The past few years have brought mounting evidence that higher education stands at a crossroads. As with any disruptive technology, MOOCs have been viewed with enthusiasm in many quarters and skepticism in some. However, the underlying facts are inarguable: that the rising cost of education, combined with the transformative potential of online teaching and learning technologies, presents a long-term challenge that no university can afford to ignore.
It is hard to imagine I am arriving at my one year anniversary of joining Stony Brook University. Yesterday marked one year since I walked out of my office at Penn State for the last time after 15 years and in the next nine days it will mark a year since I walked into my new office at SBU. I am going to work on a reflection, but for now I just want to share that this space has been helpful for me to work through some ideas in public. And while I didn’t write as much as I hoped, I did get at least something out each month — I did get 52 posts in for the year so I guess an average of one a week isn’t too bad. There were times when I even got some comments and that is something I truly appreciate and hope for more of. I am starting to see other people around DoIT use the SB You platform to write and reflect — that also makes me smile as it is one indicator of an engaged organization. Perhaps over time more of us will find voices either through original posts or through the act of leaving comments.
I think using a platform like this is a great illustration of our DoIT Values, number one in particular, “Communicate: We are committed to engagement, communication, and sharing information with a human voice.” With that in mind I will commit to writing and sharing more and I hope that each of you consider how you can show a belief in our shared value. It doesn’t have to be through blog posts, but finding time to share your view of how we do our work in an authentic way is a critical part of what we do.
It has been so hectic that I failed to share my thoughts on the 2014 NYSCIO gathering that I attended. It was my first one and my first time getting to spend time around the amazingly beautiful Finger Lakes. This event was once again held in Skaneateles, NY and if you haven’t made the five hour trip, consider it worthwhile. The event was exceptional and I not only learned quite a bit, but got to engage in great conversations with new and old colleagues.
I really liked the quick hitting format of the event. Most sessions were panels so there were a diversity of perspectives shared during each 75 minute block of time. It was all in a general meeting room, so the agenda was set for all of us, in other words, no changing rooms. The event packed as much content into the format as possible, with a dinner reception as a kick off with Dr. Satish K. Tripathi, President, University at Buffalo giving a great talk, “Threats and Opportunities for Information Technology in Higher Education – A President’s Perspective.” I found it valuable in terms of how a President of a University views IT and how to help shape that view. Exceptionally smart discussion.
The next morning was the meat of the meeting with sessions presented by Gartner on The Higher Education CIO World in 2014, a panel on Preparing for Changing Enrollment Demographics that I found fascinating as I am newer to that conversation at the VP level and it is outside of my direct area, another panel titled, the Digitization of Education: Selected Instructional Uses of Technology & What Higher Ed CIOs Need to Know About Them that I really enjoyed and had plenty of take aways from, and a closing session that was a real highlight titled Data Loss Prevention – How a lot of effort can potentially save you a lot of money. Each session provided depth and some real world stories that I made sure to write down. The day wrapped up with a reception and dinner at a local vineyard with a keynote from NYU’s CIO, Marilyn McMillan.
I ended up having to leave earlier than expected and missed a chance to see my old friend and colleague Brian Alexander whom I greatly admire and respect. I have seen Brian on numerous occasions, but it is was a drag to miss the chance to hear him talk. I did however spend lunch with him the day before talking about trends and the world as he sees it. Brian recently started his own consulting company and was also just joined the New Media Consortium as their research director. Leaving early also meant missing Jeff Selingo, who I also really enjoy and respect. Because of that I have vowed to read his book, “College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students” … knowing Jeff it will be well worth it. Below are some unedited thoughts and highlights from a few of the sessions.
Higher Education CIO in 2014
- The position of “Chief Digital Officer” (or someone serving in a like role) is set to triple in the next year to focus on adaptive eTextbooks, MOOCs, Mashware, and other new forms of digital technologies in the ed tech space
- Next phase will be digitalization leading to education as a digital business — providing new service delivery and business models. This will continue to challenge enrollment, libraries, IT departments, and curricular design.
- When we are talking through this new form of leadership, it isn’t solely about technical capabilities, but about all the issues surrounding technology in the context of higher education expectations and change
- A critical idea is to produce “technology showcases” to make the community more aware of IT offerings
- “Every budget is an IT budget”
Digitization of Education
- At NYU, they have a critical governance group … Faculty Committee on the Future of Technology Enhanced Education. This is something we need to consider doing in a functional way.
- Creation of a studio for the construction of small pieces to enhance resident instruction called the “Blended Learning Studio.” Contains a Smart Board, lighting, camera, provides safe practice space, very little editing, spend about an hour with each faculty member and then use their own time after that. It sounds a lot like the Media Commons approach at PSU with the One Button Studio.
- Instructional Technology Support at NYU
- “You can’t stop stupid, you can only slow it down.”
- “If you cannot enforce a policy, don’t write them.”
- Data classification policy … 1. Sensitive: PII/PHI/Student, 2. Confidential: contract — no government fine, 3. Internal: proprietary, 4. Public: on the web freely available
- “We let people do anything they want unless it is wrong” at Columbia
- Losing 5000 SSN can cost close to 500k … we need to make this very clear to institutional leaders that
I just attended my first Coffee with Cole jam session this morning. I, of course somehow managed to be fashionably late, but still had plenty of opportunity to sit in and listen to a great discussion.
We walk around with a shared value in DoIT that is focused on all of us and our growth.
“We will actively hire great people, develop the growth of our staff, promote a diversity of voices, and support our staff.”
I want so badly to make sure that we as an organization find ways to support growth in a systematic way through professional development. It is a struggle to do that however — events are limited, interests are all over the place, funding is always an issue, and finding time is a complicated endeavor.
With those thoughts as context, I’ve been discussing how important it is for us all to share our experiences at conferences, training events, and growth opportunities through participation through IT Travel & Training Reports. I’m not thinking of ultra formal reports that end up in a manger’s email, I am thinking about ways to share experiences widely so that all of us in DoIT and beyond can learn from each other. I am willing to share most thoughts on such events in the open, but I also understand that everyone isn’t comfortable with that, so I wanted to offer ways for both to happen.
Participation allows us to:
- Share our experiences with a diversity of people
- Help each other evaluate opportunities
- Help ensure that training dollars are used wisely and the community can learn from other experiences
Share Your Experiences
Travel and training takes time and money. Let’s work to maximize that investment across Stony Brook by sharing information. Let your peers know where you went, what you did, and what you thought by sharing your experiences in SB You and the “IT Travel and Training” group in Yammer.
To get started:
- We’ve created a standard list of questions that can be found in the “IT Travel and Training” group in Yammer as a guide to sharing your experiences. Simply use those to create a shareable report in Yammer.
- Or if you’re like me and you are already blogging your experiences using SB You, please add the tag “sbuittravel” to your blog posts, and then share links to your posts in the IT Travel and Training group. By using this tag, all results can be aggregated together into a single search result.
When we all share, our contributions can be shared with the Stony Brook community and we can all grow and learn together.
Running through my feeds tonight and came across this quote from Seths Blog …
Do your work, your best work, the work that matters to you. For some people, you can say, “hey, its not for you.” Thats okay. If you try to delight the undelightable, you’ve made yourself miserable for no reason.
I’m not going to wax poetically about it, but it does raise some interesting thoughts given we have a DoIT value that stresses our intent to work to delight our users. Specifically …
3. Satisfy: We will work to delight our customers in the innovative delivery of our solutions and services.
Maybe it is an important thought to recognize that it can’t be done all the time and accept that? I’m not sure if that is defeatist or realistic. I wonder what people think.
We just posted a new invite for Coffee with Cole … all I can say is that I love these. Each time I have one I leave feeling so energized by the interactions. I enjoy the informal setting and the opportunity to just sit back and talk to one another.
When I was at Penn State, my CIO held similar sessions and I never attended — I guess I figured since I worked for him on a regular basis that it wasn’t for me. He always told me otherwise, but I wanted to leave a seat for others to get a chance to hang out with him. I just simply didn’t understand how different getting together over coffee creates a different dynamic. The conversations are about us in a very different way when it isn’t a staff meeting, an IT Partners gathering, or a meeting in general. It gives us a chance to get to know one another in a more holistic way and that is the win. Its funny, when I told my old boss I was adopting this idea he immediately told me how much I would love it and how much I would learn. As was typical with Kevin, he has been right. So sign up — no matter who you are or what you do at Stony Brook. It is a chance to engage in ways that are so rare at work. Oh, and you get to be in a group selfie!
I spent yesterday in New York City at the Disruption + Innovation event hosted by Colgate University. I was asked to attend by President Stanley and was excited about it given my long standing interest in disruption in higher education. It was also a great chance to hear Clayton Christiansen share his theories on disruption in general. While I have read “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” it is the core concepts of his more recent work, “Disrupting Class,” that I really wanted to hear him discuss. While at Penn State, I co-taught a graduate course for several years called, “Disruptive Technologies in Teaching and Learning” that was based in part on the work of Clay. So hearing him first hand was a real treat as I am currently redesigning my class to teach here at Stony Brook next year.
Clay’s talk was fantastic. He explained the notions of disruption using wonderfully built visuals and stories. As someone familiar with his work he had me from the start, but I could tell that people in the audience new to his work were able to quickly grasp the complexity of his theories due to his masterful storytelling. His primary theory of disruption “describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”
So what does that really mean? Take for example this simplified version of his story of Toyota. When Toyota really entered the US market, they did so with very low cost cars that provided little margins for existing US automakers. The US auto makers responded by eventually realizing that there was little reason to compete in the low margin world of subcompact, cheap cars when there were so many more profits “up market.” So, in essence, the US auto makers gave that low end market away. What then began to happen is that each new Toyota introduced took another slice of the down market until it squeezed the US auto makers out of each category. Eventually Toyota released the Lexus and the rest is automotive history.
What really happens in this model, according the Clay, is that “companies unwittingly open the door to ‘disruptive innovations’ at the bottom of the market. An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.” In the case of Toyota it meant every high school and college student in America could own a reliable and cheap car. It also meant that Toyota was given a chance to innovate around process and scale unlike the US auto makers. He was able to share those types of stories for other deeply rooted industries, each time with the same result — the incumbent being replaced by the upstart.
But while he spoke, I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that 300 of us (a very well attended event) were sitting in the Times Center — the home of the New York Times, which is clearly a company that has had to make major changes to deal with the disruption in the print news industry by internet “upstarts.” Some in the newspaper business paid attention to the disruption coming their way and innovated through it (and I do believe the Times is an example of this), yet many either didn’t believe it was happening or couldn’t figure out what to do and joined the ranks of folded incumbent daily newspapers all over the country. And as Clay said, we don’t know what is coming in the future, so the ending (and perhaps even the middle) of the news industry “story” is still not known.
While I was sitting in the home of the New York Times, I was particularly stunned when six University Presidents took the stage immediately following Clay’s talk and almost all of them said they weren’t worried by the disruption of higher education by both small and large upstarts. The only one who really expressed a concern was the President of Colgate University, Jeffrey Herbst. I was struck with the notion that we had an opportunity to really engage in a lively conversation based on the mounting evidence that we do need to rethink much of what we do to stay ultimately relevant, but it was really more of the same — “higher education has been around since the twelfth century and it cannot be disrupted.” That to me was disheartening. What I was left with was a feeling that by so outwardly dismissing Clay’s theories, many in the audience and panel were in fact bolstering his argument.
And I can almost guarantee that, at some conference or event ten years ago, there was a panel of newspaper editors who claimed that they weren’t worried about the future of their papers either. “People will always still want the ritual of holding their newspaper with a cup of coffee in the morning.” Right?
So how different is it in higher education when we say “People will always want the experience of going to college?” Or, “Those are just MOOCs and you can’t get credit and people want credit.” Or, “Phoenix Online is just going to take the people who didn’t want to come to a regular college anyway.” In short, doesn’t that lack of worry about disruption sort of sound like we are giving away what we perceive to be the bottom portion of our market?
When we sit at panels and say we aren’t worried about the future of higher education because people will always want to go to college, we ignore the other (many) reasons why people educate themselves. The 18-22 market may still prefer a physical experience, but there are thousands of other students at all of our institutions who might not care where they get educated (or how). They just want a good education that will help them advance in their lives and careers. And even many of those 18-22 olds may change their mind as tuition costs rise and the expense of four years or more of college becomes prohibitive. We ignore these factors — and “give away” these students — at our own peril.
Yes, education is never going away. That statement is true. But the education industry is changed forever because of Internet and social technology. And it didn’t even start with the internet — but that’s certainly the part of the story we are in now. Content is easily delivered via the Internet and with the rise of social computing, disrupters can finally begin to “move up market” and start to squeeze the incumbent. And, all the while, just like Toyota, the disruptors are in a position to perfect process and scale while they do it.
And to go back to my imaginary newspaper editors example, I believe they just had the wrong statement ten years ago. When they said that people will always want their newspaper, they should have said that “People will always want their NEWS.” The editors failed to see that customers of news, over the long run, don’t really mind how that news is delivered, as long as they get their news. And while some still like the nostalgic feel of a newspaper in their hands, that population is dwindling every day. Beyond, some start to realize that the affordances of the new delivery systems allow them to have more convenience, a greater selection of news outlets (you don’t just need to read your local paper or attend your local college anymore), and exposure to different mindsets.
So to go back to higher education, will the population of those who want a face to face college experience dwindle too? Perhaps.
And if that is the case, should we be sitting on panels declaring that we aren’t worried?
Maybe the problem is the term “worried.” However, by *correctly* saying that “education isn’t going away,” we fail to see the logical follow on: education isn’t going away, but our delivery model and sources might be. And if we put our heads in the sand and don’t think we are going to have to deal with major changes … well, I might like to sell you some classified ads in a newspaper in Brooklyn.
We don’t have to be worried, but we do have to be proactive. Our industry has already been disrupted and Clay clearly outlined how his theories could hold true for us in higher education. While I am not completely convinced that it is a 100% apt comparison, he is convincing in several areas. He described the rise of online delivery and how we are seeing technological innovations beginning to take root that can actually supplant the current incumbent of face to face higher education. Again, since I follow his work the leap is not as dramatic as it appears. His claim that as more and more traditional universities ignore the likes of Kahn Academy, the rise of online universities, for profit providers, and upstart innovations such as MOOCs, we will see many of what we consider traditional campuses fall into terrible economic times — culminating in some cases in bankruptcy.
Believe what you want, but the indicators are strong and suggest tough times for many strata of the higher education market. I can’t pretend to know what is to come, just as Clay remarked, “when God created the world he only made data available about the past” and not for the future. In the past we have been protected in many ways because there hasn’t been a technological core in higher education that could be disrupted by innovation. Those times have changed.
But as an aside, you wouldn’t have known it while sitting in the Disruption + Innovation event. The ironic lack of Internet connectivity in the room made things seem a bit off from the start. Here we were discussing the coming (I would argue, already here) wave of disruption on our campuses due to the growth and acceptance of the online delivery of content and you couldn’t connect to the very mechanism facilitating it all — the Internet. Typically at events like this, the room would be busy participating along with the actors on stage — taking photos, tweeting quotes, and engaging in an active backchannel conversation. None of that was doable and I can’t tell if it was intentional, an oversight, or a shortcoming of the venue. If the organizers wanted it to be an Internet free zone, maybe they were trying to prove that life is better lived in the moment then shared wildly across the network?
For me, and I’m sure for many others in the room, it limited the potential experience of the event to not have a back channel to continue to discuss the disruption we all face. A real, ongoing community could have evolved from the event with a simple Twitter hashtag and we lost out on that opportunity.
At the end of the day, I was thrilled to listen to Clay talk and take part in the overall discussion. I don’t want to sound negative about the event, because in many ways it exceeded my expectations. I was left feeling the way I feel after many events hoping to explore the future of higher education — excited by the future and encouraged by the discourse.
I do think we need to take some bigger next steps however. We need to address the realities of technological innovation, corporate competition, funding, tuition, and value head on and truly have an ongoing dialogue about what forces are acting against us. (And that conversation will occur in face to face and online settings, just like news and higher education, by the way.)
I remain bullish on Higher Education and think it is one of the greatest institutions in America. Yes, there are real challenges, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t face them and emerge stronger. Here at Stony Brook, we work every day to improve the lives of our faculty, staff, and students all while controlling costs and building a more operationally efficient University. We cannot continue to do that without both disruption and innovation. What I hope is that more institutions take this discussion seriously so we can all continue to provide the exceptional opportunities that have been the hallmark of attending college.
A huge thank you to Kristin Zeisloft Camplese for the thoughtful edits and contributions to this post via both real life conversation and collaborative writing. This post originally appeared at my Stony Brook You site.