​For higher ed CIOs, edtech is the perfect disruption


Many faculty members tell us that technology is a distraction: The value professors provide to students is in their knowledge and expertise — in their ability to provoke in-depth, stimulating discussions. This instruction traditionally takes place in a lecture hall or seminar room, where students sit at the edge of their seats, eyes glued to the professor.

For better or worse, this environment is no longer a reality. Today’s students are different, and they want to learn anywhere, anytime — and on a device. This means they might want to connect from their dorm room, or while traveling to or from work. Rather than relying on a professor’s voice, they want to be active, engaged, and solving problems both collaboratively and independently.

Yes, there is a place for lecture content, but it must be augmented by modern technology to better drive student success. After all, helping our students achieve more is the cornerstone of EDUCAUSE’s Top Ten IT Issues for 2017.

At the helm of this transition is the technology director — a leader within higher-education who often times is the first to advocate for change. And while new introductions to the classroom are fun and exciting for students, the stigma of distraction still plagues some faculty members. We are always hearing from our higher education partners that it’s a delicate balance to find the right tools to engage students, while also providing seamless solutions for faculty.

Two senior IT leaders within our network, Beth Gordon, interim associate vice president of information technology services at Pace University in New York, and Todd Britton, CIO at the University of La Verne in California, seem to have the right formula for change. When it comes to integrating technology into the classroom experience in a complementary way, here are three key lessons I’ve learned from them:

IT leaders need to be advocates for change. Painting a picture of the future not just for the traditional use of technology, but also for technology that will help to change education, is essential. In particular, this technology must fully leverage digital learning, which will ultimately improve student engagement.

That being said, many students don’t have access to high-tech solutions in their homes, or in their home communities. “The University of La Verne worked with faculty and staff on a ‘classroom technology standardization,’” says Britton. “There was a strong need to be cognizant of our aging classroom technology and challenged budgets to ensure we can offer appropriate technology to everyone, especially in light of all our other needs.”

This type of structured, holistic change can be what helps a campus embrace change at all levels.

In addition, it’s important for senior IT leaders to stay hungry, and continually immersive themselves in “what’s next,” not just on campus, but in the industry. “To be a change agent you need to be aware of what’s happening in the field, along with what’s happening in K-12 education, because those best practices and innovations will filter into high-education in short order,” says Gordon.

CIOs need to drive the change with faculty. Sharing best practices is critical, and identifying ­— and working — with technology partners that make using technology simple, reliable, and effective for faculty members goes a long way.

“Having a number of touch points for our community to comment has been a strong foundation for the way that we can move into the future,” says Britton. For the University of La Verne, this means involving the entire campus. “What we call an ‘appreciative inquiry model’ is important – we focus on the positive, and identifying the opportunities instead of problems. By getting faculty, staff, and students involved on a positive note, it fosters an atmosphere of trust.”

More and more we are hearing that this inclusive model is helpful when embracing change. In EDUCAUSE Review’s March 2017 issue, University of Mississippi CIO Emerita Kathryn Gates notes that, “our success is gauged by the strength and effectiveness of our teams and less so by our individual accomplishments.”

Gordon agrees, and is an advocate of elevating the faculty’s role in imparting change. “CIOs can’t build any disruption in isolation,” says Gordon. “The faculty have to be the co-pilots; as technologists we have certain expertise, but the faculty do, too. We need to work side-by-side to build modern classrooms.”

IT needs to lead the change. It’s important to drive change from the highest levels, embracing new technologies, garnering support, helping to overcome resistance, and driving the adoption of technology across campus.

“Slowing removing scaffolding is a helpful way to approach change from the top,” says Britton. “CIOs and leadership can be hands-on in the beginning, and gradually peel away as success is achieved.”

Part of developing a smart foundation is to pull key stakeholders into the decision making process before the final plan is revealed. “We created a classroom design committee before deciding on what new technology to deploy,” says Gordon. “This committee was helpful for me and my team to help make holistic decisions in the classroom.”

And, like any successful re-design, running an accurate account of what can work and what needs to go is paramount. “The biggest challenge is always to make learning spaces flexible – to make them work for everyone,” says Gordon. “Run classroom inventories – take stock and then categorize what you have and what you can release, which will reveal the holes.”

Anytime new technology comes into the classroom, it has the power to disrupt traditional education. When we embrace change and invest from the top, shifts in academic structure can make a meaningful impact in the way that staff collaborate, teachers impart knowledge, and students perform. These senior leaders investing in new strategies are great examples of how “disruption” can facilitate positive change.

Renee Patton is a former teacher and is now the leader of Public Sector Education at Cisco. Patton manages a team dedicated to supporting student success and academic research within schools, colleges, and universities across the country.