Each year, I leave EDUCAUSE with impressions of the state of academic technology in higher education that are extremely biased by my own interests and preferences, the specific sessions I attended, and even the physical environment in which the conference took place. This year, EDUCAUSE was in Seattle, so I was well-caffeinated for most of the sessions. Apparently, there is a city ordinance that you must have a Starbucks cup in your hand at all times, that your coffee order must take at least 5 minutes to describe to the barista, and that it must include the word “pumps.” Taking this into account, here are my personal impressions from EDUCAUSE 2007:

  • I dream of Spellings. Last year, Blackboard’s self-destruction, the emergence of Moodle, advances in open/community source initiatives, and the continued development of open educational resources gave me hope that higher education was finally taking care of its own business. This year, I felt bombarded by the message, “Something’s coming, you aren’t ready for it, and you better get your act together.” We are being pushed and pulled by external forces that all seem to include the word “outcomes.” When I close my eyes, I see Margaret Spellings chasing me down the street with a ruler. She is yelling, “Show me that the money you just spent on DyKnow has led to the achievement of learning outcomes!” “No…no…you just have to trust me,” I scream. But it’s too late.     
  • Is the commercial LMS doomed? I left EDUCAUSE this year with the impression that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the comprehensive, commercial learning management system (LMS). In trying to do everything, these applications have never really done anything particularly well. For awhile, these tools were the only game in town and institutions were forced to pick their poison. Now we have choices and tools like Blackboard and Desire2Learn are looking very 20th Century. Rapid growth in the adoption of these tools has uncovered major scalability problems. An emerging service-oriented model is allowing us to modularize the functions that were always bundled in a comprehensive LMS (e.g., content management, asynchronous collaboration, virtual meetings, testing) and invest in those modules that are most important to us. The Web 2.0 shift has reminded us that software can actually be usable, inexpensive, and fun. Today, it’s much more difficult to answer the question, “So why are we paying 100K a year for Blackboard?” I don’t think there will be a reasonable answer to this question in a few short years. These tools have served their purpose and now it’s time to move forward.
  • No faculty bashing. At every previous EDUCAUSE, there has always been at least one session where the presenter said something like, “Well I work with faculty…and you know how they are.” The audience then chuckled/groaned and there was much eye-rolling. I am pleased to report that I witnessed none of that this year. In fact, I have never seen more faculty in attendance. I think most IT professionals understand that instructors actually know what’s going on and that there would be no servers or student information systems to manage if it wasn’t for faculty. I think most faculty understand that there is a wonderful world of reliable and potentially beneficial tools out there and that IT professionals are motivated to help them leverage those tools to support learning. 
  • The promise of the commons. Just about every session that I attended this year had something to do with creating, integrating, combining, and sharing resources within a virtual community. As is our tendency in higher education, many of us have been talking a good game for years but have been either too frightened or too confused to take action. This year, I left EDUCAUSE believing that the learning commons was actually taking shape and that WSU could participate. Technologically, it has never been easier to create and share knowledge. Psychologically, I think we are closer than ever before to finally shaking free of the anxieties and insecurities that have prevented us from realizing our full potential as a group. My major take-away from the conference was a renewed commitment to help WSU join the learning commons, make meaningful contributions of our own, and find ways to share, partner, and collaborate with others within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and beyond.  
  • I must have an iPhone. There must be some academic justification for me to have an iPhone. How about someone collaborating with me on an “Impact of the iPhone on Higher Education” project? Seriously…if I could just have an iPhone, I won’t ask for any more technology for the rest of the year.

The call for pre-conference sessions and presentations for EDUCAUSE 2008 in Orlando is already out. Deadlines are January 14th and February 11th, respectively. Maybe I will see you there.

Ken

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