In major technology shift, CIO finds competitive business advantage

Our IT Leader of the Year, Utah State University CIO Eric Hawley, discusses a technology shift in education and tapping it for competitive advantage.

Eric HawleyEric Hawley

Eric Hawley, CIO at the Utah State University, is the SearchCIO 2013 Enterprise IT Leader of the Year. Hawley succeeded in bringing together centralized and decentralized IT at Utah State by creating shared services and common standards, and building a culture of voluntary participation, our judges said. Here, Hawley discusses the role of IT and the technology shift he's capitalizing on in order to create competitive business advantage. This is the second of three special podcasts with Hawley.

In education, what is the major technology strategy shift that you see underway right now?

Hawley: Let me shift that into two categories. One is pedagogical shifts, shifts in the way we teach, shifts in the way we learn. The others are more of the traditional IT infrastructure shifts. I'll start with the infrastructure shifts. It certainly relates to the shift into cloud computing, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service. You know we need faster, we need rapid deployment, we need integration of diverse systems. We can't afford to build monolithic, monstrous ERP systems, whether that's PeopleSoft, or in our case we use Banner for our HR, finance and other areas. We can't afford to have one piece of monolithic software that we customize ourselves in a million ways and operate that.

I believe that the I in CIO is changing to chief integration officer. We can't afford to build it ourselves anymore; we have to look out there, grab pre-architected specific solutions, integrate them with our data and, quite frankly, build a wholesale ecosystem of multiple cloud services and get out of this idea of five-month requisition periods for hardware, then having to configure monolithic software that can't integrate with other pieces, and then feel like we have to build and customize our own. Let's pick and choose; there are so many amazing solutions out there in the industry. So that's a big shift in the development and infrastructure side.

I believe that the I in CIO is changing to chief integration officer. We can't afford to build it ourselves anymore.

Eric Hawley

Now, let me shift to the pedagogic side, which I think is a more strategic conversation around the changes in higher education. When we're thinking about classroom technology and learning technology, we talk about the flipped classroom. We'll hear that quite a bit, the idea that students can come prepared with a certain level of knowledge so that the classroom experience is not a duplication of Google. We have to shift the technology and the support systems for the learner so that they aren't using higher education just for another version of Google. Higher education needs to have a teaching shift so that we're talking about the human experience, the connections, the relationships, the organizational shifts that occur with access to all these facts that are important to know; but it's not so much the facts we know, [but] the experience around them that we need to know, and how they change the human experience.

You look at things like classroom capture and lecture capture, where we change the idea that students are there madly taking notes about facts, so they can pay more attention to the conversations and connections in the classroom. So if they're worried about a particular fact or something they need to [remember], they can sit there on their tablet or smartphone and press a button that says, "Hey, remind of this point, or this is a point I need to study or come back to later." Then they're spending their time paying attention to the conversations and the interactions in the classroom, not spending their time writing notes and trying to replicate a database of facts, which we can now provide through technology, not just through Google and existing info but by capturing live all of the diverse feeds that happen in a classroom, so that they can go back and refer to those as well as bringing in the flipped classroom pieces, whether that's Khan Academy or some of the other great resources out there to change teaching.

Wow, that's really huge.

Hawley: It's really big; that's just one technology shift. We could continue talking about Massive Open Online Courses [MOOC], but I won't go into that; there's a lot of industry-speak about that right now. But it will be interesting to watch MOOC and the difference in face-to-face interactions in those areas. So that's a sample of some of the major technology strategy shifts underway. And, of course, the separation of the teacher and the learner, which is kind of what we see in MOOC, whether that be in geography or separation of time, whether we're talking about synchronous learning or nonsynchronous learning. Technology, the way we're introducing it, is changing the way we teach and changing the way we learn pedagogically. And that's a huge area that we need to focus on quite a bit.

Sounds very exciting, like very interesting work.

Hawley: It's interesting from a teacher perspective, it's interesting from an IT perspective and it's very interesting from a student perspective. When we implemented our first classroom capture technology, it was amazing to see the difference in how students behaved when they didn't have to take notes like mad to prepare for some random exam and they could focus on the discussion. Huge shift in how we do things due to technology. And I was one of the first pilots here at Utah State University when we did that. Wow, it was like a sunrise for many students when they realized what they didn't have to do and what they could do, and they're now knocking down the doors of faculty and asking for this and, boy, now I've got to find funding to expanding it.

That's a good lead-in to what I was going to ask next: What technology you think stands to give you a competitive advantage? Maybe it sounds a little odd to ask about competitive advantage in education, but it exists.

Hawley: Oh, it's not odd at all! It's a hugely competitive marketplace. And there's not a one-size-fits-all for education. We have different people attending different schools for different reasons in different phases of their lives and careers. And the neat thing about technology is technology allows us to adapt education to these different audiences effectively so that we don't necessarily have to be one-size-fits-all. You know more robust, accessible, higher-quality classroom delivery technology is something that I think stands to give traditional higher education a huge competitive advantage. It allows us to extend courses to underserved populations, geographies where there are immense untapped markets, where there is a great desire to retool a career, go back to school or start school where someone traditionally could not go back to school because they're working in rural, underserved areas. Their economy and their lifestyle is centered geographically and they can't necessarily afford to or don't want to, for example, leave the family farm in a rural area, come for a traditional residential education. Then [we] end up leaving rural America in the lurch, as we pull people out of communities rather than bring education into communities. So clearly, the ability to change how we deliver education via technology and get that out to underserved populations who have a huge need and a huge thirst for a lot of these pieces is absolutely big.

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Second, going back to changing the way we learn and making it less of a lecture-capture, classroom approach. Making the classroom more exciting and more relevant and less drudgery, note-taking and memorization -- that attracts a different type of student. The other thing that I would say when we talk about technology is the idea of research technology. We're a large research institution and when we can bring the exciting science -- whether that's around how we teach and how we learn, whether that's around new materials that are being developed in engineering or science units on campus -- we can bring that into the classroom to get people excited about science, technology, [engineering] and math. The technologies that support research are huge, and you bring those into the learning experience and you've got stuff you just can't get from a standard degree-program textbook approach from a different level. When I say technology, it's not just about the new software we installed that enabled XYZ or the new hardware we installed that enabled XYZ; it's also about outcomes that technology produces in research or in other areas that we can bring into the learning experience to get people excited about changing the way we do things and changing the way the world works.

In the first part of this podcast, Hawley discussed some of the biggest challenges in IT today and how he's addressing them. In the final segment, he shares his perspectives on mobility and BYOD policies and what he sees as the biggest risk facing higher education today.

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

This was first published in August 2013

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