CIO's approach to BYOD in education puts focus on productivity

Karen Goulart, Senior Features Writer
Eric HawleyEric Hawley

Eric Hawley, CIO at Utah State University, is the SearchCIO 2013 Enterprise IT Leader of the Year. Hawley brought together centralized and decentralized IT at Utah State by creating shared services, common standards and a culture of voluntary participation. In this installment of a series of three podcast interviews with Senior Features Writer Karen Goulart, Hawley discusses bring your own device (BYOD) in education and the biggest risks facing higher education today. This is the third of three special podcasts with Hawley.

How are mobile technologies changing the way that you do business?

Eric Hawley: Ah, well, it goes back to the buzzwords, the acronyms that we all hear -- bring your own device. When people bring their own device, you have to ask yourself the question, "How can that device become an attention focuser rather than an attention distractor?" That's the strategic question that we're asking, and that question applies to the technology we deliver, the policies we implement and how teachers develop curriculum and how students use it. And so it's important that we don't ignore mobile technologies; if you do, they come into the classroom and they become a distraction because you're not using them to your advantage. We can't ignore it because it becomes a distraction rather than a focuser. And so this is where it's important that we change the way we teach to find ways to use mobile, because those mobile devices are in the classroom, they're in the business. If they're not being used to focus and we aren't helping people by using those devices for lecture capture or using those devices for basic feedback, in place of raising the hand -- you know you see Poll Everywhere, some of those types of tools that help people focus their attention by using the devices they bring in those areas -- [then that's a problem]. And it really impacts the way we have to design courses and use technology so that those pieces are relevant.

It's important that we don't ignore mobile technologies. If you do, they come into the classroom and they become a distraction because you're not using them to your advantage.

Eric Hawley

The second thing I'd mention is around infrastructure. Bring your own device is also bring your own storage. This is a huge hole in technology offerings in the world today. For example, when you talk about bring your own device in business and you talk to VMware and you talk to Citrix or you talk to other folks who are producing ways to secure enterprise or corporate data, they're producing good products that allow you to access corporate data or corporate storage from these mobile devices and keep it secure. But in the higher-education vertical, that's incredibly expensive. If I have to replicate my own storage for students -- the old way of doing it is we used to provide storage for our students, central storage, governed storage -- and if we provide a virtual desktop or a streamed application through Citrix or VMware or Microsoft, you know the question is how do the students access the files in the storage that we provide? It's very easy if Utah State University buys that storage and pays for all the commercial platforms to secure that and provides the data securely back to the student on their mobile device. But students and myself, they're not using traditional storage provided by higher education; they're using Google Drive, Dropbox [and] Skydrive .

But you look out in the industry, they're not only bringing their own device; they're also bringing their own storage system to the university. If I want to provide them a virtual desktop or a streamed application so I can provide them, for example, specialized software in their program that they can't afford to license on their own, so they want to use the university's licenses. How do I connect those to Dropbox, or how do I connect those SkyDrive, or how do I connect those to Google Drive, which is the storage system they bring with them? And do you know what the shocking answer is now? You can't. Because VMware doesn't provide an option to map their streamed or virtual desktop systems to Dropbox or SkyDrive on a mobile device. If you download a Citrix app or a VMware to provide windows, AutoCAD program down to your mobile device, VMware and Citrix want to sell you their own storage solutions to solve that problem, but they don't allow you to connect into the free storage that students bring. And when I talk to them, they say interesting things like, "Hmm, well , that's interesting, but business doesn't want that because they're worried about security. Business doesn't want people using Dropbox." Well, in higher education we do: It's going to keep tuition down, [and] the storage is free. How can we integrate public cloud storage with mobile application delivery systems? There's a huge hole in the industry right now. So that's got to change the way the industry does business and the consumerization of IT in the higher-education vertical.

Wow, I was not aware of that

Hawley: I was shocked to find that out. Hopefully I'll have a chance to talk to the Citrix CEO in a week here, and I'll talk to him about how they help us integrate consumer bring your own storage, 'cause it's not just bring your own device.

That's a huge market and a huge hole.

Hawley: Yeah, it really, really is.

Not to wind up on a down note, but I think we can make it a positive. What you think poses the biggest risk to your business, and how it can be addressed?

Hawley: Ah, the biggest risk to higher education. Here it is. Answer this question: For the future, what is the value of an academic degree? That's the strategic question. The way that question is answered by the people who are paying for their degrees in a world of ever-increasing tuition, becomes the strategic question in answering that risk question. What is the value of an academic degree? You know you go back to Clayton Christiansen's stories where he tells his milkshake story -- people hire a product because they're trying to get something done.

Why is someone willing to take out a student loan to get an academic degree? What do they expect? Is it school to work? The idea that I'm getting this degree so that I can get specific skills so that people will hire me? That's certainly one approach. And if we answered that question that way, what's the value of getting an academic degree? "So, I can make more money and get a better job!" OK, that's school to work. So if we do that, talking about how we address it, we have to start capturing better what hiring businesses need, what hiring businesses are hiring for, and we have to come back and develop course curriculum around that need. In other words, it's not higher education forcing students in education upon businesses. It's going back to businesses, finding out what businesses need and changing the curriculum and the degree programs in higher education so that we're feeding a market that's hiring. And that is a little bit different from the old-school way, where an accreditation process drives curriculum or where tenured faculty who have been there for 20 years drive curriculum. You know, in that model, education is about ROI, return on investment, and we need, and we must, develop a tighter coupling of returns on the investment. 

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How do you adapt to rapid technology, hiring changes, with stereotypical static, tenured faculty and stereotypical static curriculum? How do you adapt to a new technology that changes immediately -- that there's a huge market for, that we can get people trained in that traditional world? The answer is, we have to change it. And we also have to look at making sure education is not a one size fits all. Are we retooling for a career change? Or are we high school students just starting out with a new career? Those audiences and what they're looking for and the approaches by which they learn are different. We need to adapt.

Different audiences have different needs. That's sort of addressing: Is [there a] school-to-work ROI of an academic degree, or is it school-to-think? Is it really not so much to learn a specific skill but the ability to communicate well, work with diverse audiences, diverse people, more than it is to investigate any particular subject? Or is it a combination of both? Or is it school-to-school? Do you go to school so you can become a teacher and continue the cycle and teach the next round of teachers? Are the next round or teachers full-time academicians? So I'd answer your question with another question: What's the value of an academic degree? Answer that question. Avoid fitting it into a one-size-fits-all approach and get a tighter coupling between the investment the students make and the return that they expect, and that's how we'll address it. If we don't, higher education will be replaced, because businesses will start hiring people elsewhere if they don't value the degree. Or students and parents will refuse to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt because they don't see the return on it.

A huge challenge, but it sounds like you're the man for the job.

Hawley: Gosh, it takes a whole community. These are system-wide changes, not individual changes, so there's a lot to do there, there's a lot of opportunity because the need is huge. Any time there's a need, you can keep a business sustainable.

In the first part of this podcast, Hawley discussed his move toward a shared services model in order to adapt to the rapid pace of change in technology. In the second part, he talked about the role of IT and the use of technology to create a competitive business advantage.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

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