Educause lays out the top 10 technology problems facing colleges

DENVER—In a packed ballroom at Educause’s annual conference on Thursday, Susan Grajek, the organization’s vice president for partnerships, communities and research, laid bare the top 10 technology issues in higher education for 2023.

“The pandemic has triggered a major shift in thinking that has turned previous management and working models on their head,” Grajek said. “In 2023, institutional and technology leaders are poised for a fresh approach.”

Grajek’s speech was peppered with technology concepts such as “cybersecurity” and “privacy”, but also contained numerous references to “empathy” and “humanity”.

Educause’s 2022 IT Issues Panel and higher education and technology leaders identified the trends and their impact on higher education. The report is due to be published on Monday. Here’s a brief preview that highlights the need for higher education to move from data insights to data actions, develop learning strategies, and lead with humility.

Ensure IT leadership is a full strategic partner

Chief information officers need a seat at college leadership tables to “enable a dialogue between institutional aspirations and digital opportunities,” Grajek said. When CIOs are involved in institutional decision-making from the start, they can help guide digital transformation in business and academic affairs proactively rather than reactively. You’ll also learn about the college’s mission, operations, and culture, so you’ll be better equipped to support it.

Develop, adapt or lose IT talent

As unemployment plummeted to record levels, the industry overtook higher education for IT talent in terms of pay, benefits, flexible work options and, in some cases, work-life balance. In the future, college hiring managers may need to offer compensation that may not meet internal standards, Grajek said.

Work culture may also need to be adjusted to build community between hybrid workers. In order to retain employees, employers need to be more responsive to the changing personal and professional goals of employees and also promote a healthier work-life balance.

Jonathan Hardy, Associate CIO at Villanova University, also wants more meaningful advances in hiring with diversity, equity and inclusion in mind.

“Hundreds of schools have signed the Educause CIO Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Where are the results?” Hardy asked, noting that more needs to be done for large-scale systemic change.

Lead with humility and openness

Once IT staff are hired, they want clear expectations of what they’re being held accountable for and they want to be empowered to make that happen, Grajek said.

According to Brian Basgen, Emerson College’s chief information officer, leaders with openness hold their employees accountable to a certain standard, and those with humility have compassion for their employees.

“These two things aren’t usually held together by anyone, especially at the same time,” Basgen said. A leader with too much compassion but too little accountability may find their team failing. Likewise, a leader who holds their team to high standards without compassion may face retention issues.

“Excessive workload burns out the staff,” Grajek said. “It’s time to balance capacity and commitment.”

Update privacy and cybersecurity awareness

The privacy and cybersecurity landscape has changed over the past decade, and higher education has fallen behind other industries, Grajek said.

Universities need to update their cybersecurity and privacy awareness and training, especially given that their community members often entrust their information to institutions without adequate understanding of how important it is or will be in the future.

Academia’s information culture needs to “change from ‘the more information the better because you never know when it will be useful’ to minimizing data wherever possible,” Grajek said. This is especially true when working with third parties and given the threat of ransomware attacks.

Updated laws that apply to higher education would help, according to Pegah Parsi, chief privacy officer at the University of California, San Diego.

“FERPA [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] It’s from – my God – 1974,” said Parsi. “We need an update that meets today’s requirements.”

Leverage technology for seamless student experiences

Students need on-demand access to campus resources in a secure, private, and accessible manner, Grajek said. This requires investment in technology systems and staff to ensure a seamless experience when and where they need services.

Individual students should be able to define what success means to them, which may challenge institutions’ understanding of traditional study pathways. A college student’s experience should be personalized, Grajek said, and technology can help meet their diverse needs to connect digital and physical environments.

Use data to expand signups

Data is at the heart of enrollment strategies, but many college cultures don’t value data, Grajek said.

Data analysts would benefit from being able to query data that comes from a single source, said Karen Warren, deputy chief information officer at Wesleyan University.

“We’re a long way from that,” Warren said. “Right now there’s a lot of work going on moving data around and trying to get it into appropriate places where you can then extract data and do with that data what you need to do.”

Pervasive — or at least improved — access to broadband connectivity could contribute to diversity and enrollment, according to Sue Traxler, deputy chancellor for learning and information technology and CIO at the University of Wisconsin at Stout.

Switch from Data Insight to Data Action

When institutions convert data analysis efforts into institutional action plans, they lay the groundwork for increasing operational efficiencies and improving academic success.

“The focus of data analysis needs to change from a historical approach, which uses data to understand what happened, to a forward-looking approach, which uses data to predict where we’re going,” Grajek said. Such an effort requires leaders to work with stakeholders to decide on a way forward.

Anyone who works with the data must feel safe when experimenting. Also, colleges may need to hire staff with specialized analytical skills for this information, and these staff may be embedded throughout the college.

Develop an IT support strategy that works in person and virtually

Students and faculty are now collaborating both in person and remotely. Staff also work from home and on campus. This means that “everything is everywhere,” Grajek said, and “pandemic measures will not be enough.”

Such an environment warrants a dedicated IT support strategy to optimize results. Colleges need a willingness to change if they are to meet the challenges of developing a robust digital campus and meeting high student expectations, Grajek said.

Individuals in all institutions need up-to-date cybersecurity and data management training. IT pros need to streamline and simplify computer configurations for end users. Institutions need to create a productive and supportive hybrid culture that supports members of different communities they sought to create.

“I would like to have a CIO, CTO or other IT executive at university level [the institution] treats digital investments and design with the same care and attention,” said Emma Woodcock, chief information officer at York St. John University in the United Kingdom.

Whatever the modality, develop a learning-first strategy

The pandemic provided faculty with a crash course in technical tools to support teaching. At the same time, ed-tech companies and universities have been innovating new technology products. Such developments could support new ways of thinking about teaching.

“Courses should be designed to enable students to achieve their learning goals with the technology tools that best get them there,” Grajek said. Flexible, interoperable options supported by technology can break down barriers and enable more students to engage. Institutions need to invest in supporting faculty efforts to access, experiment with, and implement practices with these tools.

Manage IT costs, risks and opportunities

Many colleges face a problem with delayed technology maintenance, Grajek said. She realized that technology systems are not just about administrative efficiency; They can provide data that can inform and influence the institution’s mission and operations. But to make progress on this front, institutions may need to change their culture.

“Technology leaders need to help develop an institutional culture that says, ‘Here are all the problems we need to address — let’s find a good solution,'” Grajek said, noting that many too often find the technology first and let them define the problems to work on.

While the Educause conference was underway, attendees seemed happy to be together in person, even if the challenges ahead are not for the faint of heart.

“It’s hard to imagine a more heroic or jaded group of professionals than those who make up the educause community,” said John O’Brien, the association’s president and CEO, in the conference’s keynote address. “The biggest fires have been put out, but that doesn’t put out the burnout and stress that sometimes lingers.”


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