Navigating a Leaner Future at UC San Diego [video]

min read

UC San Diego CIO Vince Kellen discusses online learning and the budgets in the wake of the pandemic.

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Vince Kellen
University of San Diego

Gerry Bayne: I'm multimedia producer Gerry Bayne with EDUCAUSE, and I'm here with Vince Kellen from the University of San Diego. Can you introduce yourself? Vince, how long have you been at San Diego, and what are your responsibilities there?

Vince Kellen: Yeah, I'm chief information officer for UC San Diego, and I've been here just about coming up on four years now.

Gerry Bayne: What are some of the takeaways that you feel like you're gaining from this lived-in experience? Maybe a positive coming out of this that are speaking to things that needed to be addressed?

Vince Kellen: For me, my career has been the last 18 years or so in higher education as CIO. Prior to that, though, I was in industry as a consultant, where working remote was the norm. Working virtually was the norm. And so a lot of people are having an adjustment to working on premise. To me, I'm just returning back to a state that was 20 years ago.

And so I think the ability for universities to work virtually, both in health, a little bit more difficult in research but in some areas research that's already done, and then mainly in instruction, is a big takeaway. In many universities there is a deep, deep hesitancy to consider instruction online or remotely to be worthy. But I'm a product of an institution, both of my master's and my PhD program, that had afforded me the opportunity to use remote instruction for a good portion of my course load during those times. I would not be here without it.

And it is a bona fide learning mechanism. I think it's real. I am hoping there'll be enough faculty who will after this say, "Well, that wasn't so bad. I can actually weave this into my classes." And higher education in America is facing the transformation of who we teach to be much more involving or skewed toward workers, not the traditional undergraduate population. Well, that's going to vary from state to state, and certainly our state is one of those that's blessed with a lot of traditional undergraduate students. The ability to reach out to adult learners in modalities that work with them is extremely important.

Vince Kellen: And so, hopefully, the one thing I think we can get out of this is a much stronger use of digital technologies to help learners who are struggling with work-life balances, to use it to enhance their learning, not necessarily to replace the face-to-face, because that will always be here, but to enhance it and to give the learner opportunities to continue to learn, despite whatever difficulties they may have.

Gerry Bayne: I've heard several people say, I don't know if this is still going on, that this is not online learning, this is just teaching online. They want to delineate this too. But isn't that a great way to kind of to get everybody on board of what the tools are for online learning?

Vince Kellen: Well, I'm going to critique that distinction. It's a continuum. It's not a binary classification or a three-level classification, it's a continuum. I always remind people, Abraham Lincoln was a great remote learner without an instructor and only a book. So that's our outstanding student. Then we have students who learn in other ways. They need a community presence, they need people around them to learn.

So, we have to think of this not even in that simplistic of a way. The way humans learn is very complicated, and it's complicated based upon individual differences in the learner. And so we have to be sensitive to that, to recognize this as a spectrum of abilities. And I'm here to say that, while they've...some people say remote instruction isn't online instruction, it depends on the audience. For some, that is fantastic and that's all they need. For others, it is not nearly enough.

So, the psychology of instruction is such that it's fairly complicated to work out what exactly are the affordances each needs for maximum learning. So, we need to treat this as a sophisticated and complex spectrum of capabilities and needs, not just as simple discrete two or three key categories of thinking about it.

Gerry Bayne: Is there anything that you'd like to say that we haven't touched on in regards to dealing with the pandemic and serving your students and faculty?

Vince Kellen: I think what also this pandemic has done is, it's obviously going to have a significant and serious budget crisis for institutions. And so now institutions are going to have to consider the realities of what they do versus their prior beliefs of how they think they can do it. And when the two clash, you have to change your prior beliefs.

So prior beliefs on how to organize an institution to deliver now have to be challenged and replaced. And so, the academy has done this for a thousand years, it's always adapted to different stresses placed upon it. And this is one that I'm hoping will be able to adapt to, which is, we can find ways of organizing ourselves differently, especially in administration, so that we can get leaner and thinner, and transition more of those resources directly to the core mission.

Unfortunately, prior beliefs, prior mental models, hold people back in that notions of territory and turf, for example, weigh in. But when you start to do things virtually, you need less facilities and you can reallocate some of those resources over to core-mission areas, especially into the instructional realm. So, hopefully this will be an opportunity for the academy to come to a new prior belief on some things.