The last week of June, I attended the Educause Institue Learning Technology Leadership program. This is an intensive, week-long workshop (that’s the best term I can think of it – it’s not a conference, it’s not training, and I don’t really think it’s a workshop, per se, either) on how to be an effective leader at one’s institution. It is aimed at those working in educational technology (instructional technology, teaching and learning, lots of other names), but it goes way out to how one might do presentations for new programs to executive officers, handling 6 or 7 figure budgets, and a number of other high level topics.
Overall, it was a very positive experience. But the real “meat” of this post is a bit more nuanced than simply whether I learned a lot or not. For instance, in terms of just leadership skills ranging from one’s team to one’s institution, there was lots to learn. But that’s not entirely why I attended.
As a CIO, I must admit I felt a bit out of place. But we don’t have an educational technology program so it’s not like there was someone else to send. And we want to start one up, so we did want to send someone. But, while I did have these very relevant reasons for being there, I definitely had a different perspective than most. To be honest, I think this caused a bit of…disconnection and possibly abrasion with my teammates. I am sure they are all gracious enough to disagree with me, but if I’m being truthful, I think at times my tendency to think about issues such as liability and institutional fit instead of creativity and pedagogical impact was a hindrance to overall productivity. I apologize to a great overall team for that.
When I signed up for the workshop, though, my key question was “is there something about leadership in learning/educational/instructional technology that is different than leadership in general?”
In a traditional leadership path, such as heading towards a CIO position, it’s really a top-down approach. Even if all decisions are made with input from the overall team, if a leader is highly integrated with programatic goals, etc, the bottom line is that decisions must be made by the leader, and the organization follows. Hopefully that’s not a dictatorial kind of situation but you get the idea. It’s a bit more of a pyramid.
Instructional technologists, however, cut horizontally across departments and institutions. Faculty from disciplines as disparate as Classics and Physics to technologically divergent groups such as Computer Science and History work with this same set of staff to improve pedagogy through technology. This presumes, of course, that there is one centralized group for this purpose. Considering the importance of technology to effective education today, it would not be surprising if educational technologists wielded a great deal of influence over many matters. Could this type of influence and connectivity lead to a different kind of leadership than the traditional?
The faculty for the leadership program talked a lot about being “leaderful.” One example was that leaders identified key partners that also cut horizontally and diagonally through departments and the institution, and worked to create change that way. Creating change is the key result – not just developing the products of changing policy, but creating those new dynamics. That is the ruler by which I am measuring what I experienced at the LTL institute.
I think that there is something different about leadership as an instructional technologist, but that it is not a position traditionally used for that purpose. It is not generally a “leaderful” situation. Yes, if it’s the right opportunity, in the right setting, someone working in educational technology can put forth truly remarkable initiatives that could push institutions in specific directions. They could lead that school somewhere. Not just being a part of developing an online course program, for instance, but shaping the role that program plays vis-a-vis the entire institution. Being in the room when decisions are made.
However, I think it is very easy to stay focused on one course or professor at a time and on the operational rather than the strategic. This isn’t bad – there is still great work being done with any one of those faculty. But it doesn’t really take advantage of the leadership opportunity. A lot can be accomplished taking general parameters and making things happen. But it’s common, it seemed (very big emphasis on “seemed”) that few tried to step in and help mold policy itself. The process of building those parameters.
This is a generalization, of course, and I realize that it can be risky to draw such conclusions. But that was my goal – to look at a different situation, examine the potential options, and evaluate whether they could be useful in my situation. Since I am building a program from scratch, it made sense to think about whether a truly leaderful approach could work. The answer is yes but, at least in the context of others’ institutions, such opportunities are not utilized. And that’s at least partly if not mostly the circumstances more than the people that are (or are not) taking leadership roles.