CIO Blog

The Changing Face of Higher Education, Part 2

In my last blog, I shared my observations and experiences with open educational resources including massive open online courses (MOOCs). In this blog, I am sharing my observations, experiences, and interpretation of changes affecting The University of Alabama and the information technology (IT) organization.

Since March, the University has appointed an interim provost and a vice president for each student affairs, advancement, and strategic communications. In June, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Stuart Bell as president. I was honored to represent UA as a member of the Presidential Search Committee. It was obvious; UA System leaders, UA faculty and administrators, and other committee members were very focused on bringing the right candidate forward. Chairwoman, UA board of trustees President Pro tem Karen Brooks, the first woman to serve in the position, asked the search committee to select a charismatic, student-focused leader capable of continuing the growth at UA over the last decade. I believe Dr. Bell is an excellent fit. His qualifications, experience, interest in research, and fund-raising efforts are commendable. He is a gentleman and a scholar with a keen focus and a strong orientation toward the business of higher education.

Chancellor Robert Witt, who served as a vice chairman of the search committee, oversaw the appointments of new presidents for our sister universities at Birmingham, in 2013, and at Huntsville, in 2011. Following the recent changes in leadership at UA and after serving the System for over twelve years, first as president and then chancellor, Witt announced plans to retire in August 2016. His recommended successor, Ray Hayes, was approved by the board of trustees. Hayes, the System’s current executive vice chancellor, will assume his new role September 1, 2016. In the interim, Chancellor Witt ensures a smooth transition. We thank him for preparing the UA System to make the most of the challenges and opportunities confronting higher education.

So, what changes can we expect as we move forward? I expect the University to build upon its accomplishments in undergraduate research and expand its research ambitions. Earlier this year, the vice president for research and economic development selected two, prominent UA professors as associate vice presidents. While maintaining other leadership roles in academia and the research enterprise, they are facilitating development and implementation of a strategic research plan, promoting interdisciplinary projects, and enlarging the University’s collaborative role across the UA System. In another effort to strengthen partnerships across the System and with other organizations, I have been asked to take an additional position as associate vice chancellor for information technology.

IT is more relevant than ever. It is integral to the University’s research engine, delivery of education, and support of its academic mission. To maintain relevance, we need to focus on collaborations with and among our faculty, researchers, and administrators. For research alone, there is a growing need for a new professional discipline—cyber practitioners who have a blend of IT experience and science domain knowledge. In a recent survey, UA faculty and researchers requested additional, high performance and data-intensive computing capabilities, visualization, simulation, other analytical tools, and related IT support.

To facilitate their research, we are building a dedicated science network component. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the University a $464,770 grant for establishing an advanced network capability, distinct from our general-purpose campus network, to specifically support high-bandwidth, data-intensive, scientific applications. We have re-engineered our Technology Research Advisory Committee (TRAC) to better support the University’s Research Advisory Council (RAC). In other governance matters, we are revising our IT governance structure and expanding it to include representatives from across the campus.

Our administrators’ needs are evolving from process automation to use of digital technologies (e.g., mobile, social, and analytics) and physical resources to change what people do—changes that enhance their ability to achieve specific goals. IT professionals will need to enhance their communication and analytic skills and build new competencies to facilitate use of data and analytics for strategic and operating decisions. We will need to help bridge, break, or integrate data silos and make available the information needed to support more effective academic and institutional decision-making.

We will need to become more proactive by aggressively seeking grant funding, increasing cost transparency, forging new collaborations with our sister universities, lowering complexity, improving security, and anticipating the needs of our constituencies. I expect changes in our services and possibly, our organizational structures. At a minimum, expect more flexible structures.

Yes, Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin” as are the faces of many of our leaders, as is the face of IT in Higher Education.

The Changing Face of Higher Education – A Personal Journey

I have often been amazed at the lack of use of technology in the Ivory Tower. I came back into Higher Education after approximately 20 years in the business/corporate environment and was very disappointed in the technology status of the universities.

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It saddened me because it (technology), in my opinion, is one of our greatest tools for enhancing the learning experience.

Many of the faculty today, in my experience and observation, believes that a PowerPoint presentation is advanced technology. It has gone way beyond that and touches on the fringes of the Internet of Everything. I can’t remember the last time I went to a Library for my information. The Internet has opened all types of possibilities for me personally. My journals in technology, science, current history, and business are immediately available to me on-line and as the W Hotels slogan states “Whenever, Whatever”. My iPad is my gateway to the world. I often wonder, was there life before the iPhone, iPad and the Internet?

In my exploration of new methods of technology I have adapted various methods. For example, when I was teaching a graduate course in Toxicology the internet became our gateway to the National Institute of Drug Abuse site for journal articles related to drugs of abuse, and the three dimensional structures of molecules. The full course material was totally on-line.

I have expanded my own experiences by becoming actively involved with iTunes University. It is a site that gives an individual access to the world of education. Every University you can imagine has full courses and seminars available and it is free! I took a course from the University of Dublin in Immunology. It was excellent!
Of course you are able to have access to all of the material at no cost but it is not for credit.

The next major movement in on-line education was in the development of massive open online courses (MOOC’s). The MOOC combined with the latest technologies provides for universal access to on-line education. The MOOC concept was endorsed by Harvard and MIT (to the tune of a $60 M investment). Millions of students have signed up for MOOC’s that provide worldwide access to the courses. The MOOC’s make content and learning more accessible and affordable at the scale of the Internet. What is amazing is that you can take the course as an audit (for free), for a certificate, or for credit toward your degree.

I decided that I would experiment with MOOC’s. As CIO I wanted to understand what the current interest and excitement was all about. Many academicians were discussing them but had no hands-on experience with them. I enrolled in a 10 week Epidemiology Course “Epidemics – the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases” through the MOOC broker Coursera, https://www.coursera.org.

I have included the description:

Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Influenza, Measles – we’re in a constant battle against infectious diseases. This is a course about the dynamics of such diseases – how they emerge, how they spread around the globe, and how they can best be controlled.

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It was amazing and incredibly time consuming. It was every bit as good as any course I had ever taken. I had to get used to studying for exams and reading and discussing papers through on-line chat sessions. It was a course taught by the Penn State Medical School faculty and therefore not for the uniformed.

I had been bitten by the MOOC bug and decided to take other courses in Calculus from UC Irvine, and a course in Programmed Cell Death from the LMH in Munich. Both were excellent and well worth it.

The point I am trying to make is that the landscape is changing for education and those in higher education institutions must begin to think more globally. We are not in the mainstream with some of our programs but I believe we are moving in that direction.

If you have the time explore the on-line world. It is transformative and invigorating!