Published on 2013/03/29

The Future Will Be Challenging, But Exciting

AUDIO | The Future Will Be Challenging, but Exciting
As educational delivery and credential display systems change with the times, higher education institutions will have to adapt their on-campus technologies and systems to keep pace with the transformations.

The following interview is with Theresa Rowe, chief information officer at Oakland University. At the annual EDUCAUSE 2012 conference, Rowe hosted a discussion on the challenges facing CIOs, identifying funding strategies for today’s economic realities and keeping pace with expectations and defining the CIO’s evolving role. In this interview, Rowe explains some of those challenges and shares her thoughts on what the future holds for CIOs.

1. What are some of the biggest challenges facing higher education CIOs today?

On many of our campuses, we are rethinking our academic delivery and the challenges that we’re facing are around all of the alternative models that are emerging for quality instructional delivery. And we’re moving from a world where we’ve selected perhaps one learning management system as an alternative to a physical classroom. But, increasingly, I believe, many of our campuses are going to have many delivery models for educational delivery, and that means that we’ve got a whole host and variety of systems that we’re implementing to achieve those alternative goals.

It’s a very exciting time when you think about it. But it’s also moving from one set platform, … maybe two, to many platforms and the management of those platforms.

2. Given the restrictions caused by today’s economic realities, are many of these challenges overcome by investing in better technologies, or by adapting existing technologies to suit institutional needs?

I think it’s a blend, really. We do have to adapt existing technologies; the things that worked even in 2000, which doesn’t seem that long ago to many of us — those things are rapidly changing. And, perhaps things that would live a lot longer in the past are going to become constant adaptation. I was just reading recently about looking in the past and how quickly our discussions evolve today. What seems old today is only really a few years old. Where, in the past, maybe something old was 10 or 15 years old, if that makes any sense.

So the life of the decisions that we make today probably is shorter than it used to be. What that really means is that we’re in a constant mode of adaptation. We can’t rely just on the adaptation, however, because many of the best new ideas are coming out in the marketplace. So we’ve got to bring those into the picture too.

It’s looking constantly at what’s an investment worthy of preserving. How do we adapt and grow that investment because we need to make sure we’re wise stewards of tuition dollars, of public funding, so we have to preserve investments where we can. We need to adapt those investments. But we also need to find ways to bring in the new and the fresh approaches if we’re going to really achieve the goals of educating so many young people, as we need to do in the country today.

3. Looking 10 years into the future, do you see many of these same challenges facing higher education CIOs?

I think that we are going to continue to have these challenges for years to come. We are just at the start of a major overhaul in educational delivery.

We know that our state governments and even our national government are talking about massive change needed in educational delivery. And we’ve just started. So I see this landscape continuing for 10 to 15 years and I think … the universities who are really successful are the ones who are going to embrace this fast pace of change and welcome it for the wonders and challenges and excitement and the magic that’s going to come with this kind of change.

This is an extremely exciting time and we shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by this challenge. We should feel excited by it.

4. What kinds of technologies and services do you foresee entering the marketplace to help make managing institutions easier and more efficient?

For one thing, I think we need to recognize that our students are going to look in many directions to take courses and to gather learning artifacts, if you will. Our students are going to have more and more of a portfolio of their educational experiences. And I think the things that are going to help us in the future are those things that recognize that a student’s learning portfolio may not be at one institution but may be a cumulative gathering of artifacts from many institutions and many learning modalities.

The new solutions that help a student pull together some sort of portfolio or credential recognizing all of the work that they’ve done in all of these different places — those kinds of solutions are going to come to the forefront.

I think employers are still going to want to know that a student knows what the student has represented on a resume. They are going to look for some kind of proof or credential. But that credential may not be just for one university. And how do we make it easy for employers to gather all of these credentials and all of these learning artifacts?

I think that when we look at students in the arts or in graphic design, they’re very used to assembling a portfolio of their work and I think, more and more, we’re going to look to portfolios to represent the learning of many different types of majors.

5. Do you think that the institutions are going to have to come together with similar e-portfolio service or technology or perhaps one that can collaborate with different kinds of e-portfolio technologies to ensure that students can easily transfer and display their credits and learning from one institution to another?

I think your keyword in that question is collaborate.

Somehow, higher education needs to collaborate on these portfolios so that the employer isn’t looking at a mishmash of credentials. We need to have some kind of consistency in what we’re presenting. And there’s talk in postsecondary types of standards about how we standardize the data that we gather at our institutions to make it easier for vendors, to make it easier for solution providers, to look at these things holistically and consistently. But I think we’re just at the very start of this. And if you look at the medical profession and all of the work they did to come up with common kinds of e-medical records and all the work that goes into that, we’ve got a lot work to do in education to come up with that kind of vision and standard. And it is a collaborative type of work. …

If you think a student might go through and take some work at a university and maybe some work at the local community college, some work online with edX or Coursera, some training programs with a prior employer; the student has all these learning artifacts. If we don’t have some kind of  standard for how we express those learning artifacts, the employer and student are just looking at a mishmash of details and how do you really know what the student has put together in that situation to demonstrate that learning has occurred? I think it is a huge challenge for education to look at this, to look at what they’re providing in that way.

6. Is there anything you’d like to add about the challenges that CIOs are facing and what might come in the next 10 years?

I think we’ve talked a lot about educational delivery and credential records. All of this comes to play in our enterprise systems, our record keeping systems too. And that’s a world that is needing to evolve at the same time.

As we change our learning delivery model, keeping track of it, all of which is what used to be called administrative systems (but are enterprise systems) — that’s going to be critical too. This evolution is going to impact every piece of technology on our campuses. It’s quite the challenge, but very exciting.

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Readers Comments

Vera Matthews 2013/03/29 at 12:16 pm

Theresa Rowe is right to say it can be difficult for an institution to know when to re-work an existing system and when it’s more worthwhile to let it go and start over. Some of the management systems being used by higher education institutions are rather new — say, from the last decade — and were quite expensive to even get running. It can be difficult to justify letting go of it in favour of a new model on the market. A tough balancing act, indeed.

Ian Richardson 2013/03/29 at 4:32 pm

I agree with Ms. Rowe that it is necessary to start developing a system for students to store credentials/learning they have received from the institution or beyond it. Learners today are more likely than those in the past to have developed skills and knowledge from multiple sources outside of a traditional postsecondary institution. Having a system in place that formally recognizes this could encourage more students with these non-traditional credentials or experiences to enrol in postsecondary education.

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/03/30 at 8:51 am

It seems to me a lofty goal to have higher education institutions collaborating on student records like the system we have for e-medical records. It’s hard enough to share information among departments within your own institution; imagine having to have different types of institutions — public, private, elite, small-scale — agree on a system that works for all.

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