When the pandemic emerged, IT and academic leaders at Bucknell University worked closely together to make sure faculty had everything they needed to succeed.
IT and faculty leaders formed a remote learning team that offered training in how to teach effectively online. Tech support staff extended their availability to answer student and faculty questions. The university expanded its WiFi coverage to outdoor locations over the summer to support faculty who wanted to teach outside when students returned to campus.
“I think the pandemic in some ways transformed our relationship,” says Vice President for Libraries and Information Technology Param Bedi. Although IT and academic leaders have always collaborated well at Bucknell during Bedi’s 12-plus years in this position, “it became a true partnership,” he observes.
One of the few positives to come out of the global pandemic is the integral part that campus CIOs have played in planning and supporting high-quality instruction at their institutions, says Kathe Pelletier, director of the Teaching and Learning program at EDUCAUSE.
At the most successful colleges and universities, CIOs have always played this part. But, that isn’t the case at every institution. Taking on a larger role in academic conversations amid the shift to remote teaching and learning could allow CIOs to demonstrate their value in contributing to instructional decisions, Pelletier says.
“In a quick, informal poll, we found that 71 percent of senior IT leaders have reported an increased role in making decisions about academics and are confident that these changes will stick after the pandemic,” she says.
The relationship between IT and academics should be “a two-way influence,” Pelletier notes, with each area informing and contributing to the other. That was the case at Bucknell long before the pandemic hit, as Bedi — who serves as both CIO and dean of libraries — has been heavily involved in helping to shape the university’s vision for instruction.
Shortly after arriving at Bucknell, Bedi worked to create a Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship group within the Library & IT division. The goal was to help make Bucknell a leader in digital teaching and research.
“When I got here nearly 13 years ago, we had only three people in our instructional technology group,” he says. “We’ve gradually added expertise in areas we felt we needed to make instruction highly impactful for students. For instance, we hired GIS specialists who are helping faculty and students use GIS technology to advance their research and scholarship, and we have digital media specialists who help faculty and students use digital video and other media.”
Because of these efforts, Bucknell was well positioned to transition to remote learning during the pandemic. “We had many of the tools and pieces already in place,” he says.
How can campus CIOs effectively support high-quality instruction at their institution? Here are three keys to success.
Listen to faculty.
“CIOs often focus on deploying technology and then get out of the way, thinking their job is done,” Bedi says. “I would tell CIOs: That’s actually when your job begins.” CIOs must engage in a constant dialogue with faculty and academic leaders about how best to support and achieve instructional goals with the aid of technology.
The culture and organizational structure of a college or university can help foster this dialogue. “If institutions have both the CIO and the provost or another academic leader sitting on the president’s cabinet or serving in a strong advisory role, then these conversations are going to happen in some formal way,” Pelletier says. At colleges and universities where this structure doesn’t exist, CIOs might need to make more of an effort to reach out and create opportunities for these discussions to occur.
At Bucknell, “we have a really strong governance process,” Bedi says. A faculty committee within the Library & IT division, called the Committee on Library & Information Resources, helps inform IT leaders about the needs of faculty — and Bedi is in close contact with the provost and other academic leaders about the university’s vision for high-quality instruction and technology’s role in supporting it.
“We have our fingers on the pulse of instruction and what our faculty need to be successful,” he says.
Anticipate their needs.
CIOs should be forward-thinking as well, and not just reactive to needs.
“Don’t just wait for faculty to tell us what they need, but try to anticipate what they need, get out in front of that, and create new opportunities for faculty,” Bedi advises. “When we first started the Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship group, some people rolled their eyes and questioned why we needed it. Now, we have become national leaders in digital teaching and research. We also secured a National Science Foundation grant in 2017 for a high-performance computing cluster. Not too many schools our size have that, and it’s being used heavily by faculty now.”
Understand key technology trends and developments that can support high-quality instruction.
Developments such as mixed reality and adaptive learning technologies hold great promise for teaching and learning, Pelletier says, and CIOs should pay attention to these and other emerging trends with an eye toward which technologies might best support their institution’s goals for instruction.
“A CIO needs to be able to influence academic leaders and share his or her expertise in terms of what tools exist and how these might fit within the current IT stack of the institution,” she concludes. “But the other side is being able to listen to the academic strategy and respond accordingly.”
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