Ed-tech heavy hitters talk collaboration at EduComm

Higher education will focus on video technologies in coming years, EduComm speakers say.
Higher education will focus on video technologies in coming years, EduComm speakers say.

Decision makers from Cisco, Microsoft, and Google said higher education’s movement toward collaboration-friendly technologies would rely heavily on video communication, and one official had advice for faculty who stand against moving toward nontraditional, digital learning: retire.

Representatives from three of the biggest players in the education technology field spoke to about 800 college IT officials June 8 at the annual EduComm conference in Las Vegas, where attendees gathered for dozens of daily sessions covering the latest in school technology. The conference ends June 9.

Ian Temple, director of Cisco Global Education, joined Obadiah Greenberg, head of Google Apps for Education, and Cameron Evans, Microsoft Education’s chief technology officer, in a discussion about how video and cloud computing can connect educators to their teachers and peers.

Temple, who also oversees Cisco’s Global Education Leadership Program, said adjusting to students’ technology demands would be a top priority for university technology officials in coming years. Temple urged faculty members stuck in their ways to find a new line of work.

“We’re going to have to find a way to meet the needs of these learners differently, and there’s an economic imperative to do it. … And if someone is saying, ‘I’m not going to go there,’ maybe [they should] retire,” he said to a cheer from the audience.

Cisco is working with a U.S. college that will give a WebEx web conferencing account to every one of its students, said Temple, who did not name the college. He added that Cisco’s acquisition of video conferencing company Tandberg last fall underscores the emergence of video communication in higher education.

Google’s Greenberg, who also manages YouTube EDU, a site with video lectures in 13 disciplines, said universities that include video in eMail messages to students and alumni have seen a consistently higher rate of clicks.

Greenberg said there is “an emotional connection through video” that usually can’t be achieved with traditional, text-based communication.

The EduComm speakers are supported by a recent survey: More than half of education technology officials in K-12 schools and higher-education institutions in May said they would buy video technology in the next year to make their schools “more effective and efficient” and better prepare students for the workforce, according to research released by Cisco.

While 53 percent of administrators and school technology officials said their institutions “are likely” to buy video equipment sometime in the next year, more than eight in 10 survey respondents said technology plays a role in “improving how students learn,” with 82 percent agreeing that education technology will play a “large role” in “helping prepare students for the workforce of the future.”

Evans from Microsoft highlighted the growing role of cloud computing in higher education, which allows students and faculty to use computing power from off-campus servers usually managed by a large technology company.

Microsoft has offered higher-education researchers access to Azure, a cloud-computing program that offers enormous data storage and computing capabilities using the corporation’s data centers. Applications were submitted to the National Science Foundation in March, and winners will have access to the powerful cloud-computing tool for three years.

“What we’ve done is allow you to come in and do that without any cost to the researcher [and his or her institution],” said Evans, chair of Microsoft’s Higher Education Advisory Group. “Those things pay forward.”

‘The worst of both worlds’

Sanjoy Mahajan, associate director of MIT’s Teaching and Learning Laboratory and author of Street-Fighting Mathematics, opened the EduComm conference with a plea to colleges and universities: Stop rote learning.

Rote learning, Mahajan said, produces college graduates who can rattle off complex formulas and definitions without really understanding what they mean. He said this method combines a computer’s inability to make logical judgments with a human’s inability to make thousands or millions of calculations every second.

“Its’ just a problem-solving disaster,” said Mahajan, who used two paper cones of different sizes to calculate the fuel efficiency of a 747. “It’s the worst of both worlds.”

Instead, educators should let students use their instinct more in the classroom—instead of repeating facts and figures—while taking advantage of a computer’s massive calculation ability, he said.

“We all think rigor is a good thing,” Mahajan said. “But if you’re not careful, it turns into rigor mortis.”

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