Note: This article is Part 5 of a multi-part series.
Educause conducts an annual survey of its constituents prioritizing the top 10 information technology (IT) issues for the year. These issues are reported during a conference session that includes a panel of higher education executives who respond to these issues and priorities. (Pictures provided here were taken during the presentation at Educause during the Top 10 Issues sessions at their conference, held November 2, 2017 in Philadelphia.)
These issues were then categorized into four themes: students, data, planning and funding, and security, which were presented for group discussion.
The data provides us information for reflection. A few associated questions for us to consider include: “What does this study and prioritization mean for us in higher education? What are the tough questions we need to address? What actions must we take now and for the future?” The panel commented on these and other related issues focusing on the question of how these top 10 issues impact academia.
I walked away with questions and thoughts regarding IT and student success that included the following:
- I was struck (and not surprised) when the panelists reported that security was among the top 10 for a number of consecutive years and it remains there for 2018.
- As I listened to panelists who encouraged campuses to engage students in their IT decisions amd discussions about technology, I could not help but wonder to what extent are we engaging the student body. An engagement of the student body was defined to mean “not just one or two students on a committee.” Are we understanding their needs, expectations, and experience?
- To what extent is IT seen as “an indispensable partner” in student success? How many times do we catch ourselves saying or hear others say, “that is an IT problem?” If it is an IT problem, then it is a problem for all of us and we all play a role in it. For example, student and academic affairs professionals need data that informs our experience and enables us to establish practices in support of student success. In what ways can we build a partnership together (IT, academics, university community, and institutional research), so that we collaboratively work to achieve the same goals and targets of student success? How do we collaboratively define our data, govern our data and its usage, and work from the same data sets or data warehouse to effect institutional change in support of the outcome of student success?
- Today, campuses are data-rich. Everything or nearly every interaction with students can be captured and tracked, especially in the virtual world. If we are trying to be and act as data-driven entities, how do we collaboratively turn data into information? How do we share ownership of this data across the enterprise? Across each sector of higher education? With the Department of Education? This is a data governance and access question. How do we partner to achieve this both within and across our institutions? I can’t help but wonder that if we were able to do this, how we might impact change with IPEDS data and the tracking of relevant data for measuring student and institutional success nationally?
- Clearly, the role of the CIO on each campus varies by where the position is aligned, whether to the president, provost, CFO, or other executive. If IT is central to student success, then each and every enterprise needs to change its language, behavior, and understanding of the strategic importance of IT to the shared mission of achieving student success. Each campus needs to ask itself: What leadership is needed for this alignment of role and purpose to occur? What is needed for the CIO to have a seat at the university leadership and academics roundtable? I believe this question of the role of the CIO and participation at the table is a multi-faceted question, including a focus on organizational culture, the priority of IT on the campus, and the personal leadership style of the CIO. To be strategic requires focus.
- From a data security perspective, risk management is a priority. An interesting question was asked of the audience: “Are privacy and information security considered one and the same on our campuses?” It was interesting to see the diversity of responses, with most responding they are considered one and the same. One panelist’s perspective provided clarity for me. “Privacy is why and whether we collect data. Security locks it down and protects it.” We need to determine what information we really need from students, faculty, and staff, rather than collecting every possible piece of information, thinking it is all necessary. Limiting the data we collect to only essential information may be a major step in information security. What do we absolutely need to know?
- An insightful moment for me was when a CIO panelist said of security that they work with the assumption in setting policy and practice that “it’s not if, but when, something will be breached.” CIOs reported that this monitoring and preparing for breaches, i.e, Equifax and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, while ensuring IT security is what keeps them up at night! While some leaders and staff on campus may become frustrated with security measures, their importance was clearly demonstrated in the panel dialogue.
This Educause session was one of the most thought-provoking and informative sessions I attended, as technology is at the heart of what we do in the digital age of online education. I am reminded that as an executive and leader in this rapidly evolving space, there is always something new to reflect upon and having a strong partnership with the IT professionals on each college or university is a requirement for student success.