Alternative Top 10 Higher Ed IT Issues List

Inspired by the good work of EDUCAUSE, Josh Kim's own list.

February 22, 2017

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT List is designed to help colleges and universities with strategic planning, to serve as a guide and a conversation starter within IT organizations, and to assist higher ed IT professionals in communicating priorities and challenges to their colleagues in senior academic leadership.  

The list is developed in consultation with a panel of higher education technology experts, including IT leaders and faculty members, working with the folks at EDUCAUSE.  The list captures what is on the minds of academic IT leadership, including the challenges that they will be focusing in on during the coming year.

What would your personal Top 10 IT Issues list look like?

How might this list of Top 10 IT Issues change if it were constructed by someone with an IT background and an IT brain, but who did not work in IT?

What if the Top 10 IT issues were really the Top 10 Higher Ed Issues, with information technology understood as a set of tools to be utilized rather than a list of practices to be improved?

Here is my (initial, tentative) alternative (complementary) list to the one provided by EDUCAUSE:

#1 - Public Investment:

Our higher ed IT profession needs to make a strong stance against public (particularly state level) disinvestment in higher education. This disinvestment is at the root of the crisis in affordability for the majority of our higher education students and their families. Public disinvestment in public higher education is the surest way to increase economic inequality, reduce individual opportunity and mobility, and lower the prospects for economic growth and low unemployment for coming generations. Higher ed IT leaders have the opportunity to leverage our credibility, voice, and platforms in support of robust public investments in public postsecondary education. We should be among the leaders in this fight.

#2 - Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion:

Will higher education be an engine of opportunity and social mobility, or a platform for privileging the already privileged? That is the question that everyone in higher ed must ask themselves. And it is a conversation that higher ed IT leaders should be having with each other, within our colleges and universities, and with those outside of academe. What is the role of higher ed IT in leveling the playing field for those who have been historically excluded from the benefits of postsecondary education? How do we address issues of social class, gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, and factors that are associated with unequal opportunity for members of historically disadvantaged groups?  

#3 - Faculty Security, Autonomy, and Protection:

I’d love to see the academic IT profession make a set of bold, strong, and public statements about the essential importance of educators in education. We should be arguing at every opportunity that the best way to improve higher education, and to ensure that our institutions are resilient and viable in the face of a range of challenging macro trends, is to invest in our faculty. Standing up against the adjunctification, and standing with contingent and insecure faculty, is required because secure and autonomous faculty are key to creating a quality educational experience.  

#4 - Productivity - Access, Completion, and Student Debt:

Access, completion, and student debt are big subjects to tackle. Higher ed IT should not shrink from addressing this challenge. The only method to ensure that all 3 of these inter-related issues are addressed will be to improve postsecondary productivity.  We must take it as our responsibility to leverage new technologies and new methods to lower cost while improving quality. Our work in blended, low-residency, and online learning should be evaluated within this productivity framework. So should our contributions to improve analytics in our goal of making data-driven decisions in teaching, learning, and student support. The way in which we should measure our work is not in how much technology we can introduce - or the number of new innovative programs or initiatives that we can support - but in the changes in postsecondary productivity.

#5 - The Value of A Liberal Arts Education:

Higher ed IT leaders should take every opportunity to affirm that the best way to prepare for a globalized and technologically-driven 21st century economy is to receive a high quality liberal arts education. We should do a better job in connecting the needs of the job market with the fundamentals of training in the liberal arts. The liberal arts education is under attack by politicians who have very little understanding of either the demands of the future labor market, or the centrals values and practices of a liberal arts education. We should be prioritizing the goal of learning to learning, and the skills of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.  

#6 - Institutional Resilience and Relevancy:

Higher ed IT people are (sometimes) too enthusiastic about disruption. We would do well to keep in mind that the resilience and economic viability of our colleges and universities is essential for the communities in which these institutions reside, and for the students and educators who call these places home. The small, tuition-dependent institutions that are most at risk in today’s economic climate are also the schools make up the fabric of our robust and diverse postsecondary ecosystem. These schools matter. We should be paying more attention to their challenges, and directing the brains and skills of our higher ed IT profession (including our professional organizations) to providing whatever assistance and support that we can.

#7 - Supporting Alternative Academic / Non-Faculty Educators:  

Just because higher ed IT must stand with our faculty members does not mean that we shouldn’t also do everything that we can to support staff. In a system where higher ed staff members are often viewed as costs rather than assets, and where the dominant (and false) narrative is that staff investments are a zero-sum game when it comes to faculty investments, there is a pressing need to tell the other side of the story.  The reality is that education is changing - that it is becoming more complex and the quality floor has been raised - and the future of higher education is one of faculty and non-faculty educators collaborating within teams as colleagues. Higher ed IT leaders can do important work in expanding the definition of who is an educator. We can go beyond efforts to improve opportunities for professional development for non-faculty educators, and work directly to evolve the culture regarding staff within our colleges and universities.

#8 - Research, Development, and Risk Taking in Higher Education:

Supporting educational R&D and risk taking are values that are already held by almost every leader of academic IT.  We are students of the history of other industries, from newspapers to media to entertainment to technology, and we know the risks inherent in a defense of the status quo.  Still, I think that we could do a better job in prioritizing educational research.  We could use more of our internal political capital - and take more risks as institutional leaders - in supporting a learning R&D agenda.  We could also provide more cover and support to the misfits and troublemakers within our colleges and universities who will push our institutions forward.

#9 - Advancing Active and Experiential Learning:

Learning designers, instructional designers, learning engineers - whatever you want to call them - they all have one thing in common. They are all educators and learning people first, technologists second. They all see technology as a tool and a means, not a goal or an ends. Technology is only used to advance the teaching and learning goals of the educator.  This is a belief system, a language, and an ethos that I think should be adopted across higher ed IT.  Everything we do should be to advance active and experiential learning.  Technology should never be the focus. This may require a different approach, a different set of partnerships and relationships, and a different organizational structure that constitute the current structures and norms of higher ed IT.  

#10 - Discovery and Knowledge Creation:

Number 10 on my list is a plea for my higher ed IT profession to put discovery and knowledge creation at the center of our work.  I’m not thinking (only) of research in learning or higher ed IT -- but rather the larger work of discovery that is at the heart of our U.S. postsecondary system.  I’m a firm believer in the scholar-educator model of teaching and learning.  One where research and teaching are integrated and inseparable.  I believe that the work of both education and research are fundamental to the relevancy and viability of our colleges and universities.  Those of us in higher ed IT should be advocating for resources and support for basic (in addition to applied) research.  

What would you include in your own personal top 10 list for higher ed IT?


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