22 December 2015
22 December 2015,

Leadership is needed for technology supported learning. This is a central message in the United States 2016 National Education Technology Plan. The same message rings true in New Zealand and, perhaps, has been recognised by the NZ government. New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce recently announced a Productivity Commission Review, New Models of Tertiary Education, to consider the way New Zealand funds, organises and delivers tertiary education and training in the future.

On the surface this sounds like recognition of the need for leadership and clear direction. On closer inspection it is clear the review has no goal. The review is an enquiry with a focus according to the Minister of Finance, Bill English. No goal is stated. New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Union warns against too broad a terms of reference, suggesting that innovation and productivity for their own sake are likely to fail the goal of the review. It seems the review may provide useful information, but is unlikely to clarify an approach or priorities for action.

However, this focused enquiry brief is ideal for the Ministers involved. The review will provide the basis for the development of the next Tertiary Education Strategy (TES). The sector should expect to see a draft TES along with an invitation to provide feedback in 2018.

Through understanding the TES-related purpose of the review it becomes clear that leadership of technology supported learning remains with the sector for the next few years. This then, is an opportunity for progressive institutions to get a head start and education technology leaders to make a difference: for their institution, for students and for the sector.

The U.S. Education Technology Plan recognises that if institutions want to progress in this changing environment they will need to work towards creating a culture and the conditions for innovation and change. The Plan goes on to say that leaders who develop a shared vision for how technology can support learning have greater chance of catalysing change. Although vision is critical to transforming teaching and learning, strategic implementation is vital for success. Leaders who ensure that policies and resources support managers and teachers achieve greater levels of appropriate change within their organisations. A robust technology infrastructure is also essential to prepare learning environments for the future. Leaders need to view infrastructure development and maintenance as part of the vision and implementation of technology supported learning.

The formula is clear and not unexpected: a shared vison, strategic implementation, adequate resources and robust infrastructure. The challenge is managing risk in New Zealand’s punitive funding environment. I believe the sector will soon see the risk of failing to capitalise on the benefits of technology supported learning ranking alongside the traditional risks of achieving agreed investment plan targets. New Zealand has world class toolsavailable to support all levels of development in technology supported learning. What is required are leaders who recognise the critical nature of technology supported learning and see the balance of risk falling in favour of investment in technology supported learning.