If you’ve attended a conference or read articles or, well, done anything, really, in the past few years you’ve likely heard of something called “design thinking.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ve turned your nose up at what seems to be the latest fad out of Silicon Valley.
But design thinking is not business-school jargon. It isn’t pretentious, or fake, or overhyped. It’s actually useful—yes, even to higher ed, with all its quirks.
Change is hard. (See: Newton’s first law of motion). And humans are inherently lazy and creatures of habit. If there is more than one way to do something complex, we will almost always take the easy route. That, or shove it in a drawer so we won’t have to look at it.
So when I decided I wasn’t happy with the way I was looking and feeling about my weight for the umpteenth time, I held on tight to my inertia until a friend invited me to a Weight Watchers meeting.
There are, the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
We tend to think about that axiom in the context of politics, where people willfully manipulate numbers to suit their beliefs and goals. But statistical analyses in any context are only as perfect as the people who perform them—which is to say that none of them are.
The predictive scores, algorithms, and other mathematical tools that advancement and alumni teams are increasingly using to evaluate alumni engagement and likelihood to make a gift often obscure reality and, as a result, counterproductively warp our priorities and strategies.
Every engagement or affinity score, or algorithm, or survey result is one or more steps removed from reality. What happens to these numbers in the intervening steps is what makes them powerful, but it is also what should make us wary. Here’s why.
As a former higher education career services administrator now working in edtech, I’m concerned to see institutions sourcing technology solutions without an understanding of the biases that exist in that industry. It’s important for higher ed leaders to assess whether they are sourcing technology through an equity lens and understand how those decisions perpetuate inequality.
I started to grow concerned after returning from the ASU+GSV (Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Capital, a venture capital firm) conference this spring. True to its name, the conference attracts education thought leaders, edtech companies, investors, and foundations to discuss the challenges facing education and forge partnerships to solve them.
Switchboard has a new look!
We've spent the past year or so focusing on back-end tools like a powerful user directory, analytics and data export options, and goals tracking for teams that empower our partners who serve as stewards of their Switchboards.
This new design is entirely for Switchboard members.
Since we started Switchboard in 2013, we’ve learned that platforms are not a panacea, and that we need to train people and change processes to make even the most effective software work. That’s why we now require our partners to undergo on-site training with our team before launching Switchboard. We completed our largest training yet with our new partner the University of Alberta last month and wanted to share.
Before I co-founded Switchboard, I worked as a reporter. I studied at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and went on to work for National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, and popular shows like Marketplace and Planet Money. I reported on stories ranging from the opioid crisis, to pediatric burns caused by Cup Noodle soup, to rickshaw drivers in India.
It’s hard to overstate how much public newsrooms and education have in common, and how much both professions can learn from one another.
Today, the first installment in our Ask Switchboard column, where we or friends of Switchboard answer anonymous questions from readers.
Our first reader question is about using continuing education to engage alumni. Kathy Edersheim, formerly of Yale and now president of Impactrics, has written eloquently on the subject, so we hand it off to her.
Every month, we hear from folks in higher ed who are interested in Switchboard not because of what our company does, but because of what we have done—move from higher education to the private sector. Professionals in constituent-facing offices like career services, student affairs, alumni relations, and advancement want to know how they can transition from higher education, too.
This quiet, looming exodus is as frightening to watch as it is frustrating. It's frightening because institutions are losing the talent they need to succeed and survive in the changing higher ed landscape. It's frustrating because we know it is preventable.
When people leave their jobs, they each have their own reasons for moving on. But everyone we've spoken to shares one reason in common: a lack of professional development resources at their institution.
It's a huge problem, but we'll try to keep it brief. Here are four reasons why a dearth of professional development funding and opportunities is hollowing out constituent-facing offices.