This week my doctoral class is discussing the changing nature of work due to the web and hyperlinked thinking. I was encouraged to hear the comments of our professor Britt Watwood as he recognized that for some and in many industries, the nature of work has already changed significantly. I tend to agree as the implication is that great change has already occurred and has embedded itself in what we do in our daily and work lives. In most cases, we have had to accept significant changes in our workplace and professions, recognizing that there will be more change to come. While acceptance of change has taken place, Jon Husband wrote that we as professionals will spend the next several decades learning how to function in an interconnected world.
The way our world has changed is treated very differently than we might have imagined just a few short years ago. Weinberger’s talk on the power of the internet about hackathons stood out to me. With extremely active Cybersecurity and Computer Science programs at my institution, we not only have clubs of students that participate in such activities, but we teach students how to protect against hacks (by potentially exposing our own security), and host such events on campus! It’s become something we are proud of, not something we shy away from. Certainly a shift in thinking from some time ago.
The waters do get muddied with this changing nature of work, however. It puts a greater onus on the individual to interpret information presented in a number of forums. In Too Big to Know, Weinberger described the way in which information was shared in the traditional written word, with arguments being directly laid out. Today, we are using the web to present all information available; allowing the audience to play a role in its interpretation and requiring them to filter. As Weinberger said, “when in doubt, include it all.” Doing so creates a direct interaction between information sharer and audience, representative of Wirearchy relationships that operate in an ongoing and constant feedback loop. Husband’s ideas surrounding Wirearchy were applied to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) by Chatti, Jarke, and Specht (2010) to achieve performance improvement. It identifies the need to utilize the Web 2.0 and social software technologies in order to achieve the core elements of the 3P learning model including personalization, participation, and knowledge-pull (the learner navigates toward knowledge).
Gartner described some other significant ways in which work has and will change moving forward. I frequently see this in my IT department in the form of work swarms and working with the collective. Each represents a leveraging of collective knowledge, which Dixon described as a way for diverse and knowledgeable individuals to add perspective and value. I see this in the form of work swarms in the formal department meetings that I attend. Colleagues are working together to share tips for improvement, or sharing their failures and looking for feedback from colleagues. They also work together more informally, both within and outside of the organization. I find that these like-minded individuals can accomplish a great deal, even if the ideas are being shared around the desk of the administrative assistant as opposed to a meeting room.
One topic within the changing nature of work on which I am a bit conflicted is that of the digial business. Gartner describes the digital business as incorporating technology into the entire business and industry enterprise. A 2014 article in Forbes by Jorge Lopez describes the digital business as the interaction and negotiations between business, people, and things. His description outlines that the convergence of people, business, and things results in a disruption in the familiar way in which our businesses function. These new business designs are applicable in higher education. In my field of institutional research, we are using student attribute data as predictors of success, relying in some cases on demographic information to help students with course selection to tutoring services. At the MIT Center for Digital Business, professors interact with external businesses and agencies on research projects that provide benefits to the business in the form of economic growth and to the academic enterprise in the form of research.
However, the concepts of the digital business framework can create challenges in IT departments, institutions of higher education, and businesses in general. Information Age explored what it means for a business to truly be digital and what implications that may have for IT departments. Difficulties can occur when other departments drive decision-making for technology related purposes. There are cost and implementation implications that are not always considered and can prove problematic, forcing the IT department into a reactive position.
In a more general sense, I believe there may be hesitation and resistance in the move towards the digital business model within higher education. A field steeped in tradition, higher education professionals can often be resistant to change. While most institutions employ both traditional and non-traditional methods for delivering education to students, higher education may find it difficult to keep pace with a changing and digital world. It will be the imperative of leaders to embrace the changing world and help facilitate the interactions and technology that allow their employees to thrive with that change.
-The Ayes Have It
Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010). The 3P learning model. Journal of Educational
Technology and Society, 13(4), 74-85. Retrieved from