What I did on my summer vacation
Last month I completed Educause’s Learning Technology Leadership (LTL) Program, held June 23-27 in Seattle, WA. I have been meaning to post my reflections and have only now gotten around to having a spare moment to share them. The program was targeted at EdTech professionals like me who support and promote teaching and learning in some way or another within a higher education institution. The LTL program was essentially a leadership immersion experience, with a packed agenda and unwavering pace. The fifty or so participants and I were engaged throughout the day and often into the evening, from Monday afternoon and to a mini-graduation ceremony on Friday morning. It was a taxing schedule, especially those of us from the East Coast (and South Africa and Singapore) suffering from jet lag.
Overall I found the program to be meticulously designed and well-organized, with plenty of hands-on activities and team-based work to keep me and the rest of the group engaged. The activities provided ample opportunity for me to get to know the other participants. Even so, with such a large group, I wasn’t able to meet everyone. As usual, I felt a bit like an outlier, both because of my position and level of leadership experience. While many of the participants came from very large institutions, no one worked at a statewide or system level like me. Similarly, no one to my knowledge was involved in advancing higher education policy to the degree I have been during my three years at the VCCS. There was a handful of individual community colleges represented among the many public and private four year schools, which I found refreshing. Those are my peeps, you know.
There were two highlights to the program for me. The first was the completion of the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment (you can find out more about the Strengthsfinder here). The assessment identifies your top five strengths from a list of strengths that are organized into four categories: Executing, Influencing, Relationship, and Strategic Thinking. It wasn’t totally surprising to me that four of my top five strengths were in the Strategic Thinking domain. Having confirmation of this was not only helpful to me in the LTL program but will continue to be useful to me in my work, which hopefully will bring about lots of thinking and strategizing.
The second was a team-based project that required us to to develop a plan to bring significant change to a fictitious institution by applying the concepts of the five day program. The project culminated with a presentation from each group about their ideas, with the program faculty role-playing various higher education archetypes: the tightwad CFO, a self-interested college student, the even more self-interested faculty member, and a “don’t sweat the details” VP of academics. My team pitched repurposing the lecture classrooms of a small community college (Edgewater Community College, named after the conference hotel) into a technology-rich active learning classroom, with modular furniture and configurable student workstations to support learner-centered, collaborative instruction.
Some Random Take-aways
- The field of educational technology still doesn’t quite know what it is. This is reflected through the nomenclature used by professionals working in this field: we are IT, ET, EdTech, Instructional Designers, and Instructional Technologists. Some of us are considered administrators. Some of us are faculty. Some are staff. The field is amorphous and poorly defined.
- Despite this, unlike CIOs, “educational technologists” typically reside within a organizational hierarchy that makes it difficult for them to lead effectively. As information technologists advance toward becoming CIOs, their expertise remains in InfoTech. But to advance one’s educational technology career means moving away from teaching and learning technologies to areas like transfer, student services, and research.
- I think the promise of the LTL program and programs like it is to help better define my field as well as create more opportunities for EdTech professionals to lead.
- You gotta walk the talk: leading is much easier if you also a teach.
- Academic freedom is actually a thing, as in a formal set of principles drafted by the American Association of University Professors in 1940. I had no inkling about this. I thought academic freedom was like the famous definition of pornography: “You know it when you see it.” Having a better understanding of AF will help me address conversations with concerned faculty in the future. I plan to write a separate post on this topic.
- Effective communication is a crucial aspect of successful leadership. But effective communication is no longer a simple matter of sending out a blanket email to all faculty and staff. The communications landscape is now extremely fragmented, and this fragmentation has added new layers of complexity to messaging, PR, and information sharing.
Have you participated in the LTL program before, or one like it? I’d be interested in any thoughts or reflections you had about the program’s value to you, personally, professionally, or both.