Thursday, February 14, 2013

Technology Issues for 2013 - My list

There are lots of lists on the web. Some recognize accomplishment. Some show the "worst of this or that". Some are just list of stuff that someone thinks are important. This is my list of things that I think most colleges an universities have not figured out yet. Maybe these are opportunties for smart entrepreneurs to tackle or maybe they are just destined to stay on the list. These are not in any special order. They are just issues or questions that have been on my mind for a long time.

Working with faculty to enhance teaching and learning with technology.

I have spent much of the last 15 years trying to gently introduce technology into teaching and learning. It started slow with the creation of a few "Smart Rooms" and creating an easy way to help faculty post syllabii and course materials on the college web site. We then added a learning managment system and supported it. Then clickers. Then plagerism protection software. Then Smart Boards. Then library databases. Then podcasts. Then two way interactive video connections to virtual guest speakers. Then lecture capture. All of this but we are almost 15 years down the road and I don't think we have established critical mass yet. The early faculty evangelists are still there blazing the trail. Retirements have brought in young faculty with energy and expectations for the latest tools. Adoption has grown and we are spending more and more money to maintain the hardware and software. We are spending much more money now in outfitting the classroom than ever before. Figure this into the rising costs of education. I have noticed two things along the way. Faculty adoption is totally a personal preference and most senior academic admnistrators have not taken a position on technology adoption or referred to it as strategic. So where does instructional technology fit? Its expensive. Most campuses have provided some technology in almost every classroom. Many colleges have staff dedicated to supporting technology use. Students seem to like some level of technology in their classes, although surveys suggest that they still value the personal touch. All of this and its not srategic. Its just a slowly growing set of tools that are made available. I think all of this is very nice, but as we look at the cost of education, I think we need to decide if its important. If its not, we should put most of it back in the box and save the money. "Are we in, or are we out" (to paraphrase Heidi Klum from Project Runaway).


It has been 10 years since I help implement PeopleSoft on my last campus. It was a BIG deal, as it is on all campuses. The upside is that we now have web based services that are available 24x7. This is a big upside. We are collecting more data that ever before. We probably have what many would call Big Data. What most colleges don't have is a way to make use of the data. Every campus I have worked at or visited, or heard about struggles with reporting. Why is this? It seems odd that ERP companies like Oracle and Sunguard have created large and complex systems without "plug and play reporting tools". I know there are many third party products that, with much heavily lifting, can do reporting to some degree or another. Schools that have done this well generally have many people and dollars to throw at it. It just seems odd that ERP companies would not have provided this from the get go. I am even more surprised that 10 years later many schools still identify reporting as a major concern.

Sufficient bandwidth

Bandwidth is like a drug or so it seems. You just keep needing more and more to get the "feeling". As a CIO on two campuses we have added bandwidth at an average rate of 20% per year. Remember bandwidth was not an issue 15 years ago right before college costs started rising rapidly. Just one more thing that was that not a part of the mix back then. I am on a small/medium sized campus and our main internet circuit is about 300MB. I know you laugh at me large schools. I have to say that the difference in our bandwidth is probably proportional to the difference in our size and budgets. It is not uncommon for a smaller college to spend $100k to $200k per year on bandwidth. This does not count the routers and related security tools. Looking down the road, I see cable TV dissappearing. More audio and video in course web sites. More of the same from the colleges PR department. More video conferences and distance learning classes via video. Oh, and voice over IP. Look out 5 years and the average small college will need gigabit connection. We could be looking at $400-$500k per year. Very few existing services will go away. In the words of Tim Gunn we will have to -- "make it work".

Determining if technology plans are worth writing.

I think I have written 4-5 IT plans over the past many years. They seem to take forever to write, but I actually enjoy the "looking into the future part". You get to look at what is happening or might happen in IT down the road and develop a game plan. Actually, its part plan and part warning. You end end up trying to warn the powers that be about what is happening over the hill and letting them know how you think your campus should react. This can be dangerous territory since they may not share your view and almost never share your sense of urgency. I always like to circulate the plan for input, but truthfully its more to float the ideas and see what happens. The real value is within the IT unit. I find that my team likes to know where we are headed, even if we change course down the road. We almost always change course down the road for some reason. I think this is linked to the human desire to minimize uncertainty. So I am not totally sure if IT plans matter in the grand scheme of things. I like to think so. They do help me crystalize my general direction even if there is a big question about whether the college needs them. I guess I will keep writng and reading and looking over the hill in case someone want to know what's over there.

Other CIOs will have their own lists and I may also -- tomorrow.

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