It’s hard to imagine that 2016 is almost over, but with residential students moving back in and universities gearing up for a new semester, it is a great time to look at what has happened so far this year, what has changed, and where Higher Ed IT is headed. And who better to ask about the state of IT in Higher Ed than the CIOs and other IT professionals who are “in the trenches” day in and day out? Here are the top 8 Higher Ed CIO trends and topics to carry us into the new year.
8. Managing Data
Higher education, as a whole, does not suffer from a lack of data. Instead, some institutions struggle with finding the best way to gather, organize and utilize that data for the good of the school and its stakeholders. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Joanna Young, the former CIO at Michigan State University, said that “big data is useless unless it is hygienic and organized,” echoing a sentiment held by many Higher Ed CIO’s. In Educause’s annual article on the Top 10 IT Issues, a panel of university IT professionals discussed how colleges could improve their management of institutional data. Brad Judy, a Director of Information Security on that panel, explained that “data must be managed, but in a way that still allows for rapid development of new applications of the data.” Gathering information without a thorough plan for organizing and putting it to use isn’t going to cut it these days, but thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to ensure your institution has a strong foundation to work from to improve its data management. As Judy suggests, “institutions should begin with identifying a framework for data management decisions.” You can find more results from the Educause panel’s discussion in their in-depth article.
7. Alternative Approaches to Education
Alternative approaches to learning, such as competency based education (CBE), have shown promise in their benefits to students no longer interested in the lectured-centric status quo.
Higher Ed seems to be in a constant state of both trying to discover the next disruptive technology and keeping advancements reined in within the traditional 4-year college structure. While not disruptive in the strictest sense of the word, alternative approaches to learning, such as competency based education (CBE), have shown promise in their benefits to students no longer interested in the lectured-centric status quo. In an interview with Campus Technology, Jonathan Blake Huer, the Director of Emerging Technologies at Ball State University, said that “in the near future, CBE, blended learning and other forms of education will become a bigger factor in differentiating institutions and will attract students who want a particular mode of learning, not just a major.”
The divide between alternative approaches and traditional higher education may be blurring as more universities conform to the varying needs of their student bases. When asked by Education Dive about alternate pathways, Raechelle Clemmons, the CIO at Davidson College, said “I strongly suspect that the four-year college education of the (not too distant) future will be a nicely blended version of the two that looks very little like either extremes do today.”
Just as the lines between the 4-year Higher Ed experience and alternative pathways are blurring, so too are the lines between the in-classroom and digital classroom experiences. Joanna Young expressed that she is not fond of the “apparent segmenting of ‘online education,’” and that we should instead “be talking about digital learning pathways that can include a variety of experiences, that could range from highly to barely online.” If the rise and fall of MOOCs have taught us anything, it’s that online education is an important tool when combined with traditional learning environments to create the most flexible student experience. Stephen DiFilipo, former CIO of MSOE University, proposed that “learning should be ubiquitous: anytime, anywhere.”
5. Cloud Services
What was once an emerging technology has now become nearly ubiquitous within Higher Ed IT. The question of whether or not to move to the cloud has been quickly replaced by how to best secure data and what processes lend themselves to working in conjunction with cloud services. The increased reliance on the cloud comes at a price, however. Educause’s Top 10 IT Issues 2016 report noted that the difficulty of keeping up with security risks is “further exacerbated by the changing nature of IT service delivery and the move toward the cloud.” With 56% of respondents of a KPMG Higher Ed Industry Outlook survey suggesting that “they were comfortable with cloud risk-management and data-protection protocols,” it’s clear that cloud services are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean that work can’t still be done to make them more secure.
4. IT Budgets
Having to manage resources is to be expected for a CIO, but pressures from higher-ups and competition can cause significant difficulties.
While every institution is different, it seems that most IT departments walk a thin line between providing everyday upkeep for their institution and trying to keep up with emerging technology and advancements to appeal to new students. This balancing act primarily comes down to the department’s budget. As Andy Jett, the CIO at Baker University, explains, “the expectation is that IT is finding and building for what is coming at our faculty and students, but still maintaining the core business functions. Funds to do this get stretched pretty thin and at times put us at risk for functional areas to not work as expected.” Having to manage resources is to be expected for a CIO, but pressures from higher-ups and competition can cause significant difficulties. In Education Dive’s article, Raechelle Clemmons said that “we are becoming more and more dependent on technology, but in many cases technology costs are in addition to, not in lieu of, other expenses and our costs keep rising.”
3. Hiring & Maintaining IT Talent
University IT can be a great opportunity for talented individuals looking to start a career: it has a unique culture, often offers a flexible work/life balance, and isn’t as slow to adapt as many may say, but it is still important for Higher Ed IT departments to invest in finding and grooming IT talent. William Senter, a Chief Technology Officer on Educause’s panel, proposes that “there is little margin for error if a staff member does not fit within an IT group. It is thus very important for management to do whatever they can to retain good employees.” In most cases, good enough won’t cut it. Luckily, there are steps universities can take to keep talented IT professionals. Educause’s Top 10 Issues piece noted that while there are many different reasons for someone to find work elsewhere, “it is primarily people and quality of life (including the quality supported by good benefits) that retain staff, no matter their age or position.”
2. Student Success Technology
Institutions are looking to predictive analysis and other forms of student success technology to help them maintain a healthy student base and stay competitive.
Student retention is one of Higher Ed’s biggest issues in 2016, and it seems that institutions are looking to predictive analysis and other forms of student success technology to help them maintain a healthy student base and stay competitive. A 2015 NMC Horizon Report suggests that learning analytics will become increasingly popular over the next few years. “The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success.” An abundance of data without proper organization and a thorough strategy for that data’s use isn’t sufficient, however. Young suggests that “CIOs need to establish a clean data baseline first” before they’re able to make the best use of business intelligence.
1. Campus & Cyber Security
Security is almost always an important topic for CIOs, regardless of their industry, but Higher Ed IT is tasked with keeping its institution and its stakeholders safe on two fronts. With the potential threat of hackers accessing private user information and issues of student safety prominently displayed in the news, it’s clear that campus and cyber security are key issues for Higher Ed IT in 2016. While policy is often the first line of defense to ensure student safety, technology can be a strong tool to deter crime and ensure that campuses are secure. A 2016 Campus Safety survey found that a majority of universities already use security cameras on campus. Carine Feyten, the Chancellor and President of the Texas Woman’s University suggests that campus safety is “going to get more attention from senior administration—and how we are perceived by prospective students and their families will impact their ‘buying decision.’”
Although most university IT departments view cyber security as a high priority, protecting your users against outside threats should not be your only line of cyber defense. As Educause’s article explains, if users lack certain services, such as access to the cloud, they may be willing to take it into their own hands. “In those instances, it is also entirely likely that the path of least resistance may not include effective security safeguards and that users may unwittingly put institutional and/or individual data at risk.” Depending on your budget and department, strategies for maintaining campus and cyber security may vary. DiFilipo suggests that “a ‘security council’, or some empowered group be convened to conduct a benchmarking assessment or maturity index assessment to determine the state of the organization against a national standard.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the topics that CIO’s are focusing on, but it should act as a useful snapshot of what’s most important to Higher Ed IT in 2016. These trends are expected to stay relevant throughout the fall and into the new year, but there’s no telling for certain where university IT is headed. Thankfully, we’re working on a report to examine what Higher Ed CIO’s predict Higher Ed will look like 2020. We would be very interested to hear your thoughts, especially if you are a CIO or other IT professional in the field, so stay tuned for our survey, and in the meantime, feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below.
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