Fish out of eWater

So I’ve had the opportunity to go to a few great conferences this year in eLearning – the Post-Secondary Convening at the Gates Foundation, Educause, SXSWedu.  They were all extremely exciting next generation learning-focused lovefests.  It invigorates me.  It injects me with my quarterly fire in the belly to go back to my institution where I will implement great and innovative things.

(Awkward pause).
Implementing great and innovative things is not easy.  Sometimes it doesn’t even seem possible.  And lately, each of these wonderful and inspirational get-togethers brings a sense of dark noise into my heart.
The divide between the grand vision powered by start-ups and funded by the Lumina Foundation and championed by privileged great thinkers from expensive liberal arts backgrounds and the reality on the ground for a community college student is wide, is deep, is painful, and hits my heart with a sledgehammer.
We are speaking two separate languages in higher ed.  These languages share common words, but they mean entirely different things.  The mistranslation is evident in our student outcomes.  We have let our language dissonance become the shattered iPad screen of our students’ aborted associate degree dreams.
21st century learning can mean:
1) Dramatically changing pedagogy in alignment with changing technologies
2) Using an iPad
Digital Literacy can mean:
1) Finding and vetting information online, interacting in virtual environments with comfort
2) Searching an online database and touch-typing skills of 25 WPM or better
Strategic Learning can mean:
1) Students choosing their coursework and educational pathways in alignment with their lifegoals
2) Picking blended courses so that students can work and take care of kids
Big Data can mean:
1) Gathering rich information on student behavior in online environments to create predictive models to design interventions
2) Pulling the courses a student previously took in order to determine what courses they need to take and when, to get a degree
Brick-and-Mortar can mean:
1) Old fashioned, face-to-face classes
2) Deferred maintenance projects
This is an exaggeration – obviously.  But is it?  The missing piece – and one might thing opportunity – is the border-walker, the translator, the person who sees both sides.  In some ways, I am that missing piece.  I take the message.  I try to translate it both ways.  The potential and the pitfalls, the reality and the goals.  It requires an exhausting fervor.  It requires walking an uncomfortable line where you can push conceptions just so much, and then no more.  There are firm lines on both sides, because what they believe are inherently different.  And people – generally speaking – don’t like being uncomfortable.
I include myself in that.  Being a Fish out of eWater is uncomfortable.
It’s lonely.
Do we ever talk about that?  Do we ever talk about professional loneliness?  Anyone else a Fish out of eWater?
I am an uncomfortable eWater fish.
If it wasn’t for those darn students for whom this is their opportunity (possibly their only opportunity) for a better life – one where they can support themselves and their families.  One with choices.  One with a degree of financial stability.  With an opportunity for the world of ideas and the life of the mind.
So I just jump back in, jump back online, avoid getting caught in the web.  Just swim. #eWaterFish


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