Field of View

These days I find myself reading a fair amount about cross-over ideas and adjacent perspectives. The basic premise is that when a body of knowledge or practice from an adjacent field crosses over to another field unexpected breakthroughs can occur. Following fields outside your comfort zone can challenge existing beliefs.

I know that diverse perspectives and cross-functional teams are critical to moving forward, but this recent set of readings are telling me that I need to look further afield. John Maxwell reminds us that “there’s a gap between where we stand, and where we’re trying to go” and “we have to be aware of this space and prudent when crossing it.” So I’m thinking about where I stand, where I’m going, and filling the gap in between.

First, where I stand. Higher ed and specifically the areas of academic change and innovation; online, distance, professional, post-traditional, and continuing education; and the alignment of higher ed with workplace, economic development, and community needs.

I follow practices in a bunch of adjacent sectors – K12 education, science education, entrepreneurship, business, management, leadership, marketing, social media, and the life sciences. Following these fields has been useful and productive. But in some I find the usefulness is waning. The lessons are becoming redundant and the breakthroughs they yield for me are less impactful.

So I’m looking at three new areas to follow to energize a breakthrough mindset:

1. Learning Science: I know, this seems like it’s already in my wheelhouse. It should be, but ironically it’s not. Despite having been a faculty member, one who’s developed new programs and courses, and one who’s led the adoption of differentiated teaching, learning, and delivery models for varied student segments … I know next to nothing about the inner workings of how we learn. Sure, I know about preferred learning styles, successful study and learning strategies, and pedagogical and delivery models and institutional factors that contribute to student learning. But about what happens in the brain to achieve learning … I know nothing.

This is a huge gap and I suspect that the same is true for many of my colleagues. I need to follow learning and cognitive science to kick my work up a notch! How can I best support student learning if I don’t have a grasp on our evolving understanding of how we learn at the cellular and molecular levels? And having originally trained in the life sciences I’m looking forward to getting back to my roots – bonus!

2. Information Science: I recently attended the 2016 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference and sessions on the Internet of Things (IoT) the use of analytics in higher ed. They’ve set me to thinking on the micro level about how the activity tracking device I’m wearing integrates with the IoT, and on a macro level about how information is collected, classified, manipulated, analyzed, shared, understood, and used. There’s little doubt that growing use of analytics in higher ed has great potential to enhance student success. But increasingly I find myself asking: Are we looking at the appropriate situational data? Do the users of analytics have the required and appropriate level of data literacy? And how can we capture, consider, and use qualitative, anecdotal, and non-traditional data with the same efficiency and effectiveness as quantitative data?

It’s estimated that there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, and on average each person will own and use 8 such devices. Together they have the ability to sense and communicate, and to produce, share, and integrate data. The scale, capabilities, and potential impact on teaching and learning nudge me to learn more. As with the application of any educational technology, the use of IoT devices should be driven by their pedagogical value rather than their whiz-bang appeal. Just as we think about how to move from the lower to higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, in using IoT devices how will we move students from the lower to higher levels of the knowledge pyramid: sense – data – information – knowledge – wisdom?

3. Agile Software Development: No, I’m not planning to become a software engineer. I’m intrigued, though, by the processes involved in agile software development. Its core concepts are iterative development, risk management, and transparency intended to produce quick and collaborative results. These principles might provide a framework for experimentation within a risk-adverse, complex, and tradition-bound higher ed system. I’m curious how agile processes can be harnessed to solve some of the seemingly intractable problems in higher ed. How can academic and administrative experiments can be conducted for the purpose of solving big overarching problems in low stakes but meaningful ways, and by means that are both within and separate from the current structures and flow of our institutions?

So now I ask you … What cross-over ideas and adjacent perspectives are you following, and are they far enough afield to nurture a breakthrough mindset?

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