Reflections on CHEP 2015, Niche Pedagogy Market

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Hi everyone, Jeff here. I just returned from CHEP 2015 by CIDER at Virginia Tech. While I will always fondly remember Cabo Fish Tacos, the conference itself had a pretty significant impact on me as I reflected on the trends rising in pedagogies (the study/science of teaching). This post began as a follow-up email to attendees and then kind of ran away from me into a lengthy post on what I’ll call “Niche Pedagogy” that seemed better fit for our blog. So that’s how it got here. Here are some thoughts and reflections on how the turbulence in changing technology and student demographics is impacting pedagogy.


What is becoming apparent to me the more I travel to conferences and talk to faculty is how there is a growing demand for continuing education on how to teach to “non-traditional” learners in the online space. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, there is a great emphasis on how to engage millennials, all of whom need to receive information in multiple avenues at multiple times (hat tip to Elizabeth Lacey from SHSU). Since reflecting on a conversation I had with Elizabeth, this multi-modal pedagogy is akin to how millennials consume all other forms of media, entertainment, and information. Education is just a tad late to the party.

I’m not a betting man, but if I were I’d bet that in the coming years we will see growth in specialization within the “Niche Pedagogy Market”, for lack of a better term.

Meaning, I really wouldn’t be surprised is we start to see niche pedagogical markets transition from being essentially a fragmented industry into something more mainstream within the next 2 to 5 years. Whereas these educators employing the new and innovative techniques were previously the radicals, the upstarts, crazy ones, the academic entrepreneurs, now lots of people are starting to take notice. As I survey the many schools I visit and meet, I am starting to see some trends of niche pedagogy reaching a saturation point.

Try this yourself. Visit any college, go to any department, and ask to meet “the professor really doing cool stuff with social media”. And you’ll get one or two references. Now ask, “Who is your online learning guru?” Again, you’ll get one or two references. Repeat as much you like, “Who is pushing the boundaries with game-based learning?”, “Which of your teachers use wikis in the classrooms?” you’ll get the same results.

By stating that we’ve reached a saturation point, I mean to say that new models of teaching, or utilizing innovative new tools, are just about universally accepted. Having superseded the hurdle of opening the doors and welcoming new technologies into classrooms (the first mover for our MBA friends), higher education will, academically speaking, apply Darwinian principles to the learning tools. Economically speaking, the market will decide.

This is already happening. You see it clearly with mainstays like LMS, video capturing, mobile learning, and others. And you’ll see it with emerging technology like us in the online proctoring space, new ways to deliver text content, game-based learning, collaborative learning tools, learning analytics, etc…

Now we are facing a chicken-egg paradox here: are educator’s needs (which is a misnomer, it’s student’s needs, right?) driving the innovation for educational technology creation? Or are startups creating tools that educators can use to engage their niche market? This isn’t Let’s Make a Deal, but there is Door Number Three: this combines a little bit of both. I promise you, I guarantee you, that the niche pedagogies that having staying power to become mainstream will have complimentary technology created in conjunction with educators and students specifically for that task.

At least that’s how ProctorFree was created. Countless hours of interviews with faculty and students led our design and tech teams to create an incredible proctoring solution that eliminates human intervention while fortifying academic integrity in a high-tech and low-cost package.

The implications for educators are multifaceted:

  • Are you an academic trying to make a name for yourself?
    • A great way to stand out amongst your contemporaries is to become an expert in a niche pedagogy, whatever your discipline.
  • Are you struggling to engage your students?
    • Now I would never say to use technology for technology’s sake.  However, sometimes a little sizzle will build interest. If that’s the hook, you need to work hard to reel it in. An example would be opening up class with a youtube clip.
  • You can take this extra mile and build in course-long assignments, like working in a wiki.
  • What if you just haven’t found the silver bullet but something is close?
    • You’ve just walked up to Door Number Three, amigo. Contact the company and ask for a custom solution.
    • Communicating with innovators and technologists is exactly what education and educational technology needs more of.

If you ever want to chat about emerging educational technology, online proctoring, or pedagogy, shoot me an email at or follow us on twitter at @ProctorFree.

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