Eric Stoller loves to ask tough questions. He loves to make people uncomfortable. And he works in Student Affairs – an area that is not traditionally confrontational. “In Student Affairs, we are all about feeling safe,” Stoller says. “But if you can’t ask questions, you can’t have dreams. And if you can’t have dreams…man, that is boring. Who wants to be boring? Nobody!”
And Stoller is anything but boring. He is a thought-leader, speaker, and consultant on “using social media in higher education to create connections and enhance communication.” But in order to get to this point in his life, Stoller had to make himself uncomfortable. “My biggest hurdle was that I couldn’t affect change at the level that I wanted to when I was in a full-time position,” he says. “I quit my job in order to make my own job as a consultant, which was extremely empowering. Sometimes you have to take a leap in order to recognize your vision.”
Stoller now uses his background in student affairs, academic advising, wellness, technology, and communications, to influence and captivate audiences. While he got started blogging with his own blog, he is also the Student Affairs and Technology blogger for Inside Higher Ed and a Twitter devotee. He has been called, “a student affairs techie who can translate technology jargon into meaningful Student Affairs action and policy.”
Here, Stoller shares his wisdom on the value of learning (vs. the value of education as a business) and what he believes is truly innovative (hint: it’s has nothing to do with technology). Enjoy!
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
My achievements are always in the context of how things have advanced for the communities in which I reside. As one of the leading writers, speakers, and thinkers about Student Affairs and Technology, I try my best to educate, share, question, answer, and provoke dialogue in areas in which Student Affairs has not traditionally been valued. I’m a curator of sorts. My goal is to empower other professionals to be innovative in their own practice.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I think that the conversation around technology and social media in Student Affairs is more widespread than ever before and I can definitely say that I played a part in that expansion of conversation, thinking, and action.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
In my direct work as a professional speaker and writer, technology is all around me, from the way that my desk is set up with a high quality USB microphone, a hi-def webcam, a speedy computer with a multi-monitor arrangement, and my use of videos to complement my talks.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Well, since my area of expertise is in Student Affairs and Academic Advising, I would say that the biggest obstacles are funding and technology.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Most Student Affairs divisions have been tasked with “doing more with less.” I think we’ve almost reached the limits of what we can do as a field in that framework. The exciting thing is that professional development opportunities for administrators are expanding. The traditional conferences are still doing their thing, but schools (and groups of people) have organized unique learning opportunities that are charting new ground for “professional development.”
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
We need to start incorporating more nuance into our conversations. So many are saying that schools are too expensive. Well, I know for a fact that a lot of state schools and community colleges still provide amazing educational opportunities for a reasonable cost.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
What would be truly innovative, at least in the US, would be for us to recognize that education for everyone should be our goal. Technology can provide access, but it isn’t the
answer to everything. Innovation within education requires a social contract that everyone is willing to agree to and uphold – we all go together, to ensure an educated populace. Transitioning our fiscal priorities so that education receives more money than warmongering…now that would be innovative.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
My advice would be to always operate from a position of critical thought, critical hope, and critical awareness. Transparency and authenticity will flow out of that framework, and your students will benefit. It’s a radical idea, but being radical is one way to make a major difference.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I think that the “businessification” of higher education is quite troubling. Capitalism
inherently creates inequality. An educational trend that needs to gain momentum is the idea that learning, for the sake of learning, is valuable. Otherwise, I think that we will start to regress as a society.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Confidence. It’s not a tool in the traditional sense, but it is so very helpful for learners to have confidence. Access to technology should not be innovative, it should be the standard.
About Eric Stoller
- Birthplace: Iowa, USA
- Current residence: Boston, Massachusetts
- Education: AA from Indian Hills Community College, BA in Communications from the University of Northern Iowa, and an Ed.M. in College Student Services Administration from Oregon State University.
- Website I check every day: Twitter.com
- Person who inspires me most: I’m terrible at this type of question…so hard to pick just one person…Let’s go with one of my favorite mentors: Larry Roper, Vice Provost of Student Affairs at Oregon State University. I always learn new things from Dr. Roper.
- Favorite childhood memory: Riding my mountain bike in rural Southeast Iowa…I always wanted to get out and explore. My bike gave me the means.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): San Antonio, Texas. I’m giving the keynote at the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators Annual Conference
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I was having a conversation about the future of student affairs last week with some friends (a couple of teaching faculty and a dean of students from a school here in Boston) and our shared love of intellectualism and sarcasm led to some epic bouts of laughter. I had tears in my eyes and joy in my heart.
- Favorite book: Teaching Community by bell hooks. That book transformed my life. An autographed copy sits on my bookshelf. That book is humbling with its wisdom.
- Favorite music: Ben Harper…anything that he does is so soulful and his technical skills are superb.
- Your favorite quote or motto: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” — Maya Angelou