Crowdsourcing Innovation: Leaders of Education Organizations Discuss the Evolution of Higher Ed Tech Transformation
As many higher education institutions are in the midst of updating their technology systems, there are a number of organizations offering research, best practices, and forums for universities to compare notes on innovation processes.
To get a broad perspective on the many different cases of technological innovation today, we spoke with leaders at two well-known organizations that work within higher education: ACE and IMS Global.
Listen in to the full podcast episode above (or read the transcript below) to find out what they had to say about the evolution of technology in higher ed, and how their organizations are facilitating the sharing of ideas and best practices for innovation in the digital age.
The American Council on Education (better known as ACE), is one of the most well known associations for U.S. colleges and universities. ACE’s nearly 1,800 members include college and university presidents, as well as other leaders in higher education today.
To tap into the wealth of knowledge gathered by ACE, we spoke with Louis Soares, Vice President of Strategy, Research and Advancement. His job is to provide insight to higher education leaders and leadership teams.
Louis Soares: Well I’m a policy researcher by training, in higher education. And my two particular areas of expertise are adults or nontraditional students and technologies in higher education. And on the technology side. I write largely through the lens of disruptive innovation theory, in how technology base changes management in culture and practice in organizations. In this case, higher education. And I view the cloud as one of those technologies that drives that change.
Hannah Nyren: Louis has seen a number of technological advances in higher ed in the past decade. He notes that the most popular technologies in recent years have included enterprise resource planning tools (ERPs), student information systems (SIS’), and learning management systems (LMS’).
Louis Soares: 10 years ago there were still a lot of silos. And there still is that. But there’s enough different types of colleges and universities that have integrated those already, that they feel competent as consumers and users of technology, given their industry to move to something that’s as game changing as the cloud can be. So those are both the outside pressures but also the normal evolution when an organization embraces technology strategically and begins to understand how it helps deliver its larger value proposition. I think colleges have moved a lot along that path in the last decade.
Hannah Nyren: IMS Global Learning Consortium, a “non-profit member organization that strives to enable the adoption and impact of innovative learning technology,” brings together k-12 schools, universities, and technology providers, to facilitate the adoption of new technologies.
Hannah Nyren: Rob Abel has been CEO for 11 years — which happen to have been a very important 11 years in the advancement of technology in education.
Rob Abel: Our objective is to encourage adoption of innovative educational technologies, where collaboration across members — members our organizations and that includes suppliers, as well as institutions across higher ed and k12.
Hannah Nyren: While IMS Global also works within the K-12 space, during his time as CEO, Rob has seen the evolution of a number of technology trends in higher ed.
Rob Abel: For a while, the main job was just to keep the trains running on time. You know, keep the networks up and so forth. And particularly in higher ed when the LMSes, the learning management systems, became more ubiquitous…you know they had to keep that system up and running as well. And outages of that system became really, really, really painful.
Hannah Nyren: Now that the success of an institution relies so much on technology, those responsible for it are now doing more than quick fixes to keep everything online. They’re now leading digital transformation strategy.
Rob Abel: That’s a pretty big shift from managing the network to Ok, now I actually to know something about education. And you know, some have speculated, I probably would be in this camp as well, that the evolution of the CIO is going to lean more to towards you know a function that’s more closely aligned with the chief academic officer role, rather than with the financial role CFOs role which in some institutions that has been.
Rob Abel: All sorts of campus systems all involve I.T. So in many respects, you know the CIO and the CTO really has in many ways the most holistic view that everything is touching student and touching the faculty and so IT has become more important rather than less important I think in the scheme of things in education.
Hannah Nyren: So, what does that mean for those in CIO and CTO positions?
Rob Abel: The CIO and the CTO position has had to evolve to be more focused on learning platforms, digital curriculum products, and so forth.
Hannah Nyren: According to Louis Soares, another change in the past ten years has been an increased emphasis on outcomes and accountability in higher ed.
Louis Soares: Well it’s clear that the pressure’s on the sector for accountability. We do, at ACE, every 5 years, we do a survey of college presidents. And when you look at the things that are the most on their mind, it’s accountability, revenue, and learning outcomes.
Hannah Nyren: Louis believes there’s a direct correlation between this need for accountability and the need for enhanced technology.
Louis Soares: So I think that the way technology gets that institutional effectiveness and student success is that, first, it’s the data gathering that’s allowed.
Louis Soares: Technology is enhancing the ability for us to understand the impact of courses and programs in terms of return on investment. The more that we’ve integrated technology into the delivery of courses, and gathered data around that, we’re able to see which programs and courses actually deliver financially for the organization.
Hannah Nyren: According to Louis, there are important categories of data that colleges must track: financial outcomes for the school, and academic outcomes for students.
Louis Soares: And when you combine those two data sets that are derived from technology, you get a way that…to understand institutional effectiveness, on a granular level in terms of finance and student success. Because you begin to understand how the financial journey of a student through an institution is linked to their learning journey through the institution. And that is going to change higher ed fundamentally.
Hannah Nyren: Louis thinks this is one of the reasons many universities are transitioning to cloud-based systems, which make it simpler to track data across different parts of the institution.
Louis Soares: Higher ed is just at the beginning of becoming more strategic about how it uses its technology basis and identity as a technology organization. And that’s making the cloud look much more attractive.
Hannah Nyren: So while better data that leads to better student and financial outcomes seems to be the primary reason for digital transformation, that’s just the beginning. So in what other ways is technology transforming higher ed?
Hannah Nyren: According to Rob Abel, online and personalized learning are major components of technology in higher ed today.
Rob Abel: So what’s happening now is the the advent of some investments, in new types of digital, what they call digital courseware and adaptive learning products. And I think it’s too early to tell. But there’s a lot of enthusiasm in certain corners of higher ed that these products are going to enable more of a personalized approach for students. So in other words, you know, give students who are struggling, in particular, more alternatives for how they can engage with their curriculum.
Rob Abel: I think that probably arguably, but there is quite a bit of agreement, that the largest impact of technology has been it’s made it easier for institutions to adopt more blended learning models more online learning.
Rob Abel: So this has had a very big impact on institutions because it essentially allowed them to to expand the number of students they serve without adding any additional, you know, physical you know campus space.
Hannah Nyren: Obviously, the technology for change is available. But according to Louis Soares, it’s not a matter of the technology being invented. It’s a matter of it being adopted across institutions.
Louis Soares: Higher Ed is … is a sector where …I’d say it’s perfectly described by that William Gibson quote, you know, “the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”
Hannah Nyren: Even the schools that have embraced the future are still in the process of adapting, but Louis noted a few universities that others should look to for example when turning over their own technologies.
Louis Soares: I think that leaders in that space broadly, Georgia State, Arizona State, are places to look at. But then there are also other aspects of technology innovation that are more institution-oriented that are really interesting. Austin Peay College has a wonderful tool for mapping student journeys. Persistence Plus is an organization, a nonprofit, that supports colleges in creating a social media platform to help students help each other manage their relationships. These are examples at the system level and then at the institution level. And it’s those institutions that are really deeply beginning to redesign themselves with technology at the core.
Hannah Nyren: Rob Abel also pointed out a few institutions leading the way, with a particular focus on online courseware.
Rob Abel: So there are, you know, tremendous examples of that uhh here in Florida, University of Central Florida. Arizona State University, you know distance learning program. Last week I was on a panel with the leader of the distance learning program at Drexel.
Rob Abel: You know, some institutions have just taken tremendous advantage of technology now, to enable these new blended models that really changed the amount of students that an institution can actually support. And I think that’s that’s been the one ubiquitous thing that’s happened. The rest of this stuff, like actually improving learning, using data. That’s all the… kind of the frontier.
Hannah Nyren: As many institutions are embarking on what could be a years-long technology overhaul, many are seeking guidance.
Hannah Nyren: When it comes to technology transformation, Louis Soares recommends starting with the basics.
Louis Soares: The first item is a fairly simple one. Really deeply understand your value proposition, and who you serve. The second thing is, view technology as a core competence that needs to be leveraged.
Louis Soares: You need to develop change a management culture across the organization at all levels because you will be changing. Because that is the future, and it’s today.
Hannah Nyren: Rob Abel, on the other hand, encourages universities to join IMS or another organization, to exchange experiences with like-minded institutions.
Rob Abel: I mean these are the places where you can collaborate very openly with your peers and try to understand what the best practices are as this evolution starts to occur.
Hannah Nyren: Yet Rob emphasizes that there’s still plenty of time for institutions to embark on the digital transformation journey.
Rob Abel: I would say the good news is we’re, we’re, in higher ed in particular, we’re very, very early. So you have a chance to get involved. You know it’s still something for the future. So. So I, you know, it’s really going to take some leadership. And I think what you’ll find is, if you’re a leader at your institution and are willing to bring out these topics, you’ll find that others will want to engage with you, you know through these organizations.
Hannah Nyren: While implementing cloud technologies can be an ambitious task, these organizations hope to give members valuable resources and the opportunity to learn from others.
Hannah Nyren: And when pioneering new technologies, these complex institutions need all the help they can get.
Hannah Nyren: For EdTech Times, this is Hannah Nyren.
Listen to the full series, Transforming Higher Ed with Cloud Technology.
This episode is brought to you by Huron.
Huron is a global professional services firm with an extensive history in higher education. For nearly two decades, Huron has provided consulting services for over 500 educational institutions, including all 100 of the top research universities in the United States.
This year at EDUCAUSE, you can learn more about what Huron does by attending the panel, Reshaping the Future: A Guide for Preparing Your Cloud Migration, or by visiting booth 1552. And of course, you can always visit huronconsultinggroup.com.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.