I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the amazing DTLT team at the University of Mary Washington since I visited their Faculty Academy back in 2005. UMW is a small (5000 or so students) public liberal arts college in Virginia, yet their impact on the field is immense. Because of the amazing bang for the buck DTLT provides for its community, I’ve long said that “pound for pound” they were the best ed tech shop going. The past couple years, I’ve dropped the qualifier – they are the best, full stop.
They’re presently working on a documentary about their ethos and impact, and the teaser looks amazing:
I can’t offer a better response than Clint Lalonde (at Royal Roads) does:
I WANT THIS so bad for my unit. I want us to dig out of the daily grind to be able to get to the point where we are doing serial innovation. Focusing on the things that are important. Convincing others to come along for the ride. Inspire the people I work with to become as passionate about learning and technology that Jim and his people are.
As someone who works in a similar unit with a similar mandate at a higher ed institution, I find the DLTL approach inspirational, and love how there is such buy-in at the institution for the common vision. As I said in my comment to Jim’s post, the tension between innovation and sustainability is one I constantly battle with. And while innovation is a word that looks good on a mission and values statements, if it isn’t backed up with the things Jim and his colleagues talk about – culture, failure, play, willingness to take risks – it remains locked away as words on statements.
I find UMW DTLT to be a particularly relevant inspiration because they do what they do with their spirit and their skills. Compared to many higher ed tech units, DTLT runs on an incredibly lean shoestring budget. They invest their time and money in their people, supporting flexible, user-defined open source environments. With every innovation, they build capacity in their expertise to tackle the next challenge. And they have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.
Current DTLT Director Jim Groom was recently named by the Chronicle of Higher Education one of twelve tech innovators to be featured. Jim deserves the kudos, but to his credit he recognizes that innovation cannot be driven be any single person:
More than anything else I’m a community organizer, and what I do is not premised on technical prowess, individual genius, or some notion of visionary leadership—but rather the belief, born of personal experience, that people want to be part of a fun, creative community that feeds into the work they do in every facet of their personal and professional life. …They shared who they are, what they know, what turns them on, and as a result a community was born. And it seems to me now that every class should be such a community, every class should aspire towards becoming a community. That is the dream, that is why we do what we do. ds106 has become the realization of what school can and should be, and for me that is the real innovation and it can’t be attributed to any one person—it can only be attributed to the age old, and seemingly forgotten, innovation of communities coming together to help one another out.