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Collaboration: A Spark for Innovation


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Diana G. Oblinger (doblinger@educause.edu) is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

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Collaboration can increase knowledge, accelerate learning, and spur innovation. Collaboration allows us to integrate diverse talents and experiences while avoiding duplication. Information technology provides a powerful architecture for collaboration and participation, giving IT leaders a unique collaborative role: they can bring together people, ideas, and technologies—sparking innovation.

But though technology can make a difference, its impact is limited without new models. In their article in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review, Robert Sheets and Stephen Crawford argue that technology cannot realize its full potential until it is harnessed by disruptive business models and the value networks that support them. These innovative and collaborative business models can result in more open, more unbundled operations in learning and credentialing, research and development, and business management.

Not all change is external. As Randy Bass notes in his article “Disrupting Ourselves,” the academy is itself a source of disruption. Bass observes that our understanding of learning has outstripped our traditional structures for teaching, leading to innovations and the “post-course era.” He writes: “One key source of disruption in higher education is coming not from the outside but from our own practices, from the growing body of experiential modes of learning, moving from margin to center, and proving to be critical and powerful in the overall quality and meaning of the undergraduate experience.”

We can also “disrupt ourselves” by working together more—by collaborating. We can have more impact collectively than individually, whether through knowledge building, infrastructure development, or service provision. When we face challenges in higher education, perhaps our first question should be: “What do we have in common?” If higher education—as a community with common challenges—truly values collaboration, our mantra today should be: You don’t have to go it alone.

You don’t have to go it alone because we know a lot about best practices. We know a lot about what works for some institutions but not others. Not-invented-here shouldn’t stop us. You don’t have to go it alone because across higher education there are many potential collaborators and partners. As Charles Henry and Brad Wheeler advocate in their Viewpoints column: “We must seek intentional interdependence as the default path.” We can no longer focus on isolated, local projects. We should promote large-scale efforts and strong coalitions that bring together institutions to share resources and interests in order to develop open, modular, distributed systems.

Our collaborators need not be only in higher education. In “Connecting Two Worlds,” Elliott Masie reminds us that in addition to the 15 million full-time students in the United States, there are more than 139 million employee-learners who are continuing their education through corporate education, training, and development. With higher education and corporate learners having much in common, “collaboration offers an incredible opportunity for both learning worlds.”

There is a lot we can do together:

  • We can share best practices—and practices that don’t work.
  • We can share data, link data, and identify patterns that can make higher education more effective and efficient.
  • We can develop shared infrastructures, expanding our capabilities.
  • We can explore new models that are open, multisided, unbundled, and facilitated.

Imagine what we can accomplish if collaboration is the norm. You don’t have to go it alone.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 47, no. 2 (March/April 2012)

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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