Many say that the one position in education that has evolved the most in recent years is Chief Information Officer, both in K-12 and higher ed. In higher education, the scope of fast-paced changes in technology are breathtaking. And unlike K-12 where the CIO/CTO position is still seen as the individual that keeps the network up and running, the higher ed CIO has become something of a star.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the CIOs of three very high-profile programs: The Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC, The Sloan School of Management at MIT, and The University of Chicago School of Business. I encourage you to watch the interviews in their entirety, but I’ve excerpted some interesting thoughts here.

We Continually Strive for a Seamless Student Experience with EdTech

– Georgia Allen, CIO at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill

Georgia Allen is the CIO at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She works with students of today–advanced digitally literate students who have used technology their entire lives. There are challenges in presenting EdTech to students where technically complex improvements need to appear simple. I asked Georgia what was important to her as the CIO.

“It’s about making sure that our education is a space of learning excellence. It’s a world where we have students coming up through K-12 who are digital natives. They’ve been using technology since they started kindergarten.

It’s important that technology is a part of their education, but doesn’t get in the way of learning excellence. It should enable our faculty in their teaching, and allow our students, who have an expectation of “anywhere at any time,” that it’s about what education technology can bring when the traditional face-to-face has its limits.

In today’s world, we’re moving towards a nimbler IT environment, and we need to deliver faster. We are leveraging cloud services, cloud platforms, and software as a service in many ways to increase the speed of delivery.

Many of those platforms come with their own identity and access. In our case, we are leveraging identity access management tools that allow for a single sign-on for our students across platforms.

It’s important that our students have a seamless experience, whether they are in the face-to-face classroom or they are in our learning management systems with online instruction. As they move to another platform through that learning management system, their identity needs to be consistent across the experience.

We have our internal systems that we build, custom-developed applications versus the platforms, and our students experience it all seamlessly. They don’t know that they have traveled from one in-house system to a cloud platform; and identity access tools allow us to do that.

How do we know what tools, platforms, and systems to use in an educational environment?

With our faculty, which has truly started to embrace learning technologies in their teaching, we do a lot of pilots. We will look at new platforms or services. Sometimes they are start-up platforms. Sometimes they fit the Gartner Magic Quadrant so they’re heavy lifters.

We look at all of that and test it with a classroom and faculty member. We talk to faculty members about their learning goals. We talk about what they want that student experience to be. We try it out. As the CIO, I bring in both this innovation experience and pilot experience, as well as the thought process of enterprise delivery. If it’s successful, how do we deliver that across multiple programs, multiple degrees, and multiple courses? Is this start-up in a state in their business that they can support an enterprise rollout?

I do a lot of shark tanking, if you will. I do a lot of explaining, creating momentum, and creating excitement. My office sits right on the hallway. I get elevator pitches all the time. The students love technology. They want to come and talk about it. We talk about “How do I transition or how do we transition the idea you’re presenting into something that could be used at the business school?”

Those are new doors for us in the CIO position that I’m thrilled about. I once had a faculty member tell me that it’s important is that we see every day through our students’ eyes, that the unimaginable is possible. I would say that with technology, that’s where we are as CIOs. It’s to listen to our students and our faculty and know that we can do something that we thought five years ago was impossible.”

(Next page: 2 more CIOs weigh in on goals and challenges)


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