Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Ends of ODDs -- Other Digital Divides

Last update: Thursday 2/8/18

Like most Black advocates of ed tech, I maintained a long-time focus on closing the so-called "Digital Divide". As I use this term, it refers to the gap between the digital haves and have-nots, too many of whom are Black Americans. I firmly believed that educational technology would provide the leverage required to bridge this gap.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the importance of two other "digital divides" ==> (1) the gap between academics who embrace educational technologies and those who remain deeply suspicious ... and (2) the gap between academic advocates and the entrepreneurs who earn profits from these technologies. 

A few years ago I was forced into "voluntary" retirement. After 40 years' employment at a prominent university, I had blundered into the cross-fire between sincere on-campus opponents of ed tech and an OPM (online program management) corporate partner who double-crossed me. My high-minded adversaries in the professoriate focused on the long-term "damage" from ed tech they misperceived; whereas my treacherous corporate partner focused on short-cuts that might generate larger short-term profits. I was blown aside by this lethal collision of ignorance, sincere and greedy.

The good news is that rising mounds of supportive data make me ever more confident that the sincere academic luddites and the greedy corporate luddites will both lose. Indeed, I believe that both "wars" have already been won. What we are witnessing now are a protracted series of bloody, counter-productive, rear-guard skirmishes with both luddite armies who are in slow, but full retreat. 
  • As more and more younger faculty who were educated in innovative homes, schools, and colleges that embraced the new technologies gain tenure, the votes of these digital natives will become decisive on the curriculum committees of more and more U.S. colleges and universities.
  • On the other hand, I believe that the current generation of greedy edtech entrepreneurs, including some with academic pedigrees, who gauge success in terms of short-term profits measured in millions of dollars will soon be replaced by "truly greedy" well-financed visionaries who will measure their success in terms of long-term profits measured in billions.

    Why? Because the truly greedy will recognize that in global economies driven by accelerating innovations in technology, education and training will become some of the largest, if not THE largest and most profitable sectors. Ironically, the truly greedy will find it easier to share fellowship with the high-minded academic rear guard because they won't be so quick to toss aside productive long-standing academic innovations like required textbooks, course prerequisites, and mentorship until they can replace them with more effective high-tech alternatives.

    I also believe that the truly greedy corporate partners will show more courage and patience in supporting recent academic innovations, like competency-based education (CBE), than traditional academic institutions.
But the bad news is that I no longer have the confidence that I had when I was a newly tenured member of the faculty forty years ago. I am no longer certain that innovations in educational technology will be embraced fast enough by enough colleges and universities to close the original Digital Divide.

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