Feb 12 2019

Chief Innovation Officers Join the Campus C-Suite

This emerging leadership role helps higher ed institutions flourish in the new landscape.

Technology is rapidly changing higher education. In addition to the influence of mobile devices and online connectivity, technologies such as sensors, robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence are beginning to affect how we live, work and interact. This includes what students expect from universities, as well as the professional landscape for which they are preparing. 

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To Succeed as a CIO, Culture Matters

Five years ago, Georgia State University recognized that a new kind of leader was needed to navigate the ways in which technology is reshaping higher education. The university looked to the private sector, where “innovation” roles were becoming more common. 

At that time, I was the vice president of innovation and product development at a global financial technology company. I also had experience shaping educational practice through helping to develop a primary school in India, which delivered hybrid coursework digitally to an area with limited high-quality options.

Since becoming the university’s first chief innovation officer, and one of the first in higher education, I have had to continually evolve and define the role.

I oversee the technology operations responsibilities of a traditional CIO, but I am also tasked with providing leadership to position the university ahead of the future of teaching, learning and research — in short, helping to develop the “digital university” of the future.

Truly pioneering institutions make innovation a priority throughout the organization."

Phil Ventimiglia chief innovation officer at Georgia State University

Innovation cannot be the sole responsibility of one individual or unit, and truly pioneering institutions make innovation a priority throughout the organization. However, one aspect of my role is to foster and grow Georgia State’s prevailing culture of innovation. To do so, my team leverages trusted cross-institutional collaborations focused on advancing key activities on campus. 

Our Instructional Innovation and Technology organization, for example, includes a Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, which acts as a catalyst to encourage faculty to explore new methods of digitally enabled instruction. 

Through this collaboration and others, we test innovations with rapid prototyping, proof of concepts and pilots to determine which will work, which to tweak and which to replace with others that work better.

Rethink the Familiar During Digital Transformation

As we work to build our next-generation digital university, we are looking at both how and what we teach. How we teach focuses on leveraging technology to enable new methods of instruction that extend and enhance learning moments. 

We are working with faculty to replace traditional textbooks and lectures with more interactive experiences. Adaptive learning courseware, for example, creates personalized learning pathways based on real-time student interactions. These are complemented by active-learning spaces that give students tools for experimentation and creation. 


Digital Literacy Pilot Takes Off on Campus

In one pilot, we started a digital literacy initiative in which we worked with faculty across disciplines to develop course assignments that encourage students to solve real-world problems using technologies common to each field.

Students then asked for help to continue developing their digital skills through entrepreneurial and professional activities, such as hackathons. We helped them start an organization that acts as a peer-learning community, hosting workshops on digital concepts, such as programming, and teaching soft skills, such as delivering a business pitch. 

This, in turn, developed into a co-curricular, experiential learning program that engages in creating solutions to local challenges using digitization and the Internet of Things. Now, we are exploring ways to bring these learning components back into our core courses. 

With each implementation, we learn more that can be applied to helping all our students obtain the skills to succeed in the 21st century. As chief innovation officer, my role is to continue to guide the exploration of these experiences. And as the intersection of technology, innovation and learning continues to take higher education in new directions, we’ll likely see more such roles in the future.


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