This Week in LIS - 8 November 2013

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Headline of the Week: Inflection Points -Turning Points

This week at LIS Council faculty members Brad Miller from Computer Science and Andy Hageman from English came and shared some of their thoughts coming out of the Board of Regents workshop in which they had recently participated. The workshop was structured to explore ideas and opportunities associated with the Five Disrupters that President Tiede had identified in his State of the College address. Prior to the workshop Brad and Andy had led faculty conversation on the specific disrupter, Digitization of Learning/Everything to inform the interaction with the board.  They started their conversation with the board by sharing personal stories on how they are using information technology in their academic work. One portion of the workshop was focused on ideas and possibilities and each reported  the members of the board they worked with, were thoroughly engaged in the what if-ing.  Might some of those ideas and conversation represent inflection points or turning points when history is told.

This morning I finished the reading Stability and Change – Luther College in Its Second Century by Leigh D. Jordahl and Harris e. Kaasa. H. George Anderson became president of Luther College just after my time as an undergraduate. In the section about the Anderson years the authors report a set of strategic choices Anderson evaluated as he faced unfavorable demographics and challenging finances both on the cost and financial aid sides of the affordability question. One of the options he reportedly dismissed was expanding the college mission to provide learning opportunities for other than undergraduates. Some of our peer institutions have gone into adult education. In his mind it was not for Luther College because we were not situated in a large population center. Perhaps more importantly a Carnegie Commission had urged, “keep your profile sharp and capitalize on your strengths.”

Networks, digital technologies and specifically on-line learning technologies relax the nonurban setting constraint and make it possible to venture into all manners of teaching in an on-line fashion.  Would H. George have made a different decision in 2013?

John Gallaugher, a business professor at Boston College reminds strategy students to be wary of “straddling.”  This is when one attempts to occupy more than one position (for example residential teaching of 18-22 year olds and providing on-line adult education), while failing to match the benefits of more efficient, singularly focused rivals.  It is essential that there be strategic leverage of assets between the positions, so that by doing two things they mutually re-enforce each other or provide cost leverage a singly focused rival cannot match.

Using information technology to augment teaching and learning and leveraging on-line technology opens the aperture for new possibilities. It seems reasonable to look at the extraordinary programs, those with substantial differentiation from others’ offerings and see how they can be leveraged to broader constituencies and/or leveraged into adjacent spaces utilizing information technology. For example an extraordinary biology program and an extraordinary computer science program might be leveraged to create an extraordinary bioinformatics program.  In another dimension perhaps one could imagine augmenting the traditional residential program with some on-line components to enrich extended study away time providing accommodation of more students with the existing plant.  Perhaps collaboration with others would allow us both to offer things that by ourselves we would not be able to afford (e.g. esoteric languages or advanced courses where both partners would contribute students to make a course viable).

As we think about the digitization of learning we should keep in mind the Carnegie Commission advice to ensure we capitalize on our strengths. At the same time as the competitive environment changes and technology changes what is possible, we need to revisit assumptions and earlier decisions to see if fresh thinking leads additional opportunities for which history will later record as inflection or turning points in the ongoing process of Luther College’s reinvention.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Stability and Change – Luther College in Its Second Century by Leigh D. Jordahl and Harris e. Kaasa.


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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

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Notes from LIS Council

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This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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