Main Nav

Today’s Clash of Cultures on Campuses and the Role IT Needs to Play – NOTES

Today’s Clash of Cultures on Campuses and the Role IT Needs to Play – NOTES

2009 EDUCAUSE/NERCOMP Regional Conference General Session

Providence, Rhode Island

March 11, 2009

Speaker - Morris Beverage, President, Lakeland Community College

Abstract:  Campuses today face a growing number of clashing cultures. Faculty struggle with traditional methods of teaching in an environment where demands for flexibility and convenience are rising. Learners increasingly treat a college degree like a commodity. Battles rage over resource allocation. External constituents exert influence on campus operations and outcomes. This session will address these issues and the role IT departments need to play to help higher education not just survive, but thrive.

This session was recorded for podcast which should be available before the end of March.

Beverage compared the clash of cultures in higher education as not dissimilar to the infamous Hatfield and McCoys longstanding feud between two families.  He noted that not only did they have the feud with each but the also had internal clashes within their families.

Role of IT

Non-IT folks don’t get it (IT), or what it (IT) is, but are grateful that we do it (IT).

Today’s scenarios are not predictable and it’s because we regularly put a technology before sociology. 

Seventh graders are texting answers to test to each other – and it is actually remarkable that we didn’t even think about this a possibility.

VATech crisis spawned the need for emergency notification systems and most higher education institutions now have great systems in place – however, students are not standing in line to get on the system like we thought they would be.

The never completed French public transportation system Aramis followed the ubiquitous discussion about rapid mass transit of the 1960s.  There was lots of talk but France said they’d actually do it.  It was funded in 1969 to build individual units and have a system in place that was environmentally friendly, then in the 70s they realized that pods would be better than individual cars.  Those thoughts migrated to small pod cars and then on to discussions of how to couple the pods.  The project survived until, after 20 years and billions of dollars, it was abandoned.

Take-away:  Needs of technological society are different that the needs of a sociological society.

We need to distinguish between the two



Relationship based

Interactive of people with people


Economy is a social system – how we act with each other financially

The “strength” of weak ties is that, in order to get a job done, you need a quantity of connections – not just a few good connections.


“Thing” oriented


Interactivity is of things with things


Technology used for his presentation – equipment connected together


Anything man-made, an artifact; an object embedded with knowledge

Overhead projectors had some knowledge embedded in them but it was fairly simple and the light bulb was the critical piece.  It was easy to fix yourself as long as you had a light bulb.   Now the projection systems have a lot more knowledge embedded in them and you have to call an expert to fix them – you can’t just replace a light bulb.

Socio-based culture vs techno-based culture

Interative                     Exponential

Gradually evolving     Eager to embrace change

Evolution                    Revolution

Build upon                  Replace

Lots of grays               Black & white

Fractions                     Binary

Smash, the two worlds collide – something we see repeatedly in higher education.

Socio-technological systems occur when people and things interact.

Example:  Bicycles - girls wore skirts which meant two different kinds of bikes.  Bicycle technology was built to accommodate sociological need.

The idea of carrying a cell phone moves the issue from “are you chewing gum” to “is your cell set to vibrate”

Socio-technological systems tend not to fail for lack of technology, but rather for social reasons.  Beverage reminded us of the Aramis project mentioned earlier and related the story of the Payne Stewart’s plane crash.  Everyone was dead inside and the plane was on autopilot until it ran out of fuel – the cause was loss of pressure in the cabin.  One pilot was always to be wearing a pressurized mask so s/he could continue to fly the plane and resolve the issues.  But the pilots had gone back to talk to the passengers and neither were wearing the mask.  When asked why pilots don’t wear the mask, the response  was “because it’s hard to talk with a mask on.” 

Take-away:  We need to identify the context of our technology within the current sociological environment.

It’s an “us” vs. “them” world now – but who is “us” and who is “them”

Evolution of service paradigms

Instructional paradigm – a college of university is an institution that exists to provide we with instruction (student)

Learning paradigm – college or university is an institution that exists to provide me with a learning opportunity (customer)

Commodity Paradigm – a college or university is an institution that exists to provide me with a degree (purchaser)

Take-away:  Impact on faculty is significant and we need to understand the pressures under which they are working.

Students expect seamless transferability

Students expect convenience factor

Students expect a degree (they’ve purchased it)

Student evaluations can drive the teaching process and the evaluation process is very subjective.  At www., faculty are rated on quality, easiness & sexiness.  Research shows that for faculty with at least 10 student posts, students gave sexy professors higher quality and easiness scores than their non-sexy counterparts rather than more objective values of learning.

Faculty also feel strong administrative pressure to expand the use of technology within their instruction, seemingly to many to be putting the technology before the instruction.

Game show questions about what presidents think?

What is their number one concern?  Money

With whom do they meet weekly?  The CFO

What is the single issue for which presidents feel most unprepared?  Fundraising

How would they rather spend their time?  Golfing

Take-away:  IT is not even on the president’s radar screen.  Monetary pressures are intense and money to do IT is big.  To make matters more intense, software (which you can’t see and touch) is more expense than hardware.

Some thoughts about bout higher education -

Higher education is now serving the “economy”

Increasing emphasis on workforce development

Spellings commission – need to change to a system based on performance.

Changing relationship

Academia used to be held in high esteem

State was tolerated

Industry was service

Now they are all connected

A changing culture within higher education

Our past paradigm focused on faculty

The new student paradigm comes from serving transactional students who pay a fee for services (tuition) for a degree and their demand for alternative delivery options.

Student Consumerism survey items:

I would take a course in which I would learn a little or nothing but receive at A.  73.4%

It’s the instructors job to keep me attentive in class.  52.6%

It is now also a contractual relationship.  The Court upheld the right of a university to deny a degree to student who killed another student only because he had not adhered to the student conduct rules because otherwise he had completed the requirements for the degree.

While cheating is a defection against society, student cheating has become central and many rationalize it because of the perceived pressure they are under to succeed.

Again, we have competing cultures.

Beverage asked “but does it have to be this way?”

How do you compete?

How do you strike a balance?

Take-away:  We have social-emotional intelligence on one side / technological knowledge on the other.  It is the integrated view of the world, the yin and yang, not one or the other but both working together that will make a difference

Beverage says that we must become bilingual because, quoting from the film “Cool Hand Luke” “Gentlemen, what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Take-away:  Philosophy of a good communicator:

We must assume 100% of the responsibility for both understanding what the other person means and also making sure that the person you are communicating with understands you.

We must understand the sociological and be able to translate it into the technological as only then, can we create a technological solution to the sociological problem.

The challenge we face in the example of ‘cheating’ is that technology makes it easier and harder to detect.  We need to figure out sociological ways to discourage cheating.

The planning loop is to translate the social first into the technological problem, then to a technological solution, before we can then restate it back as a sociological solution.  Each problem and solution changes the sociological orientation.  As it is constantly changing it becomes a loop.

Take-away:  If we want to get ahead in our careers, the biggest impact on a technical  career is not to take more tech courses, but to go learn about people.

Beverage recommended the components of emotional intelligence and the book “The Allure of Toxic Leaders”

Beverage had illustrations in his slide set to describe how power works.



                                                            Social competencies

                        Social awareness         /

                        /                       \

Self awareness                                    Relationship management

                        \                       /

                       Self management


Personal competencies

Powerbase for effective leadership


Personal competencies


                        Self Awareness

                        /                       \

Self management                    Social awareness

                        \                       /

                 Relationship management


                                                            Social competencies

There is no single answer or solution to one’s powerbase as each person needs to figure out where they are in the system.

Concluding thoughts

[Slides showing] Edward the Bear (Winnie-the-Pooh’s real name) being dragged bump-bump-bump down the stairs by Christopher Robin.   “Must be another way - - “


Q:  Regarding the consumerization of Higher Education - Why aren’t presidents more vested in this area?  

A:  Presidents are looking for the money to fund what their good people need to do… they are spending their time getting you the resources you need.

Q:  How does this fit into socio- techno discussion

A:  Role of IT is to mediate between people and people, and people and stuff but not between stuff and stuff.  Technology is an enabler of social need.  Example:  the challenge of obesity.  We understand nutrition but we are still raising kids with this disease.  We know what’s right. We have the right food.  But how we use it is the issue - it’s not itself the issue.

Solutions lie in the technology space until we change people.  Technology did not create the problem.  People created the problem in how we use the technology.

Q:  What the hardest part of the job

A:  Finding time to think is the hardest part of the job.  The mind never shuts down.  Beverage does a weekly blog – “musings” which gives him the opportunity to formulate the ideas.  His writing enables the emergence of ideas that can be shared and built upon.

Q:  How can IT help our institutions get thru this financial crisis?

A:  We’re in severe trouble and there will be a large washing out of institutions. Long standing colleges and universities will go away and the pressure on us as citizens will be major. 

There is no financial capacity to increase our face-to-face capacity so we will need to move to online learning.  We know this know and we need to deal with issues.

Tags from the EDUCAUSE Library

Tags from the Community