The Quiet Anniversary
BbWorld ’07 marked the first 10 years of Blackboard as a company, and more importantly the first decade of course management systems being used across campuses, in schools, and by organizations and government agencies. Learning using electronic technology certainly occurred before 1997, but only became systematic and widespread 10 years ago.
Many important accomplishments in the education technology have occurred during those 10 years, and last week the rooms and hallways of the Hynes Convention Center were filled with quiet pride. It was apparent to me that the education technology pioneers, experimentalists and entrepreneurs in attendance had established themselves on their campuses around the world. They and the use of education technologies are no longer considered odd; they are firmly part of the education strategy.
We are on the cusp of further industry advancements in which the traditionalists (the place-based people), those who cannot or will not employ technology to extend, deepen, and make more relevant curriculum, disciplines and community online, are becoming the odd ones out. Unless traditionalists join technology proponents, they are on the verge of becoming the black box technology people we once were seen as.
Good Bye Boundaries
Sitting with 2,000+ conference attendees in the huge auditorium of the Hynes Convention Center, with its multiple 40-foot screens overhead displaying the keynote speakers on stage, the atmosphere was electric – very exciting.
On Tuesday, Dr. Levitt, the renowned University of Chicago economics professor and best-selling co-author of Freakonomics, advised us to view education differently. His irreverent brand of economics-on-the-edge is being embraced by the mainstream.
In his address on Wednesday, “The Art of Innovation,” Mr. Kawasaki, a technology evangelist and venture capitalist, urged us to continue to break the rules and not listen to “the Bozos” – those who may be in charge, but don’t have a vision for success.
Together, these two speakers, who might not have included education in their talks about economics and new technology a year ago, confirmed what the roomful of “edu-preneurs” have been fighting for: meaningful change.
The Quiet “e”
Last week the most important event, and least tangible occurrence, during BbWorld ’07 was the quiet dropping of the “e” from e-Learning. In discussions amongst attendees, presentations and keynote addresses, I didn’t hear the “e.” I think this conference marked an important point in the history of education: the sense that teaching and learning using electronic technology is an experiment is gone.
What does this mean?
We’ve crossed a line. I believe going forward there will be no significant education (i.e. teaching, learning, training and management of the academy) that doesn’t involve technology and the Internet. And the Blackboard community of practice represents this advancement in its most potent form: educators and administrators working together to combine their vision and determination, and deliver learning to millions of people in organized, purposeful and personal ways.
During his keynote Mr. Kawasaki even challenged conference attendees directly when saying, “It’s time to drop the ‘e’ from e-Learning.” The audience – a room full of 2,000+ – erupted into applause.
Technology as the Silent Partner
For institutions and organizations using Blackboard technology, this advancement – the dropping of the “e” – means online infrastructure has become just as important as physical infrastructure. In fact, for some institutions the daily, high-touch activities which occur online are more important to meeting mission-critical objectives.
Education technology leaders understand that for them to do their jobs effectively – to deliver successful academic outcomes, drive research, and manage and account for their progress – enterprise technology acts as an essential partner. And, in the educational process, these innovative leaders have become the strategic partners of campus administration and organization management.
Whereas, discussion during previous BbWorld conferences often revolved around the specs and functions of technology; last week, attendees – who remain immersed in specs and functions – represented the broader pedagogical and financial interests of their institutions and organizations.
This shift in responsibility was obvious to me in the many conversations I had. Instead of simply talking shop, conference attendees sought strategies to implement and develop technologies that deliver institutional results. That’s very different than talking server capacity.
Innovation Goes Mainstream
Amongst audience members during the keynotes sessions at BbWorld ’07, I could feel boundaries quietly disappear – those separating K-12 schools and higher education institutions, between people who consider themselves educators and those who consider themselves trainers, between this country and ones across the world. These psychological boundaries began to give way as we listened to Dr. Levitt and Mr. Kawasaki remind us that the best aspect of a new technology is not its newness, but our ability to achieve more and for more people with that technology.
During the first decade of technology use in education, the goal was to bolster the physical presence of education by extending it inwardly (i.e. making learning more personal) and outwardly (e.g. increasing access and the diversity of offerings). Now I believe the greatest value of education technology is to break the boundaries between people and amongst organizations.
When departing BbWorld ’07, I felt excited by the future of our industry because of the depth of technical knowledge held by, and strategic discussions amongst, conference attendees. I firmly believe education will continue to advance in the next decade because the combination of new, innovative technologies and the creative ways to organize ourselves will be indistinguishable: e-Learning is learning.