The more I get to know the numerous quality people at CUNY who understand technology, the more hopeful I am that CUNY may achieve significant improvements in teaching with technology. As many of my blog entries indicate, as an institution, we can be doing much better on this score. However, Ann Kirshner’s article in the April 8th Chronicle Review, has bolstered my spirits. In an article entitled, “Innovations in Higher Education? Hah!” the author, University Dean at the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, has the courage to address the major issue in higher education today, institutional inertia.
Dr. Kirschner writes of her 10-year stint in the private sector leading a major technology/media business and returning to academia after a decade to find “the basic building blocks of higher education — its priorities, governance, instructional design, and cost structure — have barely budged.” This pace of change, “somewhere between sluggish and glacial,” is in sharp contrast to other industries and sectors of the economy that have undergone fundamental shifts.
Higher education has been immune to such changes up to this point since they hold a virtual monopoly on the credentialing process, an educational fortress that is beginning to show some major cracks as “disruptive technologies” and the rise of alternative credentials begin to threaten some of that hegemony. “The ultimate threat to universities could come from the disaggregation of the degree, as students take advantage of the growing availability of open-source learning networks to present evidence of competency to prospective employers.”
Her article deserves a close read. She argues that several factors produce educational inertia including:
- A decentralized decision-making structure that makes any significant change in the academy a daunting task. “No wonder most presidents focus more of their time on fund-raising and burnishing the prestige of their brand than on the dangerous work of reinventing the university.”
- University trustees who believe their role is to support the current administration, and accrediting agencies, “which are the watchdogs of the status quo.”
- Faculty governance and rules of tenure that preserve faculty prerogatives, often at the expense of better teaching, new teaching methods, and incorporation of technology into the curriculum.
- And, an educational monopoly on offering credentials that is being eroded by for-profit colleges, online learning, difficulty of many college graduates to find work (while incurring record debt in the process), and state budgetary constraints.
To her list of factors producing inertia, I would add the following factors:
- Outright faculty resistance to teaching with technology, online learning, or any significant changes to the traditional mode of teaching, particularly with older, tenured faculty, often over-represented in faculty governance structures;
- Lack of a clear vision of instructional technology on campuses and in the central office; and
- Inability to understand and implement a strategic planning process that recognizes the threats and opportunities in the current higher educational landscape and addresses these via a coherent strategic planning process that is integral to institutional decision–making.
More can be said, but it will wait for future posts. The takeaway from Dr. Kirschner’s article is that more leaders within CUNY and other large institutions need to speak and write about the imperative for the academy to change. Admittedly, it is my belief that technological changes are coming at too fast a pace for the bureaucratic structures within higher education to adapt. Yet with forward-thinking, courageous academic leaders like Ann Kirschner, I feel more hopeful that the future might be one in which we may fully embrace the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning at this institution.
Kirschner, A., “Innovation in Higher Education-Hah,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 13, 2012, p. B6-B9. Retrieved at: http://chronicle.com/article/Innovations-in-Higher/131424/