MedBiquitous Community Connection: Sept. 1 Webinar Q&A

Note: The Q&A transcription has been paraphrased to be more succinct.

The recorded presentation may be viewed here.

Q: (Johmarx Patton)
A couple of years ago at Learn Serve Lead, a colleague commented how deans and administrators are asking for things related to the present curriculum, and more than likely that focused work should have started 18 months ago so that it would be ready for them “today.” More so, we should really be working on things in the present that we will want five years from now. In five years, we would have built it, tested it, and gone through the paces. It would then match directly where they are in the curriculum at that point in time.

How do we have that safe space between the IT shop and the education shop? Some schools have created those bridges, but the majority of schools – medicine or other health professions – do not have that. Any thoughts on how to create that safe space?

A: (Sascha Cohen)
Great question. Building these switches is hard, and thinking forward is really hard. One of the keys to resolving that is finding the opportunity and building the foundations for communication to allow your technologists to actually be a partner at the table when talking about education and helping to spur that thinking forward. Not as the support tech, not as the help desk, not as the go-to consultant or contractor, but as a true partner. Generally, deans are focused on getting the present done. Whereas technologists have the opportunity to shift them toward thinking and expressing what the expectations are that come after getting the outcomes they’re about to achieve.

A: (Jonathan Johnson)
As technologists there’s also something we can do. We are reaching a point where we can rapidly prototype and deliver production quality solutions. We can build things much faster than we have ever been able to build them before. If you have a team and you invest in them and give them the tools they need, it is possible to get five years ahead. It is possible to not need three months to build something. We have to practice some skills there, but we are reaching a point where that intrinsic delay between “I want” and “I have” can be shortened pretty significantly – sometimes to a matter of days or weeks. This helps a lot because then the technologist is no longer saying “no” to every idea that education has, which is a tough partner to have. You don’t want a partner that says “no” to everything you want.

A: (Sascha Cohen)
To further what Jon said, it’s challenging to get the resourcing and the funding you need in technology; technology costs a lot. The right skill sets for strategic growth and finding a way to appropriately resource those skills speaks directly to what Jon is saying. If we can help build our shops, bring our people together, and train them to become nimble in this way, then we can respond to needs and expectations and internally raise that level of innovative risk. We will be able to share things that have a low threshold of resource intensity and overall cost to the organization. We can then try things out and if they do not work, we can move forward, leave them behind, and shift effectively on a dime. These are things that tech does well. And, we have not been great at providing that kind of environment in educational technology. Again, I think this is a place to have conversations so leadership better understands we can have an exponentially positive impact on our overall educational goals. For any institution this is a critical way of moving forward.

Q: (Terence Ma)
Open source assumes that the institution has the resources to have developers and others who can focus on development and making software work for the institution. In the current financial environment, is this a realistic situation?

A: (Jonathan Johnson)
I think about that a lot. Developers are extremely expensive, almost more expensive than any other human resource you can have. The value you can get from a single developer, however, is equally impactful - particularly someone who can take advantage of the open source ecosystem that’s available. We built Ilios with a couple developers. And, we were only able to do that because those developers worked directly for the educational mission at UCSF. It does allow us to leverage a huge amount of software that is available in the world. You can pay contractors to build things for you one-off and that can work, but if they are not great at leveraging that open source ecosystem then you are not going to get the full value. It is a struggle, and always will be a struggle, to pay developers. If you are not getting good results, it is even harder to get that compromise to happen. Is there an answer to that question? I don’t think there is – unless Sascha has one. It can really be worth it, because the return can be significantly large and to have someone integrated into the organization who can respond to your needs is pretty great.

A: (Sascha Cohen)
There is no single answer to this question. But I would stress that in the broader picture one thing that we tend to neglect in the equation is that, while the cost to have a developer(s) building open source appears very high on your ledger sheet, the cost of not doing that will reflect in hidden costs (the cost of purchasing and maintaining software; maintaining third party vendor systems, support networks, upgrades, and the server farms for cloud instances that those require; the internal staff required to support those relationships; and, the management and training of that software) that often wind up being equal or even greater than taking advantage of an open source universe.

There isn’t an answer. It’s not that one is better than another. It winds up being a challenge of the pocketbook. Which exorbitant cost is your institution more likely to maintain? What is the effective culture and communication that you are going to be able to build to support one or the other?

Q: (Jeff Kaminski)
I imagine that often those making financial decisions for an organization live more in the realm of a risk-adverse environment. What are successful strategies to getting them to invest in a vision of innovation with yet unseen results?

A: (Sascha Cohen)
The “yet unseen results” is the hardest part of that question. I think this speaks very directly to Jon’s comments on honing resources and skillsets to provide for what is now a very rapid response development cycle. There are ways of providing proof of concept that aren’t vaporware, that aren’t PowerPoint to decision makers, that can show real value immediately. And, part of the process around being successful is being able to work very closely with educators, learners, and other technologists to pinpoint the high value key concepts that are visible and of interest to decision makers, and being able to prototype and develop those to show real value. If you can show and enumerate what the value is in providing something – what I have found is the upward slope there tends to be less steep.

A: (Jonathan Johnson)
There is almost certainly someone on your team who is ready to do this work. Someone who is ready to be your driving force for change. As I say that, think of them in your mind. Maybe they don’t have the skills they need, or the political power they need to do those things – but, instead of trying to convince decision makers to spend more money on vaporware of the future, maybe you can convince yourself to spend more money developing that person or those people. They might not look like Mark Zuckerberg, a software developer, they might look like anybody, they could be anybody – but they are on your team and they are ready to help, and sometimes that’s the best way. Find somebody you are already familiar with, that you’re already paying, and invest in them. That could be your best way forward.

Q: (Madhavkumar Iyer)
Are there standards organizations like MedBiquitous involved in the standards effort?

A: (Johmarx Patton)
Yes, MedBiquitous is involved. And, the standards Sascha mentioned are MedBiquitous standards. We at MedBiquitous work with Sascha and others on the ideas presented on today. As an extension, MedBiquitous is also partnering with other standards organizations that work in higher ed and the work force, organizations that work primarily in colleges, K through 12, and HR. MedBiquitous has been working with them over the last few months to make this a space for everyone.

Q: (Yusuf Yilmaz)
How can we improve reliability of assessment in MOOCs? What are the alternative assessments strategies in MOOC environment?

A: (Sascha Cohen)
I'm afraid I don't have a really good answer for this question; assessment strategies for MOOCS is a bit beyond the purview of the discussion we had, and not something I feel entirely knowledgeable about. That said, the challenges of assessment for a MOOC aren't that different than any other online learning experience, except for scale. And scale is THE problem here. You can deliver content to an endlessly increasing audience, but to assess the learning of that audience means interaction. Unless you are looking at hard science (maths, etc.) where AI can aid in the review of work without too much concern, it isn't possible to provide the level of human interaction required to make this both effective and affordable if used as a broad (as opposed to a narrow-focused and niche) solution. The quality of feedback in humanities, as an example, will always be degraded at scale, since a large part of the pedagogy and learning experience is about interaction and wrestling with ideas, rather than answering questions with clear and dispositive answers.

Like other "disruptive" learning solutions we presented, this is yet another example of why technological innovation tends - in education - to require clear balance with sustainability of status quo efforts.

Note: The last question was posed as a discussion thread in our virtual community, MedBiquitous ThinkTank. We want to hear your thoughts.

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