Teaching & Learning

Getting There From Here


Last week I posted a blog about our Strategic Learning Technologies initiative(s).  We’ve got a big job ahead of us, and it’s both exciting AND intimidating being in the first stages.  But I wanted to add a bit more ‘meat’ to the bones of the comments.  I’ll continue to do so over time.  This concept is important…consequential to driving and empowering just about everything important to us at Saint Leo.  So we have to strive to get this right…

Imagine If…

FromScratchI was in Hong Kong a few years ago talking with some of the Chinese officials when the topic of a massive and bold project came up - to create a city from scratch.  Imagine building a city without worrying about existing infrastructure.  Imagine creating a place for people to live based on what we know to be effective, efficient, globally aware, conscientious of people’s needs, etc.  Car-free, far less C02 emissions, less waste, and on and on the goals, yet livable by tens of thousands of people in a relatively small footprint are some of the desired outcomes for Tianfu.  So, when I first asked my audience what the district was doing to improve or change schools, I was a bit surprised when these educators were silent.  They had no idea.

But it sparked a great object lesson I’ve used dozens of times since.  Imagine creating an education system from scratch.  Imagine creating a school structure that makes the best uses of neuroscience, learning research, and education technology.  Imagine a school system where authentic problems are catalysts for learning.  Imagine approaching education from a student-centric place, worrying about learning first and classroom management second.  Imagine.

Well, due to some circumstances that are both in and out of our control, Saint Leo finds itself in the position to reimagine (and then implement) our Learning Technology infrastructure.  We get to create a “do-over” in some respects – building a system based on today’s best practices instead of just glomming onto legacy products.

Framework of Firsts

We’ll get there as painlessly as possible by using a series of “first” filters: integration first, students first, partnerships first, outcomes first, and tomorrow first.  Let’s unpack that a bit.

  • Integration first: I’ve watched or participated in 750-1000 RFP’s in my time.  And in my estimation, less than 5% have ever been a true success.  One of the biggest reasons why is ‘the list’ of functionality created during the process.  You know these lists.  The MUST-HAVE widget or process that one professor just cannot possibly teach without or the lynch-pin button that an administrator will use 3,000 times per day, so it must be in the offering, etc.  I’ve seen these lists, ad nauseum.  And the existence of these lists have led to hurt feelings, vicious political struggles, and ultimately to far less satisfied users of technology.  Starting with the faculty member who cannot possibly teach without X, Y, or Z tool, these lists will never be met in full.  So, there is going to be sets of stakeholders who are disappointed.  Their feelings hurt at not getting a desired button, tool, or page type, they will hate the new system and likely not give it a chance.  As well, you have set up a ‘bake-off’ for vendors.  (Note – NOT partners….see ‘Partnership First’ below.)  The vendors are now demonstrating functionality without any concept of story or connectedness.  The end result?  The school misses out on possible new workflows, processes, or even simple functionality they never even knew to ask for.
  • FirstsOutcomes first: We’re going to tell the technology companies what our goals are and see how they can meet said goals.  Sure, we’ll start with the question, “What are we going to miss or lose if we leave X for your product?”  (BTW – this is a far better question than forcing a demonstration of current functionality.  Although if you only want a vendor to drop off some software and leave, then starting from a place of mistrust is likely a good start.)  But then we’ll ask for demonstrations of workflow, process, and functionality that support our intended outcomes.  Is authentic assessment important to you?  Then ask your technology companies to demonstrate 3 or 5 or 7 ways by which to accomplish that.  You may find some very new, innovative ways to accomplish what you’re already after anyway.
  • Students first: Anyone who claims to be student centric should take stock of how many work-arounds students perform in your learning technologies vs faculty.  How many sign-in pages must students use vs administrators?  Students first means creating as seamless a workflow as possible, yielding the best, most empowering tools for students along the way.  Might that mean more work for your faculty or staff?  Possibly.  But they are paid to do that work by those students at the end of the day.  Oh, one other thing this means for us – student-centric data.  You can’t really claim your learning system is student focused if all of the data being used is sent to everyone BUT students.
  • Partnerships first: I’m more likely to choose a small, new company on the way up, than an old, “top dog” these days.  Why?  Partnership.  In my experience, large companies struggle being a partner.  Try telling the biggest companies in an industry to make a change or customize an experience and you’ll be put on the waiting list.  Tell an up-and-comer that you’d like a customization and they often see it as product enhancement.  I want someone I can call, day or night, with an issue, a bug fix, an idea, or a problem and who will respond by listening and really trying to find a win-win solution.  We don’t need to be put in the client service queue, have our requests added to the litany of other suggestions received, and experience no follow-up.
  • Tomorrow first: I will predict that most companies who pitch us will explain that they are developing “mobile first” in 2015.  Good.  They should be thinking like that.  But so should we.  We may not be teaching in a “mobile first” way today, but we could be…very soon.  CBE?  It’s crucial to be agile and ready for that concept, whether we go all-in or only make it a component of our modality portfolio.   In other words, we cannot simply build to the needs of today – we must try to build a system that allows us to teach well into tomorrow.

There is more to all of this of course.  Plug-n-play is crucial – we cannot feel overly dependent on any single technology.  As well, connectedness is likely the most important ribbon, threading through our ecosystem.  We must do our best job connecting people, culture, community, cause, curriculum, and on and on.

The road ahead is long, but the trip does not have to be daunting.  We have great people to travel with and we know so much more about the vehicles and the destination than we ever have before.  It’s time to hit the road.

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer


About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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