4 Big Takeaways from EDUCAUSE 2012

What are your big takeaways for EDUCAUSE 2012?

November 8, 2012

What are your big takeaways for EDUCAUSE 2012?

The 4 big things that are resonating with me from the conference are:

1. The Gap In President/Provost and CIO Assessment on the Effectiveness of Campus IT Investments:

The highlight of every EDUCAUSE conference is not the keynote or the featured presentations, or even the or the parties, it is Casey Green's annual presentation of the results from his Campus Computing Project, a national survey of computing and information technology in U.S. higher education. Casey provides us with data-based analysis of the role that technology plays in transforming higher ed. The fact that the Campus Computing Project has been operating since 1990 allows for the annual results to be put into context. This year, the Casey as able to integrate his Campus Computing Project data with data collected from the a series of surveys of academic leaders that he conducted in conjunction with Inside Higher Ed. 

One of the trends that Casey highlighted in his (information and analysis packed) presentation that "senior campus IT officials offer a very mixed assessment about the effectiveness of various institutional investments in information technology." Only about 4 in 10 presidents believe that investments in instructional technology have been "very effective" in improve teaching and learning campus.  This contrasts to the 55 percent of CIOs who believe that IT investments have been "very effective" in improving on-campus. The differences between presidents and provosts and CIOs when it comes to rating the effectiveness of ERP / Admin systems is even more striking.  As Casey put in his presentation, "Presidents and provosts are generally less sanguine about the effectiveness of IT investments than their IT officers."

We should all pay attention to this discrepancy in perceptions of the efficacy of IT investments between our academic and IT leadership. Casey gave three possible explanations for these divergent assessments:  a) unrealistic expectations (the iPhone or Saleforce.com effects), b) that we've over promised and under delivered), and c) that we (IT people) are not great at communicating our successes. All of these explanations seem plausible to me. My takeaway from Casey's presentation is that we should bring these numbers back to campus, and engage in an honest (and perhaps painful) discussion with our academic leadership. These findings can provide an opportunity for dialogue and a prompt to change business as usual.   

How would you explain these discrepancies in perceptions of IT investments between presidents/provosts and CIOs? What (if anyhing) to you plan to do with these findings?

2. Higher Ed Costs Driven By Complexity:

The strong sense that I got from talking to people at EDUCAUSE is that the costs to deliver higher education are going up.  Why? A clue for explaining rising postsecondary costs may be found by walking around the vendor floor. The number of products, service, and technologies needed to run a 21st century university are truly mind boggling. Information industries depend on a very robust information infrastructure to run.   This infrastructure is expensive to build, and costly to maintain and improve. Our information infrastructure is embedded in the full range of bundled services (from residence halls to food services, dorms to classrooms) that characterize any place based service.

The complexity embedded in the vendor floor is, in a sense, a sign of our industry's health. We are changing and evolving quickly, and the market is responding to these changes by offering a range of products and services. But unless we make good choices, and have the benefit of strong leadership, the changes in higher ed will result in more complexity and higher costs. We need to find new models that simplify our services, perhaps through unbundling and then discarding (or sourcing) what we no longer require, in order to fulfill our core missions of teaching, scholarship and service.   

Do you think that higher ed complexity is driving up costs? How would you lead the drive towards simplicity?

3. The Communication Challenges for EdTech Companies

EDUCAUSE is great because we have the opportunity to have lots of conversations with lots of different companies. What struck me the most about these conversations was the degree to which edtech and publishing company leaders talked about the challenges that they have in getting their message to the the marketplace. How does a small-to-medium size edtech company (not to mention a startup) share its value proposition with campus decision makers?  For that matter, how does an established player dislodge a set of outdated perceptions about their business that no longer match either the product/service line or culture of that company?  The communications channels are limited  A booth at EDUCAUSE is necessary but not sufficient for an edtech company to tell their story.   

My response about communications to company leaders is to always encourage them to encourage their people (at every level) to become active participants in our communities (such as IHE). That every person in the organization works in marketing (whether they know it or not), and that the greatest asset each company has is the brains and passion of their employees. Give them social media training. Encourage them to establish an authentic online presence.   

I wonder, however, if this answer is enough. Getting your people to become active participants on IHE, Twitter, blogs, and other edtech communities is important - but perhaps not enough.  

What are your ideas about how edtech companies can better get their message out to the academic community?

4. Non-Profit / For-Profit Partnerships

This is mostly a story of what I did not hear (or hear enough) at EDUCAUSE. The theme that I expected to emerge from this meeting was the rapid growth and success of these partnerships, as embodied in 2U.com, EmbanetCompass, Collloquy, etc. One model is for-profit education providers investing upfront capital in new degree programs (usually online or blended programs), providing services from recruitment to course development to learning platforms to student support. Another model is to base payment for the for-profit sector on measures of success, such as cost savings or increased enrollment.    

I am at least as excited about the potential of for-profit / non-profit partnerships to transform higher ed as I am excited about the MOOCs.  Lots of MOOC discussions at EDUCAUSE, less on these partnerships.  Not sure why.

Did you attend presentations or participate in discussions about for-profit / non-profit partnerships?  What would you like to learn about this trend?

What are you thinking about as EDUCAUSE 2012 comes to an end?



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