A Centre in search of a centre

Yesterday, 2007-10-03, Wednesday, we had an “all of CETIS” meeting in Bolton. The theme that seemed to come across throughout was, where is CETIS going? Perhaps towards being the Centre for Educational Technology, Interoperability & Standards (note the moved &)?

And, is the role of CETIS to support, to advise, to lead, to explore, or what? One view is that it is to provide enough information for people to make informed choices. Then we looked at the CETIS mission statement, which wasn’t all that helpful. It doesn’t say anything about our values – these are often included in vision and mission statements, so maybe we ought to be thinking about them?

One matter that is clearer to me is the role of CETIS boundary management, gatekeeping domain coordinators’ relationship with JISC. I’d say this has improved over the last year, and that good work needs to be kept up. Perhaps there is space to keep high in JISC’s awareness that while accountability is accepted, excessive bureaucratic demands sap morale as well as eating up time.

The newly-appointed JISC expert consultants came up in discussion several times. Perhaps the distinction is that they will work more directly to order from JISC, whereas CETIS still aspires, rightly in my view, to an independence of initiative. We could decide, for example, on the subject areas where technology intelligence reports could be written.

Having a consensus process to create such reports could be a great unifying factor within CETIS. We could:

  • decide on a set of current / developing technologies, and review them;
  • review the current evidence base (we don’t want to be “faddist”);
  • circulate review for comments around CETIS, to ensure we have “all based covered”;
  • set out what our view is now, and why;
  • decide what evidence will be appropriate for future re-evaluation, and when it is expected.

These reports could be a vehicle to express and embody our “strategy for technology” (not “technology strategy”). Though this wasn’t mentioned explicitly on the day, a systemic approach – perhaps even a Soft Systems approach – would fit well. We need to implement a strategy of responding to technological advance (actual or envisaged) by considering their systemic effects, including whether institutional culture is, or can be, adapted to their use. We need to think even of the political effects on learners as well as educators. And we need a holistic approach to developments across the educational technology space: what interrelationships are there; what parallels; what side effects, in different domains?

Writing technology intelligence reports would be one way of having influence, but maybe there are others? Firstly, could CETIS act as agent of institutional change? We could imagine starting a Technology and Institutional Change SIG, though perhaps this is first better thought through as a thought experiment. But we ourselves are not experts in organisational change, so if we want to get into this area, we would need to do it in partnership with others who are expert.

Secondly, where are the levers to influence, and which ones are most within our grasp? Paul seems to have some good ideas on this.

Thirdly, how do we most effectively influence development of standards and specs? We have to be wise about what is achievable. Where the juggernauts of commercial interest are rolling, there is no point in, umm, going against the flow (I was thinking of a more graphic, but less polite and less gender-neutral phrase here). We need to watch for opportunities to act, when the commercial forces have released their iron grasp. But there are always going to be areas where we can have influence, at the leading edges. Developing approaches following the Dublin Core Abstract Model sounds like a very promising way to go. XCRI has had that in mind, LEAP 2.0 is going there as well, hopefully. Along with DCAM, there are closely related Semantic Web approaches. This is surely an opportunity to lead, and to lead clearly and strongly.

At the other end, how do we disengage from approaches that we feel are no longer fit for purpose? Can we do that at once honestly and gracefully? It’s an open question, but I don’t think we want to just sneak away.

There is another aspect of dealing with commercial interests: engaging with employers, which is a big theme in many places including HEFCE at the moment. Employers, particularly SME employers, in some ways have a diametrically opposed point of view to ours. They want technology that works, simply, intuitively, now. Can we give leads on that, can we influence the development of that kind of technology, and can we actually help seed developments where no plausible ones have been started? Yes, we have an academic and intellectual function. But can this knowledge and expertise be pressed into the service of this kind of practical requirement? That would give a good basis for playing our part in the quest for employer engagement.

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