Four Takeaways from EDUCAUSE 2011 in Philadelphia

by Hap Aziz

The joy of EDUCAUSE is most often the most challenging thing about it as well; that is, much more transpires in the handful of conference days than can be possibly absorbed by any single attendee. This year, of course, was no different, and over the years of my own attendance, I’ve learned to look as much for overall trends as well as individual items of interest in the conference sessions and vendor exhibitions.

This year four particular topics stood out to me as being significant; I make no claims that these were the top four items of importance, but these certainly rank among the most significant in terms of trends within higher education. Additionally, these topics  are greatly important in the consumer sector, which would indicate both broad appeal and applicability in the marketplace and in the teaching and learning environment.

Intellectual Property and the Free Flow of Information

In his session “The Remixed University,” Hal Abelson of MIT made the case that open access and flow of information is essential to the learning mission across all higher education institutions. While apparent on its face, the ongoing consolidation over the past several years of academic publishers (along with the increasing costs for information subscription and use) is increasingly at odds with the whole concept of information accessibility. Intellectual property rights as currently administered stand in opposition to the model of information free-flow as enabled by the Internet. Abelson proposed a scenario of collective bargaining of faculty over the rights for their own academic work, thus affording more flexibility and creativity in sharing. This is a topic that does not look to be easily resolved in the near future, and there may be some short-term pain as the market for academic intellectual property finds its level.

The Mobilization of Academic Infrastructure

Even a casual look at the marketplace will show clearly the influence of mobile devices on consumer behavior and patterns of information production and consumption. As a result of the compelling nature of these consumer devices (smartphones and tablets), they have been introduced into the teaching and learning environment, and there is tremendous pressure to integrate them for a variety of uses in curriculum and instruction. However, these new devices are more than a replacement for outmoded technology and techniques, and the required redesign of educational processes as well as institutional infrastructure will be quite challenging, time consuming, and resource intensive. How quickly institutions are able to upgrade their processes and infrastructure will greatly determine how they will be perceived by current and future generations of students.

Social Media as a Tool for Learning Engagement

Beginning several years before the development and widespread use of smart mobile devices, but now inextricably tied with their expansion in marketplace numbers, social media tools and outlets are becoming an expectation within higher education among students as well as faculty (and other interested parties). The institutional uses have been peripheral to the teaching and learning endeavor at first, often related to marketing institutional presence and engaging students in extra-curricular activities. However, now social media is finding tremendous use in the facilitation of direct student engagement in the classroom. Faculty have adopted social media tools in their own courses, and vendors–new and established–are even now offering LMS solutions with integrated social media functionality. The trend is clear.

Data Transparency and Transportability

From institutions, organizations, product and services vendors, to the United States government, there were representatives making the case that data related to the teaching and learning endeavor needs to be open and transparent in order to leverage the true value, and the data needs to be standards-based across systems (non-vendor specific) and ultimately owned by the student rather than an institution. This concept speaks to the perfect storm of the above three takeaways: intellectual property, infrastructure mobilization, and social media. In order for the education industry to make best use of the range of data it gathers, that data cannot be restricted to institutional or product silos. There are several initiatives underway (such as data.ed.gov) to facilitate collaboration in the development of these open data standards. When students have complete ownership of their own academic data, they will have greater control and engagement in their academic career path.

Other Thoughts

Did you identify other areas at EDUCAUSE that deserve mention and consideration? Please feel free to share them here!

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