Insights Gained from Pandemic Response [video]

min read

Three higher ed IT leaders discuss some of the lessons they are learning as they respond to current challenges.

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Cynthia Golden
Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director,
University Center for Teaching and Learning
University of Pittsburgh

Ann Kovalchick
Associate Vice Chancellor & CIO
University of California, Merced

Jack Suess
Vice President of IT & CIO
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Gerry Bayne: What do you think is the biggest positive that's going to come out from adapting to this situation in terms of your strategical thinking?

Ann Kovalchick: I think one positive experience, particularly from my perspective as a CIO charged with delivering technology resources and services that transform the institution in some way, is that leadership have this lived experience using technology. So when I talk about some of the challenges around adopting and delivering a tool or selecting a tool, it's no longer sort of a techie thing or a black box. I mean, people really recognize that these tools are basically running the institution at this point. And there's a lot of them that we don't have that I have suggested we adopt that didn't seem important at the time. And now there's a little bit more interest.

I think the other thing is that people have realized that technology is complex but can be managed. And what I mean by that, I did a short session for a group of leaders and I pointed out that using Zoom, Zoom is going to look different on your desktop than on your iPad than on your iPhone than if you're accessing it through the browser. That's how technology is designed these days, for better or for worse. There's no trick there, that's just how challenging it is to design a usable technology. And that you do have to go in and you have to understand where your settings are, how they're set, what your preferences are, what's optional, what's default. It's worth taking that time. And that this is not a reflection necessarily on one's competency in using technology, it's just the reality of how these tools are designed and delivered and take a few moments to figure out how to use it.

You've got to keep your OS updated. We've had folks across the campus who let us know that they can't connect to a VPN. Well, it turns out they're on Windows 7 and, well, you got to keep your Windows updated. It's like you got to keep oil in your car and change it, same idea. And so I think this has helped underscore that there is some care and feeding of these tools, it's not enormously difficult, it just takes a little bit of time but gives you then the value and a more streamlined, frictionless ability to manage the technologies.

Cynthia Golden: One of the things I think is a positive coming out of this from the faculty perspective is that some of the faculty who might not otherwise have made the leap or taken the opportunity to look at some technologies and the impact that they can have on your courses have now had the opportunity to do that. And so incorporating them in future teaching, whether it's for remote teaching this summer or fall, or a hybrid course that they might now consider in the future, I think has had a positive benefit. And I've actually talked with some of our deans about that.

Jack Suess: I think about what are the potential benefits, I think about some areas that sort of broadly I think EDUCAUSE talks about in digital transformation. And so one is that we have probably gotten 50 DocuSign forms completed for business processes that in the past people said could never be changed from paper, such as signing off on PhD committee activities. Well, now it's a DocuSign because we had to be able to put it in place to be able to support letting students complete their PhDs this semester. And so simple things like that that in the past we just said, "No, no, no, we can't touch that process." We've been able to touch some of those things and across a wide variety of areas. It's such simple but low-hanging fruit that has sort of happened.

The second one that has really been there is we've begun to see the value of learning analytics. We've produced two reports the first week that went out coming out of our learning analytic data. We were able to show faculty for their list of courses, they could click a button and they could see any student that hadn't logged in in the last week. So immediately they could quickly find, because we were taking all of our LMS data and showing them, "All right, here's the students who didn't log in. You might want to reach out. Or let us know and we'll have our academic advocates reach out." So that was one area that in the past there's always the question of, "Well, what use is learning analytics?" And so just being able to give them some quick curated reports that help them understand how students are doing.

The other report that came out that was really interesting is we looked at what students were only accessing their course through mobile, and we were then reaching out to those students to say, "Do you not have a computer?" And what we found actually was most students said, "No, we just prefer mobile for using the LMS." So, those are two sort of quick wins.

The third win, which is still I think out there for me to be seen if it happens, but I can see a pathway to it, is broadly having faculty take a look at their learning outcomes of their course and be thinking about how they do assessment. And this gets back to the point that Anne was talking about with proctoring and other things. If you're in this world, these high-stakes assessments are not the best way to be doing this kind of remote learning. And so I think if we have an opportunity to really train faculty who are teaching in the summer and then do a more significant training for the fall, we'll have the opportunity to be working with our Faculty Development Center and having these conversations about what are direct measures of learning. How can you be thinking about these things differently in these courses? And how can we help you be able to make that transition? And if that happens, that'll be a very positive because that's something that we think will help all students probably going on into the future.

Ann Kovalchick: The situation now has allowed all of our stakeholders to have very direct experience around the value of technology. Whereas previously, you had people who were early adopters and you had people who just weren't really interested or people that saw the value and others that really didn't think, "Well, what's the use?" That challenge around addressing simple problems that…which has a lot of resistance. I think now everybody has had this direct experience using technology, and we would be wise to really build on that and to dive in and understand what people really need and want and think because now they have experience that has meaning to them. It's again not abstract, it's not this sort of techie thing that the tech people are doing. It's not a fad. And so we have to be willing to listen to where it's been effective and successful and where we might need to improve or mitigate the challenges that have come up.