The Top 10 IT Issues and the ELI Content Anchors: Convergence

Veronica Diaz is Associate Director, ELI, and Director of Online Programs, EDUCAUSE. Malcolm Brown is Director, ELI, EDUCAUSE.

Visit the EDUCAUSE top 10 IT issues web page for additional resources, including a video summary, interactive graphics, recommended readings, and more. 

In his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki wrote: "Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them . . . when our imperfect judgments are aggregated in the right way, our collective intelligence is often excellent."1 Taking heed of Surowiecki's insight, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) has been surveying the teaching and learning community annually since 2011 to gain collective insight into the key issues in higher education teaching and learning. The product of that consultation is the ELI Content Anchor Project.

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues and the ELI Content Anchor Survey converge on key areas, bringing together complementary perspectives. The Top 10 IT Issues focus on information technology, viewed through the lens of the institutional IT organization under a CIO. The ELI content anchors represent the teaching and learning perspective, which views technology as a strategic enabler while also focusing on teaching and learning as a broad, intracampus practice. The two themes on which these perspectives coincide and intersect are of special importance: the convergence flags broad agreement about the significance of those issues.

The first intersecting theme is improving student outcomes, which has been on the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list for the past three years (#2 in 2013, #1 in 2014, and now #4 in 2015) and which appeared as assessment of student learning in the ELI content anchors (#1 in 2014). Fundamentally, both lists are pointing to the same thing: the improvement of student learning outcomes through the creative use of technology, which in turn supports greater overall student success. The issue has also been highly ranked in both lists—strong evidence that student success and student learning are broadly relevant across all of higher education today.

An example of this theme is the use of learning analytics as a way to leverage technology to improve student outcomes. Analytics can be a key technology tool that, if used effectively, can lead to measurable improvements in student success and hence to increased completion rates. A learning analytics strategy—embedded into a campus technology architecture that integrates curricular applications, data, and key institutional perspectives—can enable success for students throughout their educational experience.

Another ELI content anchor connected to this theme of student learning outcomes is evaluating technology-based instructional innovations (#6 in 2014). Both the Top 10 IT Issue and this content anchor stress the need for strategically leveraging technology and the importance of assessing the impact of innovations. Most important, this content anchor calls for an emphasis on effective pedagogical practice that is supported by technology, as well as on an exploration of new course models.

The second intersection is between the Top 10 IT Issue of optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning in collaboration with academic leadership (#2 in 2015) and several ELI content anchors: faculty development (#3 in 2014), academic transformation (#4 in 2014), and working with emerging technology (in the top 4 since 2012). The "Top 10 IT Issues, 2015" article describes how important it is to involve academic leadership, especially the faculty, in this process of optimization. The article notes that the most important way to achieve this optimization is to help faculty in successfully integrating technology into their pedagogy in direct support of course objectives. This emphasis on faculty engagement and development is no accident: faculty development remains a perennial issue with the teaching and learning community.

The perspectives evident in the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues and the ELI Content Anchors Project present technology as a strategic enabler of the teaching and learning enterprise, on the one hand, and reveal teaching and learning as a key area of emphasis for the campus IT organization, on the other. When these two perspectives converge, the essential issues and themes come into relief. Given the complementary nature of their perspectives, the Top 10 IT Issues and the ELI Content Anchors Project can together serve as reference points and as points of departure for campus discussions and as a planning framework for development days and workshops. On a broader level, they can be used as a tool for campus strategic planning, not only providing context but also helping to ensure that strategic plans address the full spectrum of institutional issues and opportunities.

ELI will announce the results of the survey for the 2015 content anchors at its annual meeting: February 9–11, 2015.

  1. James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations (New York: Doubleday, 2004), xiii-xiv.