By Vice President, Steve Davidson
EDUCAUSE 2014 was a massive gathering of technology professionals from around the world who met in Orlando a few weeks back to see, share, and absorb “the best thinking in higher ed IT.” There were 7,300 attendees, representing 50 countries, attending 400 sessions, connecting with over 250 vendors, and having countless discussions about how technology can enable and transform their colleges and universities.
Here is a quick recap of the highlights:
Clay Christensen wants us all to pray for Harvard Business School (HBS) because he sees the future of higher education as modular and interoperable. He’s hopeful that the unique and exquisite venue of HBS will continue to be a safe environment for debate and argument and won’t be disrupted by online education or the “unbundling of higher education.” That said, and with tongue in cheek, he laid out his theory and model for its disruption and unbundling by using an interesting and applicable case around Apple Computer (although he still might worry about Apple too).
What this means: The disruption and unbundling of higher education has begun. Is Harvard Business School in real danger? No, but most of our clients acknowledge that this unbundling has begun and we need to start planning for it. They just don’t know where the real tipping point is, and that’s the concerning part. If Clay’s model holds true to form, most feel higher education will look very different in a decade. Clay thinks that the providers who can figure out the modularity and interoperability problem will be the winners. Our question is as follows: How long will it take for senior leaders, staff, and IT professionals to go from acknowledgement to action? Some institutions surely are taking action, but too many are not acting quickly enough.
Gordon Wishon, the CIO of Arizona State University, was awarded the 2014 Leadership Award by the Educause community. The award is for leadership in constant improvement of higher education and supporting technologies, for visionary advocacy of best practices and leading governance for the management of technology services, for collaboratively sharing his deep understanding of higher education issues, and for overall excellent leadership in the profession.
What this means: This reaffirms ASU’s forward-leaning leadership and innovation when it comes to leveraging information technology within a large complex organization to empower and advance the mission(s) of the university. We think that many aspiring technology and institutional leaders could and should look to ASU for best practices and road maps as they seek to serve their students better (e.g., cost, access, and quality) and empower transformation across their institutions.
The role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) has arrived in higher education. During a more future-oriented session, Ron Kraemer, the Chief Information and Digital Officer at Notre Dame, shared how the president of Notre Dame asked him to add “digital” to his title and to “drive the development of the IT infrastructure that supports the entire campus community; the development of enterprise systems that underlie many of the university’s teaching, learning, research, engagement, and business activities; and the establishment of a governance structure to plan for future IT service needs across campus.” This is a big role and no easy task when your job is to support and evangelize technology across 12,000 students and ~5,500 faculty and staff.
What this means: A recognition and call to action by an institutional leadership team that believes the future of their university will be digital and needs a strong leader to assess and coordinate how the university, its staff, and technology need to move forward in an orchestrated way. This is an area where universities can learn from industry, since many leading organizations around the world have embraced technology to transform their businesses and establish leadership. We expect to see an increasing number of CDO appointments in the next few years.
Enabling new learning models are top of mind. Senior IT clients from public and private schools are wrestling with how to pilot and enable new learning models. Call it competency-based education (CBE), blended, personalized, or adaptive learning – many are working with their academic partners to develop technology strategies to support their institution’s initial experiments. To do this, they need a flexible Learning Management System (LMS) platform that supports the modularity of competencies, provides analytics for real-time assessment, and integrates into the school’s Student Information System. Many don’t see their current LMS delivery platforms and contractual arrangements as the answer.
What this means: There’s a clear opportunity for new learning delivery providers who will help enable the future learning models (see the announcement from Motivis Learning and The College For America). In the short term, we see pain for the institutions that need to seek out new partners to support their first-generation new learning model pilots. In the long term, the incumbent LMS and analytics providers will either build or acquire new capabilities to support new learning models. But will the LMS incumbents be ready when existing contracts come up for review?
Our Higher Education Technology Landscape continues to receive welcomed praise from higher education institutions and vendors alike. While we do get questions such as “Does it come with a magnifying glass?” and “Why are we not on the map?” and “Why are we not in this category?” there has been a positive response for an organization like ours to provide a framework to guide higher ed institutions through the ill-defined morass of providers continually entering and confusing the marketplace.
IT needs strong partners, but where were they? Educause’s annual conference is a necessary and even inspiring event for higher ed IT professionals and technologists. The event is clearly built for an IT audience and the vendors that serve it. However, there weren’t enough academic and non-IT administrative partners in attendance. For the necessary change to happen, trustees, senior leaders, faculty, and staff need to join IT and share in this journey of exploring how technology will transform higher education.
What this means: There’s a clear opportunity to bring senior academic, administrative, and IT professionals together in one place to discuss jointly how to solve the big institutional challenges they face today (e.g., cost, quality and access) and build a road map for the future university. Transformation within higher ed leveraging technology is neither easy nor inexpensive. It also can’t be done without strong partners across the institution. It’s not just about “the best thinking in higher ed IT,” but “the best thinking in higher ed.”