What is a Hub? Thoughts and Reflections from a Hailstorm

Text: "The HAIL Storm." Image: cloud with lightening bolt.

By Jess Knott, Learning Design Manager

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Hailstorm (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners), a small and invite-only working group for a network of people working in units similar to the Hub from a number of institutions around the country. The goal of the Hailstorm network is this: “designing ways forward for our collective innovation challenges, HAIL is a network for higher ed leaders who have demonstrated an awareness of and commitment to experimentation for transformational change as a response to the uncertainty in the broader education ecosystem.” The goal of this blog post is to reflect and share some learning, though I’ve not reached the stage of concrete action and thinking about what’s next.

I returned home, filled with ideas and thinking prompts, inspired, and trying to write a blog post that succinctly captures what I learned. Joshua Kim, Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at Dartmouth College, shared his thoughts as the event progressed, and in ways that I found valuable as I situated myself and our team in the experience. Reading and writing is how I make sense of the world, so Josh’s timeline of reflections gave me tangible thoughts to consider in my quiet moments as the event progressed.

The Chatham House rules that guided the event dictated that what happened in the room stayed in the room, but what we learned was intended to leave the room. The thoughts below are just that – thoughts. So, what did I learn?

We’re not alone.

As Kim mentions in Reacting to the Hailstorm, academic innovation is “a thing” now. When working in new spaces, and creating things that didn’t exist before, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “nobody gets it.” This isn’t true. Or maybe it is. But that truth stems from the fact that these hubs and accelerators ARE new. When the facilitator asked Hailstorm attendees how many of them were working in a job role that was created in the past five years, almost everyone raised their hand. These new centers and roles challenge traditional higher education norms and cultures. They take a longer view. They measure and assess and look for new trends and metrics to explain those trends – but fast. Really fast. So, I learned that while we already move fast at the Hub – we could move faster still.

"Vulnerability is hard, even when there are rules in effect that guide that safety. It’s important to lean into that discomfort a little - or a lot." - Jess Knott


No one in that room worked in a bubble. There were people who had attended Hailstorm before, there were people who were new to the event like I was, and there were people from different institution types, locations, and goals. We all worked together, and I almost learned more from the casual conversations taking place at breaks than I did in the facilitated discussions. The facilitated conversations were deliciously guided by Alison Dulin Salisbury, and I was thankful for not only people’s willingness to share, but her ability to keep us moving. Vulnerability is hard, even when there are rules in effect that guide that safety. It’s important to lean into that discomfort a little – or a lot. I had an extraordinarily positive experience, and yet I wonder about the exclusivity of the event. It really, really worked. A small, targeted group of similar roles and vastly different opinions, co-working and creating in a safe space. My question remains – who did we miss and what did they have to say?



I did a lot of listening this week. So did Megan from CSU Channel Islands (click here to read her recap post), because by listening, I learned what matters to people, to organizations, roles, and more. In doing so I realized that while I’ve learned a lot, I’ve still got a lot more to learn. Since my return, I have been thinking deeply about strategy in loosely coupled systems, about the formation of networks of practice and what they mean, and about what it means to care for the people and projects of an institution. Some of my thoughts remain the same, but I am revisiting some as well. By listening, and not immediately thinking about problems or fixes, or what ifs – I was able to listen more deeply, take notes, and process more completely. In a room filled with so many smart people and so many wonderful ideas and models, that was a challenge. But it’s one I’m glad I took.

I realize that I’ve not provided much in this post that is concrete. That is by design. As my friend and colleague A. Michael Berman says, maybe the experience was enough. I am still thinking and processing at a high level, rather than at a solutions-based one. The biggest takeaway from the week is that as fast as we hubs need to move to succeed, we also need to take the time to think purposefully about our cultures, conversations, and opportunities. Are you interested in the idea of Hailstorm? I’d love to talk to you.

Read the EdSurge recap of the event here.