Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I sent to our vice provost

One of the reasons I enjoy my work is because I am often challenged to think.  That's a good thing.  So, having been challenged (asked) by our new vice provost for distance education about my objection to the use of "innovative technology" to describe our distance education strategy, I took some time to consider my objection:

There's a reason I am not in marketing, despite having been assured many times that I'd be "perfect" in that role.  I can understand why people might think I'd be a fit for marketing, when the reality is that I am a questioner, a challenger, and, when I believe in something, a persuader.  Marketing tends to be selling the sizzle, creating the buzz, etc.  It's important and brands are built that way, but it's not what I do best.  

Unless I'm overlooking something (or it's somewhere on campus that I haven't been), my university is behind in our pursuit of quality distance education.  That's actually the good news, because the innovators take the risks, make the mistakes, and blaze the path.  It's the ones who come later (second movers or those who adapt to survive) who can learn from the mistakes and offer a better product.  

I don't see innovative technology on our campus.  We have some of the basics (Blackboard, Skype, some pockets of other technologies, etc.) and some very large holes that even the two-year colleges within our system have filled better than we have.  So, from my perspective, only a marketer could describe our technology as innovative and cutting edge.  

But what we DO have are innovative ideas, innovative people, and a system-wide spirit of innovation to address the opportunity and challenge of the things you've articulated very well (below).  What I'd like to see us do is not simply copy or play catch-up with others in this space, but to step back, start without any pre-conceived ideas, and see what possible solutions our innovation can provide.  Innovative solutions.

One example:  Our system does not function as a system, but as disparate and, sometimes, competing entities.  That wouldn't matter, perhaps, except that the big losers are the students we are trying to serve.  If I am a student (traditional college age or older student who is seeking a college degree later in life), the system is a morass of conflicting and confusing offerings.  If I am fortunate enough to find one of the two-year colleges who offer me a mostly (or fully) distance/online schedule and I work diligently to gain my associates degree, then what?  The majority of the distance/online offerings at my campus are graduate degrees, which are of no use to me at all until/unless I complete two more years of online offerings (which could be blended and include some monthly or weekly sessions at my local high school or library).  Where in the system can I find the solution to my problem?  And why is that not one of the questions we are addressing?

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