“More learning is happening outside of our institutions. Students are increasingly able to find the best possible way of learning on their own.” – Dr. Keith Hampson, Canada

“The fundamental obstacle to innovation in higher education, particularly in the area of digital learning, is the organization itself – its design, processes, occupational identities and so forth,” says Dr. Keith Hampson. “My work has involved drawing attention to the impact of the organization on improved learning for students.”

A former university faculty member and director, Hampson now focuses on the strategic aspects of digital higher education as a consultant, blogger and thought-leader. For more than a decade, Hampson has helped colleges and businesses improve the value of digital
programs and services for higher education.

“I believe that other professionals in the field of digital higher education can benefit from applying a greater focus on the design of the organization,” notes Hampson. “Commonly, attention is directed at the technology and at educational issues. These issues, while important, are actually by-products or symptoms of organizational issues. Stated differently, the organization constrains, or makes possible, improvements in education and technology.”

Today, Hampson shares his thoughts on redirecting the focus of higher education on student learning – not the faculty – and what he thinks Canada is doing well for its students.  

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

My colleagues and I at Ryerson University won a total of five national awards for excellence in digital education over a two-year period.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

It is difficult to assess the impact of research and analysis, of course. But I have had great success in shaping the dialogue in higher education in ways that ultimately serve the students’ interests.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I encourage my fellow professionals in higher education to pay more attention to trends and developments outside of higher education. It’s no longer sufficient for education to limit its focus to the education arena; education is shaped by many of the same factors that shape other sectors, such as consumer technology, community development and others.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I write blog posts as a way of working through problems. And once published, the feedback I get from other professionals provides me with a much-needed reality check.

I founded an online group within Linked In that provides me with a steady stream of information from other professionals that I use to inform my decision-making. The diversity of the group forces me to see issues and problems from a number of perspectives.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Redirecting the focus of higher education institutions on student learning, as opposed to faculty issues (e.g. workload) or institutional concerns (e.g. reputation enhancement).

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Canada tends to treat its educators better than in many other countries. K-12 educators, for example, are paid a living wage – which is not always the case elsewhere.

Canada has (somewhat) resisted the craze of “teaching to the test” – and maintained a greater interest in the student’s overall development.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

Political will is a key. Change hurts and those that drive the change will face resistance from those that fear the change. This is a particularly acute problem in higher education,
where faculty has been able to maintain the status for decades in the face of rather blatant evidence that we were doing a less than great work of educating young adults.  Similarly, institutions of higher education need to worry less about moving up the traditional hierarchy (e.g. rankings), and more about student development.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Involve designers in the process of creating digital instruction. “Digital” is a design-intensive environment. The quality of the learner experience is determined to a considerable degree by the quality of design (e.g. interface, font, balance, etc).

Move more quickly toward outcome measurement – rather than measuring credit hours (time spent in class). In some cases, allow students to find their own ways to prepare for the assessments. At the same time, allow new types of educational providers to
compete with our traditional institutions as sources of learning.  Together, these two changes would unleash far greater innovation in learning.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Find other change agents and form alliances. You’ll get further ahead, more quickly, if you are part of a larger effort.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

More learning is happening outside of our institutions. Students are increasingly able to find the best possible way of learning on their own.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why? 

Meaningful feedback.  While not a “tool” in the traditional sense, meaningful feedback is too often absent from the learning experience – though it is a powerful driver of quality learning. One way in which this can be achieved is through high-quality, adaptive software. We need to build the applications (and instructional content that must be aligned with the software) that can provide learners with constant and meaningful feedback on their progress. This is “risk–free” learning for students, in which they can learn through trial and error. The fact that higher education has thus far not attempted to develop (or purchase) these kinds of tools is odd, at the very least.

About Dr. Keith Hampson
Twitter: @keithhampson

  • Birthplace: Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada
  • Current residence: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Education: PhD, Media and Culture, University of Queensland, Australia
  • Website I check every day: The Economist (magazine)
  • Person who inspires me most: My daughters, Emma and Claire.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Basketball with friends.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): St. Paul, Minnesota
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? This morning, as a result of a joke my daughter told.
  • Favorite book: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.
  • Favorite music: Blue Rodeo
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult than it is for others.”
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