Sunday, December 25, 2011

This Week's Reading List

A law school sues the ABA over it's decision to deny accreditation, MIT makes an attempt to disrupt higher education, and a community college on the cutting edge gets some well deserved attention, all on this week's reading list.

Less important is the substance of this one decision by the ABA, but in the larger context of the relationship between schools and accrediting bodies this is one worth watching. Accrediting bodies lack the resources necessary to defend themselves from lawsuits by large or for-profit institutions who use the courts to appeal decisions they don't like. Because of this mismatch in resources, can traditional accrediting bodies really be expected to police higher education effectively?

MIT's plans to offer basic credentials, through a non-profit affiliate, for those who master competencies through free online courses similar to its OpenCourseWare initiative. Many questions abound, particularly whether employers and institutions alike will recognize MITx credentials. The more interesting question for me: will students in traditional degree programs continue to accept that portions of their rising tuition bills are undoubtably subsidizing free initiatives such as these?

Perhaps the community college leader when it comes to using technology to build scalable, inexpensive college courses for both traditional and non-traditional students, Rio Salado College's innovative approach to pedagogy and learning gets some long overdue coverage.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This Week's Reading List

Students paying for a faculty member's BMW, sabermetrics comes to higher education, and the return of Herbert Marcuse, all on this week's reading list.

"Buying the Professor a BMW"
This article paints many negative pictures about the business of higher education. I'm not sure which one is worse: what is inferred by the title, the data and analysis contained in the essay, or some of the responses to the article presumably by faculty and administrators alike.

"Colleges Mine Data to Tailor Student Experiences"
"Colleges Pool Data to Prevent Dropouts"
These are good times for information resource organizations in higher education, provided that they are nimble and flexible enough to focus on the analysis of data just as much as on the technology supporting collection and storage of the data. Is your IT organization prepared to support your institution in these critical endeavors?

"Occupy This: Is it Comeback Time for Herbert Marcuse"
We spent a lot of time discussing Marcuse when I was in grad school, particularly his emphasis on the ways advanced capitalist economies create false needs to fuel rampant consumerism. I am not surprised to find his work revived given growing debates about income inequality. But I do remember that it was Barack Obama who first evoked Marcuse's spirit in his 2008 campaign when he talked about middle class conservatives focus on guns and social issues as blinding them to the perilousness of their economic circumstances.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This Week's Reading List

Here are three stories that caught my eye this past week.

"U.S. Universities Feast on Federal Financial Aid"
We live in an age where the public is adamantly against bailouts and government support for private enterprise. Yet, higher education is one of the few businesses left whose customer's primary credit lines are guaranteed by governments. Historically, what have been the consequences of increased financial aid support for students? More importantly, what happens to higher education if these programs are reduced or student loan guarantees are eliminated?

"Western Governors University Reaches 30,000 Students"
Both private and public higher education leaders have long suspected that for profits such as the University of Phoenix charge premium prices for learning experiences that are comparable to community colleges. That cannot be said for Western Governors University, which delivers competency-based instruction at tuition levels comparable to state institutions. If someone is going to figure how to use increased productivity and scalability to increase access and drive down the cost of higher education, Western Governors will probably be the one who does it.

"Colleges Buy '.XXX' Domains to Prevent Porn Parodies"
For some reason this has been controversial for some. But higher education institutions have brands and trademarks that require protection no differently than marks for companies such as Coca Cola or Federal Express. The first rule of trademark protection is that one must actively seek to protect one's marks, thus the rush to register the new .xxx domains by institutions.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

EDUCAUSE 2011 "Technical Skills No Longer Matter"

I was honored that there was such a great crowd this morning for my presentation "Technical Skills No Longer Matter." Slides and other resources for this presentation are here and here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Not What I Had in Mind

Last Friday, I read an article in CIO INSIGHT entitled “An Open Ended Letter to your CEO: What IT Really Needs.” The article caused my knee to jerk quite a bit, a better title might have been “Dear CEO: Here’s Why I Don’t Deserve a Seat at the Executive Table.” If the sentiments expressed in the letter accurately reflect views within IT organizations (and there is evidence suggesting that this is the case), then CIOs have a lot of work to do if they wish to develop their organizations into strategic assets.

After my knee jerk though, it dawned on me that the views expressed in the letter do reflect real IT management problems, namely difficulty in managing expectations, lack of business knowledge in the IT organization, and lack of mutual accountability between IT and the business. But, when we in IT take on the attitude that “we are doing just fine, we just need to get everyone outside of IT under control” we separate ourselves from the business in ways that leads to our being left out of critical conversations. That relegates us to the role of order takers, which puts IT on a slippery slope leading to increased marginalization and loss of credibility. In “Technical Skills No Longer Matter” I suggested that this leads to be role of CIO being downgraded to the role of utility services manager. I have higher aspirations.

A better approach to engagement I believe is for the IT organization to let the external, end-user centric point of view predominate in our organizations. When we stop thinking as technicians and start thinking about IT the same way our end users do, we build a firmer base for positive collaborations with the business side of the organization. With just such a foundation, I believe we can make progress on the three issues identified by the CIO INSIGHT piece.
  • Stop complaining about lack of resources and increased expectations. Doing more with less is the name of the game in the “new normal.” Use collaborations with the business to bring expectations down so that they match the level of resources available. Recognize that this is a leadership issue and not a management issue. Managers confront this challenge by attempting to forge consensus on priorities, which is often difficult or impossible regardless of governance strategies. Leaders collect data and convene important conversations about priorities, but then they make decisions and jealously guard the scope of what their organizations are responsible for. Sometimes, this requires CIOs to make difficult or unpopular decisions. Get comfortable with the way this feels, it is the price of being a C level executive.
  • Accept the responsibility for learning more about the business and hold yourselves accountable for doing so. We talk about understanding the need for IT to better understand and engage the business on its own terms, but then we do the same old things over and over: we hire for technical skills, then promote based on ability to implement technology, and then do anything to retain because of critical technical skills. Stop it! Recognize that there is a broad set of competencies that distinguish high and low performers and adjust your HR practices so that you no longer hire, promote, and retain based on technical proficiency alone.
  • Assess and plan based on end-user focused IT outcomes. Regardless of your line of business, find out the key performance indicators that define success for your organization, assess those outcomes regularly, and hold yourself accountable to them. Using IT focused metrics alone, though important for internal management, tends to widen the engagement gap because such metrics tend to focus on concepts that are important but not necessarily strategic to the business. Find out what drives the success of your organization and then focus like a laser on those outcomes. When you do, you will find it easier to both manage expectations and align what you do with the business side of the organization.
Above all else, accept that we alone in IT are responsible for bridging gaps with the communities that we serve and that reliance on technology and technical skills rarely helps us to do so. When we bridge those gaps something magical can happen - the IT organization will begin to be seen as a strategic asset. And as a bonus, the CIO will be recognized for what they should be – a C level executive.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

University of Buffalo

I really enjoyed conversations today with the IT staff at the University of Buffalo. We started off this morning with a conversation about what I call the "Competency Centered IT Organization." Later in the afternoon, our discussion turned to assessment, planning, and the use of TechQual+. This was a good day. In return for my contributions, I received some wonderful advice regarding high performance computing and avenues to search for leadership in this area. This was a good bargin.

Thanks friends for being such great hosts. Slides from today's talks are here and here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Opening Thoughts

Friday afternoon, I led a discussion with the EITS staff entitled "Opening Thoughts", which is intended to serve as the beginning of a conversation on how we begin to transform the way we approach our work and deepen the impact of our services at the University of Georgia.

The basic premise of my "opening thoughts" was that just because we know that the future fate of higher education in inexorably intertwined with information technology that does not automatically translate into increased significance and dependence on the central IT organization. In fact, there is a very real debate about whether the IT organization can continue to exist in its current form, given how organizations and centralized services have been completely decentered by the Internet. The financial stress of the "new normal" makes the problem more acute. Frankly speaking, if we continue to approach today's challenges the way we approached technology challenges in the past, we face a future of declining investment in our organizations and increasing irrelevance to higher education.

Don't believe me? Here is one of the latest examples that I pointed out to my staff. In an editorial in Inside Higher Education last week ("New Higher Education Model", October 6th), former governors Jeb Bush (Florida, Republican) and Jim Hunt (North Carolina, Democrat) argue that technology has the potential to transform higher education through increased access, better accessibility, and richer learning experiences. So, how do we go about implementing that vision according to the authors?

Setting up the technology needed to deliver high-quality instruction is daunting, but it is a challenge that can be easily managed using the right resources. We believe the answer is public/private partnerships, which was the approach taken by the University of Texas System when many of its campuses decided to start moving courses online. Partnerships like theirs allow the university to maintain control of the content, instructional materials, and admissions standards, while leaving the implementation to the experts.

When Governors Bush and Hunt speak about the experts in implementing better technology for higher education, they are not talking about the central IT organization. Unless we start to dramatically change the way we think about our missions, the way we approach our work, the way we develop ourselves professional and personally, and the way we engage the broader community we face a future where we are increasingly sidelined. I have higher aspirations for us.

This editorial, btw, has been taken very seriously. See articles in the New York Times here and here for more.

Slides from my "opening thoughts" are available here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Time is Different

Last week I gave one of the keynote presentations at the 2011 Campus Technology Forum in Longbeach, California. My premise was simple, that while we all understand that the future fate of higher education is very intertwined with information technology, that does not necessarily mean increased importance or dependence on the central IT organization on campus. Because of the rise of consumer technology, faculty, students, and staff are no longer dependent upon the central IT organization for basic services. Coupled with continued economic difficulties arising from "the new normal" it is appropriate to question whether the IT organization can continue to exist in its current form. IT organizations must change, they must redefine the way that they add value to the institution, and they must become more comfortable with the fact that this time is dramatically different.

Campus Technology covered this talk here, and you can find the slides from this presentation embedded in this story.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Upon My Arrival

Gail and I arrived in Athens on Saturday, September 10th, and our possessions arrived shortly after that. We finally feel that we are on the downhill side of this transition and we are able to catch our breath. Time to start blogging again. In reaching out to my IT organization, I sent the following out to all staff. I'm honored to be here and can say one thing: I love my job!

Colleagues,

Let me say first what an honor it is to be your Chief Information Officer. It has been a whirlwind day, full of meetings from start to finish, but I could not let this day go without sending you just a few of my thoughts.

Both my wife Gail and I feel as if we are drinking from a fire hose. It was not quite one week ago that we departed, along with our dog Elle, on the 2400 mile journey from Los Angeles to Athens. We did the drive in two and a half days, and arrived Saturday afternoon just before kickoff. We had been planning for our possessions to arrive on Monday, but of course they didn’t arrive until 4 pm yesterday, so we were up until past 11 pm last night with movers bringing dozens of boxes into our home. We do feel that we are now on the downhill side of this journey, and we are delighted to now call both Athens and the University of Georgia our homes.

I have just finished meeting with what I will refer to as the Senior Leadership team in EITS. This is a group that is comprised of the EITS directors and representatives from the Office of the CIO and the PMO. This group will serve as the primary direct reports meeting that I have each week with your leadership. Moving forward, we will be meeting each Wednesday morning.

One of the things we talked about today is my desire to focus and intensify our efforts on staff training and professional development. To that end, today I asked Lynn Latimer to facilitate the development of what I will refer to as the “EITS Training Council,” which will be a group tasked with setting priorities for the training and professional development needs of EITS. This will be a group that consists of front line / first level supervisors, whose duty will be to accept, vet, and prioritize requests from each of our directors for funding to support training needs and professional conference attendance. They will meet on a quarterly basis.

I expect, beginning immediately, that we will triple our current annual spending on training and professional development so that we begin spending between 2 – 3% of our state budget on these activities. You will be hearing more about the development of this council over the coming months, but know that it will become the primary vehicle for vetting and prioritizing the funding that we allocate to what I feel is our most important activity – which is the development of our staff resources.

I also want to tell you about a new tradition that we will begin this October that I call the “Monthly Celebration.” Moving forward, on the first Friday of each month at 10am, we will be having an all EITS staff meeting where we collectively recognize birthdays, anniversaries, significant accomplishments, and both an “Employee of the Month” and a “Team of the Month.” Also, I will use this time to share important information with you about what is going on in my office and at the University. It will also be a time where you can ask me questions. We will also enjoy some refreshments and the opportunity to fellowship with one another for a few minutes away from the normal hustle and bustle of our work. Our first “Monthly Celebration” is scheduled for the first Friday in October, and I look forward to seeing you there. Moving forward, I have asked Greg Topp to work to refashion our existing awards committee so that it assumes ownership of this event and implements a regular process for accepting your nominations and selecting the employee and team of the month.

I also want to thank you for submitting your feedback to me on the TechQual+ survey that I sent out to you last month. Almost 80% of you responded to me with your thoughts, and while I have not yet begun digesting it, I look forward to reading your assessment of our strengths and opportunities. When I left Pepperdine last week, I gave a talk to the IT organization called “Parting Thoughts”. As I begin working with you here at UGA, I will be scheduling a similar talk called “Opening Remarks” where I share with you the feedback that you gave me through TechQual+ and my full vision for the role and impact of an IT organization such as ours. While we have not scheduled this meeting yet, my hope is that it will be scheduled in the afternoon on the first Friday in October. Stay tuned for more on this event.

Again, it is an honor to be your Chief Information Officer, and I look forward to meeting you face to face. You will be hearing more from me in the coming weeks and I hope that you will reach out to me anytime that I can be helpful. My door is always open.

Best,

Timothy Chester

More to come...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Georgia Bound

I have accepted a position at the University of Georgia, starting September 15, 2011, as their new chief information officer. The release from the University of Georgia went out this afternoon, and the following are highlights:

“Dr. Chester’s strong background is a great match with what we were looking for in a candidate for this position,” said Jere Morehead, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, to whom Chester will report. “He has demonstrated that he has the ability to develop and implement plans for future information technologies and to work well with faculty, administration, students and staff.”

As UGA’s chief information officer, Chester will be responsible for leadership and management of the university’s information technology strategies and programs, and will direct UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services unit. He will be responsible for the development and implementation of several ongoing and planned major IT initiatives in the areas of student information and financial aid systems, learning technologies management, financial and administrative systems, and research computing.

“Information technology development and support are key to the successful operation and advancement of a leading research university,” said President Michael F. Adams.  “With the coming institution of a new Student Information System, the CIO is a particularly critical leadership position at UGA.  We are pleased to welcome Timothy Chester to the team. His extensive experience in similar positions at Pepperdine and at Texas A&M will be a valuable addition to our UGA information technology efforts.”

The decision to leave Pepperdine was painfully difficult, as we have done some very significant work there and the future in regards to the effective use of information and technology is very bright. I sent the following out to my staff at Pepperdine this morning:

Colleagues, I am writing to you today, with difficulty, to inform you that I will be departing Pepperdine University in September to take up a position at the University of Georgia.

When both Gail and I first came to Pepperdine almost five years ago, it was always with the aspiration that at some point we would return to the south. The loss of Gail’s father, and the fact that both our remaining parents are now aging, have made us recognize that the time to return closer to home was probably nearer than we had once anticipated.

Earlier this year, I was approached by the University of Georgia regarding their need for a new Chief Information Officer. Through a series of conversations over the past three months, it has become clear that their needs and my background and approaches to IT were a very strong match. Given this match and the fact that UGA closely fits my family’s long-term aspirations, and that UGA is less than a day’s drive to our parents’ homes, it has become obvious over this past week that this is an opportunity that we cannot let slip away. 

It is incredibly difficult to leave Pepperdine. I had always thought that if this happened, it would be perhaps in four or five years. About four weeks ago, I sat with the provost and president of UGA and told them both that if I left Pepperdine, I would be leaving the best group of direct reports, and indeed, one of the best IT organizations, that I have ever been associated with, and that it would be very difficult to contemplate leaving. It is truly very difficult, but I have no doubt that under the present leadership you will continue each and every day on your present trajectory of making information much more than just a transactional service. Two weeks ago, I sat down with your leadership council and reviewed the fruits of their strategic planning efforts from this past semester, and the path ahead of you has been set by their recommendations. As I prepare for my departure, I will be working with Jonathan See and others to ensure that everything is in order and that your path ahead will be smooth and clear.

The last day at Pepperdine for both Gail and myself will be Tuesday September 13, 2011. Between now and that date, I look forward to continuing to work with you to make a great institution better.

The next eight weeks will be very, very busy. Home to sell in California, housing to locate in Georgia, jobs to wrap up at Pepperdine, responsibilities to transition to at UGA. I may not be blogging much, but will continue to do so as I think about the transition and how the IT organization at UGA can best take advantage of the very real opportunities it has in front of it. More to come.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Insource or Outsource? An IT Value Curve Perspective

As the cloud continues to mature, enterprises face a myriad of sourcing opportunities for IT services and it is crucial that IT leaders apply a consistent approach when evaluating sourcing opportunities. The concept of the "IT Value Curve" offered in "Technical Skills No Longer Matter" provides one such framework. I cover this perspective in an article just published by EDUCAUSE Quarterly entitled "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative." In this article, the IT Value Curve is discussed within the context of Pepperdine’s decision to outsource it's IT helpdesk to Sungard Higher Education. However, do not let the title of the article suggest that all transactional IT services should be outsourced. That path can often lead to disaster. How you make the decision to outsource is just as important as what you may choose to outsource.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Busy and Exciting Time

Now that I have returned from Europe and have caught up with matters at Pepperdine, I want to use this week’s blog to highlight some of the great things that are going on at Pepperdine in regards to technology and learning.

First, our monthly status and activity report for June 2011 is now available. This edition covers the recent award we received from Campus Technology Magazine for innovation in leadership, policy, and governance. Specifically, the award highlights our work in building an information resource function that focuses on the ‘I’ in IT just as much as on the ‘T’. The report also highlights our organizational focus this summer on faculty, teaching, and learning. From our smart classroom program to our close collaborations with individual faculty, I am very proud to be a part of a team that is working to produce better learning outcomes for our students through the creative use of technology.

Second, this week brings the annual Sakai conference to Los Angeles. Pepperdine has 69 attendees at the conference, including dozens of its faculty members. Eleven presentations at the conference, ranging from my presentation on “Why We Switched to Sakai” to many more by our faculty and staff on using Sakai, will feature Pepperdine’s work in technology and learning. Congratulations to everyone, and I look forward to seeing you at this event.

Third, this past week I have had the opportunity to co-present, with Martin Klubeck from Notre Dame, an Academic Impressions Webinar entitled “Measuring IT Performance and Impact.” The Webinar was attended by over three dozen institutions, and the feedback we have received thus far has been very positive. My part of the Webinar, “The End-User Perspective in Measuring IT Services”, featured Pepperdine’s use of TechQual+ plus in its assessment, program review, and planning activities.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Piz Gloria

During the filming of Dr. No in 1962, Ian Fleming retreats to his Jamaican home to write On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS). Picking up where the previous James Bond novel Thunderball leaves off, in OHMSS Bond’s nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld assumes the identity of a Bavarian count and retreats to a Swiss mountaintop hideaway named Piz Gloria. Having dramatically altered his appearance, Blofeld works to perfect a poison that could destroy the British agrarian economy.

Six years later producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli work to bring OHMSS to the big screen as the sixth installment in the James Bond film series. For director Peter Hunt, reflecting the gritty realism of the Fleming novels was critical, as the previous film had departed significantly from its source material. Hunt felt that OHMSS should stick to the original Fleming story line, which required a continuity break with the previous film You Only Live Twice (this is why Bond and Blofeld do not recognize each other when first meeting in OHMSS). Hunt also desired to make a movie that more closely resembled the real world, which meant that the use of elaborate sets would be minimized and that OHMSS would be shot on location as much as possible.

Identifying a location to serve as Piz Gloria originally proved difficult, but the producers eventually stumbled upon the construction of an elaborate cableway system through the Swiss Alps that ended at a resolving restaurant under construction on the Schilthorn summit. The location matched Fleming’s description of Blofeld’s mountaintop hideout almost perfectly, and the producers struck a deal in which they would pay for the completion of the restaurant and the construction of a helipad in exchange for exclusive use of the facility during filming. After filming concluded, the name Piz Gloria remained as the cableway and restaurant opened for tourists.


Among the Bond films OHMSS stands as one of my personal favorites. Though some find it cheesy, the film has to be divorced from past and future Bond movies and viewed as a standalone film in its own right. It is a brilliant, epic film, with amazing cinematography, a realistic storyline, fantastic editing, and a score that resonates. Upon realizing several years ago that Piz Gloria was within a few hours journey of Pepperdine’s study abroad center in Lausanne, Switzerland, I promised myself that I would someday visit the location. That visit happened this past Tuesday.

Ultimately, owing to the incredibly bad weather, the visit was somewhat disappointing.


But getting there was an incredible journey. After a two-hour train ride from Lausanne, we ventured into the Alps by bus to Stechelberg where we began our ascent to Piz Gloria via the cableway system. After stops at Gimmelwald, Murren, and the Birg observation station we eventually reached the 2970m Schilthorn summit. The sights along the way were incredible, though our cable car was completely eclipsed by the snowstorm once we ascended above Murren.

Today, Piz Gloria features a restaurant, meeting center, and observation terrace. We enjoyed a very fine meal, one of the best we experienced in Switzerland, and our table circled the entire station in just under one hour. After our meal, we enjoyed the OHMSS exhibits before touring the facility and making comparisons between the way it stands today and the way it appeared in the film.
Though the snowstorm prevented us from viewing the incredible mountain ranges surrounding Piz Gloria, our visit was delightful and we departed late that afternoon to return to Lausanne. As Gail and I descended to the Birg observation station, one thought struck both of us and we turned and said the same thing to each other.

We will return.

Thus, as with all James Bond films, our visit ended with the anticipation of a future adventure, a day when we will once again ascend to Piz Gloria, but this time under the majesty of a clear sky. 

See the photo album of this trip.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On to Switzerland

Gail and I are heading to Lausanne, Switzerland tomorrow for a ten day trip. We will be participating in Pepperdine's new faculty orientation at it's La Croisee facility near the center of Lausanne and the banks of Lake Geneva. Though this is a business trip, we are taking one personal day to travel into the Alps to the top of the Schilthorn summit, made famous as the lair of Ernst Stravo Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report for Pepperdine

Deputy Chief Information Officer Jonathan See, Chief Technology Officer Michael Lucas, and all the directors and staff in Information Technology at Pepperdine University continue with important projects and their May 2011 report to the community is full of tidbits regarding their work that is advancing the effective use of information technology across the University.

Of particular emphasis this month is the significant amount of programs and support for faculty who wish to leverage technology more fully in their teaching as well as well as our efforts in evangelizing to the Pepperdine community the importance of information security and safe online practices. Congratulations to all of the staff supporting this good work.

May 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Where do we go from here? Part 3

Part 2 of this series discussed the ways in which IT organizations must change in order to increase the value of their contribution to higher education. For those organizations, what are the areas where information technology can have a greater impact? What opportunities across higher education institutions can be better exploited through the transformative power of information technology? If you are not familiar with the field of academic analytics, I suggest that you start learning more now.

The term academic analytics is often used broadly, to discuss the collection, analysis, and dissemination of management information regarding the academic enterprise. More specifically, when I think about academic analytics, I tend to focus on measurable expectations for learning, or student learning outcomes (SLO), and systems for tracking student preparation for, and progress towards, mastery of these outcomes. The notion of the SLO is fast replacing the traditional concept of the credit hour as the fundamental building block of academic progress. Anyone who has participated in a recent renewal of institutional accreditation should be familiar with this revolution in the way degree programs are conceptualized, constructed, and assessed.

This introduction of the SLO poses a sea change for higher education. Previously, our entire system – whether we are talking about degree requirements, revenue and expense models, facility master plans, or co-curricular programs – was centered on the credit hour: one hour of instruction per week plus one hour of work outside the classroom. Traditional IT systems, such as the ERP or LMS, are organized around this concept at their core. The shift from credit hour to SLO requires that we begin thinking about higher education in fundamentally different ways, and many argue that the resulting shift will be one of the keys to increasing degree completion rates while also reducing the costs of a college degree.

Here’s why:

  • If the credit hour is no longer the center of the academic enterprise, this portends changes for the traditional classroom – lecture model of teaching. Given that more robust learning can occur through synchronous and asynchronous collaboration between faculty, students, and others, the shift to student learning outcomes is supporting a flurry of innovation on new modes of teaching and learning that have the potential to make higher education more scalable, more accessible, and more meaningful.
  • In the long-term, this will require institutions to rethink existing financial models that are built on the concept of credit hour tuition and fees. If combined with more scalable models of teaching and learning, there is the hope that we can have a positive impact on the cost of a college degree.

These opportunities are being championed through initiatives such as the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative sponsored by EDUCAUSE and others.

Because there is no common infrastructure for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information regarding SLOs, this poses both challenges and opportunities for IT organizations. As SLO related information is both structured and unstructured, institutions typically use a hodgepodge of technologies, from ERP and LMS applications to e-portfolios and simple file systems for this purpose. This complexity has made it much more difficult to construct a common view of student progress across all of these information systems. Because of the lack of standards for SLOs across both regional and specialty accreditation bodies, there are no commercial solutions that do this in a comprehensive way. Diversity and complexity of IT systems, together with lack of common standards and vendor support, leave institutions on their own to develop custom solutions that are expensive and difficult to maintain. While next generation ERP and LMS systems will more fully catalogue and track SLO completion, these systems are many, many years away.

Participating in, supporting, and where appropriate, convening conversations regarding the development of SLO information infrastructure is a must for today’s IT organizations. These conversations are ongoing inside institutions, as well as externally across institutions. If you are not actively participating in these conversations, you will find yourselves reacting later to critical decisions that are being made without you. These discussions will affect the future trajectory of both individual institutions and higher education generally and there is no doubt that the transformative potential of information technology has an important role to play. The question for IT organizations is whether to lead or leave this important work to others.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where do we go from here? Part 2

Part 1 of this series discussed the ways in which IT organizations have contributed to higher education in the past. The current challenge for IT organizations, our present “chapter of the book”, is about becoming effective at evangelizing and advocating for the transformative power of technology. This challenge is fundamentally different from building computing centers, connecting networks, installing desktops, and Web enabling software applications. This shift poses the biggest challenge that IT organizations have faced yet because it requires them to make fundamental changes in the way they understand and approach their work. 

First, what got us where we are – technical skills – are not the attributes that correlate highly with success if we are to become effective advocates and evangelists regarding technology. In 2007, we challenged our IT organization at Pepperdine to articulate those competencies that distinguish high and low performers across the organization. Technical skills were only one of twenty competencies that were identified, and of the twenty, strong technical skills correlated only with a limited, order-taking role and were not sufficient for success when engaging others outside the IT organization. Competencies such as building relationships, business enterprise knowledge, and change advocacy were the attributes that are more important. This is the point of “Technical Skills No Longer Matter.”

Second, the nature of the world has dramatically changed. Because of the power of Internet-based, collaborative technologies and social networks, we have entered an era where individuals no longer need to depend on institutions or organizations for information, for resources, or even for things as simple as basic IT services. The nature of the world has shifted from one of “one to many” hierarchical relationships to one of “many to many” flat relationships. This has huge ramifications for communication and collaboration, and it’s how a group of loosely organized dissidents recently toppled a thirty-year-old dictatorship in Egypt. If you are an IT organization, this means that end users who used to depend solely on you are now choosers in their own right, who are free to select from a myriad of cloud-based alternatives to your services. Traditional notions of hierarchy, authority, and control go out the window. As mentioned in part 1, leadership becomes more about convening conversations and equipping individuals to participate in the discussion, as opposed to making decisions or performing a gatekeeping function.

So, how must IT organizations change in order to be successful in this new world?

The choice is either to perform up the IT value curve or to face a future of diminishing returns. Separating tactical and thought leadership regarding IT is a mistake because it limits the potential of technology across the enterprise. Every institution has an organization that it looks to for advice, counsel, and thought leadership when it comes to the effective use of technology. Is the IT organization demonstrating the competencies above and beyond technical skills necessary for credible performance of this role? Organizations whose performance is limited to a transactional role are left out of important discussions regarding technology and are more apt to bear the burden of expense reduction efforts in difficult economic times.

The trains must run on time. Nothing is more important for building and sustaining an IT organization’s credibility than their reputation for consistent, reliable, and responsive IT services. However, most organizations define consistency, reliability, and responsiveness in a technology centric way that most end users find alienating. These concepts must be defined from the perspective of those outside the IT organization; our traditional IT notions of these concepts must change. Assessment tools such as those from the Higher Education TechQual+ Project can help you ascertain what your end user community really thinks about your services.

Strategic planning is incredibly important. In a world of limited resources, deciding what not to do is the most important decision IT organizations can make. Effective assessment and strategic planning practices helps to ensure that limited resources are devoted to projects that have significant and tangible benefits, while also helping to ensure that the IT organization avoids a recurring cycle of over commitment and underperformance that destroys organizational credibility. Setting priorities is a must.

IT organizations that successfully demonstrate competencies above and beyond technical skills, who are able to ensure that IT services perform consistently, reliably, and responsively from an end user point of view, and who regularly engage in a cycle of assessment, reflection, and strategic planning, are ones who are able to credibly convene conversations that go to the heart of the institutional mission. That is the challenge of technology advocacy and evangelism.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Updates on the Higher Education TechQual+ Project

If you want to know what keeps me excited and full of energy, it's my research. This work is known as the Higher Education TechQual+ Project. My travels the past two weeks have kept me so busy that I am a week behind in preparing the second part of my "Where do we go from here?" series. Part 2 will be up next week, but for now let me share with you some news regarding TechQual+.

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Principal Investigator Timothy Chester along with colleague Gerry Flynn visited the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga April 13-14 to conduct focus groups aimed at helping to develop the TechQual+ survey instrument. These focus groups were designed to confirm or disaffirm findings from previous focus groups held at other participating institutions. With the completion of these focus groups at UTC, the qualitative phase of the TechQual+ project is now complete. A revised TechQual+ survey instrument is expected in the fall of 2011.

The TechQual+ research and survey was featured in a keynote presentation by Principal Investigator Timothy Chester at the 2011 Tennessee Higher Education IT Symposium on April 11, 2011. This presentation, entitled "Where do we go from here?", highlighted the need for better assessment and strategic planning practices for IT organizations if they are to mature towards playing an enhanced advocacy and evangalism role regarding the transformative potential of technology in education.

The new TechQual+ survey site, located at http://survey.techqual.org, has been placed in production. This occurred after the new user interface was the subject of usability tests at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Thanks to all the participating institutions who have participated in the process of vetting this new survey Web site.

Use of the TechQual+ survey at Yale University was featured in a news story in the Yale student newspaper The Yale Daily News. Click here to read this story.

Finally, the Higher Education TechQual+ Protocol Guide was updated to reflect upgrades in TechQual+ Web site functionality, particularly upgrades in communications functions. Please review the guide for more information on these changes.

For more information regarding the Higher Education TechQual+ Project please visit the project Web site at http://www.techqual.org.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Where do we go from here? Part 1

On Monday morning, I am giving the keynote address at the 2011 Tennessee Higher Education IT Symposium. My talk, entitled “Where do we go from here?”, is—in small part—a retrospective on the contributions that IT organizations have made to higher education over the past thirty years, and how these contributions have led to the challenges that IT organizations are experiencing today. Most importantly—and this is the larger part of the keynote—I explore how responding to these challenges sets the stage for where we should go in the future, and I do believe that the future is very promising for both higher education and the IT organizations serving them.

Reflecting on where we go from here requires a full understanding of where we have been. Greg Jackson, the Vice President for Policy at EDUCAUSE, laid out that history in The Chronicle a few years ago (“A CIO’s Question: Will You Still Need me When I’m 64?”, January 30, 2004). The first chapter was the data processing era, where we built computing service centers to provide our institutions with the processing power necessary to support administrative protocols such as payroll and registration and to provide our faculty with computational resources that would support their research. Next was the networking and desktop era, where the challenge was to put a PC on the desktop of every faculty and staff member and then connect them together, at first to institutional resources in the computing service center, and later, to what would eventually become the Internet. The next chapter was about leveraging the Web to automate key processes and services across the institution. At the same time, many institutions would implement packaged ERP systems in order to rid themselves of legacy technology and to provide the Web capabilities demanded by faculty, students, and staff. The current chapter, as envisioned by Jackson, is the era of “technology advocacy and evangelism”, where IT leaders become more important advocates for the transformative power of technology at their institution.

However, both higher education institutions and the IT organizations that serve them must change, in order to realize the transformative potential formed at the intersection of technology and learning.

I was reminded of this Wednesday night, as I sat through a fantastic keynote address by Marina Gorbis at the WASC Academic Resource Conference in San Francisco. Her talk, entitled “Education: Back to the Future”, has helped me to articulate something that I have known, but have struggled to adequately put into words: that, at the intersection of teaching, research, learning, and technology today, the role of leadership and authority changes radically. Whether it is in the classroom, the research lab, as an administrator, or as a technologist, leadership or authority becomes less about making decisions, controlling access to scarce resources, or imparting knowledge. Instead, leadership becomes more about credibly convening important conversations and equipping others to participate in the conversation and preparing them for the journey that results. This is an incredibly exciting proposition if you are an educator.

IT organizations have an important role in supporting and sometimes convening these conversations. But to be successful we must change the way we approach the design, implementation, and support of technology services in order to credibly perform roles beyond ordinary service delivery. Once we do that, then there are three areas that are ripe for exploiting the transformative power of technology in higher education: learning technologies, academic analytics, and business intelligence.

More to come.

Friday, April 8, 2011

April 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report Up

Our Information Technology Status and Activity Report for April, 2011 is up and available. A great month for our technology and learning, networking and Internet connectivity, and enterprise information areas. I encourage you to check out this month's report.

April 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report

Also, we have just recently completed our annual TechQual+ service satisfaction survey with 514 faculty, staff, and students completing the survey. That's a response rate of 21%. At first glance, this year's survey provides significant evidence that Information Technology services at Pepperdine continue their upward trajectory by virtue of their positive reception by the University community. Our Leadership Council is already at work analyzing the data and the over 2000 comments and suggestions submitted through this survey. This data will guide our planning efforts for the next year.

Congratulations to my colleagues for a great month!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Not as long as I'm in this job."

I remain in reverential awe of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He epitomizes everything that leadership is about: getting people to follow when they have the freedom to choose not to follow. As President of  Texas A&M University he demonstrated that capability daily. That leadership was on display last Thursday when he stated "not as long as I'm in this job" when pressed by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on whether there will be American troops on the ground in Libya.

It was just four weeks ago that Gates warned his successors against sending large ground forces into the Middle East or Asia ("Defense Secretary warns against fighting more ground wars"). This reminds me of a story I heard about one of his cabinet meetings at Texas A&M. I was not in the room, but I have heard this story from several who were. The meeting occurred just about a week before the second war in Iraq began. Gates was asked whether he thought a second war in Iraq was inevitable. He reportedly said "Yes. It will begin next week and we'll be there for the next fifty years." He was probably right. And his advice to his eventual successor is also probably right.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why Research is Important

On Thursday night, Gail and I had the opportunity to attend the undergraduate research banquet at Seaver College (Seaver College is the undergraduate liberal arts college at Pepperdine). The evening consisted of a dinner, followed by a series of breakout sessions featuring original scholarship conducted by our undergraduates, through a collaborative relationship with individual faculty members. It was an impressive agenda. Fifty-one faculty mentors participated in the program, supporting eight-five students who carried out research projects, and thirty-five papers were presented.

This raises the question of why research is important, particularly at an undergraduate liberal arts college. If the core collaborative experience in college is the faculty to student relationship, which I strongly believe, then the core activity conducted through that collaboration must be an investigation of the world around us – the thing that we call life. This investigation is what we call research. Collaborating with undergraduate students through research is something that Pepperdine University does extremely well.

The concept of research is becoming more controversial in higher education these days. Sometimes, the word ‘research’ itself has taken on a bad connotation, reflecting that higher education is focusing too much of its efforts away from teaching students. In my home state of Texas, there has been considerable controversy of late. At the University of Texas, the Board of Regents recently hired (and later reassigned) a consultant who has previously published papers questioning the value of academic research and whether tenured faculty members are paid too much. These writings, published through the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPFF), support what TPFF calls “seven proposed breakthrough solutions” designed to reform higher education. These proposals are designed to reduce the costs of education through increased transparency, accountability, and better outcomes. These are timely and worthy goals regardless of what you think about TPFF's recommendations.

To be sure, when academic research is pursued at the expense of good teaching, even at the undergraduate level, something is not right. However, at the same time, we have to recognize that good teaching is not about imparting knowledge alone; it is about imparting the process by which knowledge is created. To use an analogy, we don’t want only to feed our students knowledge—we want to teach them how to fish for themselves. Doing so prepares our students to be creative, innovative, and productive members of society. That is how Pepperdine lives out its mission of preparing students for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.

A recent editorial in Pepperdine's student newspaper The Graphic summed up why research and teaching go hand-in-hand. It’s worth quoting:

We aren’t paying for knowledge at a university; knowledge is a free commodity these days. We misunderstand our education when we think it’s defined by doing well on tests and earning a GPA. There is something bigger that takes place. What the university provides, that no other website or book or library can provide, is an environment where those who love to learn can come and uncover reality together (Pepperdine Graphic, March 24, 2011).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Progress, Ray, But Not Nearly Enough

After receiving a very significant amount of criticism regarding the Blackboard COURSEsites Terms of Use (TOU) over the past weeks, as discussed in a previous blog, Blackboard has responded by updating its TOU. In some ways, the changes could be considered an update, in the sense that the terms have been changed in order to accommodate concerns raised by the community. In other ways, the changes are really just clarifications of what Blackboard really means by its TOU. Despite this update, unfortunately, our biggest concerns with Blackboard COURSEsites have not yet been addressed. To Ray Henderson, the President of Blackboard Learn, let me say – There’s more work to be done here.

First, Blackboard has clarified that it does not intend to include advertising in COURSEsites “in order to support the service or generate revenue at this time” (emphasis added). Of course, Blackboard is free to change the TOU regarding the use of advertising at any time (without requiring your explicit agreement). This isn’t really much of a change from its previous TOU.

Second, Blackboard has clarified its need to obtain a license to view, copy, and distribute user content that is uploaded into COURSEsites. In an email, Blackboard stated that it requires “a license to the users’ content so that the COURSEsites staff and support representatives can view the content freely and duplicate as necessary” to diagnose the causes of issues and to rectify them “as they arise without disrupting active sessions.” Additionally, Blackboard has modified the TOU to state that it will not use users’ content for its own promotional and marketing materials without the express permission of the user. Fair enough; this satisfies my concerns about this section of the TOU.

Third, Blackboard has clarified who is permitted to use COURSEsites and has stated “with the exception of general tuition for student course enrollment in a non-profit institution, you (users) may not charge any fees to any party for their use of your COURSEsite.” Fair enough; this clarification to the TOU also satisfies concerns I raised earlier.

However, these minor changes do not in any way resolve the issues that currently prevent me, as CIO, from recommending COURSEsites to my faculty. Ray, it would be helpful if Blackboard would be willing to answer the questions raised in my earlier blog:

Is COURSEsites available for regular, recurring adoption by faculty members or is it limited to introductory, investigative use only?

Will faculty members be expected to pay a fee for regular, recurring use of COURSEsites beyond the “introductory, investigative” period?

Ray, resolving these questions in a way that is favorable to faculty who desire to use COURSEsites on a long-term basis would go a long way to ensuring that COURSEsites lives up to its potential. You articulated in your earlier blog that COURSEsites is “a free version of our (Blackboard’s) latest learning management system for individual instructors.” Until these two questions are resolved, it’s hard to see this as anything else than more marketing hype from Blackboard.

*Note the COURSEsites Terms of Use cited in this blog was downloaded from this site on March 18, 2011.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pepperdine's iPad Research Reported in CHE

Yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) did a story on the impact of the iPad on learning. The story, entitled “iPads Could Hinder Teaching, Professors Say” was expected, as some of our faculty and staff had participated in interviews with CHE reporters and the magazine had requested photographs of our faculty and students collaborating with the device. The story, which includes information on iPad initiatives at a number of institutions, was negative in tone and that was somewhat disappointing. My communications manager, Dana Hoover, did remind me though that Pepperdine’s coverage was by far the most positive report within the story itself.

Congratulations to Dana and Professor Timothy Lucas who has invested significant energy and enthusiasm into making this project a success.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Servant Leadership

Of all the positions in IT organizations, which is the most difficult? Is it the director of networking, who is responsible for making sure fast, reliable Internet service is always available? Is it the administrative systems director, who is often caught in the cross hairs between end users struggling to use the systems, managers who want to customize the systems, and campus leaders who want to reduce costs? Could it be the technology and learning director, who is responsible for advancing the use of technology in pedagogy amidst an often-reluctant faculty? Perhaps it is the CIO, who is responsible for coordinating all services and making sure they are delivered as one whole. There is one job that is tougher, one that is unheralded, that faces demands and that endures uncertainty like no other. It is the job of the helpdesk manager. 

There are three reasons why this is so, in my opinion.

First, the nature of supporting end users with technology is inherently stressful. Many times, the ones requesting support tend to request help only after they have endured significant frustration. Supporting these individuals is often done through some technology medium – such as over the telephone or by email communication – which removes face-to-face contact and body language from the conversation. These are stressful collaborations. Multiply that times 500 requests a week (in the case of Pepperdine) and you get a very demanding job; day-in, day-out.

Second, help desk managers have little control over the actual systems that end users have trouble with. That is to say, help desk managers find themselves at the mercy of others over whom they have no control. I have heard, on many occasions, stories from help desk staff who are able to identify trends and see problems that need to be corrected permanently, but who receive no support from others in the IT organization when trying to get this done. The combination of being squeezed between end users who need help and being powerless to control the circumstances causing the problems adds to the complexity of this work.

Third, the position requires strategic thinking. Although it is often easier to just sit back, respond to requests reactively, and leave at the end of the day, help desk managers also have to face strategic responsibilities. These include analysis of user support patterns, identification of underlying problems not always apparent at the surface level, and advocating for solutions to others for whom the help desk isn’t always a priority. Diligence, and even perseverance, is a required part of the job every single day.

The best help desk managers I know are those who handle these responsibilities in a way that can only be described as servant leadership. The concept of servant leadership was suggested by Robert Greenleaf, who described it as the concept of leadership through serving the needs of others. By making the needs of others a priority, being mindful of them, and always giving them attention, one becomes a humble steward of people – the most important resource in any organization.

The help desk manager as servant leader has been on my mind this past week because the person who played this role for me at Texas A&M University at Qatar recently passed away. Teresa Chipman can only be described as a servant leader. Always a great listener, empathetic, and acting constantly with foresight, she was a vital part of the community of Texas A&M University faculty, students, and staff working and living in Qatar. She was a member of the church that Gail and I supported in our home, she hosted us for many meals in her home, and she is the one who introduced me to LOST.

Teresa, I will always remember the grace that you brought each day to a very difficult job. Your example of servant leadership is one that I aspire to everyday. May you rest in peace, and know that I have faith that we will see each other again.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report Up

Our Information Technology Status and Activity Report for March, 2011 is up and available. Lots of good things going on, including our launch of the annual TechQual+ survey. As of today, about 225 individuals (10% response rate) have completed the survey. Our goal is to exceed a 20% response rate and we are well on our way to achieving that. The data collected in this survey provides the foundation for our regular, recurring cycles of planning throughout the organization.

For more information please read this month's report. Congratulations to my colleagues for a great month!

March 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Step in the Right Direction, Ray, but…

This morning, I created my account on Blackboard COURSEsites. According to Ray Henderson, the President of Blackboard Learn, COURSEsites is “a free version of our (Blackboard’s) latest learning management system for individual instructors.” As you may know, Pepperdine University discontinued its use of Blackboard Learn last month and adopted Sakai in its place, upon the recommendation of Pepperdine faculty and students.

My point in writing is not to beat a well-beaten horse further regarding Blackboard products or service quality (try typing ‘Blackboard gripes’ into Google), nor is it to provide a ringing endorsement of Blackboard Learn as an LMS. However, I do think that the introduction and availability of COURSEsites is a very positive development for Blackboard. If we take Ray Henderson at his word, which I do, that COURSEsites represents Blackboard taking “inspiration from the open source model…to its logical extreme,” then this is a step in the right direction for a company whose motivations are often viewed as suspect.

Nevertheless, as my colleagues on the EDUCAUSE CIO listserv have pointed out, when you dig a bit deeper beyond the marketing hype, the COURSEsites terms of use (TOU) raise several questions.

Is COURSEsites available for regular, recurring adoption by faculty members or is it limited to introductory, investigative use only?

The COURSEsites TOU states that it “gives clients an opportunity to utilize Blackboard technology on an introductory basis.” Ray acknowledges that COURSEsites is considered as a marketing tool for encouraging grass roots faculty support for purchasing an enterprise license for Blackboard Learn. Because “introductory basis” is not defined in the TOU, it is unclear how long Blackboard will allow a faculty member to use COURSEsites on a recurring basis. What is clear is that regular, recurring use by individual faculty member should not be assumed.

Will faculty members be expected to pay a fee for regular, recurring use of COURSEsites beyond the “introductory, investigative period?

The COURSEsites TOU states that faculty “must pay all applicable fees associated with your use of the Service. Any renewals of the Service shall be at Blackboard’s then-current rates.” One can easily infer that after a faculty member completes their “introductory period,” they may be expected to pay a subscription fee to Blackboard for their continued use of COURSEsites.

Can COURSEsites be used for active courses offered by a college or university for which students are charged tuition and fees?

The COURSEsites TOU states that faculty members agree not to “reproduce, duplicate, sell, trade, resell or exploit for any commercial purposes any portion of the Service, use of the Service, or access to the service.” If I am teaching a course at Pepperdine, because Pepperdine charges students tuition and fees for the course, am I in violation of the TOU?

These are just three of the most egregious sections of the TOU. There are parts that are equally problematic, such as inability to opt out of Blackboard marketing communications, a lack of clarity regarding backups and disaster recovery provisions, and Blackboard’s ability to copy and use all content stored in COURSEsites for their own marketing and promotional purposes. Because of all of these issues, I could not recommend to any of my faculty colleagues that they adopt COURSEsites for any of their courses.

This raises the question: What exactly is Blackboard up to? There appears to be a very real gap in terms of the marketing hype surrounding COURSEsites (i.e., that it is a free Blackboard offering for use by individual faculty members) and the nitty gritty detail expressed in the COURSEsites TOU (i.e., that it is a marketing tool intended for evaluation only). It is precisely this type of gap that is typical of Blackboard marketing and leads many to hold Blackboard suspect.

Let me state again, for the record: Ray, you are to be commended for a step in the right direction. Now, I encourage you to “stick the landing” and update the COURSEsites TOU so that it is a free service for adoption by individual faculty members on a regular, recurring basis. Doing so will help you to increase the impact of Blackboard on higher education, while also helping you to sell more Blackboard Learn licenses. Not doing so will limit the potential impact of this initiative.

Note: the COURSEsites TOU described in this document was downloaded from this location on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Day with Richard Hunter

On Thursday, Pepperdine’s IT Leadership Council held its annual retreat. Each fall, the council members are given a book to read that becomes the focus of the retreat. This year, the reading assignment was Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value (2009). The author, Richard Hunter, joined us for the retreat and led the discussion.

Our discussion dovetailed quite nicely with the framework established in “Technical Skills No Longer Matter” and “A Roadmap for IT Leadership and the Next Ten Years”; namely, that the value proposition for IT organizations and individual contributors can no longer be defined and framed from within a technology centric view of the world. Our value is best articulated in an outcomes-centered view of the world that is framed around end user expectations, needs, and goals.

Other key takeaways from the discussion include:

First, our mindset must change. Moving from a technology centric view of the world to an outcomes view of the world, while easy to state as a goal, is very difficult to live out on a day-to-day basis. For example, we should stop seeing our colleagues throughout the institution as end users or customers and instead see them as our colleagues and peers. Another example might be to stop thinking about administrative systems as ERP deployments (instead of business process improvement initiatives) or network upgrade projects as, well, network upgrade projects (as opposed to increased collaboration initiatives). But, try dropping the terms end users, customers, ERP, or network connectivity from your strategic plans, your project charters, and your day-to-day vocabulary. It’s tough. Nevertheless, it’s necessary if we are to move away from the technology centric view of the world that limits the value proposition of IT and relegates it to commodity status.

Second, never separate cost from the concept of value. Far too often, we talk about the costs of IT services without putting them within the context of the quality of the service or the value derived from it. During our discussion, my mind harked back to a discussion that I had in 2007 with our CFO when attempting to justify the costs for a new Storage Area Network (SAN). Over and over, he would say, “I don’t understand why your disk storage costs are over $3 a gigabyte, when I can go down to Best Buy and buy a 500 gig hard drive for $50.” I finally said to him, “Well, if you want to store your general ledger on a USB drive plugged into your computer, with no additional backups available if the drive fails or if the building burns down, we can do that for you for about .10 a gig.” Finally, I got around to talking about quality of service and value – and he got it. The point – lead these conversations with the discussion of quality and value and not with the concept of cost. Leading with the latter relegates your efforts to commodity status every time.

Finally, show the value of an IT investment as an investment in business performance – either operationally or financially. Our VOIP implementation is about increasing collaboration opportunities between faculty, students, and staff, particularly for our programs delivered as a hybrid (part online, half face-to-face). Our Xythos disk storage project is about collecting, analyzing, and distributing unstructured content and data related to student learning outcomes. Lastly, our data warehousing initiatives are about creating and distributing key performance indicators in a proactive fashion to decision-makers across the institution.

The point is, by defining IT investments as performance investments, we keep the focus on the transformative power of information technology within higher education. If we continue to maintain a technology centric view of the world, manifested through the way we see ourselves within the institution, the ways in which we articulate what we do and why, and the ways in which we approach both challenges and new opportunities alike, we will find ourselves left out of key discussions across the institution. More seriously, a disproportionate share of expense reduction efforts will be expected of IT.

The challenge is – we must go beyond casual acceptance of these principles and start living them out day-to-day, one conversation at a time, across our institutions. That is the real work for IT organizations in higher education today.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's the Outcomes that Matter

Our iPad project at Pepperdine University has recently received some attention in Pepperdine Magazine and The Graphic. In previous writings, I suggested that handing out technology merely for the sake of adopting the latest technology was not necessarily the right attitude towards adopting new technological advances. It’s the outcomes that matter.

What distinguishes our work with the iPad here at Pepperdine?

A few things:

First, our faculty members are driving the project. Our goal is to provide faculty members with the tools and support they need; we then sit back and observe where they and their students go with the technology. In doing so, we focus more on how the technology is best used in learning and less on how technologists think the technology can or should be used.

Second, our focus is on outcomes. Our eventual goal is to run an experiment where the use of the iPad is an independent variable and the learning outcomes articulated for different courses are the dependent variables. We hope to accomplish this by using identical sections of a course taught by one faculty member. One section is the control group and the other is the experimental group. Students in the experimental group are provided an iPad and software for use in their coursework. The research question is: how does the iPad positively or negatively impact learning outcomes? By focusing on outcomes, we hope to achieve a more precise determination of the impact of the technology on our central mission – educating students – and to develop a set of best practices that can guide broader adoption of this technology.

You can read more about our iPad initiative here.