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A Change in Perspective


© 2006 Diana G. Oblinger

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 2 (March/April 2006): 80.

Diana G. Oblinger
Diana G. Oblinger is Vice President of EDUCAUSE, where she is responsible for the associations teaching and learning activities and for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI). Comments on this article can be sent to the author at doblinger@educause.edu.

A change in perspective can be a wonderful thing. I recently participated in a conference on marketing and communication designed to help Mexican colleges and universities do a better job in recruiting, marketing, and public relations. It changed my perspective. Rather than beginning with what we know about colleges and universities, we looked outside—beyond the students academic world.

Did you know that

  • in Korea, there are eight television channels designed to be watched on cell phones,
  • in Brazil, you can sign up to get a text message when your soccer team scores and then have the option of watching a video of the goal,
  • in some cities, billboards encourage you to use your cell phone to vote in answer to a question (the ad asks you whether the woman in the picture is wrinkled or wonderful)?

People are constantly connected and making choices: they are interacting with the world around them.

It used to be that when you watched TV, you were stuck watching the advertisements unless you left the room. Today, remote controls make it easier to channel-surf and thereby avoid ads. The impact of the traditional thirty-second ad is declining. Ads are losing their air time not only due to the remote control: the loss is also due to time shifting. People are recording what they want to watch and viewing it later, at their convenience. Time shifting enables an unprecedented level of choice and control.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without digital technologies. Consider how technology is represented in our lives:

  • The fastest-growing advertising medium is the Internet.
  • The number-one way to find a job is through online job searches.
  • The number of online searches in Google in March 2005 was 3.5 billion.
  • In the last two minutes
    • 400 new users came to the Internet,
    • 1,000 auctions closed on eBay,
    • 2,100 cell phones were sold, and
    • $30,000 changed hands in Amazon.com transactions.1
  • Over 75,000 new blogs are created each day.2
  • The stickiest Web site is PokerStars.com, with 600,000 users—typically sixteen to twenty-five years old—spending at least eight hours per week on the site. (If you dont believe those numbers, ask a student about the site.)
  • 50 percent of Americans play videogames.3
  • The fastest-growing community site is eHarmony.com, a dating site.

In descriptions of the uses of technology in our culture, terms such as self-service, self-publishing, self-control, personalized, remixing, and multitasking appear often. The culture is shifting to one of distributed cognition—to a belief that intelligence is distributed throughout the network rather than being found in only a few experts. Traditional authority channels, such as national media outlets, are being bypassed by individuals publishing blogs. Opinions are being offered through podcasts and solicited through online polls. Individuals are interacting through instant messaging, social networking, and text messaging.

How does this level of self-determination and interaction compare with the level of engagement in higher education? At the recent conference mentioned above, our audience was recruiters, who went home thinking about building a brand in a digital world, increasing mobile marketing, and adding interactivity to campaigns. I left reflecting on the tremendous level of interaction, engagement, and choice presented to learners in their daily lives. Do they miss that interaction in the higher education environment? Perhaps not, since they have plenty outside their academic life. But are we in higher education missing some important clues about how to engage our learners?

Interaction has always been important in learning; it is not something that matters only to the Net Generation. Adult learners also have a strong desire for engagement and experiential learning. Part of how learners are engaged is through pedagogy, which often hinges on the use of technology. Part of how students select colleges and universities is through Web sites. And, part of how students bond with their institution is through technology-enabled interaction.

Maybe, when it comes to engagement, those of us in higher education need a change in perspective. Maybe there is something that we can learn from advertising. If the thirty-second ad is losing its power, where does that put us?


1. Andrew Lark, The Participatory Communications Revolution, presentation at EDUCAUSE Australasia, Auckland, New Zealand, April 8, 2005, http://incsub.org/andylark/Lark_Educause_Final.pdf.

2. Cited in State of the Blogosphere, Andy Larks Blog, February 6, 2006, http://andylark.blogs.com/andylark/blogs/index.html.

3. Entertainment Software Association, http://www.theesa.com/facts/gamer_data.php, cited in Edward Castronova, Gold from Thin Air: The Economy of Synthetic Worlds, November 2005, http://www.nae.edu/nae/caseecomnew.nsf/0754c87f163f599e85256cca00588f49/

Diana Oblinger

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger President and CEO of EDUCAUSE

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. The current membership comprises over 2,300 colleges, universities and education organizations, including 250 corporations. Previously, Oblinger held positions in academia and business: Vice President for Information Resources and the Chief Information Officer for the University of North Carolina system, Executive Director of Higher Education for Microsoft, and IBM Director of the Institute for Academic Technology. She was on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Michigan State University and served as the associate dean of academic programs at the University of Missouri.

Since becoming president of EDUCAUSE, Oblinger has become known for innovative product and services growth as well as international outreach. For example, Oblinger created the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), known for its leadership in teaching, learning and technology innovation as well as several signature products, such as the 7 Things You Should Know About series. She also initiated EDUCAUSE's first fully online events and its e-book series, including Educating the Net Generation and Learning Spaces.

In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation she led the creation of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a $30M program focused on improving college readiness and completion through information technologies. Partners include the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Hewlett Foundation.

Oblinger has served on a variety of boards such as the board of directors of ACT, the editorial board of Open Learning, the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, and the National Visiting Committee for NSF's National Science Digital Library project. She currently serves on the American Council on Education (ACE) board and works with other higher education associations as chair of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat. Dr. Oblinger has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Employment, Safety and Training and the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Technology.

Oblinger is a frequent keynote speaker as well as the co-author of the award-winning book What Business Wants from Higher Education. She is the editor or co-editor of seven books: The Learning Revolution, The Future Compatible Campus, Renewing Administration, E is for Everything, Best Practices in Student Services, Educating the Net Generation, and Learning Spaces. She also is the author or co-author of numerous monographs and articles on higher education and technology.

Dr. Oblinger has received outstanding teaching and research awards, was named Young Alumnus of the Year by Iowa State University and holds two honorary degrees. She is a graduate of Iowa State University (Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D.) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi.


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