I Was Just Thinking…

Why Higher Ed must change and how IT can help

There are truly monster sized challenges in effectively delivering quality technology services in higher education. The size of the monsters small schools are facing are smaller than the larger institutions, but proportionally the threat is the same.  We  really need each other and we need options…and we need to understand Dragons.  Why do we need to understand dragons?  Lets start with the Urban Dictionary definition for dragons:
Definition # 1:  The Beast of all Beasts
Example:  Thou shalt not slay thy dragon, thy dragon shalt slay thou.
Definition # 2:  A mythical creature resembling a reptile. Usually huge and ridiculously powerful; often flies or spits fire and/or venom out of its mouth. May be benevolent or pure evil; usually depends on what part of the world the legend is coming from. People often like to role play these creatures online.
Example:  “I have a plastic dragon on top of my monitor.”
Definition #3: A large lizard who’s only weakness is medieval swords
Example:  I tried to shoot the dragon, but the bullets just bounced off, so i just poked him with my iron sword instead.
I like number three the best for today and I think that many see the recent merger between Datatel and Sungard as a digital dragon.   So that we may begin sharpening our digital medieval sword in case this really is a dragon let’s first look at what is going on in higher education
– See more at:
Rising Cost of School
The rising cost of tuition and fees certainly doesn’t bode well for higher education in the U.S.. A In a recent blog post by Michael Feldstein (2011) he uses a single slide by Anya Kamenetz shown below to sum up the problem:
This picture is very sobering for all of us in higher education and we should not underestimate the challenge. Why do I bring this up this issue? Sid Hudson, long time Vice Chancellor for Legislative Relations for the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education told the Oklahoma Council for Information Technology shortly before his retirement in 2009 that IT was in a better position to save money for institutions of Higher Ed than any other organizational area in higher education. While this may be true let’s transition for a moment and bring up what I see as the heart of the issue. The expanding demand for technology services in combination with flat or declining budgets is arguably the greatest core challenge facing education information technology ( IT) during the next few years.
An additional related issue is our stakeholders are also changing. Many publications and authors have chronicled the rise of “The Millennials” the digital ready students of today and their expectations for college and university IT services. Although I don’t necessarily agree that it is just the younger users of technology who have greater expectations what is true is technology users coming on campus no longer care about network use policies, disk quotas and other limitations because public services offering free, practically unlimited storage for e-mail, videos, and other services abound. IT faces pressures from other directions. Many functions which in the past may have been solely the domain of IT are also being pulled into other areas. For example, an institutions web strategy and marketing efforts a few short years ago may have been under the sole control of IT as a institutions public relations function may have been more focused on traditional media. It would be very difficult today to not involve the PR director and possibly other institutional resources in the development of the digital marketing strategy. A few years ago this would have inevitably been called “One of those IT things”.
In almost every functional area greater technical expertise is now available with many constituents interested and capable in the use of technology. In the past the IT manager may have been able to assert from a basis of unquestioned expertise a point of view on technology, that point of view might be now more frequently challenged by faculty, a dean, vice-president or even president. The perception by users is that campus IT should enable the same type of services that a user can find online for free or for a low cost is very real. Information Technology departments must learn to adapt.
What are the kind of pressures being exerted on IT you ask? Tucci (2011) says, vice president of IT at the Business Development Bank of Canada Chantal Bezile’s,IT shop complains that the business departments within the bank are building their own applications. A few years ago, however, when these business lines first took matters into their own hands, central IT didn’t want anything to do with the effort. “It was small technology. It was not robust, but it met the business’ needs,” she said. Now there are business units that pretty much “have their own IT shops,” she added. “
This is very relevant to the monumental change and the phenomenon Clay Christensen (2008) talks about when describing disruptive innovation. My favorite disruptive technology tale is the story of disruption and US Steel. This often cited story (one of many examples of disruptive technology) tracks the growth of American minimill steel makers, such as Nucor and Chaparral. Over time steel minimills displaced traditional American steel-makers such as United States Steel and Bethlehem — the integrated mills. The minimills entered the market at the low-end in undemanding applications such as rebar. Over time, and incrementally, the minimills improved their manufacturing technology until they were capable of manufacturing top-quality, high profit, steel. Inasmuch as the minimills had a cost advantage relative to the integrated mills, the traditional steel companies closed their mills and were driven from the market (Lawerence 2010).

Figure (Phipps 2007)
Essentially the moral of the story is this. “If we don’t wake up we will become obsolete.” Think of US Steel, add DEC computers, vacuum tube technology from the RCA TV and then think about education and how we have applied new exciting technology to an old outdated model. One thing that really stuck with me watching the acceptance of the open source world(probably because this so fits the open source attitude which has driven the core of my recent professional career) is the discussion of the concept of Peer Production. Peer production is a new way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome Benkler & Nissenbaum 2006). Peer Production relative advantage over that of the Industrial Model is Identifying the best available human capital using it collaboratively to highly refine and increase production. Dr. Jason Cole (2009) states that with a big enough network of people we can self Identify and allocate our self to the areas that we can add value. SCHOOLS are not set up on the peer production model. We as instructors are allocated to a Classroom! The teacher next door to you can’t remedy your problem because we are set up on an industrial production model and they are allocated to their classroom only!
I have adapted the following chart over time (sorry I don’t remember where I originally got the idea) and it could possibly be relabeled “An Amazing Fact” rather than “An Amazing Trend” it might be more accurate in 2012 but at any rate it explains much of the disruption we see when describing disruptive forces in the higher education IT environment and it perfectly describes what I have seen in my career as an IT director in higher education.

Quite simply many of the services I could provide at the enterprise level only a few years ago end users can get FOR FREE online in a number of places. The poster child for this is robust wireless access. A variety of internet cafes, cable services and other resources are but a few of the examples of what people now consider normal. In 1997 no one could come close to the 45MB connection to the internet we had. Now That doesn’t seem like that big of a deal,
The other example I have seen relates to Learning Management Systems. In 1997 it was totally an enterprise application. Now ownership of a domain name at $10/year with a hosted account at any number of services at maybe $10/month any business who wants can create a training service/business if they have content which is of interest to their proposed audience. (Hey this sounds like the title for another post…How about “Become a School in a Day”)
All of this is a drastic change for those who have been in IT management for awhile. It simply has not dawned on many IT directors in higher education that what they do can do can often be duplicated at a fraction of the cost. Mageau (2011) indicates IT directors are generally a conservative bunch. She quotes a colleague who says “They don’t want to make a mistake,” he explained. “They have responsibility for huge, complex infrastructures upon which their entire institution depends. So they’re pretty conservative when they have to make a decision.” I have found this very true. When we began the move to the open source learning management system, Moodle, very few institutions really wanted to hear about this free product. It was probably safer to pay the support contract and not risk making a mistake. Mageau also says, “That was an eye-opening insight for me. I associate technology with change; so IT leaders, it stands to reason embrace change, don’t they?”
This brings me back to the Campus Technology Summit and what I view as a great opportunity for another open source tool, Kuali.   Although I have moved my institutions to various open source / free tools and admired the open source ERP systemKuali for quite some time afar, I have not been in a situation where switching ERP systems has been an option. At this meeting there were several sessions which talk about Kuali and I in particular which gave an overview of the University of Southern California’s conversion to Kuali.
I think in many ways I am happy about not changing ERP systems…however, many of my peers over the course of my career have not been so fortunate.  I do have friends and peers who became unemployed when an ERP conversion/ project was over budget and beyond schedule   It appears to me with the merger of Datatel and Sungard (aka Ellucian) many more institutions will get that opportunity in the near future.   Kuali, certainly needs to be on the radar as a serious contender.
There are several challenges for us is in effectively sorting through the multitude of options and choosing the correct mix of commercial and open source technologies and tools to be used in conjunction the commercial products we already use. The challenges are fundamentally the same in any size of institution or at any level of education as it relates to the deployment of technology and specifically open source solutions. These challenges include: 1) Can IT adjust and accept that cloud-based or open source solutions can work. 2) changing the mindset and culture of an organization so it can understand low or not cost does not always mean low value and 3) meeting high expectations with limited financial resources and finally and maybe most importantly 4) It is OK if you can’t control every aspect of every technology used at an institution.
Benkler, Yochai, and Helen Nissenbaum. “Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue.” Journal of Political Philosophy 14.4 (2006): 394-419. Print.
Christenson, Clayton, Curtis Johnson, and Micheal Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw Hill, 2008. Print.
Cole, Jason. “Innovation and Education: Surfing the Coming Waves of Disruption.” ASTE 2009. Streaming Meda, Anchorage Alaska. 24 Feb. 2009. Speech.…
Lawerence, Katherine. “Rethinking the LAMP Stack — Drupal Disruptive Open Source Part 2 | PINGV Creative Blog.” PINGV Creative | Web Strategy • Design • Drupal Development. PingV, 2 Dec. 2010. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. a href=””>…;.
Mageau05/01/11, Therese. “Making Decisions in a Sea of Change — Campus Technology.” Campus Enterprise Networking & Infrastructure — Campus Technology. Campus Technology, 01 May 2011. Web. 16 May 2011. a href=””>…;.
Phipps, Simon. “The Wrong End of the Paint Stick (Simon Phipps, SunMink).” Oracle Blogs | Homepage. Oracle, 30 Aug. 2007. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. a href=””>>;.
Tucci, Linda. “The CIO’s Dilemma? Disruptive Innovation vs. Performance Improvement.” CIO Information, News and Tips –, 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 May 2011.






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