Where are the real Ed Tech Academics? #et4online

I came to the Sloan Consortium – Emerging Technologies for Online Learning (#et4online) conference hoping to find some clarity in where I might go with my career after I complete my PhD. Being a little disillusioned about tenure track faculty positions (seeing an Ed Tech Assistant Professor job listed for $50,000 per year did not encourage me to go that route), I had thought that Ed Tech Startup might be the way I wanted to go with my career. However, the Ed Tech Startup session and panel did not encourage me.

I have a very mixed background. I have a degree in Computer Science. I worked for 8 years at a telecom equipment company doing everything from Quality Assurance to Product Management. I transition into Instructional Design and worked as a training manager for a high tech company. I’ve worked as an eLearning consultant doing eLearning instructional design, and more recently I’ve moved into eLearning programming (e.g. Articulate Storyline) and web development. I’m doing a PhD in Education and I teach professionals how to use technology – but more than that – how to become literate in a digital world. This is really what I want to do – I want to help professionals (teachers, physicians, etc) become digitally literate. I also want to do things that help convince more girls to take up technology related professions. I am not impressed with the continuing lack of women in computer science programs. I want to help change that trend.

So, that is what I want, and I was hoping that this conference in some way would help me connect with people that might help me figure out how to get there – or help me figure out where “there” is!

I attended the career roundtable on Ed Tech Academics. This was a round-table session that promised to provide career advice for aspiring Ed Tech Academics. The panelists introduced themselves and I was immediately struck by a pattern. Everyone did something else first! They all had some other speciality and came to Educational Technology through some round-about path (more haphazardly – rather than through a passion for Ed Tech itself). One of the ideas that was brought up was that serendipity played a big role in how people got to where they were. It wasn’t planned – it was pure chance.

As an aspiring Ed Tech Academic, this is not encouraging. What I heard from the room (and even on Twitter) is that Ed Tech does not stand alone. Ugh. Is this truly the case? Is this just another example of what is wrong with higher education? You need to be “in” the academy before you can part of an emerging field (or not so emerging really)? How is Ed Tech not a field in and of itself?

What is interesting is that the arguments didn’t hold up. The argument that you need to understand another field before you can do Ed Tech doesn’t hold water. What if my field IS Ed Tech? In my PhD program (in Education), there was an emphasis in appreciation of epistemological diversity. With my PhD, I will be prepared with collaborate with people in many different fields and be successful – because I have studied what knowledge means in fields that are different than mine. My thesis is in medical education – I have zero background in medical education, but that isn’t what I bring to the table for my research. I am the Ed Tech Researcher, not the Med Ed Specialist. I may not be an expert in any other field – but I am an expert in Ed Tech! For me, Ed Tech is not an “add on”.

I also wonder if this is also, in part, an example of academics that have never worked outside of the academy. Perhaps the argument that you need something else first is acceptable if your a lifer in academy. But, alas, I’m too old for that path. I spend 15-years in the private sector. I know what Ed Tech looks like in the world outside of Higher Ed. In many ways, I think that makes me a better teacher and a better researcher (or at least a better pragmatic researcher – as I do understand what it means to apply research in a real-world context).

So, I think I shall take the one piece of advice from that session that did resonate with me, from Jesse Stommel (@jessifer) “know when not to take advice”. In this case, I think I’ll just try to move on and make my own path. After all, I am a real Ed Tech Academic!

7 Comments

  1. Hey Rebecca, I don’t know how I missed this post (almost a panel discussion on its own), and I guess maybe it’s coz the panel you’re talking about was not available to me as a virtual participant.
    But I am a lot like you, originally comp sci, worked in corporate IT a while, then did “instructional tech” for a few years (in a university, though) and did my PhD in education – my current faculty position is about supporting blended learning in my institution, and I have a colleague tenure-track faculty member who is an Instructional Technologist. Those are ed tech academic jobs but they did not exist 5 years ago. So I think like Sarah said, it is an emerging field. Like Jesse and Rolin said: a long time ago, there was no “field” so ppl came from all over (incl u and me btw!) but it’s becoming one. But i also agree with one of the strengths of the field being its intersection with all or most others. Think about this: doing a PhD in education, but all ppl with PhDs in other disciplines can teach their own discipline. Even edu as a field is relatively new!
    When I switched from what I was doing to studying and working in edu, i was not sure what kind of career path i could take, what i could teach, but i have since learned I can teach English (because i know enough about pedagogy and teaching adults), i can teach ethics (altho am not a philosopher, i researched critical thinking often enough) , i can teach creative design of edu games (coz i can teach edu!) and i can ALSO teach ed tech (i have been teaching for 6 years courses in a diploma that helps school teachers apply ed tech in their classrooms). So there is a field, that’s why there are grad programs in it! Eventually it’ll mature even more, but i think it’s getting there..

  2. Rebecca, I come from a different place than you but share your questions about understanding where I am headed professionally. The ed tech landscape is evolving and while we can’t look to a non-existent context and say, “That’s where I belong” or “I want that job,” you have your passions, skills, and objectives identified…and if you continue to brand yourself as an expert in this space, you’ll find your niche. I’d be happy to talk if you’d like.

    I would be interested in working in an ed tech career forum next year at ET4Online with a diverse panel that includes academic and IT roles at 4-year and 2-year institutions, non-profits, and ed tech companies. Do you think that would be an improvement?

    I appreciate understanding what your expectations were for the conference. It’s important the program evolves to meet the changing needs of the field.

    Michelle Pacansky-Brock
    2015 Conference Chair, ET4Online

  3. One of my professors told me that if you want to be a well paid rock star in our field, that Australia is the place to go work. They pay well and many places are stuck in 1998, so they will think everything you say is brilliant. He estimated that in the U.S. there are about 2-3 thousand people in our field specifically.

    I have also noticed that Ed Tech Academics aren’t always interested in MOOCs and Emerging Technologies. So sometimes the conferences you pick can make a difference in what you experience. Places like SITE and AECT have a more noticeable presence of Ed Tech Academics. But, like most larger conferences, they are dying out a bit as travel budgets shrink.

    But I think that Sloan-C had a noticeable theme of “instructional designers are worth their weight in gold” “don’t forget the Ed Tech practitioners” and so on. We do need schools and conferences to try harder to bring in the Ed Tech Academics as much as they bring in the “rock stars.”

    This all reminds me of the story about the city with the river. I am blanking on the details, but the problem was that a waterfall upstream kept clogging up with branches and debris to the point that the river dwindled and affected city life. So they hired a man to clean out the waterfall and keep the water flowing. Years went by and new leadership came in the town who didn’t know their history. They wondered why they were paying this guy outside of town and fired him without checking. Soon the waterfall clogged up and the river dwindled and the town began suffering. Ed Tech as a field has recently been hit by the budget problems of our nation. Many people just looked at them and said “why do we need this.” But like I said on Twitter – who are they going to drunk dial when their Ed Tech world comes crashing down? We will see a resurgence once people get their head out of their…. :)

  4. Thanks for attending, Rebecca. One thing to consider in the discussion –this is still a relatively new academic discipline…so while the EdTech field might not be new, it’s accredited label is. Thus, the first generation of experts and shakers will mostly come from other spaces. Also, take solace that researchers outside the US, most notably Tony Bates and John Daniel, are career online ed/tech folks.

    But in reading your post, I see you are not a career academic…15 years experience outside the academy. Even if that Xp was in the appropriation of technology, it is practical know-how that you chose to fashion into a credential because more and more the credential is important. Today’s panel was in the ether when higher ed got the EdTech itch…there weren’t many credentialed folks at that point.

    I think the takeaway, along with recognizing when to ignore advice, is that a credential or degree is dandy but kind of meaningless without some on-the-ground knowledge. And it see like from this post you fit the bill

    • Agreed with Rolin, Rebecca, on almost every point. When I was first entering college and declaring my major as English, my dad encouraged me to work in tech on the side, since it had been something I’d been interested in since I was a kid. So, it became an ongoing companion to everything else I did and learned throughout college. I really started to encounter the most success, though, when I fully integrated my various selves — when I understood how all the things I’d done were connected and moving in a similar direction — when the work I’d done in edtech was no longer “on the side.”

      I’m also reminded of what Sean Michael Morris said at the panel, about #edtech intersecting with every discipline. As a field, then, it seems like we’ll need both folks that sit at the interface between #edtech and various other disciplines, but also folks like yourself conducting the circus, if you will.

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