The Myth of the Higher Ed Tech Academic / Administrative Divide

Why CIO’s will be tearing up their org charts.

March 30, 2017

Higher ed technology is traditionally divided into two camps -and two cultures - administrative and academic.  

The administrative side of the house handles things like the network, finance and student information systems (ERP and SIS), e-mail and storage, and all the hardware and applications necessary to run the business side of the institution.  

The academic computing units are traditionally responsible for academic applications - such as the learning management systems, lecture capture tools, synchronous classroom platforms, classroom response system, etc. etc. - as well as employing the instructional designers and educational technologists who work with the faculty to use technology in their teaching.

At one point, the divide between administrative and academic computing might have made some sense.  Perhaps, but no longer. 

Today’s reality is that the line between administrative and academic technology has blurred to such a degree that applying organizational distinctions is no longer useful - and is perhaps actively harmful.

The reason for this is that we no longer have a clear line where an academic IT service ends and an administrative IT service begins.

Take the learning management system (LMS) as an example.  Over the past few years most schools have moved from locally hosting and running their own LMS in a campus data center, to consuming the LMS as from the cloud as a service.  The true value of the LMS is in the ability of the platform to generate and expose useful data that students and educators can use to modify their learning and teaching practices.

Are efforts to leverage learning data to drive student success a task of administrative or academic IT?  The answer is that neither the skills of the traditional administrative technology professional or the seasoned academic technology expert are, on their own, adequate to the opportunity.  Rather, administrative and academic IT people must work collaboratively - really as a single unit, (and now in collaboration with the cloud LMS vendor and maybe other edtech company partners), to bring value to the learning data.

A divide between administrative and academic IT makes it difficult for the entire campus IT organization to embody the values of the institution.  These values include transparency, collaboration, and experimentation.  

Campus IT organizations must be educational organizations - in that technology is now inseparably linked to the core teaching and knowledge creation missions of higher education.  

Administrative IT professionals should think of themselves as educators to the same degree as their colleagues in academic IT. 

At the same time, academic IT professionals have the same responsibilities towards the security, stability, and efficiency of the technology platforms used throughout the institution as their administrative IT colleagues.  

My prediction is that in the next few years that higher ed CIO’s will be tearing up their existing org charts.  Teams will be created around particular challenges - such as leveraging data to drive student and institutional success - rather than outdated notions of an administrative / academic divide.

This change can’t come soon enough.

Where else to you see that the roles of administrative and academic IT have morphed and merged?


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