When I started my academic career in the late 1990s, software like Blackboard was new and learning management systems were the main way that faculty used educational technology. When I became a vice-provost at the University of Texas in 2006, the campus was in the process of trying to rework an outdated student information system and to develop data-gathering systems for faculty annual reporting. These efforts went through several fits and starts, and were still in the process of development when I move on to become the provost at Menlo College in 2015.
As a new provost, knowing that innovation was becoming an imperative for small, private colleges, my goal was to learn more about the ecosystem of educational technology in Silicon Valley. At Menlo, the first step for me was getting a better understanding of the software systems and apps that we used across campus. I knew that we employed one system to gather our student information and another as our customer relations manager for admissions. We were also in the process of adding a third data management system for our alumni and donors.
The transfer of data from each of these separate systems could be complicated by data entry errors, and keeping track of the status of students often ran into issues. I soon learned that there wasn’t a good solution that covered all three components of a student’s journey through the college—and even if there were, it could be prohibitively expensive to try and migrate to a new system.
The imperatives of a changing student body led the college to try various apps for student engagement, particularly those that would work on mobile phones. It was clear that students were rarely reading email, and getting important information to them would require using text messaging. Our student affairs division tried several apps that would not only send important messages but also track student use of services such as advising, the career center, and attendance at campus events. Campus security was also a factor, as the need arose to be able to reach students in case of emergencies such as a natural disaster or security threat.
Collaboration can be difficult, even within college campuses, given the varying needs represented by all the academic and administrative units and the demands of accreditation. The burgeoning world of educational technology is working to address many of the issues that college campuses face, but the results are often piecemeal approaches to different aspects of a student’s journey from high school student to alum.
It is very important to break down the silos across a campus so that campus leaders can understand the current use of technology, develop plans for collaboration, reduce the redundant use of software across campus, and develop a technology strategy that can reduce costs and increase innovation. Meetings of key stakeholders are a critical component to developing these strategies, but it will have to be guided by top leaders and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) who have a handle on the broader tech landscape.
An important takeaway for me has been that those in the ed tech world and higher education leaders need to work to understand and communicate more with each other. This process needs to start with education. New higher ed leaders need to take the time to learn about the tech landscape and gain a better understanding of the variety of offerings available. Attending conferences like ASU/GSV or Educause are a good introduction to the world of educational technology, and will provide new campus leaders a quick introduction to the variety of offerings that can help their campuses support students and improve their infrastructure. Our newsletter and guides are additional resources for those who cannot make it to a conference, or want the latest on ed tech issues for administrators.
The stakes are high as we work to improve access and provide support for students so they can be successful in college and in their careers. Higher education is an important gateway to jobs that will evolve as technology like AI continues to reshape the working world.