Campus Life in the Wake of Transformation

By Dr. Jan I Fox, SVP for IT & CIO, Marshall University

Dr. Jan I Fox, SVP for IT & CIO, Marshall University

Cloud Computing a Benefit

Cloud computing is like going back to the future. We operated under shared computer resources in the 80’s and 90’s, hosted well beyond our campuses. Today, universities use cloud computing for the provisioning of scalable IT resources over the Internet— including software applications and services, as well as the infrastructure. In this way, cloud computing becomes a light switch. The services turn on and off quickly while providing a uniquely beneficial purpose between the processes. Over the last few years, many institutions, including Marshall University, moved Student E-mail, our Blackboard Learning Management Suite, and many individual applications to cloud services. Cost savings, scalability and our inability to retain technical staff to support some of the applications continue to drive these decisions.

"Our recreation center offers treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and ellipticals that track and report the exercise experience"

We continue to increase cloud services for unique applications and resources on an as-needed basis. We now add cloud contract addendums—aiming to keep our institution and data safe in a cloud environment. Because we are an Internet2 member, we access excellent research, educational resources and special pricing. This private cloud is a shared computing environment connected to a very high capacity and performance network. The price drops as others join. The shared pricing is similar to the operation offered several decades ago, except that we now use robust networks and virtualized servers.

Effective Usage of Available Information

Higher education, a field that gathers an astonishing array of data about its “customers,” has traditionally been inefficient in its data use, often operating with substantial delays in analyzing readily evident data and feedback. Many times the data is collected and not reviewed for quality and accuracy. Most institutions fail to collect motivational and psychological elements that are needed for personalized education, adaptive learning and student success triggers. Matching existing data merged with social media can prevent students from being socially and academically isolated while providing academic triggers for student success. Having the ability to easily make beautiful graphs, charts and dashboards without understanding the data or the business environment can lead to very poor “data-driven” decision making.

The most difficult issue is to ask the “right strategic question.” The higher education landscape is more like a battlefield. As state and federal allocations shrink, our institutions must gain more proactive insight from the information at our disposal. One of the roles of the university CIO is to work collaboratively with the executive team and to find the golden predictive needles in the ever growing piles of digital data.

Foster Innovation

Universities and their spin-off industries have historically created an atmosphere where innovation flourishes. We need to reward and support those students, staff, faculty and researchers who create and think critically. Creating an innovative environment includes supporting makerspaces. From redesigning all learning and research spaces to invigorating critical thinking, universities will move to multi-modal forms of collaboration; this will support experimentation, creativity, innovation, curiosity, and play. Our growth in online educational experience has fostered new student and faculty populations. Gone are the days when one needs to be physically on a campus to learn or to teach.

The consumerization of higher education requires us to move quickly to support the onslaught of newtools, devices and moble apps. We must now collaborate with other institutions to share our knowledge and resources.

Transformation: A Requirement

The CIO, as a strategist and change agent, continues to become more critical as traditional financial sources decrease and analytics invade all areas of higher education. Two positions on campus have a role in the success of each unit: the CIO and the University President. The CIO’s role surpasses ‘just keeping everything running’ and must encompass working collaboratively with colleges, administrators and researchers to incorporate the most innovative, secure, cost-effective, scalable tools.

Way towards Business Success

In times of chaos and financial stress, innovative, unified and strategic universities can take on new markets and provide new resources and tools for our faculty, staff, administrators, and students. I am incredibly proud to be a member of a nimble university that quickly responds to technological innovations as a unified institution. Over the years, many universities have allowed separate colleges and even departments to develop unique, non-sustainable enterprise business solutions. Multiple versions of email, learning management systems and even business systems lead to a huge duplication of costs and effort on a campus. The innovation on a campus is not in the business applications but rather in the academic and research tools and projects sitting upon a robust, sustainable network and administrative structure. Requiring one to learn multiple basic productivity systems is equivelant to changing the location of a steering wheel and gas pedal everytime they get in a car. The learning effort should be focused on questioning and creating solutions to global and community problems, not determining how to send an email message for that particular college. Being a traditionally underfunded institution has prevented us from going down this unstainable road.

Swift Shift from BYOD to BYOE

We have moved from an era of Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) to Bring Your Own Everything (BYOE). The entire campus community has an expectation that all connected devices will have lightning Internet speed—regardless of campus location. Instead of using a dedicated wired room connection in the residence halls for streaming entertainment and academic resouces, students prefer untethered mobile devices. We now wire facilities with Cat6 to support pervasive Wi-Fi. The number and location of Wi-Fi access points expands on a daily basis.

IoT is Changing the Life in Campus

Our college-age students have grown up in an Internet-connected world of devices, appliances, cars, and clothing. The continued convergence of smart devices with pervasive connectivity brings together new learning and assessment tools. Open exploration is no longer limited to a physical lab, classroom or rare field trip. Yet, we are still in our infancy at predicting how smart devices will change higher education over the next decade. From drones to augmented reality, the teaching and learning experience continues to change. However, the growth of smart devices and connectivity increases the privacy and security concerns.

Our recreation center offers treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and ellipticals that track and report the exercise experience. Smart technologies help us reduce utility costs and continually provide server and connectivity health updates 24 hours a day. Researchers use sensors tied to high-performance computer clusters to monitor everything from environmental factors to lab equipment. Academically, our Learning Management Systems and Wi-Fi systems track students’ attendance, indicate whether they open asignments, tracks length of time spent in assignments, and contact them via text triggers if they are not meeting expected learning outcomes. Librarians and history professors have even joined together as part of the IoT movement. Smart apps, such as Clio, connect history, library resources, and culture to promote interaction between people and their physical and rich digital environments.

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