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.