Leaning Into the HAIL Storm

Are we seeing a trend toward small cross-institutional gatherings?

March 21, 2018
 

This week I’ll be joining 35 of my closest colleagues at a gathering of learning R&D (research and development) nerds.

The HAIL (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners) Storm is a guerrilla convening of digital learning misfits, outcasts and other assorted deplorables. My kind of people.

As I prepare to lean into this particular HAIL Storm, I’m wondering if this convening is part of a larger trend. Are we seeing a growth in small meetings? Are higher education people leapfrogging (or working around) professional associations and established disciplinary bodies to create new groups?

In the case of HAIL, the formation of this community has been driven by the absence of an existing professional community that exactly fits the needs of a group of alternative academics who are trying to leverage digital learning to push for institutional (and systemwide) change. The jobs that the people going to HAIL do at our schools are, in most cases, jobs that did not previously exist. We don’t have a professional association because it is not quite clear what profession we are in.

My hypothesis is that the predicament that we HAIL goers find ourselves in, of not knowing what our professional home is and who are professional peers are, is anything but unique.

Higher education is changing so quickly that many of us find ourselves working in liminal and largely undefined roles. We are working without a map. Making it up as we go along. The legacy organizational structure of our institutions no longer fits or supports our work.

We work both across our colleges and universities and across the higher education ecosystem in order to drive innovation on our campuses. Our work is experimental. We believe that the needs to drive rapid improvements in quality, access and cost reduction are so great that traditional incremental methods of change are inadequate to the challenge.

We also largely work outside the traditional authority structure of higher education. Very few of us have progressed in our academic careers as traditional academics. We are unlikely to have the protections of tenure or the status of traditional university leadership roles.

Does this sound familiar to your work and your career?

Do you find yourself longing for a different sort of community of practice? One that is more intimate, trust based and perhaps centered more on knowledge creation than best practices?

Are you looking to translate the organizational work that you do into research?

Are you in a higher education role that you were not trained to do in your graduate program? And do you wonder what a graduate program based on what you actually do in higher education might look like?

Have you recently tried to organize small, intense and continuous conversations with colleagues doing similar work as you at peer institutions? Perhaps these conversations are occurring over email, or Twitter, or synchronously through online meeting platforms.

What is the size of a community of practice that you find optimal to build trust?

Have you been able to leverage the professional or disciplinary association that you have been part of to create emergent subgroups built on the work that you are actually doing, as opposed to what your job title says you do?

Or have you, like the HAIL Storm participants, created a group of peers without a hierarchy, a staff or a funding model?

Can we find in the origin stories of our established professional associations the kernel of loosely organized and improvisational groups like the HAIL Storm?

Has anyone studied how grassroots agglomerations of peers are sustained, or how they wither away?

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