Reflections on the EDUCAUSE Senior Directors Institute

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Attending the recent EDUCAUSE Senior Directors Institute offered opportunities to reflect on issues such as leadership strategies, the cultural shifts caused by digital transformation, vendor and contract negotiations, and the importance of IT governance.

five light bulbs suspended in a dark space
Credit: Scott Norris Photography / © 2019

Being awarded the Diane Balestri Memorial scholarship, which is intended to help women build their knowledge and professional networks, granted me the access to continue to grow and evolve in my profession and to be part of a small but mighty group of female colleagues at the Senior Directors Institute (about one-quarter of the 51 participants were female). I am thankful for EDUCAUSE's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in opening up scholarships for more women and minorities to participate and attend the EDUCAUSE Institute and conferences. The dedication and commitment of IT leaders at various institutions gave me a sense of renewed energy, fresh ideas, and most of all, hope.

As a member of the EDUCAUSE community, I am excited about the work that IT leaders are engaged in to bring about exciting changes in the higher education world. Following are some of my takeaways from the Senior Directors Institute.

Reflexivity on Learning

While we often take time to reflect after the fact, we rarely take the time to reflect in the moment. The term reflexivity has been coined by many qualitative researchers, who define it as a process in which one continuously engages in a fluid, dynamic, and more immediate self-awareness.1 I had the opportunity to engage in reflexivity after each session at the Senior Directors' Institute; below are a few of my in-the-moment reflexivity learnings.

Leading Up, Down, and Across

Being a senior director means being in the middle—that is, being a buffer and constantly mitigating the tension, politics, or potential conflicts from leading up, leading down, and leading across. It's this state of dialectical tension that one must constantly navigate in order to be efficient and productive in one's role. Do I focus on being strategic, tactical, or both? Most importantly: Is my institution ready or primed to be strategic? What's my organizational culture and its layers? How do I unpack and promote cross-collaboration within my organization and externally with all constituents?

Navigating Cultural Shifts Caused by Digital Transformation

Changing a culture requires more than just implementing and moving the pieces around; it requires a mind shift and a sense of readiness to engage in the change process. However, a lack of system or process can also impact the culture's readiness for change. At my previous institution, I worked with faculty members to successfully institute a Digital Literacy Program. Since implementing the program, the momentum at the institution has shifted from being digitally literate to digitally fluent to digitally transformative. To be digitally transformative, an institution must first be digitally literate and have a culture that promotes coordination.

As our student, faculty, and technology landscapes continue to evolve, so, too, does the ever present need to be intentional in our adoption and adaptation of tools. As higher education IT leaders, we must think strategically about what would make the most sense for our students and our campuses and consider how adoption and adaptation would help to maximize or improve the flow of our services.

Leading from the middle requires me to inspire and motivate my team to follow along with my vision of why we need to create a transformative culture. Leading up means that I need to liaison with my CIO and upper administration as to the importance of creating a digitally transformative culture on campus. Leading across requires that I engage in continuous partnerships and relationships with faculty across the campus—learning what they do, what's important to them, how they teach, and what they need to be successful. Navigating relationships with my team, faculty, staff, and adminstrators—and juggling multiple priorities—results in a constant state of dialectical tension. The dynamics are fluid at any given moment, but maintaining relationships with my team, CIO, administrators, and faculty is crucial to the success of a transformative culture.

Managing Vendors/Negotiating Contracts

Another reflection I had in the moment is that being a director also opens up a whole new realm of possibilities with vendors and contractual negotiations. Institutions simply cannot sustain all of their services internally. Various contractual negotiations and vendor help are crucial to ensure that we get the support we need. As IT solutions continue to move to the cloud, IT leaders need to be even more mindful of data governance and security, which contractual agreements we choose to sign, what vendors we choose to partner with, and if the decisions we make are mutually sustainable and viable in the long run. Just like a well-oiled machine, the IT organization will work like clockwork only if all of the pieces fall into place and work together. The institution—from top to bottom—must share a common vision, and its faculty, staff, and leaders must work together for the common good of the students they serve. This is the promise of a better tomorrow, a better future, and a forward-thinking landscape that will benefit us all as we move forward in the 21st century.

Using Data to Make the Case

EDUCAUSE's Leah Lang held a session on incorporating data into storytelling that was eye-opening for me. She outlined the following ways to present data: storytelling, creating a data pantry, choosing data, visualizing data, and serving data. The big takeaway for me was to always start with the "why," then the "what," and then the "how." A good story includes the following elements: conflict, character, setting, plot, and theme. Lang's final point hit a homerun for me: "If you start with data, you are doing it wrong." I learned a new set of tools on how to present data and, most importantly, to always tell a story and focus on the audience and its level of understanding of data.

IT Governance

What is IT governance, and why is it important? This is another area of learning for me; I came from a teaching and learning background but was exposed quite early on to the importance of IT governance in higher education, thanks to my previous CTO. Governance enables the higher education IT department to be more efficient in its processes and the campus to be more successful in meeting the needs its constituencies with respect to software procurement, systems change, training, development, streamlining resources, reducing waste and cost, and maximizing efficiency. More than ever, the IT department ought to be viewed as a collaborative partner in higher education rather than as an afterthought. IT governance enables the institution to prioritize and be strategic and transparent in its processes.

There are many models of IT governance, and those models vary according to the needs and size of the institution and, most importantly, where the institution might be in terms of culture. Is the campus unaware, absent, ad hoc, or undefined? This matters because it helps leaders to prioritize operationally, strategically, tactically, and innovatively. Is the role of the IT department on your campus that of the survivor, IT supplier, solution/service provider, strategic partner, or innovation anticipator? If the IT department is positioned to be the innovation anticipator, then think about the following:

  • What are your campus' needs?
  • What challenge is your campus facing?
  • What does your campus need from the IT department?

In a nutshell, IT governance is complex and involves many moving parts; it requires a cultural shift at the institutional level and education of the wider campus community before strategic partnerships can be launched.


In summary, the Senior Directors Institute gave me the opportunity to get to know my IT colleagues deeply, including the work they do and the challenges and struggles they face at the institutional and operational levels. The connections that I made with people who have similar goals was enhanced by the highly interactive and engaging format, and both meant that I took away many lessons.

For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Professional Development Commons blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development page.


  1. Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon G. Guba, Naturalistic Inquiry, (Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1985).

Jase Teoh is Director of Academic Technology at California State University, Stanislaus.

© 2019 Jase Teoh. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.