Innovation Fatigue: Pursuing Personally Meaningful Work in the Current Educational Technology Climate

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

Join a discussion on how edtech professionals can pursue personally meaningful work in a climate (efficiency models, technocentrism) that can sometimes limit agency and creativity.


I am currently an instructional designer at Cornell University. My primary areas of support include international collaborations, online course development and e-Portfolios. Prior to my position at Cornell I taught marketing in Panama, Santo Domingo, Prague and Lebanon using a blended learning model. I incorporate cloud computing tools to increase engagement while the students work online and for collaborations across cultures. I recently earned my PhD at UAlbany School of Education. The title of my dissertation was Five Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Majors: A Portraiture of their Lived Experiences.
Dr. Andy Saltarelli is the senior director of evaluation and research in Stanford University’s Office of the Learning Technologies and Spaces. He establishes and facilitates strategic, campus-wide initiatives in digital innovation, learning analytics, and educational research. He leads a team of analysts and data scientists that partner with campus stakeholders to generate insightful and actionable learning data infrastructure. Andy’s disciplinary background is in educational and social psychology and his research investigates how online technologies affect the psychological processes underlying teaching and learning. He has published over 15 research articles in prominent outlets such as the journal Science.

Extended Abstract

We (and many of our OLC colleagues) entered the academic technology profession out of a deep desire to leverage the affordances of digital tools to design transformative learning experiences (see Veletsianos, 2011). Supporting educational technology initiatives that achieve this goal can be fantastically rewarding and personally meaningful. What is more, there is no doubt that trends in digital learning have provided increased energy, interest, and opportunities to creatively rethink what's possible with regard to learning experiences in higher education. At the same time, some leaders have used these trends to implement efficiency models, increase standardization, and promote technocentrism (see Papert, 1990), which constrain what's possible and limit opportunities for support professionals to engage in personally meaningful work. MOOCs, for example, were originally conceived around the ideals of greater openness, access, and connection, but have been in many instances used to further commodify educational content, unbundle university services, and privilege learning experiences and outcomes that can be easily quantified. As a result, we are finding that we have less agency and opportunity to pursue the mission that first drew us to the profession and made it a personally meaningful endeavor.

Many of the influential thinkers that have shaped our educational systems -- both historical (see e.g., Dewey,1938; James, 1890) and contemporary (see e.g., Palmer, 1999) -- have argued that it's essential to align one's passions and personal values with academic and vocational pursuits. There is also ample empirical evidence to suggest that finding a transcendent purpose in one's work produces better outcomes for students (Yeager et al., 2014) and workers (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). With this as backdrop, our goal is to use the following questions to facilitate a conversation that addresses the ways in which educational technology professionals can pursue personally meaningful work in the current higher education climate:

-What are characteristics of edtech initiatives (e.g., efficiency models, technocentrism) that limit support staff agency and space for thoughtfulness?
-How can we leverage (or reframe) the accountability movement (and related shifts in the demography and ecology of higher education) to reconnect ed-tech initiatives to an institution's core mission, ideals of liberal education, and students' unique and changing needs?
-What are approaches to leading up and influencing strategic direction from the "margins"?
-How can we build in Caesura moments (intentional, reflective pauses) into our time?
-What are effective strategies for self leadership and personal visioning?
-How can we engage in inquiry, original research, and scholarly output even when this is a limited (or discouraged) aspect of one's job description?
-In what ways can we creatively "bootstrap" our own stuff into others' initiatives?
-How can edtech initiatives be used as opportunities for deeper connection, empathy, and care?
-How do we create a business argument for edtech initiatives that tap into support professionals' desire for personally meaningful work?
-What can we (and the larger OLC community) do to support and affirm professionals seeking to maintain a personally meaningful career in ed-tech?

Amibile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011, May). The Power of Small Wins. Retrieved December 1, 2015, from

Dewey, J. (1938). Democracy And Education. New York: Touchstone.

James, W. (1890). Habit. University of Michigan Library.

Palmer, P. J. (1999). Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Papert, S. (1990). A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future. M.I.T. Media Lab Epistemology and Learning Memo No. 2. Retrieved Dec 1, 2015, from

Veletsianos, G. (2011). Designing Opportunities for Transformation with Emerging Technologies. Educational Technology, 51(2), 41-46.