Oct 31 2006

Presidents' Roundtable

College presidents discuss the growing importance of technology and their expectations of the CIO and IT department.

Three university presidents talk about the growing importance of technology on campuses and the role of the IT department.

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EdTech asked three university presidents to share their thoughts on the increasing importance of technology on college campuses, the roles of the CIO and IT department, and their own involvement in making tech projects happen.

William Carroll of Benedictine University, John Muller of Bellevue University and Ronald Crutcher of Wheaton College are all passionate about technology. They each have a unique IT vision to attract students and faculty and to revolutionize the learning process. Here, the three presidents share their ideas on how best to implement IT strategies.

Reinventing the Classroom
By William Carroll

If Sally, who's in the eighth grade, comes to campus and sees a classroom that her mother or grandmother saw, she's not coming here. Technology has to be pervasive in the classroom, in the business office, the library and TV production studios. We have to provide state-of-the-art technology to faculty and work with them to see the educational implications for teaching and learning, or we will get blown away by the competition.

Since I've been at Benedictine, we've gone from an in-house IT department to outsourcing back to in-house. When I came here in 1995, we were in dire need of IT help, but unsure as to what we needed in IT personnel to be successful. Our administrative system was useless. We supported several platforms. We were using several word processing programs and hadn't standardized on one type of computer. So in 1997, I hired an outsourcing firm to manage IT and got IT directors who had an international knowledge base and a national pool of people from which to draw. They migrated us to PeopleSoft's administrative software. They brought order to our confusion, educated us and stabilized us. They did a phenomenal job.

Last year, after a nearly 10-year run with the outsourcing firm, we were in a better position and were ready to go in-house again, so we did. In 1997, I was heavily involved with IT, but now I just set the vision and make sure the right people are hired, then I get out of the way. I don't want to micromanage. I know the mission and vision. My job is to ensure that what we have agreed upon has been achieved and to make sure appropriate resources are available.

It's my belief that we need to reinvent education and challenge faculty members to revamp their teaching style and take advantage of technology in the process. The lecture format, developed in medieval times because of the scarcity of textbooks, is being sorely challenged. Huge online libraries and search engines call into question the very architecture for learning.

Today's students are multisensory learners, and pedagogical approaches must be developed with this in mind. Students can now master content outside the classroom, and professors are able to use their classrooms to do philosophy, history, science, etc.

The role of the president in bringing the academy into the age of technology is multifaceted – cheerleader, cajoler, good cop-bad cop and resource provider. In addition to meeting faculty in various forums, I work through the provost, the deans and through papers I author to try to bring about change. I've set up “faculty playrooms” where state-of-the-art everything is provided, along with coaches to help the faculty, so they can spend time and explore technology in a safe environment. We've also provided grants and brought in consultants to work with faculty to help with the transition.

Our new IT director has listened to me regarding the future of education, and heard me talk about how I want computers to be ubiquitous. His IT budget is about 6 percent to 7 percent of our annual budget. He converses with department heads, faculty and staff, and comes up with solutions. He understands the university's mission and the vision of getting faculty to rethink their teaching assumptions. He's making computers ubiquitous.

My approach has always been a Johnny Appleseed approach – work with a few key faculty, and others will quickly join. We have moved from confusion to order in our IT. We have moved from minimal presence of classroom technology to a robust and ubiquitous presence. From research, to chat rooms, to comprehensive online programs – the very architecture for learning at Benedictine University is changing.

William Carroll is president of Benedictine University, in Lisle, Ill.

Going Online
By John Muller

Information technology has been absolutely mission-critical for Bellevue University. We think the big growth area is online education, and today, 51 percent of our tuition revenue is from online classes. We offer online courses and degrees to individuals, but we're also supporting corporations with online services. We have a separate unit that provides custom-izable content, an online delivery system and administrative support for corporate learning programs.

We began our online strategy in 1997 and offered one of the first accredited online MBA programs. We're trying to build a national brand and get national recognition by offering elaborate training, quality control and first-class administrative support to our online students. We have a trademarked approach to online education with our “Cyber-Active Learning” online learning system. We're also completely Web-enabled on the administrative side, so people can do everything on the Web, such as pay tuition.

We are constantly upgrading our technology. One of the things we're doing is putting in a new content-management system that will simplify Web management and allow us to better cross-sell and upsell educational services. We're also adding an assessment software package that will let all student evaluations be Web-enabled.

My involvement with technology is strategic. We have an elaborate planning, monitoring and assessment process for technology initiatives. Our IT manager is a member of our executive committee. He has to support the strategic direction of the university and do it cost-effectively with good customer service.

For a university to succeed with online courses, you have to have a good quality product. You don't have to create your own learning management system, or even your own learning packages. You can purchase online curriculum from national providers or you can develop affiliation agreements with universities that are sophisticated in this arena.

Within that, you really have to have a distinctive approach and offer high quality and training. For example, we have a separate College of Distributed Learning whose sole job is quality control, instructional design, training the faculty to teach online classes and technical support for students coming into the program.

John Muller is president of Bellevue University, whose main campus is in Bellevue, Neb.

IT Everywhere
By Ronald Crutcher

I often say that IT has become almost as ubiquitous as the telephone was 20 to 30 years ago. It affects everything we do. Our primary role is to support teaching and educate young people, and to do that, we must have a fiscally sound institution. We rely on our IT infrastructure to do that.

When I came to Wheaton in 2004, the CIO was an associate provost who reported to the provost. I changed the position to vice president for library and information services and combined the operations because they're closely tied together.

I meet weekly with the CIO.

What we're trying to do now is address the issue of technology being as ubiquitous as the telephone. In the old days, you would never think of not budgeting for telephone costs. We're discussing the same thing for IT and may set aside a specified percentage of our annual budget for updating our technology infrastructure. Wi-Fi is a big debate right now. We don't have Wi-Fi in the entire campus. It's in the library, the dining hall, the administration building and some academic buildings. We're also debating whether to have a campus notebook program.

We've developed a strategic plan through 2014 with three strategic priorities, and technology plays a role. First, we have a new curriculum called “Connections,” where every student is required to take a set of related courses from two or more disparate subjects, such as architecture and cell biology, and see how they interact. In most cases, technology plays a central role in these classes.

The second priority involves fulfilling students' potential to the maximum of their capabilities. Through a close interaction with professors, we help them exceed their expectations, so when they graduate, they are truly transformed.

Our third priority is to demonstrate success in achieving these two priorities through student surveys and assessments. In four years, we'll have data showing how the “Connections” curriculum plays a central role in helping students become critical thinkers and how we've transformed their lives.

We've spent much time redesigning our Web site to make it more navigable, because it's crucial. We're also developing a portal system for everyone on campus, so all information, such as library services, can be accessed on one home page.

Our CIO is very pragmatic. He presents the problem, tells me what he wants to do and gives me a sense of what it will cost. For example, I think wireless will be great, so I've asked him to determine how we should do it – piecemeal or all at once.

My advice is to work closely with your CIO. It's important to have a CIO who understands the academic enterprise and values the educational process.

Ronald Crutcher, D.M.A., is president of Wheaton College, in Norton, Mass.