currently using!)

QUESTION: Have you seen degree programs or institutions that have used technologies as key ingredients to enhance distinctive educational strengths (what their students do as they learn, and what their students can do after graduation)? What lessons do you learn from how they achieved that technology-enabled success?

PS Next week: what I once believed, and what I now believe, about how to use technology to improve learning outcomes, and what kind of evaluation is most likely to reveal the value (or lack of value) of those changes in learning.

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