Saturday, June 30, 2012

Favorite Tweets from #ECAR12

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2012 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research Symposium last week. One of the things that I appreciate about these smaller EDUCAUSE events is that they provide a setting for more intimate conversations (or sometimes rigorous debates) about key issues in higher education. This year’s topic was analytics and both the speakers and panelists were excellent. Let me recap the symposium by sharing with you my favorite Tweets from the event.

We started off the event with a great talk by Henry Eyring (@majordecisions) from BYU Idaho about the need for change in higher education. One of the things I appreciated about his talk was that he presented a hierarchy of different needs that encompasses all of what higher education today offers, from the research university to continuing education programs.

Many conversations about change and reform were discussed in light of the recent governance controversies at the University of Virginia. Given that there were attendees from UVA this was not surprising. Conversations about the need for change were prefaced with an assumption that reforms should flow from and work within the established culture of higher education if they are to be successful.

There was also an implicit assumption that it is what people do with technology that matters; that successful outcomes tend to have less to do with the technology itself.

Another interesting conversation concerned the role of the CIO, who often have a strategic view on University issues because of nature of the services provided by their organizations. Several panelists suggested that CIOs should not be shy about sharing that strategic view; but there was recognition that doing so required credibility.

In fact, you only really get to be involved in more strategic conversations if you do your day job competently - running that utility business known as IT.

Finally, there was lots of talk about the IT / Institutional Research partnership, which was viewed as critical if campuses are to get serious about building better support for the use of analytics. Again the emphasis was on what we do with technology and less about the technology itself - a view that I try to always be mindful of.

Congratulations to Susan Grajek and her staff at EDUCAUSE for a great event!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative" Looks Like

Late afternoon on Friday, September 30, 2011 I got a call from our Information Security Officer who told me that there was a report of a Web accessible file containing 18,000+ records of sensitive personal information on UGA employees. And so I began my career as Chief Information Officer at the University of Georgia. My first month on the job was focused on responding to this incident and working with others to put together a plan to reduce the risk of something like it happening again. Phase 1 of those efforts, directed primarily at better securing routine transfers of sensitive personal information, has just been completed.

Since that disclosure over 11,000 hours of effort have been directed at examining, eliminating, or encrypting regular transfers of sensitive personal information, with the result being a 93% reduction in the routine transfer of such files. Additionally, where such transfers are required for business or regulatory purposes, the sensitive personal information is encrypted so as to reduce the risk of inadvertent disclosure should the file be lost or intercepted.

For my organization, completing this work was a mammoth effort that required us to turn the strategic direction of our application development teams on a dime so that they could focus on this project and complete this necessary work. For CIOs and IT organizations trying to get their hands around big projects that sometimes lack momentum, here’s what worked for us.
  • Depend on your best and brightest. The project succeeded because it was led by the right team of individuals who, possessing the right competencies, were ready to take on a project of this magnitude. I’ve yet to be let down when handing off our biggest challenges to our best and brightest employees.
  • Clear their plate of all other responsibilities, there must be no distractions. Big projects require focus, so when assigning your team a big project you must clear their plate of all other responsibilities. Otherwise, the priority work really isn’t a priority.
  • Support from those outside IT is critical. In the case of our remediation efforts, the tradeoff for prioritizing this work was less attention for regular, routine requests for application support. Having support from our University leadership and administrative departments for this shift in resources was critical.
We are not yet done; this is only phase 1 of our efforts to more fully protect sensitive personal information at the University of Georgia. As we move forward, our implementation of the Banner student and financial aid systems will continue these efforts on the student information side of our administrative applications. On the finance and human resource information side, we are working application by application to identify and take advantage of opportunities to better protect the use of sensitive personal information. While we will never be able to eliminate the risks of disclosure of sensitive information, these efforts will go a long way towards reducing them through enhanced awareness and better technical controls.

Last year I wrote a piece for EDUCAUSE Quarterly called "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative" where I argued that we need to keep strategic activities in-sourced and that more transactional IT support activities are stronger candidates for outsourcing. I think that many times we get this backwards, particularly when we hire expensive teams of consultants to tell us what to do about complex problems we don't fully understand. Our approach to UGA's SSN remediation efforts mirror what I believe is the right approach. The thought leadership about what we should do, how we should do it, and when was accomplished by our management team in EITS, led by Jenna King. When we needed more help with the more transactional parts of the project, specifically the editing of mainframe programs and JCL's, we turned to a third-party IT services firm for additional support. This is what "Outsource the Transactional, Keep the Transformative" looks like in reality. In my fifteen years in this business, I have never been more proud of the work of a group of individuals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Student Centered Reform Might Look Like

A few weeks ago I caught a quote in the Wall Street Journal by Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System. In discussing the resistance by the UT Board of Regents to continued increases in undergraduate tuition he stated "the trend of consistently raising tuition to counter reductions from other funding sources is not sustainable for students and parents." Therein lies the problem: if you plot out the current trajectory of tuition increases, by 2030 a traditional college education could likely be out of reach for all but those with substantial economic means.

I worry that higher education reforms, particularly those focusing on scalability and access (think online education), could result in a two-tier system where those with economic means benefit from a traditional experience while those without such means are left with something potentially far less. I would be willing to bet that both elite private institutions and research-oriented public flagships would remain viable in 2030 even at $130,428 or $57,609 a year, but less selective public institutions and tuition-dependent privates likely would not; thus requiring reforms that potentially lead to a two-tiered system. While we must alter our present course, we must do so in a way that ensures that higher education reduces social and economic inequity and does not perpetuate it by decoupling access from student ability.

A recent bright spot in my weekly reading was an article discussing what students want from a reformed higher education, which contained some real nuggets of wisdom.
  • The face-to-face experience matters. While social networking tools and online communications constantly consume student’s attention, it often results in social isolation that is undesirable when it comes to learning. While students think online courses are good for completing prerequisites or obtaining remedial instruction, they want face-to-face collaborative learning experiences with faculty and other students.
  • They want earlier career advice that ties career choices to a major. While most students engaged in a deliberative, thoughtful process to select a school, their major was often chosen haphazardly. Students want to be engaged about career choices and majors in a more thoughtful and deliberate way once they step on campus.
  • Majors are less important than they used to be. Students feel that the notion of a traditional field of study is outdated and has more to do with how faculty organize their work and less to do with what serves student needs. Students would prefer a set of learning experiences that emphasize information processing, increases their capacity for critical thinking, and helps them to become better communicators, regardless of subject matter.
Such a model would not be a one-size-fit-all model exclusively centered on career development, but one that would allow students the opportunity to design their own learning experiences consistent with their unique goals and aspirations. If we follow their advice we just might be onto something.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So, where do your kids go to school?

Last week, after reading what must have been more than two dozen pieces on the need for change in higher education, in such forums as the New York Times, Forbes, the Washington Post, and The Chronicle of Higher EducationI tweeted the following.

Later, I started pressing some of the tweeters using #highered and #edtech whether or not the revolutionary changes they advocate would provide a sufficient higher education for their own children and grandchildren.

@tvanderark dodged my question. So did @Learn4Work, especially when I asked her if her own traditional education (via Linkedin) is the “elite education” that now might be worthy of some scorn.

It seems that not a week goes by without some conservative, liberal, or libertarian thought leader (think David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, or Richard Vedder) decrying our supposedly broken higher education system, with its out-of-control costs, unproductive faculty, and inability to fully prepare students for successful careers. While it is true that we have to figure out how to take out costs, increase productivity, and become more competency focused – that is far too broad of a stroke to paint us all with. I'll stand any day for the education that is delivered by the University of Georgia or that my kids received from Texas A&M. My own hypothesis is that when you control for student ability, the selectivity of their college or university, and the quality of their secondary education, you find that higher education does a much better job than it gets credit for. But that doesn't make for sensational headlines.

That's not my point though. The real question for me is what type of higher education do we want for our kids and grandkids? Do we aspire for them a more traditional experience that broadly prepares them to be fully engaged citizens? Or, do we want something that is designed more for vertical scalability (think MOOCs), driven by cost-effectiveness, and aimed largely at career development? Count me as being naive, but I still believe that the better you do at the former, the better the chance the latter takes care of itself.

But that is not what I am worried about. My fear is that reliance on market-based reforms and decreased emphasis on regulation, particularly controls on federally sponsored financial aid, will have the same effect as they have had throughout our economy: a widening separation between the haves and the have-nots and further undermining of the American middle class. We have to reform higher education, but we cannot do it in a way that preserves a traditional higher education for those with economic means and something much different and potentially far less for everyone else. We should have higher aspirations for our kids and our grandkids.

Anyway, I’ll get more excited about what David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and Richard Vedder have to say about #highered reform when they tell me where they want their kids and grandkids to go to school.