Cloud - Wireless Infrastructure to Revolutionize the Education Industry

By Matthew Henry, CIO and Dean of Innovative Education, LeTourneau University

Matthew Henry, CIO and Dean of Innovative Education, LeTourneau University

Advantages of cloud computing for the Education industry

Cloud computing is an overloaded word. I see several aspects of “cloud” computing having enormous impacts on the Education industry.

"Everything from health related devices to control systems becoming embedded with technology will continue to transform campus life"

First, out of the box productivity tools like Office 365 or DropBox enable faculty, staff and students to access their objects anyplace, anytime. These tools offer any device access from mobile through desktop. Additionally, many of these services offer collaboration enhancements enable teams or classes of students to work on objects together. Enabling these tools offers significant savings over the local management of a data center and related staff. Much of education today is 365/24/7, these always available tools offer access as needed. Objects available through this class of “cloud” include a wide variety from photos to PowerPoints. Second, there are “cloud” tools like Amazon’s AWS and EC2. Both offer education tremendous value from archiving to development platform to workspaces. Enabling education to access tools at the click of a button. Third, there are productivity tools like Prezi, eBridge or products for project management or social media interaction. Tools like Hootsuite or even Facebook and Twitter have changed the face of marketing for the education industry. These productivity tools are in the 1,000s. Fourth, entire infrastructures like Instructure’s Canvas Learning Management System while setting on AWS are resold directly to those in the education industry as services. This is the new way of doing business. I see all education industry applications falling in this space. This will eliminate the need for any education organization to have their own data center. Fifth are infrastructure related “cloud” solutions. Many of the network vendors are offering cloud solutions for implementing a network on a campus. Combining this with solution support will eliminate the need for much onsite support from an IT organization beyond local break fix or AV setup/tear down. Finally, new “cloud” solutions like IBM’s Bluemix will allow the education industry to enable application services at an unprecedented level. Being able to add IBM Watson dialog engines to education apps or interfaces has the potential to transform this industry.

The effective and proactive use of data— To consolidate, integrate and use it to drive business

I don’t know that I have a good answer for this one. We have just established or own Data Warehouse. Solutions like IBM’s Bluemix or desktop offerings like Tableau remind me we have so much more to do. We tend to look at flat data like funnels or retention. We don’t dig deeply into the data and we need to.

Steps universities/ colleges should take to foster innovation and/or growth

We have most recently partnered with Educause to help train us on creating a culture of innovation. Working with Educause to establish the new Leading Academic Transformation team has been great. Another big area is learning about Strategic Foresight and getting to know futurists around the world. Learning principles that allow innovation from a cultural perspective have been a big help. Overall, networking with colleagues at other institutions especially others working in centers of innovation or transformation has been helpful. Key technology areas would be: 1) Cloud as discussed already, but in its fullest sense; 2) Competency-based enablers, specifically platforms like D2L LeaP, DreamDegree, Loudcloud and many others that are providing platforms for outcomes or performance based education; 3) People management including traditional ERPs and SIS systems are critical. This is an area that the Education industry is very behind in. There is a big need for strong disrupters in this space; 4) Anything that brings evidence-based, outcomes or performance based education into focus, solutions like Knack or Portfolium, providing students with life-long learning platforms; 5) Long term is AI like IBM Watson, this will be a game-changer for education; 6) While probably not directly technology related, anything around the learning sciences or cognitive science. Groups like Deans for Impact that are calling on education to use Learning Science. We should be right there with these deans.

I’m seeing two paths: CIO becoming the COO on limited bases to “keep the lights on” versus the CIO becoming the Chief Innovation Office being given the open door to transform the education industry. Technology is not only the foundation of transformation, but is becoming the driver. Think of an IBM Watson type AI tool that allows a professor to assess the knowledge level of a student or helps that teacher teach up to the minute learning. As mentioned above, one of the biggest needs in Ed Tech these days is an agile ERP/SIS that understands the unbundling of education. We need systems that can measure PLA, nanodegrees, micro-certification to the traditional four year to PhD all with learning science in the middle, helping a student stay a lifelong learner. The CIO has to move out of the roll of keeping the lights on to this innovator. He needs to understand the educational process and since all the “keep on stuff ” is now in the cloud, he becomes a conductor of a grand learning orchestra.

The technology and initiatives helped university/ institution to excel or keep pace with the change

Another hard question and one I would argue I don’t know yet. We have moved services to the cloud, created our own private cloud, but have a lot of work to do. A couple of years ago we brought together our IT, Library and Instructional Designers. We have much to do here as well. Bringing tools together that were traditionally thought of as IT only into the Library (like Discovery Search or LibGuides) to enabling a cloud based LMS continue to move us to keep pace with change. As mentioned earlier, due to the vertical nature of the SIS/ERP market for education, we are challenged with not having partners that are agile or even DevOps related. We continue with old models like waterfall in our rip and replace or plan and upgrade models. These need to be changed. We need our vendors to partner with us in this change. We also need continued interoperability change to be as agile as cloud solutions like Bluemix. LTI is helping as well as the Technical Interoperability Pilot (TIP) .

Related to the question on the cloud, specifically wireless infrastructure managed by “soft networks” can help here. Good core to edge hardware and tools are important. Vendors like Netflix also need to partner with education to understand the needs. For example, being able to locally cache Hulu or Netflix on campuses would be a big help. Mobile infrastructures like Apple need to understand that it’s bigger than Apple. Enabling interoperability between platforms and devices will help continue to minimize disruption as well as enable tools to be used across education.

Applications that leverage the Internet of Things changing campus life and learning

Everything from health related devices to control systems (HVAC, etc.) becoming embedded with technology will continue to transform campus life. Systems that mesh what were once disparaging systems like 4QTRS Holdings SafePointe are critical to this space of IoT.

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