Why is this? What makes academics want to get out silver bullets, garlic and crosses anytime there is a mention of corporate / higher ed collaboration? More importantly, what is being lost when this attitude is so prevalent that you risk wearing a scarlet letter if you are involved with corporate interests?
The fact is that this attitude isn’t prevalent in all of higher education, just specific sectors. When was the last time you heard pharmaceutical researchers saying that they shouldn't undertake cooperative work with Pfizer? Or aeronautical engineers debating the merits of working with Boeing? To find these types of hard questions being asked one has to venture into a university's school of education or arts and humanities. Understanding why this is the case is a topic for another day; what I want to discuss now is how many opportunities are missed when this level of paranoia drives policy. However, I believe the main reason for criticism is that the overwhelming majority of academics have not had the opportunity to seriously engage with corporate entities that they don't understand the degree to which these relationships can be mutually beneficial.
Last week, Adobe hosted their Education Leader's Summit in San Jose. This is the second year I have attended and have found it to be one of those events that you start looking forward to almost as soon as you return home. For a week, higher ed and k-12 practitioners meet to showcase projects they are involved in, learn about new solutions that Adobe is developing and provide feedback to product teams. Now I am certain there are some who are reading this blog who believe that the purpose is to turn people in education into marketing machines - nothing could be further from the truth. The projects that attendees share with each other are of their own creation, the research is based on the same criteria that is applied to scholarly journals and the product teams listen intently to what educators have to say.
Certainly Adobe wants to utilize the good work that is being done by their Education Leaders to make others aware of the creative possibilities and inform technology mediated pedagogy, but the focus really is on education and enhancing learning outcomes. This orientation clearly manifests itself in the fact that a significant amount of time during the formal program is dedicated to catalyzing interaction between attendees to facilitate brainstorming. With respect to the social events, they are designed to provide attendees with a relaxed atmosphere in which communication is open and collaborative development can occur.
After last weeks summit, I have made plans to work with at least four other educators (from both higher ed and K-12) to develop research constructs related to emerging technologies and cognition, as well as potential collaboration with several others on some very exciting applications. Given that I am lucky if I make one solid connection for future research at one out of every two conferences I attend, this number is staggering. Now, will Adobe benefit from the collaborations that will take place? Certainly, research and app development will provide insight for their education teams and ultimately support the adoption of their technologies by some number of educators.
So I have to ask myself what is the big deal? I am developing solid research and development networks, that will help me grow professionally. I am helping a major corporation through providing insight into emerging product lines that will benefit other educators. And along the way I am making some great friends. For that I have to thank the education team at Adobe. If there is some cardinal sin I have committed then I guess I will have to live with it. My only hope is that the allegedly enlightened academics who criticize corporate / higher ed relationships will help me understand what is wrong with this scenario.