A Look Back at Sloan-C #et4online Career Roundtables

I had the opportunity to moderate three career roundtables at the Sloan-C Emerging Technologies (#et4online) conference in Dallas last week (April 9-11). Thank you to Michael Berman, Jim Groom, Chris Mattia, Maria Andersen, Lida Hasbrouck, Amy Collier, Jill Leafstedt, Sean Michael Morris, Jen Ross, Jesse Stommel and George Veletsianos for making the panel not only a space of high-impact names in the education sphere, but a panel of thoughtful insight and honest discussion.

We built a Google Doc in each session to record the thoughts of the panel and do our best to archive the thread of the discussion.  These documents will remain in-play through both Google as well as the Sloan-C website, so hopefully attendees and others will play with the artifacts created in the sessions.


Discussion was rich and vibrant, and attendees were frank about their experiences and the prospects of their sector of the field.  I found this refreshing; many career roundtables are too often places of platitudes and promises that do not hold up to scrutiny.  Of course, when having frank discussion things can seem myopic; we addressed these concerns and tried to be positive while also realistic.

A few themes that emerged across the conferences:

The Importance of Experience:  In each of the sessions panelists discussed the power of on-the-ground experience, discussing it with more favor than a credential or degree in the field.  This was not necessarily popular in the panels; in both the Practitioner and the Academic session attendees pushed back against the notion.  This is perhaps a field conundrum:  those working and hiring in the field want to see people with tangible experience, but institutions and corporations more and more expect a certificate denoting competency.  Perhaps this sort of feeling comes because EdTech is a domain of practice and development, inherent to action as well as research, so balance is necessary.

The Varied Backgrounds of Experts:  The vast majority of the experts in the panel did not have historic backgrounds in education, technology or both.  Some were scientists, mathematicians, literary folks, psychologists.  Those that were educators largely did not start with EdTech, and those in computer science largely did not start with education.  This again was concerning for some attendees who started in EdTech and wonder about a field of moving parts.  I evoked the words of Gary Stager, a pioneer in 1-to-1 computing, who in a course I took from him noted that teaching is the perfect second career, a place you should go after you have experience and knowledge in a primary domain.  This sort of thinking fits along with other practice-based professions such as law or journalism, but with the rise of specialized credentials in education it may become harder for individuals to start somewhere else and then jump to education.  The feel amongst experts was that background was secondary to work produced.

Times They Are A Changin:  There are lots of jobs out there, but they are likely not the historic academic views of tenured professor positions roaming the campus quad.  The entrepreneur and practitioner panels showcased potential places for work in the EdTech field, outside the classroom but supporting the experience.  Having a background with education was considered vital, both a knowledge of learning theory and practical experience leading a group of novices (and experts believed it does not have to be in a formal classroom; experience volunteering with a community organization as a teacher would could provide the same benefits) was essential for breaking into the field and understanding its multi-pronged nuances.

There are suggestions for Sloan-C to branch this discussion into a longer-form experience, either giving 90 minutes to these sessions or doing virtual workshops.  I support the push and would be happy to facilitate these discussions once again.  My only consideration is that we cannot promise to provide tips or solutions on how to gain jobs…what we can offer is support, discourse and honesty.

Posted on: April 15, 2014admin

2 thoughts on “A Look Back at Sloan-C #et4online Career Roundtables

  1. Thanks Rolin for organizing these discussions and for the nice summary.

    I want to expand on and attempt to clarify some of my comments from the “practitioner” discussion. I got the impression, both at the time and from tweets later, that some people felt that I don’t value formal education in educational technology. That’s not true – I am certain that a student in a high-quality ed tech program can gain a lot of valuable knowledge that can inform the practice of educational technology. My point was that for someone to take just the knowledge from a graduate program and expect to be able to work immediately as a practitioner is unrealistic. The people that work on my campus need to be able to work with faculty and other practitioners, and that takes some practical experience. Such experience could be obtained in the process of getting a degree if it included a practicum, or, as I pointed out, there are lots of ways to get practical experience today outside of a job. I have exactly the same expectation when I hire someone for an IT engineering position.

    A practitioner practices – that’s how you get good at what you do.

    1. Excellent points. A good background on the discipline is valuable, but as you mentioned with film and other careers, ability is more closely aligned with experience than credential.

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