NASA’s Evolving Technology Strategy: What can Higher Education Learn?

The three foundational elements of NASA’s evolving technology strategy include Roadmaps for 15 Technologies, a Strategic Technology Investment Plan (STIP), and a software system to integrate and manage it all called TechPort.

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In 2010, NASA developed a set of Technology Roadmaps to guide the development of space technologies. The draft 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps expand and update the original roadmaps, providing extensive details about anticipated NASA mission capabilities and associated technology development needs. NASA believes sharing the roadmaps with the broader community will increase awareness, generate innovative solutions to provide the capabilities for space exploration and scientific discovery, and inspire others to become involved in America’s space program. The promising new technology candidates that will help NASA achieve its extraordinary missions are identified in the draft 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps. The roadmaps are a foundational element of the Strategic Technology Investment Plan (STIP), an actionable plan that lays out the strategy for developing technologies essential to the pursuit of NASA’s mission and achievement of National goals. The STIP prioritizes the technology candidates within the roadmaps and provides guiding principles for technology investment. The recommendations provided by the National Research Council heavily influence NASA’s technology prioritization. NASA’s technology investments are tracked and analyzed in TechPort, a web-based software system that serves as NASA’s integrated technology data source and decision support tool.

TA1 Launch Propulsion Systems TA2 In-space propulsion technologies TA3 Space power and energy storage TA4 Robotics and autonomous systems TA5 Communications navigation and orbital debris tracking and characterization systems TA6 Human health life support and habitation systems TA7 Human exploration destination systems TA8 Science instruments observatories and sensor systems TA9 Entry descent and landing systems TA10 Nanotechnology TA11 Modeling simulations information technology and processing TA12 materials structures mechanical systems and manufacturing TA13 Ground and launch systems TA14 Thermal management systems TA15 Aeronautics

TA1 Launch Propulsion Systems TA2 In-space propulsion technologies TA3 Space power and energy storage TA4 Robotics and autonomous systems TA5 Communications navigation and orbital debris tracking and characterization systems TA6 Human health life support and habitation systems TA7 Human exploration destination systems TA8 Science instruments observatories and sensor systems TA9 Entry descent and landing systems TA10 Nanotechnology TA11 Modeling simulations information technology and processing TA12 materials structures mechanical systems and manufacturing TA13 Ground and launch systems TA14 Thermal management systems TA15 Aeronautics

So what can Higher Education Learn?

As NASA did in 2010 and renewed in 2015, recognize the influence that the development and adoption of mission critical technologies have on the future. For higher education, I believe it means recognizing the inexorable influence of how the emerging Global Digital Learning Ecosystem and the technologies that it rest upon influence learning, learners, educators and the business of higher education. A technology strategy is not about technology, but rather about learning and creating value in the learning marketplace through the learner’s learning experience.

Recognize the need for a long-term forward-looking view that extends out 20 years into the future. This means focusing upon long-term sustainability despite short-term crisis and limited resources. Concepts such as course scalability, embedded assessment, community of practice curricula, proficiency based curricular models and architectures, lifelong learning markets, and differentiating the academic portfolio are key to future plans. Such strategies are a long-term investment and can take years to develop and perfect, but surprisingly can result in immediate benefits.

Recognize that a technology strategy means managing and integrating Multiple Mission Critical Technologies. The future is not one vendor or one system, but rather multiple technologies woven into an integrated strategy. Like NASA’s multiple roadmaps, higher education must plot a technology evolutionary path for Learning Management Systems, Assessment Methods, Curriculum Development Platforms, and a host of other focused categories. It means accommodating the fact that technologies are rapidly changing and rapidly evolving, so being nimble is important.

Recognize the future is one of market impotence unless the long-term technological capacity of the institution is enabled by an ongoing long-term investment plan. Academic leaders must look beyond the crisis of the minute or term and invest to develop a future. Wasting time and resources on quick fixes and sure things is the pathway of decline. Capacity translates into value that must be substantiated, delivered relentlessly over time, and positioned competitively in the learning marketplace. Each requires technology capacity in the era of the Global Digital Learning Ecosystem populated by digital natives (now 35 years old and younger).

Above all of the lessons the NASA Roadmaps can teach higher education, we must recognize that short-term actions must aggregate to pave the pathway to long-term sustainability. Optimize each and every resource, manage the calendar carefully and strategically, use resources (especially human capital) to focus on high yield, high impact results. This requires a multi-year, forward-looking vision that frames and informs the decisions that propel an institution forward. (We must recognize that higher education, where technology is concerned, lags generally far behind.)

The future is not about technology taking over learning, it is about learning systems optimizing technology and for that we need Roadmaps to the future…

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