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THE TOP-TEN ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUCATION IT FOR 2013: Review of EDUCAUSE’s Webinar

EDUCAUSE is a non-profit organization made up of an appointed research panel of nineteen IT leaders from different institutions and from this group, panel members are randomly recruited to serve one year in quarterly meetings with EDUCAUSE Vice President Susan Grajek. Through an online survey, the research focus group were asked to select the top IT issues that the institution is facing and then vote on a final set of issues after reviewing the survey results. The randomly drawn panel members will then meet for 90 minutes quarterly in an open dialogue about technology issues revolving around the IT organization, the institution and cross-institution boundaries in order to refine the underlying issues. The results of this process were presented in a sixty minute live webinar using Adobe Connect involving the following speakers:

  • Diane Dagefoerde, CIO, Arts and Sciences, The Ohio State University
  • Butch Juelg, Associate Vice Chancellor, Technology Services, Lone Star College System
  • Joseph Vaughan, CIO and Vice President for Computing and Information Services, Harvey Mudd College
  • Susan Grajek, Vice President of Data, Research and Analytics, EDUCAUSE

The top ten IT issue in higher education that was identify in the talk is:

1. Leveraging the wireless and device explosion on campus

The density of devices (approximately 3-4 devices per student) on campus and bandwidth requirement in localized gathering areas are causing new challenges which are taxing IT organization’s ability to keep up with devices, version, or features and it is throwing out formal IT refresh rates. Providing readily available content (ranging from campus maps to schedules to campus news and alerts) and easy access is no longer an option but a requirement for institutions.

2. Improving student outcomes through an approach that leverages technology

An increase focus on student outcomes is generating interest in the development of technology to measure, manage and improve student outcome. One method of leveraging technology to assess and improve student outcome is through analytics and automated advising tools, which is only seen in 20% of the higher education institutions. Technology can also be employed in the design, creation and delivery of the learning experience to the student; however, this would require preparing, supporting and listening to faculty. In the past year, a study revealed that the most progress has been made in the deployment of using e-textbooks and mobile apps. The interest in e-learning is also on the rise and the support required is not straining the IT department, but the rewards for faculty implementing online courses needs improvement in order to ensure continual growth in this area.

3. Developing an institution-wide cloud strategy to help the institution select the right sourcing and solution strategies

Cloud computing can enable institutions to be more agile and deliver new services faster and with fewer/lower upfront costs. However, five essential characteristics of cloud computing identified by NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) needs to be met:

  1. on demand self service
  2. broad network access
  3. resource pooling
  4. rapid elasticity or expansion
  5. measured service

Higher education institute will need to create guidelines for anyone acquiring a cloud services and will need to educate anyone who is concerned with cloud providers. It organization will also need to shift its focus from controlling proliferation cloud services to supporting the choices people make.

4. Developing a staffing and organizational model to accommodate the changing IT environment and facilitate openness and agility

To respond well to the new IT trends and environments, an IT organization needs to be resilient and ready to explore and take on new challenges and all of them on an increasingly short time line. As the IT organization move to outsource more solutions, the IT staffs are assuming new roles and forming new units to emphasis service management and strategy. The IT organization needs to shift away from an expert stance to a novice stance. By realizing and learning along side colleagues, institutions can focus on achieving goals with faculty who are willing to step up and try new things.

5. Facilitating a better understanding of information security and finding appropriate balance between infrastructure openness and security

IT organization needs to prioritize their information security efforts through a combination of risk management programs and data classification processes and they need to do that to assess security issues stemming from new and evolving technology. These technologies have the potential to make a profound difference in higher education, but it is also important for IT leaders not let security stifle innovation. It is important to find a better understanding towards information security and to find a balance between infrastructure, openness and security. A recent study revealed that only 27% of the institutions have a dedicated ISO (Information Security Officer) and that institutions most commonly use firewalls as a security measure instead. Even though data loss prevention has been frequently mentioned, there is little focus on it from individual workstations to individual departments to campus networks. On a more promising note, about one third of the institutions have a risk management program or methodology in place and a lot more institutions are planning to implement one or want more guidance.

6. Funding information technology strategically

Understanding what services truly cost helps an institution determine how to compare the costs and value of current and alternative sourcing options. Another key factor is having a transparent and inclusive governing structure for prioritizing and overseeing IT investments and for evaluating ROI (Returns On Investments).  Finally, it is important to shift academic and IT leaders from the budget and ledger view to an investment view of the world using portfolios.

7. Determining the role of online learning and developing a sustainable strategy for that role

Higher education is considering how online learning can fit into their academic ethos and how to support their design and deliver of high quality learning experiences. Many of the challenges in online learning is the same as adopting any new technology and would include factors like having: sufficient investment funds, effective chain management, sufficient support for faculty, proper assessment and evaluations of student experience and outcomes, sustainability of courses, protocols for transfer credits from other universities, alignment with business goals, etc. Currently, around 40% of the public university includes a centralized IT department that is dedicated to overseeing e-learning and online education.

8. Supporting the trends toward IT consumerization and bring-your-own device

The usage of internet resources is no longer confined to assess by authorized institutional channels due to the high level of consumerization. The community’s increase in need for storage, raw computing, infrastructure and services is changing the previous technology paradigm where all the networks were controlled by the IT organization. As a result, this requires the IT staff to shift their focus from devices to infrastructure and data.

9. Transforming the institution’s business with information technology

Many institutions are turning to technology to differentiate themselves from other colleges. In attempt to re-think their business plan, institutions need to have a strong desire and willingness to change and adapt new business processes.  Successful transformation also require good governance and a venue to enable leadership to make decisions about IT investment and priorities. In a recent study it has been discovered that financial capabilities are the strongest and process transformations are the weakest when an institution attempts to adopt information technology.

10. Using analytics to support critical institutional outcomes

The Institutions that are successful in using analytics see it as an investment rather than a new cost. They built an institutional culture that value data and ask good question. The data gathered from analytics can be applied to the following functional areas: enrolment management, finance and budgeting, student progress, instructional management, and central information technology. EDUCAUSE study developed a maturity index that track progress in Analytics in higher education using 6 dimensions:

  1. Government infrastructure – progress in government or infrastructure
  2. Data/Reporting /Tools –the right data to complete analytic and tools to execute
  3. Process –process of collect the data to making decisions
  4. Culture – culture of using and sharing data to make decisions
  5. Expertise – expertise in information technology and functional areas to make decisions with data
  6. Investment – viewed as investment or cost? Institutions that view it as an investment makes more progress

These issues reflect increasing interconnections between institutional strategic priority, information technology in higher education and external forces (ie. technology innovation, advances in data and text analysis software, processing and storage, enduring global recession and our fit for recovery, evolving business practices, and data visualization). These three areas are shaping the strategic priority for higher education with four particular factors that are highly pertinent to Information Technology:

  1. Containment and Reduction of Cost
  2. Achieving Student Outcome
  3. Pacing of E-learning and Usage of E-learning as a Competitive Advantage
  4. Meeting Student and Faculty Expectations of Contemporary Consumer Technology and Communications

All of these issues are achievable due to the intensifying connections among people, services, data, systems, and processes. Higher education is entering a new “Connected Age” as institutions have always been communities driven by connections among faculty, students, research, education, discipline, communities, and institutions. Technology makes the connected age possible by bringing together data, collaboration tools and communities. As a result, it does not matter where the information or people are but what matters is that the value that comes from the connection in the connected age.

Critique of EDUCAUSE

EDUCAUSE has outlined some very helpful issues supported with the experiences from various higher education institutions and extensive studies in some of the areas. As a result, the organization has covered both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the 10 issues outlined in their live webinar; however, the details of the studies were not revealed and therefore, it is difficult to determine the sample size and objectivity of these studies. The format chosen to present these findings also was not ideal as they encountered many technical difficulties with Adobe Connect which distracted the listener from the information being presented.  For one, the slideshow did not appear simultaneously with the speaker and secondly, the voice of one of the speaker was inaudible. Finally, one of the speakers was unable to show up until the end due to connection problems. But because the webinar was recorded, the presentation has the advantage of being replayed with the uploaded power point presentation at a later time. Overall, EDUCAUSE presented a very concrete methodology for higher education institutions to undertake the preliminary steps towards integrating technology. Unfortunately, the focus was primarily for higher education and did not include the elementary or secondary level.

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