Rob Abel, Ed.D. | August 2019
"One is the loneliest number." —Harry Nilsson
"One is the loneliest number." —Harry Nilsson
"Commitment, and everything that goes with it"—LeAnn Rimes
In the last blog (“Won’t you give me a reason why?”), I wrote about one of the ongoing challenges of achieving effective use of technology in teaching and learning, namely that a “how” or “what” without a clear “why” typically leads to low adoption, low impact, and lack of sustainability. Leadership in edtech—whether at the institutional level or the sector level—requires achieving clarity of “the why.”
The “whys” in edtech have quite a range in terms of their profundity, ranging from the straightforward need to support faculty in what they want to do, to how do we leverage data in a way that is fair, unbiased, and effective? Thus, collaboration with peers/colleagues you can trust can help refine the whys.
When you are a person responsible for making edtech happen at scale, the whys very quickly lead to the hows and whats. The hows and the whats may simply be a matter of choosing among the market options and learning from the choices made by your peers. Again, collaboration you can trust is helpful.
But, what if the “why,” “how,” or “what” is more significant than you can solve on your own? What if they require substantial movement/change in the market? For instance, how do we provide support for a wide array of innovative tools desired by faculty and students via seamless integration while at the same time ensure high quality, actionable, transparent movement of data? Achieving the answer to that requires a committed collaboration that is about creating significant marketplace changes. IMS is all about enabling those changes by attracting a committed, trusted, and effective collaboration of institutions and suppliers who are dedicated to the proposition of high-performance plug-and-play interoperability using open standards.
This is the type of collaboration where parties commit to a long game of development, adoption, and ascertaining of impact. It requires long term involvement among committed partners—those that can move and sustain market change. It’s essential to understand what this is not. It is NOT throwing some standards out to the marketplace and hoping that it will change something. We’ve been through 20 years of that, and it hasn’t worked. Worse, it’s actually hurt in terms of the most serious parties pretty much ignoring all standards work because it just hasn’t resulted in an adequate return on investment—custom integrations were still the coin of the realm with at best lip service to “standards” as needed to respond to RFPs.
Today, things are different. They are not as different as we want—we still have a ways to go. But, thanks to the IMS community, there are a set of leaders (spanning institutions and suppliers) that are committed to changing what happens across the sector for the benefit of their own organization—as well as all those desiring to gain critical mass in enabling new models of education. Do we agree on everything? Of course not. But we are genuinely collaborating in a way that has fundamentally changed the technology experience and gives us hope beyond what any of us can achieve on our own, shaping the future of the edtech ecosystem.More than six years ago I wrote a blog that detailed why IMS Global’s “pay to play” membership model was the best way to enable the changes we seek (Seven Reasons Why A Membership Model is the Best Way to Get to Open Standards in Education). I’m delighted that our impact and growth since then—which were by no means assured—have helped validate those ideas. Thank you for making it all possible!
"Won't you give me a reason why?"—Dave Mason
"Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby"—Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
"There's no easy way to be free"—The Who
In a recent annual review of 2018, from a leading technology industry analyst group specializing in education, there was a summary chart of the “Technology Platform Arms Race” focused on the consumer technology sector.
One of the topics that's always on my mind is, “Does IMS have the best possible model for accelerating and sustaining innovation in educational technology?”
It’s a question whose answer needs to evolve in concert with all the larger goals of the education sector, which are far from resolved despite decades of discussion regarding “education reform.” But we also need to evolve a stable foundation for the future regardless of the current mantra.
IMS is an organization of leaders that are willing to work together to create and shape the future. We’ve become really good at “standards” because this is such a fundamentally missing piece to effective collaboration and return on investment for all stakeholders. The challenge to us as education sector stakeholders is whether we can get beyond the normal reactionary focus on the many shiny objects that are the trees.
The “forest” to me is the goal of enabling institutional leaders to enable what I think of as “Achievement with Distinction.” My own personal opinion is that we are clearly at the beginning of a macro trend that will evolve educational systems from emphasizing “sorting/ranking” to emphasizing “talent development.” I don’t know how long this transition will take—probably at least a couple of decades. But I really don’t see any other direction for education to go to address the inequity, personalization and societal needs that are very clear as we sit here today.
From a technological perspective, the IMS Global view is that it is the full range of education sector stakeholders that “owns” the evolution of the forest, i.e. the educational technology ecosystem. However, much of the tech world is instead caught up in a platform arms race in which each platform, with their own ecosystem of partners, are the combatants. In this world, the customer gets to make stark choices about which ecosystem to go with and get locked in to. “Standards” in this world are more about enabling a marketplace with walled gardens and “winner takes all” dynamics.
This is not the kind of arms/ecosystem race that we need in the education sector. Best put by one of IMS’s institutional leaders: “It’s the vendor’s job to fit into our ecosystem and not the other way around.” The obvious corollary from this is that a critical mass of cooperating organizations can set the tone for the forest, shaping both it and the trees.
This is what IMS Global Learning Consortium is all about—creating an effective collaboration and investment vehicle that focuses on enabling and accelerating innovation across a very diverse educational sector. It is “our ecosystem” and we are the ones stepping up to shape it for the educational needs of today and the future. In this ecosystem, we are enabling a marketplace where opportunity is created for products that work well with many other products in order to enable the innovative teaching and learning that educational leaders seek. As we enter 2019 let us all recommit our leadership to this very simple but powerful idea.
To help us achieve this focus, IMS is re-orienting the evaluation criteria for the annual Learning Impact Awards competition to a simpler set lf "forest" shaping criteria, namely impact on personalization, impact on institutional performance and impact on ecosystem development.
Nominations are now open. Finalists will be featured at our annual Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 20-23 in San Diego.