Monday, December 13, 2010

The Role of Disruptive Technology in the Future of Higher Education (Educause)

  • Although not a magical way to transform higher education, disruptive technology must interrupt our usual policies, practices, and assumptions.
  • Truly disruptive tools will force new thinking and new approaches to ensuring student learning in higher education.
  • Technology enables online learning, which potentially qualifies as a disruptive innovation in education.
"Clayton Christensen1 developed the concept of disruptive innovations, which are technological innovations, products, services, processes, or concepts that disrupt the status quo. Along with Michael Raynor,2 Christensen further developed the concept to apply to businesses, where the disruptive innovation might actually under perform existing technologies or not satisfy customers in the mainstream market. In time, however, firms that use the disruptive technology satisfy a niche market or fringe customers who value the technology or the product it makes possible. The technology eventually exceeds the performance of prior products and improves to the extent that it satisfies the mainstream market. Firms that support the disruptive technology “displace incumbent firms that supported the prior technology.”3

........ It did not take long for the term to be applied to education and to a variety of new tools and processes. Different writers have touted the Internet, wikis, blogs, social media, mobile devices, open source tools, open education, anytime/anywhere education, social bookmarking, sharing sites (for photos, videos, music, files of all sorts), RSS, wireless connections, Google, Creative Commons, instant messaging, Internet telephony, social networks, free software, digital cameras and recorders, cloud computing, cheap storage, groupware, broadband, and virtual worlds as disruptive innovations in education. Perhaps. Certainly, these are interesting and powerful tools. Rita Kop4 calls this tendency to see disruption in every new tool “naïve enthusiasm” — or maybe this tendency reveals where our hopes lie.

.......It is not computer use but how computers are used that makes disruptive innovation possible in higher education. What elements of use can disrupt traditional practices? Faculty lectures, for example, whether podcasts or streaming video, are still one-way, passive instructional models. Cleborne Maddux and D. Lamont Johnson11 call these Type I uses of technology, which automates or replicates an existing practice. Type II uses of technology allow students and teachers to do things that could not be done before. Their approach provides another way to conceive disruption: one technology maintains existing relationships among faculty and students and content, while another changes these relationships in fundamental ways.

.......Disruption and the Future of Higher Education

So what does the theory of disruption — and the tools that disrupt existing models of teaching and learning — mean for the future of higher education? First, we will hear new software or tools labeled “disruptive technologies” as frequently as we do now. It is guaranteed that the future will see more disruptive technologies, since we seem to like the idea and find it in many forms. Second, simple faith in disruption is faith poorly placed. No tool, on its own, is likely to produce disruption. Disruption takes upsetting the status quo, focusing on student-centered learning, changing relationships, sharpening our insight, and designing instruction to increase learning and lower costs. Third, some tools will and some won’t be truly disruptive. Those that are will probably force a pause in our usual thinking, a reassessment of past procedures, a letting go of past assumptions, and an introduction of a new perspective that opens a new way for doing our work. Truly innovative disruption prompted by technology in higher education will force us to think in new ways, providing opportunities for the changes needed for higher education to survive and thrive."

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