What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
Rick Upchurch, Former President, ACCESS
March 5, 2013
“President’s Report”

My first ACCESS conference was in Dallas, Texas.  I was immediately impressed with the real sense of professional collegiality and willingness of the members to share and collaborate.   As the years have gone by, I have continued to be impressed with the passion our members bring to serving students, and assisting each other on the subject of distance education.

The title of this, my final, report as president is “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”  I borrowed the title from Marshal Goldsmith’s book by the same title.  I want to take a few minutes to look at what has gotten us “here,” and touch briefly on what might be involved in getting us “there.”
Some of the things which have gotten us here:

  • Hard work
  • Dedication of time, talent, and resources
  • Ethical conduct and values based mission
  • Passion for student learning
  • A willingness to take risks and innovate

If all this has gotten us here, and we can assume it will be needed to get us “there,” what more needs to be added?  Some might suggest that nothing more is needed; that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, things will get better.  But I’ve also heard this kind of thinking is the definition of insanity. I have an idea there might be something else needed to get us “there.”

We exist in an interesting profession at an interesting point in history.  Higher education is steeped in the traditions of the past.  We are forced to deal with that reality in almost every faculty meeting.   We have innovated, but only within the paradigm of what higher education has always done, albeit with constant struggle against the traditionalism of many of our colleagues and institutions.  The growth of distance education in the academy has come as a surprise to many of our colleagues, even as those of us closer to the technological front could have easily predicted.  This struggle in awareness and acceptance is not fully resolved and may not be for some time.  However, the pervasiveness of this delivery venue will eventually break through even the hardest heads at our institutions, or, sadly, they will retire in consternation of their perceived lessening of the educational process.  We who are at the forward edge of these changes applaud the new wave and bemoan our colleagues who haven’t been able to adapt.  Secretly we even believe ourselves to part of a new elite, which, although somewhat suspect now, will eventually be recognized for the saviors of higher education that we feel ourselves to be.

But, again, all of this is part of the broader paradigm which has essentially not really changed.  It is our “here.”  However, the advance of technology and a societal shift in perspective has already begun to suggest that there is a “there” which will not be effectively served by the old paradigm, even in these new clothes.  Do we want to go there?  Should we go there?  Can we afford to go there?  Perhaps more importantly, can we afford NOT to go there?

One of my co-workers told me last week his 10-year-old wanted a Nexus 7 for his birthday.  Another told me that he gave his 5 and 8-year-old children Kindle Fires for Christmas.

The advent of MOOCs, the Western Governors competency model, social media, always-on pervasive knowledge available on any subject, usually including how-to videos, and the flattening of our world with the accessibility of mobile technology points to a “there” for higher education which, although nebulous at this point, is becoming visible. This was made even more clear in the presentation by Robbie Meltoisoniazid mobile technology and her 70,000 mobile applications.  Echoing her words  all I can say is “Oh my gosh what is coming in our future?”

So, what will we need to take us “there?”   I am a big fan of scotomas. You know what a scotoma is don’t you?  A scotoma is a way of looking at things that overlooks, ignores, or is ignorant of, the possibility that there are other ways to see the same thing with a completely different effect.  The only way to overcome a scotoma is with assistance. That is what ACCESS and other engagements in the collective dialogue provide for us: the opportunity to see the future as we challenge each other and the scotoma that we have known up to now as “higher education.”  We have to stay engaged in the conversation and not fall prey to isolationist, or worse, elitist, thinking.    We can get “there” if we go there  together. I am convinced that the “there” of the future will require an unprecedented level of collaboration amongst our institutions, and I am convinced that ACCESS and other conferences  and organizations like it, are part of our solution to get us “there.”

It has been my pleasure to work with some amazing people on the ACCESS Executive Committee such as Mary Lowe, Kevin Mahaffy, Michael Wilder, Jason Baker, Michael Freeman, Mindi Thompson, and Chris VanBuskirk.  I am confident in their leadership in the coming years to help us find ways to see this new scotoma that will become higher education, because what has gotten us here will definitely not get us “there.”