Information Technology

Predictions about higher ed technology in 2013 (essay)

Those reading this column or any of its annual predecessors (in 2012, 2011, 2010, or 2009) are invited to reflect that the historic challenges facing universities and colleges are less related to technological disruption or market evolution and more causally related to self-induced bruising, glacial cycles of adaptation, and torturous processes that pass for decision-making. Creative destruction, as I've written before, reflects the incessant dynamic and mutation of our network-enabled era of global and virtualized capitalism. Many within the academy, from our “risk adverse” faculty to our “rating agency-fearing administration and boards of trustees,” fear that creative destruction destroys more than it creates.

The irony of course is that while many in the academy live with a collective psychology of scarcity, ours is an era of abundance. History, until the mid-20th century, has largely been a series of narratives about the human condition in which everything from the metaphysical to the mundane has been constrained by a worldview informed by scarcity.  Most of the enduring institutional anchors defining our cities, our urbane lifestyles, and yes, our universities are themselves products of a bygone historic era premised on scarcity.  As the mutations of the network effect continue to erode the underlying economic structures of that earlier era of scarcity, the explosion of data and the dynamics of knowledge diffusion in the emergent era of abundance challenges all of the received wisdom of the 20th century and its attendant institutional character.

The adaptive capacity for higher education institutions to remain relevant deep into the 21st century is a topic of continuing debate, in books such as Ronald Barnett's Being a University and Clay Christensen's and Henry Eyring's The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from Inside Out. As petrified and ossified as the academy may appear to some, the generative and fertile opportunities for discovery and knowledge development afforded to learners, young and old, continues to grow in exponential fashion. 

The learning enterprise for students is changing, most likely forever. A long historical epoch of scarce knowledge and the pursuit of mastery of relevant domains is nearing its final dusk. Competency is less about comprehensive recall, a function that machines and search engines do pretty well. The French philosopher, theologian and technological skeptic Jacques Ellul, asked nearly 50 years ago what role educators will have with the rise of autonomous expert thinking machines.

The most remarkable predictions concerns the transformation of educational methods … Knowledge will be accumulated in “electronic banks” and transmitted directly to the human nervous system by mean of coded electronic messages. There will no longer be any need of reading or learning mountains of useless information; everything will be received and registered according to the needs of the moment. [The Technological Society, Vintage Books, NY, 1964: pg. 432]

Ellul challenges the likely consequence of this technological “imperative” and is skeptical that it is possible that “what is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness.”

The emerging learning enterprise is about designing and creating experiences that provide opportunities to discover and gain 21st-century competencies based on assembly, synthesis, perspective, critique, and interconnected systems thinking. It is precisely the role anticipated by Ellul to create opportunities for conscious self-reflection.

The mechanisms for certifying competency, along with the persistence of learning communities, in varying degrees of proximity to the received assumption of the centrality of the physical brick and mortar campus, represent the value, brand and opportunity of universities in the 21st century.  And while the university’s once near-monopoly on the credentialing of a certain set of valued and relevant skills in the post-war era is all but over, the emergent competitive landscape will lead to adaptation and creative destruction.

The year ahead will remain turbulent for universities and opportunistic for learners. The top 10 IT trends impacting the future of higher education in 2013 will enable more learning opportunities. The 10 trends outlined below will also afford those universities and colleges committed to reinvigoration an opportunity to leverage technology to advance university mission and the pursuit and re-dedication to relevance in the year ahead and well beyond.

1.  Open Learning Is Dead! Long Live Open Learning!

Much of the oxygen in the world of technology and higher education in 2013 will continue to be consumed by headlines around MOOCs.  This is a positive development.  The current instantiations of MOOCs are unlikely to have a long and enduring impact but they have catalyzed conversations on the future of higher education in the United States like little else since the GI Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944). Punctuated equilibrium is likely to set in some time this year and with it, hopefully, an opportunity to assess the pathways forward.

“Open education” once referred to repositories of nonproprietary, repurposable, and reusable learning materials and experiences. And yes, for most earlier iterations, open education also meant free. Over the past 12 months, open education has largely metamorphosized and been reduced to proprietary and closed educational content offered at no charge. MOOCs have been cast by headlines in newspapers, blogs, and in invitation-only venture capital meetings as a new arms race to give away the once-assumed crown jewels of universities in the form of free classes. The pioneers of the new open learning movement like Coursera, Udacity, and very likely a handful of new, well-funded entrants will continue to provoke angst among university boards of trustees and at the same time catalyze maturing and evolving models of instructional design, course creation, and the pursuit of high-quality online offerings to meet the evident demand in the global marketplace for elite-branded education. 

Among market forces, expect to see both open universities around the world and a renaissance of old-fashioned open education offerings attempt to grab some of the reverberation of the overhyped MOOC world. Most of these open educational resources originate and will serve online learners, but over time student use of this content will blend both synchronous and asynchronous online use along with self-directed learning and a multiplicity of face-to-face learning environments. Today, millions of students are experimenting with first-generation open content. Within the next year or two, more than 50 million diverse open educational learners will find compelling motives to access the single largest, dynamic body of student-centered learning materials available. 

The thirst for accessing globally available open online learning environments will evolve from a focus on efficiency to a broader and more diverse set of offerings informed by effectiveness.  As this transition occurs, new and quite possibly sustainable business models will emerge.  Like Hamlet’s famed response to Rosencrantz beseeching that Hamlet tell him where the body is and go with him to see the king. Hamlet says in response, “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body. The king is a thing.” The same is likely the case with the arc of activities associated with open learning.  Open learning in the current overhyped environment is one kind of learning experience but it is not the same thing as a high-quality and sustainable form of learning and inquiry, even when it has elite branding.

2. It Takes a Village to Flip a Classroom

The dominance and near-monopoly of text-based learning is being sublimated by a hybrid of video and supplemental learning materials. The $5 billion textbook industry continues to overwhelmingly resist and impede the emergence of the rich media learning platforms of the future. Over the past century higher education has linked the textbook with a culturally constructed use of time in the form of a lecture as a convenient mode for information transmission. In today’s emergent rich media screen culture of video, games, hyperlinks, and simulation, inverting the traditional classroom time is both logical and inevitable.

Flipping the classroom sets expectations that learners take greater responsibility for their own learning by coming to “class” prepared in advance having viewed and assimilated assigned preproduced video materials. Scheduled class time now affords faculty an opportunity to adopt problem-based, challenge-based, or case-based teaching, enabling learners to become more actively involved in the learning process. And while the convenience of lecture and textbook model produces little evidence of learning that lasts nor transforms the learner, the emergence of high quality video-based learning materials affords even the most reluctant lecturer an opportunity to revisit their pedagogical goals.

In 2013 three models of flipping of the classroom will likely emerge. Following on the pioneering work of the Khan Academy, other solo efforts will continue to emerge across the curriculum. Some of these pioneering efforts will  prove to be sustainable. However, rare is the university or the faculty member prepared to make the investment of resources required to support such undertakings over time.

A second path forward could very well be the future of publishing with enlightened publishers leveraging their editorial and production core competencies.  Pilot projects among leading publishers suggest some interest in investing video-based content, together with highly integrated hooks, into textbooks in their catalogs. And while Chegg and Amazon Textbook rental models extend the half-life of the traditional book, the new frontier for publishers is to take a leadership position in the creation of 21st-century learning content.

At some point in the future, but not in 2013, textbook publishers will realize they are in the design, production, and distribution-of-education business. The Internet is the medium of dominant distribution and it is, overwhelmingly, a rich, media-centric medium. Public broadcasters might also play a role in the production and distribution of flipped learning content either collectively and/or in partnership with publishing groups or others. They too face the challenge of reconceptualization their collective future while at the same offering value to their current audiences.

 A third path for flipped content will be from academic societies. There is a powerful motivation for academic professional associations with strong teaching centered traditions to seize the opportunity and provide an alternative model for the co-creation, and co-production and distribution, of high-quality learning materials. While some professional association might choose to partner with traditional publishing, it is also possible that in the next year we will see the first large-scale collaborations of academic society members creating their own offerings.  Math and Science teachers have collaborated to support and the International Society for Technology in Education has played an interesting convening role among different disciplinary traditions interested in inverting their learning models. 

Between iTunes U, Google education channels, TED talks, PDF talks, institutional lecture capture content, and growing repositories of flipped content, experimentation in creating video search tools, like squrl, for academic content will make for growing value in the educational video environment.

3. The Always-On University

While we were focused on how to contend with laptops in the classroom a funny thing happened. Laptops and personal computers, which we’ve largely thought of as “new” technology for the past 25 years, became largely irrelevant. In the far rearview mirror, we can now recall with nostalgia the era when desktop computers and laptops were more pervasive than smart mobile devices and tablet computing.

No more. On a global basis and among many of our current students and certainly our future students the reality is that they live, work, and play in a world that few in the academy, including many academic technologists, recognize. Twice as many smartphones and tablets will have shipped in 2012 than desktops and notebooks put together. In 2013 the ratio may be as much three times as many. Over the next year more data will move from smartphones and tablets than computers and laptops in countries like India.  And this is just the beginning. Even in economies like the United States, saturated with legacy workplace arrangements and installed infrastructure, nearly a third of adults own an e-reader or tablet, up from 2 percent less than three years ago. 

The form factor of choice is a smart phone and/or a smart pad/tablet.  But it’s not only the form factor. The user interface of choice is no longer keyboard, mice, and graphical user interfaces. Touch, voice, and gesture represent the new navigation and invitation to explore.  More than 2 billion Bluetooth devices and sensors are in circulation this year, and there are more than 1.5 billion Wi-Fi devices,  growing between two- and eightfold a year, year over year. And soon we will have wearable computing devices in everything from nanotechnology threads in our clothing to smart and connected wearable eyewear as part of our everyday life.  Our campuses are now always on and connected.  From infrastructure investments to service models, the always-on university is our new reality.

4. Learning Analytics Meet Learning Sciences

For nearly a decade, the Purdue University “Course Signals” project (and its immediate antecedents) led by John Campbell was a beacon to the higher education community of the value of designing a research program to leverage digital artifacts of student engagement and formative assessment to support student success.  A confluence of factors around student success, including demands for accountability, funding formulas based on successful completion, timely remediation and intervention, and the broader social value of a more educated population have converged and the result is a growing expectation of institutional responsiveness.

There has been an explosion of “big data” in research science, consumer behavior, and health care. Framing efforts by the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SOLAR), notable single institutional efforts like Austin Peay State University and multi-institutional data collection efforts led by WICHE’s Predictive Analytics Reporting framework are exemples of important early efforts. In 2013 new and promising initiatives will contribute to greater student success and a better understanding of the ways in which our models of learning experiences can be tested. The e-content and e-textbook program launched by Educause and Internet2 is among the important projects to watch in 2013. Well-designed e-content strategies allow for the possibility of understanding when, where, and for how long students engage on their own, with others and with learning materials. 

A more robust learning science informed by both progress in brain research and well-designed learning analytics are prerequisites to the more alluring goal of a learning genome project and the pursuit of a meaningful personalized learning strategy for everyone. Personalized learning ventures like Knewton and startup ventures like Always Prepped and Ontract suggest that in 2013 the market grows more mature and ready for intelligent and savvy use of data for supporting student success.

5. Net+ and University Collaboration in a Cloud-Enabled Technology Era

If ever there was a Tower of Babel in the world of information technology, it would be around “the cloud.”  In its most generic sense, the cloud is any aggregated service offering that leverages the Net. As our university networks have become more reliable (but not infallible), robust (but not impervious to denial of service attacks), and resilient (but still subject to the wrath of Mother Nature), the network effect has led to unprecedented efficiencies, economies of scale, and new sources for substantial investment.

After a number of stalled efforts, the higher education community led by Internet2’s Shel Waggener has embraced the value of highly scalable services enabled over our regional and national research and education networks. Net+, as the service is known, offers two kinds of services. The first is the aggregation of demand from among members of the Internet2 community and collective engagement with various ‘cloud’ service providers. These include dozens of vendor offerings, all of them leveraging Internet2’s dedicated research and education network resources. For many vendors, partnering with Internet2 and leveraging the research and education network actually reduces the cost of delivering commercial services and savings are being passed on to universities participating in those offerings.

In 2013, a second set of offerings is likely to take center stage. These will be services aggregated and led by universities and consortiums of universities.  Building on important existing interuniversity identity management services, the new offerings will include cooperative telephony services, enhanced video collaboration services, data center services, and library and research services all leveraging collective action among Internet2’s university members to enhance the portfolio of services offered and increase the efficiency of the delivery of those services.

While debates at many universities will likely continue to be informed by the division of responsibility between central IT and in other parts of the university, in reality many of those legacy debates are growing increasingly obsolete.  The value of investing in next generation networks is less about access, speeds or raw throughput. As Net+ is demonstrating, the value of our investments is in the enabling and provisioning of service offerings above the campus network to advance the missions of our institution, including research, teaching, and service.

6. The End of ERP (as We Know It)

Some CIOs still wake up in the middle of the night with recurring nightmares, now 15-20 years old, associated with the implementation of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).  Some presidents and boards can still point to continuing and extended payment schedules for the tens (and in some cases hundreds) of millions of dollars spent on implementations. Indeed, having resisted, avoided, or otherwise deferred the decision, there are some institutions that are still in decision mode on whether to implement ERP for their financial, HR, and student information systems.

ERPs are bloatware and remain more closely linked to a genus of troglodytes than to anything resembling a modern transaction and decision support system. Universities (and most every other large enterprise business) continue to invest precious resources in these large, complex, and highly profitable software environments.  A pioneering generation of university campuses has broken with the pack and has chosen to join other industry leaders in helping to shape and implement administrative systems as a service. 

Software as a service hit the major leagues more than a decade ago with Salesforce has announced and of course this past year Workday went public with great fanfare.  Both of these are examples of administrative systems as a service. Modern interfaces (and underlying code) are immediately tantalizing to those who are exposed to them. No hardware, databases, or separate data warehouses on campus.  Full mobility offerings are supported from day one. With debt payments still fresh in the minds of many university CFOs, the year ahead will see important but not overwhelming numbers of new university customers joining these efforts.

There are two key service lines that could well accelerate the adoption of administrative systems as a service at universities.  Some will wait to see what, if, or when Oracle, SAP, and SCT will have meaningful software as a service offering. 

In 2013 university leaders should continue to press and Workday to deepen their collective and common commitment to higher education by co-creating a working group in what might be called a student life cycle product. A platform strategy for leveraging administrative systems as a service, the student life cycle initiative can start as early as the prospect phase, but more likely would begin (for now) with the traditional registration services. Like many traditional student information systems there will need to be a core offering in course selection, academic advising, student records, and grades management. New offerings linked to assessment, forms of authentic evaluation, and embedded learning analytics would all represent value-added features. 

The second missing service line would address the faculty life cycle. A faculty-centric initiative can build on the workflow of HR and finance systems. Such a project could likewise begin from the recruitment phase but would most certainly start with the onboarding of a new faculty member and include teaching, research, and service mission-related data elements. Faculty reports, web pages, personalized research grants, customized library resources, and a full suite of benefits-related services would be the foundation for such a project. Both Salesforce and Workday have flirted with such nontrivial undertakings. 2013 is the year for accelerating a go-to-market strategy. The market is ripe and ready.

7. Learning Spaces – The Final Frontier

I often use historic images to outline the continuity of experience of student learners from the 19th century through to the present. While most of these historic images show only male students, they are otherwise very reminiscent of faces and spaces we know, namely the lecture hall filled with students distracted, conversing with one another, “texting” (sending notes to each other), bored, and oftentimes not exactly riveted by the lecturer. Beyond inverting the class with preproduced video content, there is much to be done in re-imagining and re-inventing the physical learning environments.  And while creating a replicable, cost effective immersive adventure in the likeness of Universal Studio’s Harry Potter Forbidden Journey may be ambitious, the era of defining technology-enhanced classrooms as a PC and a projector is past..

The serious conversation about the redesign of learning spaces and the incorporation of technology is a decade old. The empirical evidence affirms that well-designed new learning environments can lead to more active learning that supports both engagement and reflection. These in turn lead to a view shared by students that they are learning more as well as to positive learning outcomes.  New opportunities exist for partnership between student learners, faculty instructors, and facilities and learning technologists to create a deployable mix of learning spaces that blend and afford flexible and repurposable furniture, technology, and tools to support a range of learning environments.

The transformations occasioned by scientific visualization and gesture-based screen technology have crossed over into our popular culture, from “Minority Report” and “Matrix Revisited” to dynamic weather maps and election night results. We also have multiple experiences associated with interactive immersive technology like Microsoft’s Kinect. Almost all of those common representations miss the key for scientists and their experience in using large scale visualization and gesture tools. This form of learning by doing is actually about a hybrid of science and play. Full-body interactive learning is now entering the world of visitor experiences in environments as diverse as museums to STEM education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative has raised the visibility and efficacy of further exploration of these immersive, interactive, and responsive wall and room-sized environments for learning.

In 2013, look for the first number of these next-generation enhanced technology classrooms to be instantiated and available for replication and adaptation in partnership with a wide range of partners. 

8. Extending the Boundaries of the University: Gig.U and US Ignite

In their e-book, The Politics of Abundance: How Technology Can Fix the Budget, Revive the American Dream, and Establish Obama’s Legacy (Odyssey Editions, November, 2012),  Blair Levin, the author of the National Broadband Plan and Executive Director of Gig.U, and former FCC chairman Reed Hunt make the case for creating what they call a national broadband advantage. The catalyst for creating a national broadband advantage is leveraging our nation’s universities and colleges. As the authors document, students, faculty, and staff -- long the progenitors of much of the economic growth and productivity associated with technology -- have unique opportunities to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks in communities around the university campus. 

In 2012 a number of city-university partnerships consummated relationships to build out gigabit fiber services to the communities around the country. Leading this effort are pioneers at UC2B, Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Lansing and Michigan State’s Gigabit Ready project, University of Chicago and its Chicago south side community and state partners, Seattle and the University of Washington, University of Florida and the Innovation Square project in Gainesville, University of Maine, and the Case Connection Zones in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve. In 2013 most of these initial pilot projects (and a number of others) will be lit, offering new services that will be shining lights of the art of the possible.

These city-university partnerships afford more than infrastructure services. Across the United States 25 cities have partnered with US Ignite to support the building of a next generation of applications that will leverage gigabit network infrastructure. Born in 2012, the coalition of the willing led by US Ignite is catalyzing network scientists, imagineers, hackers, app developers, video engineers, software programmers, switching engineers, and others to build rapid and working prototypes of a new generation of products and services. With support from NSF and a blue ribbon group of technology partners, US Ignite is at the center of next-generation application development.

In 2013, US Ignite will both invest and promote work across the country to support never-before-seen (or imagined) solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing challenges around health and wellness, STEM education, neighborhood and national security, advanced manufacturing, and energy (among other drivers). 

Initiatives like Gig.U and US Ignite are important to creating opportunities for innovation and disruptive technologies that have long been produced in dorm rooms and research labs in our universities and colleges. Gig.U and US Ignite are also important to catalyze the United States and the economy for sustainable growth and new jobs. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a jobs and economic strategy into the 21st century that doesn’t depend on their success.      

9. Open Data Models for Campus

Open access data repositories are growing among researchers in higher education. Major funding agencies like the NIH require (within 12 months) that peer-reviewed articles be made available through open access.  Unprecedented access to data from dozens of federal and state agencies has helped to usher in an era of greater openness, transparency, and growing accountability.  An integrated open data framework for universities has been relatively slow in coming.  Clarion calls like those issued in 2012 at the University of North Texas are important but do not go nearly far enough.

Open data needs to be a universitywide commitment. Facilities data are valuable not only for paying the electricity bill; they can be used by students and faculty researchers working on everything from smart buildings to local sustainability efforts. Data collected by librarians are important not only for knowing the number of patrons who use library facilities, butalso for understanding trends in the adoption and use of online and on-shelf resources across disciplines to interlibrary loan borrowing trends and local library portal search terms. Wireless access points data are important not only for network managers, butalso for everything from digital art to understanding patterns of work and study across the university. Institutional research data are not only important for reporting to funding agencies; they can also be used by students to understand their own institution.

In 2013 look forward to a number of leading institutions following the pioneering work at Aalto University in Finland in designing a comprehensive and integrated open data environment for their university.

10. IT as a Service and the Future of IT on Campus

Michiavelli noted in The Prince (1532) that “[t]here is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."  The rollback of public investment in, pressure for access to, and indeterminate impact of globalization on postsecondary education all contribute to significant disorientation in our thinking about the future of the university. Couple those externalities with the commodification of many technologies once thought to be core to the service catalog on our university campuses and the dilemma is at once clear and confounding.

As technology leaders in higher education assess how to align our organizations to these twin challenges, the time has come to consider discontinuous organizational change. Tinkering and tweaking with traditional organizational issues like the federated models for technology support across the university or whether or how to merge academic and administrative computing are inadequate and unlikely to help the institutions we serve with strategic value-add. Expensive external consulting groups can tell our executives what we already know. Our IT organizations (and many other parts of the university) are products of a legacy environment that has, to varying degrees, become calcified and nonresponsive to the needs of the university going forward.

Resistance to the secularization and commodification of IT as a service is futile. Collective and cooperative action in the form of shared service models is one pathway that is well-worn and will necessarily lead to the requirement to re-architect our information technology strategies. New skill sets like vendor relationship and service level management, portfolio and project management, and business analysts are the new IT jobs for the shared services economy of the future.

More fundamental re-examination of our organizations is in our immediate futures. Multiple IT organizations across the country are rethinking the inherited functional organization. The functional IT organization is layered following a traditional stack of services from underlying infrastructure like network engineering, servers and storage, data base and application services, academic and administrative technology subject matter experts, and customer support. Over time, the logic and reproduction of the functional organization has squeezed out innovation in favor of core operational services.  In many organizations 90 percent or more of the IT staff and financial resources are allocated to daily operations. Over time, the functional organization model will suffocate and strangle itself. Many IT professionals are as passionate about the academic and research missions of our institutions as our faculty. The functional organization model makes it increasingly more difficult for IT on campus to be a meaningful partner and contributor to the strategic future of the University if and as it gets painted into the corner of being an expensive infrastructure cost center.

The alternative models to the functionally organized IT organization are many. The challenge for IT leaders is to cede a modicum of control and embrace the need to experiment in new, more porous, organizational models that facilitate and support the co-production of innovative solutions that meet the needs of higher education moving forward. Becoming a solutions-focused and internal consulting organization is at the core of what I take to be the opportunity for IT in higher education.

Partnering with third parties wherever and whenever possible to support commodity services is vital to being able to redistribute internal resources to be able to lead the new change agenda. Recruiting a cadre of designers with multiple skills, including many with deep and hard-core technical skills, to engage directly with faculty, students, and staff colleagues is at the heart of the new service delivery model.  As every CIO knows, no organization will tolerate the pursuit of fanciful ideas, even if they are “good for the organization,” if the basic utility features of the IT service catalog are unresponsive and nonfunctional. The IT professionals responsible for operations must be the “A” team and at the same time fully aligned to the broader vision and mission of the new IT organization.

No matter what kind of higher education institution you are affiliated with, the year ahead is predictably full of trepidation and constraint. If the organization becomes paralyzed through the psychology of scarcity we will have failed in our mission as IT leaders. The abundant and transformational contribution that IT can make to the mission of higher education is less about resource availability and more about leadership vision and commitment.  Leadership in the year ahead is no longer like captaining an ocean liner but more like whitewater rafting that calls for flattened organizations that can change rapidly and with significant agility, embrace decentralized decision-making, and motivate employees, and inspire relationships.  

Success is hardly a foregone conclusion. This is distinctly contested terrain.  Good luck on the rapids.

Lev S. Gonick is vice president for information technology services and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University. He blogs about technology at Bytes From Lev.

Pulse podcast features interview about Ensemble Video

Smart Title: 

This month's edition of The Pulse podcast features an interview with Scott Nadzan, director of marketing and sales for Ensemble Video, a video content management system customized for use in higher education.

Ozarks Technical Community College launches new simple website

Smart Title: 

Ozarks Technical Community College's new homepage is turning heads with its stripped-down approach that emphasizes a search bar, and little else.

Pulse podcast discusses Seton Hill U's iPad experiment

Smart Title: 

This month's edition of The Pulse podcast features a conversation with Mary Ann Gawelek, provost of Seton Hill University, discussing how the institution's iPad experiment has fared.

Essay on use of iPad by academics

If there is anything that I have learned in the course of using an iPad, it is how much I love my computer.

Two years ago I wrote a column for Inside Higher Ed entitled “The iPad for Academics.” Now, two years and two new models of iPad later, it seems time to revisit some of that original column: How well does it stand up, how did my predictions turn out, and what have I learned since then? The answers are, roughly, "good" "O.K." and "a lot."

When I wrote my column, no one was sure what the future held for the iPad, and there was serious skepticism about the more apocalyptic predictions. In fact, somewhat boringly, Apple's release of the iPad did what most Apple products do -- change the world, sell millions of units, and alter our information ecosystem irrevocably -- but it didn’t end the world.

In the two years that I’ve had the device, it has indeed become indispensable to me. It’s become my alarm clock, my radio, my television, my crossword puzzle, and above all (as I said in my original column) my reading device. I use it to read and read and read. It creates opportunities for reading I didn’t have before. In fact, I use it to read my own work -- the dreaded rush to print up conference papers finished moments before my panel has been replaced with a casual saunter to the podium, glowing digital copy of my paper in hand.

My iPad has excelled in forums where paper used to hold sway, and having it (or my iPod Touch) with me at all times means that I’ve discovered new times and places to do work. It’s great.

But it’s not a laptop, and it never will be.

As I and many other people have noted, the thing is for consumption, not production. I’ve tried using it to write and take notes -- using a Bluetooth keyboard with it, even using one of those cases with a keyboard built in, ridiculous little styluses, etc. There’s no way to get around the fact that the human body is not evolved to interact with a pane of glass. I can type faster than the keyboard can buffer, creating strings of illegible characters. At other times Apple’s pathetic spell checker stops me in my tracks.

And then there’s the interface. I suppose for some people the iPad’s interface works just fine. But once you’ve tasted the power of a multi-windowed environment with fully customizable keybindings, the iPad feels like a small, padded room. You can’t have two windows open at once in an iPad. Who can do serious academic work one window at a time? Not me, not any more -- and I’m not going back.

Perhaps I am one of the old generation who will someday be put to shame by nimble-fingered young’uns tapping expertly away on their nanometer-thick iPad 7s, but I don’t think so. People may get used to the limitations of the device, but that doesn’t mean that it’s better than what came before.

In fact, I see this as one of the dangers of the iPad. I see them everywhere on campus, and I wonder to myself: Are my students really getting through college without a laptop? Frankly, the idea seems horrifying to me. I don’t doubt that they can do it -- I worry what skills they are not learning because of the smallness (in every sense of that word) of the devices they learn on.

I don’t have a problem with students bringing their iPads to class, and there are times in some of my smaller seminars when we are all reading the text from our iPads. But even this consumption is starting to worry me. Does anyone really believe that digital textbooks are going to improve life for anyone except the textbook manufacturers? Like some mid-nineties wet dream of the content industry, digital textbooks have all of the DRM and none of the shareability of paper textbooks. And despite the potential of multimedia presentation, it’s not clear to me that they will prove to be anything more than a regular textbook with a few YouTube clips thrown in.

And the low prices? Remember when ATMs were first introduced and there was no fee for using them? Yeah, I don’t either -- it was so long ago the idea that improved service for free seems like a distant memory. The future the digital textbook market has planned for students is not, in my mind, a very bright one.

Two years down the road I’m glad that iPads exist, and I’m happy that most of the hype about them has been more or less borne out. It has a valuable place in our information ecosystem. The danger comes when the iPad becomes a replacement for other technologies that preceded our ubiquitous flat friend -- and still do their job better than it can.


Alex Golub is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Gonick essay predicting higher ed IT developments in 2012

This series of annual Year Ahead articles on technology and education began on the eve of what we now know is one of the profound downturns in modern capitalism. When history is written, the impact of the deep economic recession of 2008-2012 will have been pivotal in the shifting balance of economic and political power around the world. Clear, too, is the reality that innovation and technology as it is applied to education is moving rapidly from its Anglo-American-centered roots to a now globally distributed dynamic generating disruptive activities that affect learners and institutions the world over.

Seventy years ago, the Austrian-born Harvard lecturer and conservative political economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized the now famous description of the logic of capitalism, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

The opening of new markets, foreign or domestic … illustrate(s) the same process of industrial mutation – if I may use that biological term – that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.

Our colleges and universities, especially those in the United States, are among the most conservative institutions in the world. The rollback of public investment in, pressure for access to, and indeterminate impact of globalization on postsecondary education all contribute to significant disorientation in our thinking about the future of the university. And then there are the disruptive impacts of information technology that only exacerbate the general set of contradictions that we associate with higher education.

The faculty are autonomous and constrained, powerful and vulnerable, innovative at the margins yet conservative at the core, dedicated to education while demeaning teaching devoted to liberal arts and yet powerfully vocational, nonprofit in their sensibilities and at the same time opportunistically commercial, in what Clark Kerr, in The Uses of the University, called an "aristocracy of intellect" in a populist society. And while reports of the death of the American university are greatly exaggerated, there is an ineluctable force at play that continues to exert growing pressure against the membranes of the higher education ecosystem. The uneven and unequal dynamics of the global economy and information technology are major forces leading to growing pressure for universities to adapt through the process of creative destruction. The emergent trends I note below include disruptive forces that, if history is a guide, will lead future students of the history of technology to note the period ahead as the beginning of the next great tech bubble.

The year ahead may be among the most difficult ever for the economics of postsecondary education in much of the world.  At the same time, and in the same time frame, I believe we will see major new developments from the world of information technology that will, over time, lead the university to adapt and enable the familiar institution to not only persist but to maintain its relevance to the disruptive forces of society and economy all around it

Here are the 2012 top 10 IT trends impacting the future of higher education:

1.  Open Learning Initiatives Become an Institutional Imperative

Each year for the past three I have noted in this annual column the rise of open learning and open education resources enabled through information and communication technology. This past year’s experimentation by Stanford’s much-publicized global offering to tens of thousands of learners around the world followed by MIT’s MITx initiative will quickly become a table stakes conversation for most top universities and colleges the world over. The range of subjects, the variety of modalities for delivery, and the extension of learning opportunities around the world are approaching an inflection point.  No one can or should ignore the most important and explosive opportunity in postsecondary learning in over half a century.  As new massive open online learning environments (MOOLEs) move from a nascent state along the maturity curve economic models, new entrants and laggards, winners and losers, and new centers of knowledge will follow.

2. The United States Launches Next Generation Network Infrastructure and Applications in Partnership with Neighbors and Cities

Boundary-spanning activities are not limited to online learning environments. In 2012, at least two major national next generation network initiatives will be launched.  The goal is to create a comparative advantage for the United States in the network-enabled 21st-century economy.  The tactical approach is to partner with those prepared to invest, build and operate new gigabit networks in neighborhoods around our universities and colleges as well as offer “above the network” services to our neighbors. The premise is that advanced network infrastructure to the environs around the university will catalyze new, never-before-seen applications and services that will improve the quality of life of millions of Americans who live around our major universities. 

Gig.U is a national initiative led by U.S. National Broadband Plan architect Blair Levin, designed to create a national partnership among universities, telecommunication providers, and technology companies that leverages blazing-speed wired and wireless networks to build a network of testbed facilities in neighborhoods around our universities.  The project draws inspiration from Google’s Gigabit Community initiative that led to the decision to engage with Kansas City and early prototyping some years earlier in Cleveland in the development of OneCommunity and the Case Connection Zone to build gigabit fiber to the home networks and applications.

The second initiative is US Ignite, a multifaceted initiative led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and a new 501(c)3. US Ignite seeks to catalyze and choreograph the development of a new generation of applications that can run on and leverage the next generation networks being deployed by NSF, Google, Internet2, NLR,  Gig.U and others.

The opportunity to extend unprecedented network access and services to neighborhoods around our universities will unleash new opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and opportunities for both our postsecondary institutions and the cities and towns within which we live, work and study.

3. Big Data is Here: Getting Beyond the Campus View

Zettabyte-scale data sets (1 billion terabytes) will be here in 2012, if we can achieve three preconditions. Prospects of an emergent zettabyte-scale big science world of proteomic data are being rate limited by existing network capacity, visualization tools for analysis and the encrusted logic of university funding and our IT organizations.  Network and storage innovation and visualization and analytical tools will continue to evolve at cloud scale and speed.   The prospects of creating a vector in which the technology and our analytical tools meet the needs of our research science community will require some unprecedented collaboration among US funding agencies and our universities. The most exciting development on this front is the set of initiatives led by Internet2 and their NET+ work. Led by former MIT CIO Jerry Grochow, NET+ is our single best opportunity to support big science and to position the United States to be able to compete in the growing competitive international big science playing field.

NET+ is tackling the thorny problem associated with Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction proposition. We can spend the next 25 years in "business as usual mode" attempting to build the infrastructure for big science on each of our university campuses and reinforce the patterns of securing funding, building platforms, and supporting analytical services. We will also miss the train. There is simply no way we can afford to create redundant infrastructure to support the next generation of science, discovery, and innovation. Three-letter federal funding agencies, state economic development and education organizations, research and education networks, research scientists, and of course our higher education leaders, including our CIO community, should join and challenge Net+ to quickly set its sights on the development of an unprecedented collaborative set of platform technologies. The race for big science is on. The stakes are too high to be left to single or even small numbers of campus solutions.

4. Big Data Applied to Creating a New Learning Genome

The promise of massively scalable capacity to enable, track, and assess learning outcomes based on personalized learning needs is both compelling and ready for prime time. Notwithstanding internal debates on learning styles (Pasher, Harold, et al. “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9.3 (2009): 105-119), the methods, modeling techniques, and rigor applied to big data science are well positioned to advance our understanding and application of learning sciences. The higher education marketplace is poised to begin marshaling the growing tsunami of data points and apply first generation algorithms to provide both predictive models of learning success and, over time, refine those algorithms to align different learning styles to learning successes.

The framework of a new learning genome begins in earnest in 2012. Look for a wide range of players from Blackboard Analytics, University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, Pearson Education, and perhaps ERP players to make a run at an “Enterprise Education Platform.” Startups with secret sauce are ready to scatter their pixie dust on colleges and universities to magically solve everything that ails us, from predictive modeling for retention to career counseling. 

Growing interest in big data for college success has many CIOs salivating at the opportunity to build new platforms and realign their organizations to respond to the heightened interest in data-driven decision support.  But the science of learning as applied to a new learning genome is in a nascent state. We should be wary of the unbounded enthusiasm that the hype curve will generate in the next year and work on the foundations of campus readiness, governance and partnerships to focus on requirements and advancing our ability to contribute our loaf of bread to the emergent marketplace of “solutions.”

5. SmartPads and New Learning Content

Circa 1993, the most provocative concepts in educational technology were CD-ROM and laserdisc multimedia tools, like Macromedia Director and Bob Stein’s Voyager multimedia publishing ventures that produced works like Who Built America. Then came the World Wide Web.  Multimedia education content innovation remained largely frozen in place for nearly 20 years. The emergence of SmartPad technologies has led to a resurgence and revival of interest in multimedia content education. To date we have seen well-financed platform players transpose traditional textbooks and port them over to Kindle, iOS and/or Android environments.

The SmartPad is the experience platform of choice for many students.  Value-added functionality for textbooks like highlighting, clipping services, and collaboration tools will continue to extend the value of existing textbook content and the role of the traditional publishing industry. In 2012 a new class of learning content projects that combines advanced multimedia tools and hybrid interactions enabled over the Web will find their way to the mainstream. Look for gaming platforms on SmartPads (with integration on the web) to create quest adventures for disciplines as diverse as history and physical sciences.  Traditional research journals in disciplines such as law and medicine will start piloting the integration of multimedia content, well beyond nesting video or hyperlinked content.  Areas as diverse as nursing and workforce development will integrate artificial intelligence engines and advanced multimedia learning content to promote simulation experiences to facilitate meaningful use and practice. This emergent market will likely see several large venture back startups this year along with interest from a handful of forward-thinking traditional publishers.

6. ERP is dead! Long Live ERP 3.0

You may or may not be old enough to remember ERP 1.0 and the famous green screen interface.  Over the past decade, we’ve come to “enjoy” the web interface despite persistent lag and time delays in the transaction experience for many of our university back office experiences like registration, grades, time entry, and applying for a job. Universities have spent billions of dollars on ERP in the past 20 years. That doesn’t even address getting intelligence or even reporting out of those back-office systems. From the vendors’ vantage point those initial investments of billions of dollars are now – through maintenance, upgrades, licensing and the like -- an annuity check worth 5-10 times the initial payout over the life of the installed product.  Collective action among some of our leading universities and colleges led to the creation of our homegrown ERPs, still big, slow, and largely focused on the back office and not much better on the customer experience.

2012 can mark the beginning of the end of ERP as we know it.  To be sure dinosaurs die slowly and will continue to roam the face of the college campus for the foreseeable future. ERP 3.0 is here in the form of modern technical architecture and services that provide users with better functionality and a much better user interface experience. Real time reporting, built-in analytics, and predictive and scenario–based modeling run embedded in the news services architecture.  Universities are lining up to kick the tires and the first-wave adopter group will have real-life stories to tell this year. Incumbent providers all see the handwriting on the wall and are scrambling to respond with multi-tenant, software-as-a-service offerings. 

The campus community has come to expect, indeed demand, consumer-like experience in supporting personal banking, travel, and shopping. ERP as we know it simply won’t get us from here to there. A promise of a mobile app sometime in our lifetimes is not good enough.  The underlying technical architecture of existing ERP systems is at a dead end.  With real alternative models moving into production in 2012, expect a groundswell of interest in adopting the new technology and services model. To be sure, there will be bumps along the road, but there is simply no turning back.

7. From OneCard to Mobile Payment on Campus

Everyone has seen and experienced the campus OneCard technology -- the integration of the campus ID for gym access or parking combined with having mom and dad send money that can be added to the card to support campus-related acquisitions at the bookstore, cafeteria, coffee shop or campus retail facilities. The world of mobile payment is undergoing significant disruption. From Kenya (banking) to Europe (home health, museum services, event ticketing and airline frequent flyer programs), mobile payment is moving from cards to mobile devices. The integration of mobile payments with “presence technology” (knowing my location) and “preference technology” (my profile or patterns of behavior gathered) through smartphone technology makes the college and university marketplace a logical place for early near field communication platform technology development in the United States and Canadian markets.  Services like Google Wallet are just the beginning. Entrepreneurs, student groups, device manufacturers, service integrators, college stores, and services from laundry to cafeterias should be ready to pilot and innovate in the next year as mobile payment hits a campus near you.

8. The Khan Academy meets TED Talks and the birth of a new remediation strategy for higher education

The systemic challenge of college prep and remediation is well-known. As many as a third of students come to college without adequate preparation. The cost of remediation in the United States stands at $5.6 billion annually. The challenge of remediation at the college level will continue to demand demonstrably effective interventions.

The success of the TED Talk format has begun to permeate the sacred sanctums of academic life. Professional societies, like the American Political Science Association, have experimented with TED Talks at their annual meetings. The best of these 18-minute (or as short as 6-minute) formatted presentations are well-choreographed pieces of theatrical soliloquies and often include effective visualizations that together engage, provoke, and communicate with audiences of all manner of background. More recently, university types have begun to take notice of the disruptive impact of Sal Khan’s high school remedial organization. Targeted currently largely to high school learners and teachers, the format of the Khan Academy ‘chalk board’ exercise videos has gone from a handful of videos to more than 2,500 instructional pieces and is now being integrated into district-level assessment and outcomes analysis that support individual teachers, schools, and even larger administrative and curriculum design efforts.

Organizations as diverse as the American Council on Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are focused on this space and are interested in investments and accreditation. This year, the market is ready for several entrants producing TED Talks-meet-Khan-Academy aimed at the college remediation space. Done right, this will be where well-produced discrete topics for students will be joined with carefully integrated tutoring, competency demonstrations and even demonstrations of knowledge acquisition that can be shared within the university/college setting.

9. Active Learning Collaboratories Begin to Define the New Classroom Experience

Classroom facility planning and attendant faculty development to leverage new active learning collaboraties will come into focus in the 2012 calendar. New gold standards for this category of learning spaces are emerging on campuses like the University of Southern California. Rhetorical commitments to bring learning experiences into the 21st century are made possible through an alignment of academic strategic planning, academic technology leadership and focused project planning and partnerships with facilities management -- no small challenge on most higher education campuses.

Traditional lecture halls are being replaced by active learning studios. Dialogue cafes with telepresence video conferencing capabilities augment and support experiential learning curriculum focused on cross-cultural and cross-national understanding. Integrated "magic" touch screen panels are enabling geospatial and GIS explorations in a wide range of disciplines from statistics to poverty studies, from history to astrophysics. Scientific visualization walls are working their way into learning spaces to support learning of technique, active discovery and "lab work," presentations, and collaborative explorations.

Many campuses have a showcase learning space. Relatively few have a systematic approach to building and supporting learning spaces across the campus. While others on campus will continue to romance the value of the nailed to the floor student desk (“that is how I learned”), the time has come to create a new "standards" orientation to different levels of technology-enabled learning spaces informed by a catalog of different teaching and learning approaches. Technology, governance, and focus on student success in the classroom have all matured from the era of the wild, wild west over the past two decades. In 2012, I believe we may see the development of a draft taxonomy of such a new standards orientation developed by a coalition of architects, technologists, instructional designers, students, and yes, even a couple of instructors.

10. Whither the Campus IT Organization?

In the beginning we cast ourselves as high priests. We had others build us grand temples as modern mausoleums in the center of which resided the sacred mainframe computer. All of us old enough to remember recall the special wizard-like roles of those who tended to the machine. Those who led the wizards, plastic pen protectors in place, were viewed with reverence. Then the advent of the personal computer smashed efforts to preserve the hereditary line of the high priesthood.

The emergence of an era of possibility and plenty recast our role into those of the chosen people. Unabashed idealism combined with charismatic leadership and a healthy dose of rhetoric gave rise to the audacious idea of transforming the enterprise of higher education. The chosen people, themselves led by charismatic technology visionaries, would lead the academy, apparently lost and aimless for centuries in the wilderness of the desert of pre-personal computers, into a new promised land. The advent — and powerful appeal — of networks connecting computers and people from around the campus and around the world represented prophetic leadership. These prophets envisioned a world with as many blinking lights around network routers and switches as there were stars in the skies or grains of sand in the desert. The torch of scientific discovery and historical evolution naturally culminated in the digitally networked campus. Compelling indeed were those who invented a leadership role to advance this emergent information technology ecosystem and convinced the powers that be that every president needed a new commander-in-chief for technology.

And then a funny thing happened. The promise of productivity and efficiency of information technology combined with the centrifugal logic of the networks came to pass. Globalization with all of its disruptive impulses in the economic, cultural, and education domains would not have materialized in the accelerated fashion we are witnessing without the compounding impact of our computing and networking power.  The foundations of much received wisdom are now in flux. Through the success of our networks, the economies of scale associated with computing and storage capacity, and the innovations and economics of nomadic and mobile experiences, what was once solid is melting into thin air.

 In 2012 consider three broad IT leadership scenarios:

  • Embrace the assumption that technology is now a utility and generally does not provide strategic advantage. In this scenario leadership becomes managing sourcing strategies for the utility and internal customer relationships, and squeezing capacity to support new unfunded mandates associated with the new high priests, chosen people, and prophets on the campus planning horizon, whoever and whatever they might be.
  • Align the organization and its capacity to genuinely support strategic activity. If the institution embraces any form of strategic direction, IT can become an innovative enabler as well as a transformational agent in achieving strategic work. Maintaining focus on strategic differentiators is not easy in the best run organizations, and it is even more challenging in many institutional settings in higher education. IT leadership can provide a consistent and credible voice for the value of having strategies with which others, including IT, can align.
  • Dare to artfully challenge the institution and its leadership to continue to see a vital role for innovation and creative work in IT as an ineluctable part of the university’s strategic leadership portfolio. Learning to thrive in the ambiguity of where and how innovation and creativity dynamically render on campus is an existential identity question, not a strategic concern of the institution. Ceding a modicum of control, celebrating the innovation of others, partnering to co-produce and co-enable others to take the institution to the edge of the possible are the objectives of all 21st century university leadership, including information technology leaders.

The year ahead will undoubtedly be filled with many challenges and strains, celebrations and awe. The logic of creative destruction will be more apparent in the next period of time than ever before in our lifetimes. Looking for the emerging technology trends and how they intersect with the future of the academy provides an interesting mapping strategy to chart the terrain to be discovered and sojourned in 2012.

Lev S. Gonick is vice president for information technology services and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University. He blogs about technology at Bytes From Lev.

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