How Technology Can Transform the Student Experience

By Tom Andriola, CIO, University of California

Tom Andriola, CIO, University of California

Q: What technology trends are shaping higher education?

Various technologies are starting to change the nature of the education industry. First, cloud computing has enabled organizations to deliver solutions that are much more agile than traditional on-premise offerings. Second, the focus on data and analytics is creating completely new ways of thinking about vexing challenges, such as improving student success and retention. I think we will see a lot of innovation in this space with emerging methods using machine learning. And third, for research universities that conduct a lot of sponsored research, we’ve seen a new partnership emerge among the research faculty, the vice chancellor of research, the university librarian, and the chief information officer. The research enterprise has become even more datacentric, and differentiation in grant proposals starts to rely on availability of data sets, their curation, and the unique data enhancement techniques that accompany top-tier research settings. There is a short list of universities that are really prepared for this new world.

Q: What are some of the best ed tech practices you’ve at present?

We have ten campuses within the UC system, and so we see a wide variety of practices and maturity around a topic like this. One of our goals has been to build a stronger fabric for best-practice identification and deployment so that we can spread concepts that work to other campuses more quickly. 

"Every student should be provided with the best possible opportunity to learn and succeed at their goals"

Campuses such as Berkeley, Riverside, and San Diego come to mind when I think of that ones are pushing the boundaries of innovation in the use of ed-tech technologies and the data that comes from them. For example, UC Riverside (UCR) is part of the University Innovation Alliance and is doing some amazing things working with other colleges across the US. UCR’s work on increasing graduation rates for low-income and first-generation students is recognized as a model across higher education. A growing area of research at UC Berkeley is looking deep into learning management system data. UCSD is in its early stages but our CIO is one of the industry thought leaders on combining and utilizing diverse data from across the campus environment.   

Q: How does UC stay on top of change and pick the right solutions and partners?

That’s a great question and an ongoing challenge. Our CIOs would tell you technology is changing faster than any of us can follow. We have a little bit of an advantage because as a system we can “divide-and-conquer” to some extent. For example, I can track cybersecurity, while one of my colleagues stays up to speed with student information and learning management spaces. 

However, sometimes we all need to have the same level of understanding on a topic. In our case that’s often when we’re trying to figure out the best approach – will each campus do its own thing, will we build a system-wide strategy, or will we use an in-between model, what we call the coalition-of-the-willing? All models work for us. As an example, at the moment, we’re exploring what our strategy will be around cloud computing. So we put aside two days for the leading vendors and advisors to come in and brief the whole CIO group, thus setting a baseline understanding for our discussions.

Q: What’s going to be the next big thing in ed tech?

Let’s not make it about technology. Let’s make it about the students. Every student should be provided with the best possible opportunity to learn and succeed at their goals. This perspective drives us to think about creating a personalized learning experience for every learner – one that involves not only content but also interactions with other students, faculty, and industry practitioners; one that takes into account learning styles; one that is tailored for who they are, where they are, and what they want to accomplish. To do this, we need to compile and analyse all the different data available to make the next decision for each student. 

Now armed with that perspective and information, we can come into the conversation with ideas on how technology can be an enabler of our grand vision. These are concepts that other industries are using for customer centricity or mass personalization and we can adapt them to education to create a different type of experience and level of result.

At this point, we are ready to talk about the next “big” technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud, blockchain, and augmented reality. We can link them to emerging concepts like guided pathways, microprograms, and blended-experiential learning. As an example, at one of our peer medical institutions, students will be trained for surgery not by cutting cadavers but by using a virtual-reality setting only. This is a completely different way of thinking about education, and we will see more of this as technology brings more possibilities to the table.

Q: What advice to you have for today’s CIO?

Being a CIO at a college or university is a tough job. The CIO role in any widely dispersed organization is challenging, but in higher ed, it’s even tougher because there’s a tendency to silo activities and every aspect of a campus is evolving with technology. The CIOs just cannot be in every conversation they need or want to be in. However, I do think higher ed CIOs need to widen their focus and help their campuses reach a holistic view of the university and its students. Today, CIOs need to maintain relationships across many different groups, be a convener, and create a vision for how they can best support students in the pursuit of their goals. Challenging, yes, but doable. 

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