Disruption: For Better or Worse?

This is a guest post by Assistant Professor of Clinical Education Helena Seli. Professor Seli directs and teaches in the EdD program. She will be reporting trends and insights from SXSWedu this week.

Dr. Helena Seli at SXSWedu

Two sessions today featured discussions on an innovation and a potential disruption in their respective environments: crowdsourcing for K–12 education and reform in higher education. Crowdsourcing helps provide adequate supplies and meaningful learning experiences in K–12 communities that lack resources, according to DonorsChoose.org Founder Charles Best’s keynote speech. Additionally, reform in higher education responds to the need, though a manufactured one, for a more affordable, less lengthy higher education, according to the faculty presenters of “Disrupting the Disruption in Higher Education.”

Let’s discuss crowdsourcing. The ultimate benefit of websites such as DonorsChoose.org is summed up by the slogan Charles Best emphasized a few times: no more gatekeepers. Crowdsourcing enables any teacher and any student, at least theoretically, to have the supplies and experiences that are otherwise not available to them. It allows for the merging of entrepreneurship and education, attempts at which years ago was as effective as mixing oil and water. And finally, crowdsourcing enables any one of us to be a philanthropist — and a “classroom hero.” Though there are concerns that crowdsourcing is a “Band-Aid” and lets the government off the hook, Charles Best presents it as a beneficial disruption. Among the ways in which crowdsourcing will change education is in its ability to help educators determine what topics and instructional practices are trending among teachers and how a nation’s economic wellbeing impacts teachers in different socio-economic contexts. Charles Best also advocates using crowsourcing sites such as DonorsChoose.org as a platform to incentivize teachers to innovate and focus their efforts on high-needs areas such as nurturing programming skills among girls.

On the other hand, we have the mixed bag of the disruptive reform of higher education. The faculty panel presenters argue that political interests along with ed tech companies have manufactured a crisis where higher education is described as “dead,” “not worth the cost” and a potential “national security concern” in its inability to prepare enough qualified professionals in STEM and other subject areas.
Ultimately, both presentations encourage educators to reflect on the why and for whom when facing a potential disruption. If the student is not the ultimate beneficiary, then let’s pause and disrupt — or flip — the disruption.

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