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Podcast: Higher Ed – A Year in Review with Dr. Joshua Kim and Dr. Edward Maloney

  • 25 Min Read

In today’s episode, we take a look back at the bigger issues that affected the higher education landscape over the last year with Dr. Joshua Kim and Dr. Edward Maloney.


Welcome to Episode 5 of Teach & Learn: A podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. Hosted by Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L, the show features candid conversations with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 education space. We discuss trending educational topics, teaching strategies and delve into the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today.

Episode Description  

It’s the time of year for reflection. In today’s episode, we take a look back at the bigger issues that affected the higher education landscape over the last year. But we also turn our gaze forward, hopeful about how 2023 will unfold. For this discussion, we welcomed Dr. Joshua Kim, Director of Online Programs and Strategy at Dartmouth College and a Senior Fellow at the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship at Georgetown University, and Dr. Edward Maloney, Professor and Founding Director of the Program in Learning, Design, and Technology and the Executive Director of The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. Our guests and Dr. Ford discussed:

  • The problems facing the higher education industry today
  • What can be done to improve learning design and educational experiences
  • How recessions impact higher education
  • The changing face of the modern-day student
  • Nonprofit universities partnering with for profit companies: does it work?
  • What higher education institutes can do to prepare themselves for future uncertainty

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Show Notes

01:00: An introduction to Dr. Joshua Kim and Dr. Edward Maloney

03:08: Dr. Kim discusses expectations vs. realities in higher education

05:05: Dr. Maloney reflects on how much of what was said in their 2020 book is taking shape in higher education today.

11:57: What faculty and instructional design teams can do to improve educational experiences

14:40: Dr. Kim asks if the higher education system is reflecting current day inequalities, or driving them?

18:32: How the pandemic changed learning for students

24:47: What we’re seeing coming out of the pandemic

28:43: Recessions and how they affect higher education

29:41: The relationship between nonprofit higher education institutes and for-profit companies.

41:04: What 2023 holds and how universities and colleges can plan for some of the uncertainties of the future

Resources Discussed in the Episode

Buy the book: Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education

Buy the book: The Low-Density University: 15 Scenarios for Higher Education

Read the Learning Innovation blog on Inside Higher Ed

Read the article our guests co-authored for Change: Six Post-Covid-19 Provocations

Follow Dr. Joshua Kim on Twitter

Follow Dr. Edward Maloney on Twitter

Learn more about Dr. Cristi Ford and the Teaching and Learning Studio.

About the Speakers

Dr. Joshua Kim is the Director of Online Programs and Strategy at Dartmouth College and a Senior Fellow at the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University. Josh has a Ph.D. in sociology and demography from Brown University.  He started his career on the faculty at West Virginia University, helped start’s education division in San Francisco, and was one of the original founders of Quinnipiac University Online. He has taught both on-ground and online courses in sociology, marketing, and higher education leadership. With Eddie Maloney, Josh published Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education and The Low-Density University: 15 Scenarios for Higher Education. Both books are from Johns Hopkins University Press, and both came out in 2020. Josh is best known for his Learning Innovation blog on

Dr. Edward Maloney is Professor and Founding Director of the Program in Learning, Design, and Technology, and the Executive Director of The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS). As professor and founding director of the Program in Learning, Design, and Technology, he works with students to engage in a critical study of higher education through the lenses of learning, design, technology, and analytics. As Executive Director of CNDLS, a research center on teaching, learning and technology, he helps to define Georgetown’s strategy to advance learning innovation at the University. He is also a professor in the Department of English, where he has taught courses on modernism, postmodernism, critical and narrative theory.

He has published numerous articles and book chapters. His two books with Josh Kim—Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education (February 2020) and The Low Density University: 15 Scenarios for Higher Education (August 2020)—are available from Johns Hopkins University Press. His third book, Recentering Learning (with Maggie Debelius and Josh Kim) is due out in 2023, and his fourth book, How Universities Learn (with Josh Kim), is forthcoming in 2024.

Dr. Cristi Ford serves as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at D2L. She brings more than 20 years of cumulative experience in higher education, secondary education, project management, program evaluation, training and student services to her role. Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia and undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of Psychology from Hampton University and University of Baltimore, respectively.

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Full Transcript

Dr. Cristi Ford (00:00):

Welcome to Teach and Learn, a podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L. Every two weeks I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies, and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today. Whether it’s edtech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms, or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils. Class is about to begin.

So, thanks for joining us today on Teach and Learn. I’m so excited to have both of you joining us today in this exciting episode. For listeners who are joining us today, before we jump in, I want to take a moment just to introduce both of our guests. Dr. Joshua Kim is the Director of Online Programs and Strategy at Dartmouth College, and the Senior Fellow for Academic Transformation Leadership and Design at Georgetown University. He also serves a regular contributing writer for Inside Higher Ed and has a PhD in demography and sociology from Brown University. Josh, thanks for joining us today.

Dr. Joshua Kim (01:12):

Cristi, it’s so great to hang out with you again.

Dr. Cristi Ford (01:15):

Absolutely. Thanks for joining. I’m really glad to have you in a part of this conversation. I’d also like to… Listeners introduce you to Dr. Eddie Maloney. He’s the Executive Director of the Center for New Designs and Learning and Scholarship, a professor of practice of narrative literature and theory in the Department of English, and the founding director of the program in Learning Design and Technology. He holds a PhD from the Ohio State University in English literature and a master’s degree from Syracuse University in English Contextual Studies. Eddie, thanks for joining us as well.

Dr. Edward Maloney (01:49):

Cristi, thanks so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to the conversation.

Dr. Cristi Ford (01:53):

Absolutely. So thank you both for being here. Given that you have really done some great seminal work and in the research and scholarship and in your writing, when I thought about pulling together an episode to look at a year review and trends in higher education, it only seemed fitting that we dive in with the two of you to talk about taking a little bit of a deeper dive into some of the implications that we’ve seen this year. And so Josh, I’m going to start with you. You and I met six or seven years ago, I remember at that time that you were starting to be a regular contributor for Inside Higher Ed, and we had lots of great conversations around where learning design and innovation was going. And it was such an exciting time back in 2013, 2014, we were starting to see these innovation centers springing up in institutions and campuses across the country. And there were a lot of large funders at that time, supporting learning innovation work to solve some of the biggest challenges that we saw in education. Fast forward to today, 2022, we’re in the post peak pandemic era. And I just wonder what you’re seeing today as you’ve looked at the trends at this time.

Dr. Joshua Kim (03:08):

So Cristi, yeah, it is amazing that we first got to know each other, I think almost a decade ago, working [inaudible 00:03:17] I think, and some other things. We kept going to conferences and being together. I would say that if we had talked 8, 9, 10 years ago and said where we would be in 2020, almost 2023, we might be a little bit depressed. We had such hope-

Dr. Cristi Ford (03:41):

We did.

Dr. Joshua Kim (03:41):

That we could drive down the cost of higher education, we could increase access. And you both probably just read the New York Times article that came out this week talking about what a horrible time that students are having post covid. That coming out of the pandemic are our most disadvantaged students, first generation students, underrepresented minorities, are just falling far behind in areas of achievement. Our community colleges and some public institutions are really having enrollment and funding challenges. So I don’t want to start your look ahead to 2023 or look back to 2022 being depressed, but I’m feeling not so great right now and thinking, “Wow, what did we not get right in all these years that we’ve been working on academic innovation?”

Dr. Cristi Ford (04:42):

Yeah, I really resonate that with that, Josh. You’re right, we had so much hope. We thought we had so much opportunity. And it felt like at the time, 10 years ago, we had the right nexus of the right individuals at the table to really have impact and make some of these changes. And so you’re just reminding me that we’ve been working at this quite a long time together. And so yeah, I think that’s a great way to kick off this piece. And so Eddie, I want to bring you into the conversation coming from the scholarship angle. I really appreciate the book that you both published in 2020 entitled Learning Innovation in the Future of Higher Education, to talk about some of these areas of need and areas of growth and opportunity. And in the book you both explored the growing era of a new field taking shape and you talked about the digital learning discipline. And as you see us coming into this new era, how much of what you saw in writing that book and being forecasted in those trends, how much do you see that actually taking shape in higher education today and the trends that you’ve been a part of?

Dr. Edward Maloney (05:56):

Yeah, thanks Cristi. I’m trying to decide whether I want to be the optimist in the room or not, since it’s a role that I rarely play. But since Josh decided to start in the place of complete depression and sadness. Let me suggest before I try to answer that question about the book and what we were looking at and thinking about, just where we are and I think what it means for us to even respond to the questions and the prompts that Josh just raised. I mean, some of the things that are so hard for us to see, I think one of the relationships between what we were trying to do in the book and that statement about where we are and some of the things that are depressing about things that haven’t changed, is I think the relationship there is that we’re actually talking about that across a much broader swath of higher ed than we ever were before.

The fact that you can point to these articles in the New York Times and other places where we’re raising similar questions that we were asking 9, 10 years ago show that there is some evolution of the problem into the consciousness of the culture in ways that we didn’t see before. And maybe even more importantly, I think what we saw throughout the pandemic is that a lot of our faculty, a lot of the people who are most connected to our students are aware of these questions and these challenges as well, in ways that they weren’t 10 years ago. And so there have been some changing of perception. I think there has been some change in our expectations about where we’re going and what we’re going to do.

In a part that’s what Josh and I were trying to mark in the book. In a different time and maybe looking at a different moment because we hadn’t quite gone through obviously the pandemic the book came out a month before the pandemic hit. But what we were looking at was these moments in higher ed where we really re–centered our thinking around learning and really started to shift our perception and our perspective about what higher ed is meant to do away from a lot of the stuff that takes up a lot of our energy, a lot of our time, and quite frankly a lot of our resources in higher ed that has nothing to do with teaching and learning. But there have been these moments where higher ed has either intentionally or has been forced to recenter, and to rethink, and to refocus on teaching and learning. And we saw that happen during the pandemic.

And so one of the ways in which I think we were maybe not prescient, but at least we were anticipating these continued shifts to this that’s focused on teaching and learning was that what happened during the pandemic where we actually saw all of higher ed recognize that the one thing it needed to do, the one thing that it couldn’t stop doing in everything else that it does was run classes, was engage with students, was really try to reach out and connect the community of students to the faculty and to their mentors.

And that continued and that was probably maybe the most, I think prominent version, visible version, maybe the brightest version of a turn to learning that I have seen and that I can point to even in the history of higher ed that we’ve been reviewing and thinking about. So that turn to me was, is what was crucial about the argument of our book and it was crucial about what we saw over the past two and a half years. What I think the concern is about as we look to the future, and where we’re going, and what we might want to be thinking about is whether or not that’ll continue. And the hard part is these things swing in a pendulum. We see a focus on teaching and learning and then we move to the bright and shiny objects that are off to the side and we stop thinking about the things that are core to what we’re trying to do. And so the argument of our book was really that we need to keep our eyes on these turns to teaching and learning. We need to keep our eyes on the people who support teaching and learning at institutions. That sense of that interdisciplinary field that you were mentioning really is very much about investment in that space and making sure we’re continually paying attention to that.

Dr. Cristi Ford (10:01):

And we appreciate that context and as you talked about that shift to focusing on teaching and learning, what I experienced in the pandemic, as you mentioned, that we needed to continue to allow opportunities for educational learning to happen. And so we saw all of these different iterations of some things like remote teaching, all the way to what we knew in terms of best practices in online education. And so I appreciate that you offer that there was a greater awareness and we were able to build capacity. I remember talking with colleagues for many years and trying to coerce them to consider the online environment and the pandemic caused us all to really take that modality very seriously and figure out how to work in that modality. But I also think that it also had us to really think more thoughtfully about inclusive learning design. And there are some comments that I’ve heard in terms of some of the trends and what’s happening around accessibility.

And I just would love to have either one of you give your take on it that as institutional have really been relying on principles of universal design to be able to be the framework and the lens for which they think about inclusive pedagogical practices. But it wasn’t always a good fit. It hasn’t always been the right model. And so what have you seen and what can faculty, and instructional or learning designer teams do to improve? How do we improve those educational experiences that are created? Because we’re hearing from institutions that are coming out of the pandemic that their value proposition has been challenged. And this is a place that I think you all would have some really great insights around.

Dr. Edward Maloney (11:51):

Josh, you want to take that? You want me to start?

Dr. Joshua Kim (11:53):

Yeah, you start it.

Dr. Edward Maloney (11:57):

So Cristi, it’s a great question and I think it relates to what Josh was saying earlier. One of the depressing things about this is that we know that the inequities that are part of the higher ed landscape were exacerbated by the pandemic. As I said, I think we all became more aware of those inequities in ways that faculty were able to see into student lives and students were able to see in faculty lives that weren’t there before. And unfortunately in this country we continue to have a momentum, a sad momentum, that has created a division and has created a space where we are not treating all of us in a way that is inclusive and recognizes the value and worth of every member of our society. And in that, I think over the past couple years we have recognized that we have a continued challenge to create a more inclusive environment within higher ed to make our students feel a sense of belonging, to make our students feel like they can do their best possible work.

And one of the things I think that then relates between those two things, that sense of disconnect and that sense of the challenges that we saw in the pandemic and the social challenges that we continue to face and we faced throughout our history, are this need to really invest in a greater attention to inclusive pedagogy. And we’re seeing that more and more. We’re seeing institutions take on initiatives around inclusive pedagogy and try to create models that develop an environment that supports all of our students in a way where they can feel that sense of belonging and do their best work. How that then translates to things like inclusive to universal design or different ways of thinking about instructional design, I think that actually remains to be seen. I think we’re still at a place in a lot of institutions of higher ed where the work of a faculty member in the classroom is still a sacrosanct space where what it would mean to create these universal design spaces is still not quite universal.

I can continue that concept, but I think we’re making strides and we’re recognizing that we can find, I think, the right balance between academic freedom and the individual faculty members role to create a classroom, and what it means to create an inclusive and a space of belonging. And I think we continue to try to develop those kinds of initiatives and that kind of engagement to do that work. I don’t think we’re there yet, but hopefully we’ll get there.

Dr. Cristi Ford (14:37):

That’s fair. Josh, what is your take?

Dr. Joshua Kim (14:40):

So in our first book Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education, Eddie and I, we wrote a very positive book. We really wanted to talk about how universities are putting, even research intensive universities, have started to put learning at the center of what they do organizationally. And we wanted to try to understand why that was happening and try to encourage that. And I think that was the right book to write it and I think it captured something that was not well documented. Going forward, I think the interesting question, at least for me now, is where are we failing as universities? I keep thinking about… Cristi, I think about that 10 year arc that you talk about. During that 10 years we’ve become less equal as a society, more stratified, wealth has become more concentrated. We’ve become politically polarized.

It’s clear that our public institutions, they continue to be defunded by the states. Community colleges, public state schools continue to get not nearly the resources and wealthy schools keep getting wealthier. And I think we have to ask right now, is our higher education system, are we reflecting the inequalities out there or are we driving those structural inequalities? And if part of the problem, we’ve got to ask why and how we can become part of a solution? And Eddie and I, we work in the field of learning and we work in technology and we work in online learning. I think we have to engage our work with those broader questions. So, that’s where I’m thinking going forward.

Dr. Cristi Ford (16:23):

Yeah, I appreciate that framing. And to your point about are we reflecting or are we driving? Eddie and Josh, sometimes it feels like we’re doing both depending on the time, and day, and space. And I think that what I notice in my role as VP of Academic Affairs as I work with institutions is that sometimes we’re looking for an end all, be all, in terms of a framework, a learning model that’s going to be able to solve all these challenges that we’re facing. And so we’re finding also when you talk about how politically polarized educational institutions are becoming, we’re seeing that in K-12 as well, across the country in terms of even buzzwords in terms that are not safe to use anymore. And Eddie, to your earlier point around as we move away from really being focused on teaching and learning, it’s been so interesting how we can get so distracted into all these different components.

And so I appreciate that framing because your first book was very helpful and positive and a really good opportunity to look at what we were seeing in the industry and some good exemplars and models around how do you think about this innovative work that you’re doing. And so Josh, you’ve actually segued me to talk a little bit about your second book, the Low Density University and some of the case studies. I’d love to have you both share with me some of those case studies that address some of the current crises that institutions are facing today. And how in you publishing that second book, how are you still seeing those opportunities or the crisis that are in front of us being reflected in the trends that you’re seeing? And are there things that we’re doing to mitigate some of that work as you did your research?

Dr. Edward Maloney (18:31):

I think that was for you, Josh.

Dr. Joshua Kim (18:32):

Oh, it was for me. Okay, sure. Yeah. So the Low Density University, the key to that book is Eddie and I got that done in the middle of the pandemic in real time as we were doing this and we were trying to make sense of what was going on. It was such a crazy time and no one knew where things were going to go and we were trying to give people frameworks and language so they were at least consistent in talking about how universities might respond to this global pandemic. I think coming out of the pandemic, that book actually holds up pretty well because although it was written in real time as we were both at our institutions, helping our institutions navigate this public health emergency, and this switch to remote learning, and all this uncertainty, what we’ve seen at our institutions, and Cristi, I’m sure all the schools you work with is never going back to the way it was, right.

Something is going to be different. We don’t know what that is. We know that the higher ed workforce is certainly changing dramatically, we’ve certainly moved into something of a blended workforce, things are different. And it seems very clear that all of our students want flexibility, much more flexibility they expected, certainly master’s degrees are changing. So I think that first book and trying to delineate how schools are moving from a residential first model to all sorts of ways of being more flexible, I think if we come back to the frameworks that we explored can again help us have some language to think about where we’re going in this post Covid University time, which again is still a lot of uncertainty.

Dr. Cristi Ford (20:31):

And to add on that, I want to stay on the second book, because one of the things that we saw during the pandemic was the impact of what is a traditional university student experience during the pandemic? And for many of us, my oldest is a freshman in college this year, that traditional university experience is also made up of components outside of the classroom. And you touched on that in your latest book and I just wondered how did the pandemic impact those things such as extracurricular activities, and sports, and cultural initiatives, special interests, and the like. And that as universities and colleges look to embrace no low or high density models, Eddie, what is gained and what is lost? What did you find?

Dr. Edward Maloney (21:23):

Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think the most obvious answer and certainly true for most of our students is that there were really no good co-curricular activities happening during the pandemic and all of the things that are part of that larger sense of formation that happens at an institution, that opportunity for students to come to a place if they’re at a residential institution, to both learn and to develop and to become adults in a space where there’s a supportive environment where they can build friendships, they can build relationships with faculty members, they can develop interests that go beyond just where they might see a career going. They can build a fully well-rounded liberal education that higher ed invests in. And it absolutely was the case that that was probably the greatest hit that happened during the pandemic. We lost that sense of that. There were moments and there were opportunities for students to get together on Zoom and to find connections.

And I know from conversations with students that those were important, but they were certainly not the same thing. But that was not dissimilar to what we were all feeling. So it wasn’t just higher ed that was experiencing that, it was the world that was experiencing that. We were all feeling isolated in different ways. And I think one of the challenges that we have when we look back at where higher ed was during the pandemic is we tend to look back in isolation from everything else that was happening in the world around us. When we look and ask our students, were they feeling supported or were they feeling a sense of belonging at our institutions during the pandemic? Most people weren’t feeling supported or a sense of belonging anywhere. Everyone was feeling isolated. It wasn’t that they were just isolated because they were in higher ed, everyone was isolated and higher ed was one of the spaces in which students occupied it at the time, as did you know students who were in K-12 and people in their jobs.

And so this is something that we were all struggling with, that we all need, I think, to come terms with, it’s not a higher ed unique problem. One of, I think, things that I’m seeing some of though I don’t have a lot of evidence outside of my own institution in this, is a bit of a slingshot effect where I’m hearing from students and faculty colleagues that what they’re experiencing in the classroom right now, especially this semester where everything feels mostly back to a normal state. We’re not masked in the same way we were. Social distancing is not happening. All of the things that were even still of temporary barriers are mostly gone now. Everyone is reporting this just engagement and this really desire to be there, and this sense of really appreciating what was lost during that time.

So occasionally we all have to take a pause and reset and to learn to appreciate the things that are in front of us. And unfortunately, our pause was global and our pause was one that caused a great deal of difficulty and sadness for many of us. But it did, I think, force many of us to pay attention to the things that matter. And we’re seeing some of that happen I think in higher ed as well.

Dr. Cristi Ford (24:47):

Yeah, I would agree with that. And Eddie, as you were talking about your experiences on your campus, it made me think about what I’m seeing coming out of this pandemic era. Where there is an appreciation for the engagement, the opportunity to be together. I’m seeing this continuum where there are faculty who still believe that they can go back to business as usual now that remote teachings over. And I’m also seeing faculty that are embracing the opportunity that I know that I did this remote teaching thing and it wasn’t the best practice, but now I want to go back and be retooled.

I just wonder, as you look and work with institutions, or the work that you’re doing on your own campuses, how are people responding to thinking about digital transformation and how we move and shift to be more inclusive of digital transformation? And Eddie, to your earlier point about focusing on teaching and learning and not getting caught up with the shiny things. We have automation, AI and machine learning, all of these pieces that we can harness, but what are you seeing in terms of people’s appetite and capacity from where do we go from here when we talk about digital transformation?

Dr. Edward Maloney (26:07):

Yeah, it’s a great question. One of the things about higher ed that has become a bit of an apocryphal truism that is that higher ed never changes. Another is that higher ed is really slow to change, and it’s probably more likely that the second is more true than the first. We have changed often throughout the history of higher ed in a variety of different ways, but we are pretty slow to change. It takes us some time to move, maybe to change direction. We tend not to be able to move as quickly as we did in fact, during the pandemic where we had to get to a remote environment really quickly. And I think if anything we’re back into that swing of the pendulum is the metaphor that I continue to use in this space, where people missed something and they want to try to get that back.

But it is a pendulum and I think we will start to see all of the things that were lessons were that were learned during the pandemic, things that people had experience with. They grew not just in relationship to technology and teaching online, but what it meant to be an intentional teacher, what it meant to design your classes differently, what it meant to try to be more transparent and engaging with students. What it meant to rethink definitions of academic rigor, to be more inclusive, what it meant to pay attention to how they’re the most important elements of their teaching experience and their learning experience could be isolated and refined. All of that are things that people are carrying with them. And it may not be that when they came back in the fall of 2021 or 2022, that immediate change was there. But those are practices that are now embedded. They’re practices that are part of their thinking. And I really do believe that we are seeing that the effects of that, and we’ll continue to see the effects of that.

It won’t be quick, it won’t be that we have now moved completely online. It won’t be that we’re now ready to embrace online even, but we are seeing people recognizing that there are values and of certain pieces of this. And I think those will continue to grow and they’ll continue to deepen. And so it won’t be the speed that disruptive innovators wanted to have happen in 2013. And it won’t be the speed at which a lot of people think higher ed needs to shift and change. But it will happen because it always does happen. And we now have this platform of really common experience. We have a common denominator that we just did not have before at the pandemic. And so it’s hard to imagine that those changes won’t happen.

Dr. Cristi Ford (28:43):

Yeah, I would agree with you there. Josh, any take on that from you? And before you respond to that, I want to also throw out that piece that I’m learning and hearing from lots of institutions as a result of the pandemic around the value proposition of higher education and that we’re finding a lot of institutions that are grappling with declining enrollments or really trying to diversify their enrollment management strategies. Are we going to see a decrease in the number of programs being offered or the kinds of impact that we see around students being able to study subjects that are typically in a liberal arts educational curriculum opportunity? What are you finding in terms of some of the writings that you’re doing for the inside higher ed?

Dr. Joshua Kim (29:30):

Yeah, I’ll try to say where I think we are now. And then I do want to take up Eddie’s point about change because Cristi, I want want to turn the tables on you a bit.

Dr. Cristi Ford (29:41):

All right.

Dr. Joshua Kim (29:41):

It relates, but I’ll try to answer your first question. I think there’s no doubt now we’re in a strange time in higher education, largely because of macroeconomic forces beyond our control. We’ve had a time where inflation is high and unemployment is low, which is very bad for certainly master’s programs, people don’t do degrees as much and people don’t have a lot of extra money to do education. Higher education is countercyclical. So if there’s a recession, the fortunes of higher education should pick up. It sounds horrible to say, but it’s just the way we work. We’re in a really difficult time now.

So to hit on Eddie’s… What Eddie said, that that change happens. So Cristi, here’s how I’m going to turn the tables. Part of the research and the work that Eddie and I do, a great deal in which we argue about all the time is we are trying to figure out the relationship between nonprofit higher education and for profit companies as ecosystem gets more complicated, as schools and companies work together at the core of universities in teaching and learning. So Cristi, it’s totally interesting to me that you’ve had an amazing academic career and have had these great leadership roles at universities, and you clearly have a lot of choice where you go and you made this choice to go work for a company and you’re on this side now working on these partnerships.

I guess I’d want to ask you, and I think Eddie and I might have some things to say about this or to ask you, how do you see the future of collaboration and partnership between non-profits and for-profits to drive this equity agenda, which I know you’ve talked about for years, it’s been such a heart of your work. So how do you think about your work and these kind of partnerships?

Dr. Cristi Ford (31:40):

So, I’m the podcast host, but this is a great question, Josh, and I appreciate you posing this question. I think for me, it has been my life’s work to have this impact. And I think from Eddie, one of the comments that you made about higher education moving, but it’s moving the Titanic and really trying to think about innovation. I think the reason I decided to go to the other side of the fence, so to speak, is to really help us to think about being partners and thought partners around solutioning some of education’s more wicked challenges. I think that when we come from the perspective of that thought leadership and not from the perspective of solutioning a technology, we get a lot farther in terms of really being able to create something that is going to be able to solve a problem. And so for me, if it’s in East Africa, if it’s in the US, the last 20, 30 years of my career, I feel like some of these conversations have been very circular.

And so I really wanted to be able to impact change and help change learning from the other side of the fence, so to speak. And so it has been nice to be able to do that and also to get this bird’s eye view from many different institutions. And I’ll tell you, if it’s our colleagues and our clients in Brazil or Mexico City or up the road here in Maryland, some of the conversations are very similar. We’re having conversations about how do we bridge the gaps between what employers need and what higher education institutions can bring and how do we think about that more thoughtfully? But we did that, right? We talked about this with boot camps. And so I think it’s really about taking some of that surface work that we’ve done in innovation learning spaces and really thinking about how we can make it in sustainable ways that are really going to be able to change the dynamic and really be a tipping point. And so that’s really my impetus in taking on this role at D2L.

Dr. Joshua Kim (33:52):

So to ask the follow up here, and Eddie and I, again, I think we have a good creative tension, and he and I, we work with a lot of companies as well in the learning space. We serve on advisory boards. We spend a lot of time, I would say, if I was going to characterize the way Eddie and I think about this, I’m curious about non-profit for profit partnerships. And I’d say Eddie is more skeptical. Just to channel Eddie, he often talks about… Well, Eddie, do you want to talk about why you’re skeptical? I’d like to hear it and then let Cristi respond to your skepticism. I’d find that entertaining.

Dr. Edward Maloney (34:35):

I will own the skeptical mantle, but I’m not sure curious is really where you are. I think you might sell Dartmouth for stock options if you had the opportunity. So I’m not sure curious is right. But sure, Josh, you’re curious. So why am I skeptical? Well, I’m not skeptical of all private and corporate nonprofit partnerships. Obviously Josh used the phrase macroeconomics before. There are things that are well beyond the scope of the space that higher ed can reasonably constructs, maintains, support itself. That is absolutely true. We have power infrastructure, we have water. I mean there are things that are utilities that are required to go beyond where higher ed is, and that’s perfectly reasonable that we will have partnerships. And those things extend into technology spaces, they extend into food spaces, they extend all sorts of different spaces where institutions partner with for profit companies to help them support their mission and their mandate.

So, in that sense, I’m absolutely for the things that help to create a better environment for our students and our community. Where I disagree and where I have been not only skeptical but actively resistant is the place in which those partnerships replicate something that should be happening at the institution, building a capacity that the institution should be building and creating itself. And the most obvious example there is when the design and delivery of courses happens with a partnership rather than at the institution, we tend to then basically offshore a core capacity of an institution. A capacity that quite frankly a lot of institutions haven’t recognized is a core capacity. That’s the problem from the beginning. They don’t realize that, “Wait a minute, we should know how to do this because this is what we are actually being asked to do by our students. And if we don’t know how to do this and we’re giving this to someone else, what is our role? Are we just the infrastructure, are we just the summer camp for students to come to? Are we just housing or are we actually here to do something which is the teaching and learning mission? And we need to continue to maintain that capacity.”

So, in that particular instance where we have a core capacity at a responsibility as an institution, not only to do at the present, but to invest in so in the future, we have developed the intellectual capacity, we’ve developed the infrastructure, so that in 10 years and 15 years and 20 years, we know how to do that work and we’re good at doing that work. And that’s what differentiates us from other institutions. Then that is where I really run into a fundamental problem or challenge with those partnerships.

Dr. Cristi Ford (37:40):

So when you first started to make your comments, Eddie, I thought you were going to go down the road of the OPM conversation and that’s a whole other piece that we could talk about, but I can appreciate your comments around the course development and design. What I have noticed working at institutions and now working on at an organization that helps to serve institutions, for some of these smaller institutions that don’t have capacity to do some of this work, it for me, has really been about the partnership. To really be able to empower or be the superpower that informs and guides the theoretical framing or the pedagogical framing that is in place at an institution. But I want to also… We still talk about this in 2022, we are not teaching PhD level faculty members how to teach at many of our institutions.

And so, we still are grappling with this continuum of, we can’t even have good conversations about cognitive domains and Bloom’s text. I mean, we can’t even have those conversations with faculty members coming out of certain disciplines. And it worries me that at research institutions, and both of you are at very prestigious institutions and it’s good to see where their work is moving, but in certain places where the emphasis of scholarship and teaching is not aligned and parallel or the parody there is a little off and the weight that’s given for really spending time to make teaching and learning part of your scholarship and discipline is missing.

For me, that is the place that my obligation is to go on to do no harm. But when I see that there have not been really proper structures in place, I’m worried, I’m really worried in terms of what I’m seeing as I look at campuses. And I think that the pandemic really just put a spotlight for many institutions on places that they just didn’t know about because they weren’t walking around the campus and going into classrooms and really having that opportunity. And in the remote environment, they had a little bit more opportunity to get a window into some of the things that were happening there. So we should continue this conversation because I do agree with you that the bread and butter of an institution around teaching and learning and owning that classroom is really critical and pinnacle to what higher education institutions. And my goal is to really just to help optimize that.

Dr. Joshua Kim (40:22):

Yeah, I mean, Cristi, I would just say that kudos to D2L for recruiting you into this role. You’re still pretty unusual for someone who is well known, respected, an academic colleague working in a senior leadership role at a for-profit educational technology company. It still doesn’t happen all that much. So maybe that trend, maybe you’ll be part of a trend that will start to shift, but I think we have a very different type of conversation with you than we’ll often have with people who are in leadership roles at educational technology companies.

Dr. Cristi Ford (41:04):

Agree. Agreed. I really hope that I can be the start of that trend because I think that that chasm needs to be closed in ways that at the end of the day, all of this is to serve teaching and learning and to really help create better learning experiences for our students and to help faculty. I mean, there’s never going to be a time and space where faculty are not going to be needed to do the roles and responsibilities of teaching and learning, for sure. So hopefully I can set a trend in 2023 about being on top of this.

And so, this has been a really great conversation. I really appreciate you both being with me. I want to make sure that… There are two additional questions I want to make sure that we wrap up with and I know our time is coming short. And one of the things I believe is that as we predict the future, we really have to understand our past. And so as we think about 2023, I’d love to hear from each you, what do you think we’ll see? And how can universities or colleges plan for some of the uncertainties of the future?

Dr. Edward Maloney (42:06):

We don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, I think there’s just some fascinating potential. I think that we’re starting to see the effects of climate change potentially increase the likelihood that the kind of pandemic that we just went through will be more regular because of migrations of animals and the patterns that we’re starting to see just in terms of disruptions of expectations of that we all have about daily lives will change dramatically and that we’re all going to be responsive to moments that are unexpected, that are unplannable for. And so what we need to do in my mind is actually quite related to the OPM conversation and it’s related to what we were just talking to. And that is to make sure that we are building the capacities we need to be as agile as we need to be in order to be responsive to the challenge that we’re unable to see.

And you can do that, right. I mean, we have institutions that have long had to build capacities to be agile and flexible to respond to unexpected challenges. Our governments in different ways need to do that. And higher ed is going to need to do that instead of just deciding that what it does is plan for this exact future to plan for building the fundamental building blocks of what it means to be an institution for an unknown future. And that’s going to take some time. But it does mean, in my mind, investing in those core capacities does mean recognizing that you can do these things without a lot of money. The investments are not investments that can only happen at institutions that are wealthy. There are investments about how you spend that money. It’s about where you actually make choices. And we all have to make choices as institutions and leadership. And when you do those, you make those kinds of choices. If you bring in outside partners, you bring them in to help you build those capacities, not to replace the capacity to do the work for you. And in that sense, I think we really want… We need to build that ability to be as agile and as flexible as possible for that unknown. And I don’t think we’re all doing that yet.

Dr. Cristi Ford (44:22):

Pretty well said. Josh?

Dr. Joshua Kim (44:24):

Yeah, that’s really nicely said. So I think if I was going to think about the future of higher education for the next years, I’d probably ask Eddie. I’m feeling like we’re in such a weird time now, things just moving backwards. In the past year, women losing the right to choose and control their own bodies, really democratic values and norms really under attack. I feel like we’re just in this weird fragile time and I think in the year ahead universities are going to have to engage more in the wider world, and we’re going to have to be part of these conversations about what’s going on in this country. So that’s what I hope for.

Dr. Cristi Ford (45:13):

From your looks to God’s ears, we will get there. I think that that is so profound, Josh, in terms of being in this just weird vortex at this point in time. I really appreciate you both for joining me today. I’d like to close out just by checking in with you. I look away and I look back and you all are onto a second book, so I just would love to know anything you’d like to share with our listeners on your agenda next?

Dr. Edward Maloney (45:44):

You can take this one, Josh. We actually have two books that we’re working on right now, two new books. One is a collection of essays that’s called Re-centering Learning. And it really is building on some of the work that we did in the Learning Innovation book and really trying to think about and talk about how practitioners are really bringing, and continuing to bring learning to the center of the conversation. How that happened during the pandemic, how we saw some changes that were really ones that we hope we can invest in and we can see as consistent as we move forward. The other book and that we’re doing with our colleague at Georgetown, Maggie Debelius. So the three of us are co-editing that book. It’s a wonderful collection of essays and we’re getting pretty close to getting all of those essays finalized and put forward to the press.

The fourth book for us is a book that we’re writing that actually does something that I think that you just described, which is learning about the future by looking at the past and just making sure that we’re paying attention to where we are. And the book’s title is How Universities Learn. And we’re trying to map out those changes that we’ve been talking about, how universities actually strategize and think about change, how do they learn about what needs to come next? And in particular, because this is our area, we’re focused on teaching and learning, of course, not just broad scale change, but that those changes have happened in our history and we’re trying to understand where higher ed is going to be in the next 30 years by looking back to the 30 years when we were in school in the past, but also looking back farther and thinking about what it takes for institutions to make change, to invest in that change, to learn that it’s time to change and that things need to move in a different direction. And so we’re really hoping to map that both past and future in this next book.

Neither one of us are futurists. We have a good colleague who is, but we’re not in that space. So we’re just trying to, I think, really think about what has been good, I think, over the past 30 plus years that we can look to as models for the future.

Dr. Cristi Ford (48:03):

What exciting work. I knew that was the right question to ask to end this podcast. And so thank you Eddie and Josh for joining me today. I hope that this isn’t the last time we have an opportunity to have you as a guest and to inform our conversation. So thank you so much for the time and spending this with our listeners today. Really glad to have you.

Dr. Joshua Kim (48:25):

Thanks Cristi. It’s great to connect with you again.

Dr. Edward Maloney (48:28):

Yeah, thank you so much, Cristi. It’s really great to meet you and to chat with you.

Dr. Cristi Ford (48:32):

Absolutely. You’ve been listening to Teach and Learn, a podcast for curious educators. This episode was produced by D2L, a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of education and work. To learn more about our solutions for both K-20 and corporate institutions, please visit You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up to date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us and until next time, school’s out.

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