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A Commitment to Learning: Attention, Engagement, and the Next Generation

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© 2010 Diana G. Oblinger. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 45, no. 5 (September/October 2010): 4, 6

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

Comments on this article can be posted to the web via the link at the bottom of this page.

In spite of ample evidence of the value of learning, efforts too often fall short of what is needed. Students fail to graduate from high school. Others earn a diploma but do not have the skills to succeed in college. Many of those who enter postsecondary programs do not complete a degree or credential. Even those students who successfully complete degrees often stop with their learning. High school graduation, college readiness, college completion, and lifelong learning are essentials for a well-educated population. We all must commit to learning.

To start, we must understand what learning entails. Learning is much more than accessing content. In the 21st century, learning is a complex blend of skills, competencies, and the will to continue learning throughout life. These skills and competencies include the ability to think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and pursue self-directed learning or metacognition.

In addition, we must be aware of how today's digital environment introduces subtle and significant shifts in learning. In this issue of EDUCAUSE Review, Howard Rheingold challenges us to go beyond skills and technologies and to think in terms of literacies, particularly social media literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness, and critical consumption. He stresses that we need to learn how to "exercise mindful deployment" of our attention (e.g., full attention vs. partial attention). In her article, danah boyd reaffirms this idea: "What matters is not the act of distribution, but the act of consumption. . . . The power is now in the hands of those who control the limited resource of attention." She cautions that we must learn how to stay in the "information flow" and have the discipline to not simply consume what we like or what is easy to access. As Rheingold reminds us: "Authority is no longer vested in the writer and the publisher. The consumer of information has to be a critic and has to inquire about the reality of the information presented."

Attention stems naturally from engagement. In "A Dialogue for Engagement," five faculty members illustrate the variety of ways in which they have committed to enabling learning by engaging their students. Their strategies involve using new technologies such as social media and digital storytelling to deepen students' involvement and capitalizing on technology through asynchronous communication and podcasts to support as many students as possible. The result, as Malcolm Brown notes, is engaged learners who "work willingly, instead of by coercion, and approach their assignments as something that matters to them personally." Helping the faculty understand and use these tools in class is the work of instructional and information technologists. Veronica Diaz and her colleagues describe additional technologies that can be used to attract students' attention, thereby supporting deeper student engagement with learning. The authors highlight three technologies from the 2010 Horizon Report—electronic books, mobile computing, and open content—and answer the questions of "why?" "how?" and "who's doing it?"

Finally, in addition to committing to the technologies, pedagogies, literacies, and skills that increase engagement and focus attention, we must commit to helping the next generation of students move beyond the common "loss points," or challenges, such as enrollment, gatekeeper courses, scheduling, engagement, and advising. "For the Next Generation," the final article in this issue, shows that we have evidence of programs that work. But we are not successful with enough students. Too many efforts remain as pilot programs that affect only small numbers of students. Perhaps the greatest challenge of information technology and education is to commit to implementing the strategies that we know work to improve learning—by scaling effective programs to reach the millions of learners who need education. Scale involves more than increasing the number of adoptions, however. It requires a focus on instructional change at a deeper level, it requires a rethinking of beliefs, and it requires a sense of ownership. We have in hand many of the tools, policies, and technologies to create the next generation of learning. Although many institutions are committed to addressing these challenges, and are making progress, we must do more.

We must create a community that is committed to learning.

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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