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A Broad View for the Future


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Diana G. Oblinger (doblinger@educause.edu) is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

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"IT professionals may be uniquely positioned to help higher education face the future."

This issue of EDUCAUSE Review addresses our ongoing work, as IT professionals in higher education, of identifying and solving problems. Whether consciously or not, we move through multiple steps:

  • Sensing: Are you aware of changes in your environment?
  • Strategizing: What are your options?
  • Deciding: Which choices will you make?
  • Communicating: Are you able to help others see the need for change and their role in making it happen?

Yet we must do more than simply move through these steps. We must think ahead. We must have the right frame of reference and the humility to listen to others who might have better ideas. We need a broad view for the future.

In the article "The Changing Landscape of Higher Education," David J. Staley and Dennis A. Trinkle help elevate the definition of challenges from issues such as choosing sourcing strategies or mobile platforms to deeper issues such as understanding the changing nature of students and the curriculum and demonstrating the value of a college education. In "Information Technology and Tomorrow's University: A President's Confessions and Advice," Jolene Koester anticipates the question of what information technology has to do with such broad issues. She answers: "Remember that information technology exists to support, empower, and advance the institution's educational mission and business processes." Finally, Patrick Masson addresses these processes in "Open Governance in Higher Education: Extending the Past to the Future," exploring whether colleges and universities can use open principles and practices to improve decision-making and institutional governance.

One theme of the articles is clear: we cannot focus on technology alone. However, we must be alert to the new models it has enabled: Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia, Facebook, Match.com, and Twitter, for example. New models and possibilities are emerging in education as well. Staley and Trinkle refer to the "new invisible college," in which "networked and self-organizing teams of researchers are responsive to new ideas and new research problems." They also note how some scholars have reframed the "brain drain" as a "brain exchange" among many countries. "Academic mobility," which Staley and Trinkle call as much a state of mind as it is the travel of students, professors, and administrators, can be enabled by information technology. Today's constant interconnection of individuals, ideas, and cultures has been accelerated by technology. 

These broad issues are the ones that confront college and university presidents. Koester helps us understand the responsibilities of a college or university president in pursuing high-priority strategic goals. In the pursuit of those goals, she reminds us, the team is all important. And as a member of that team, the IT leader is someone who can contribute to the planning as an institutional leader: "The role is not merely one of vice president for information technology. It is one of university vice president or university senior officer."  

IT models can provide insight for institutional planning. While looking at these models and drawing parallels between open source and open governance, Masson cites truisms that we all should keep in mind. For example, if you aren't solving the right problem, the solution isn't of much value. "Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong." And: "The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users."

IT professionals may be uniquely positioned to help higher education face the future. Yet as all of these writers remind us, information technology is not a sufficient scope for either identifying problems or finding solutions. We must see beyond the technology to the larger issues of strategy, organizational change, governance, and support of the institution's mission. We must frame our issues broadly to find solutions for the future. This is challenging work, to be sure. In the words of Koester, a university president: "Those of you in information technology have the potential for the most exciting present and future work in our colleges and universities. Out of your expertise and vision, in partnerships with those in the rest of the institution and in many cases with other institutions, will emerge major transformation and redefinition of the role and contributions of the college and university. You are at the center of what will change our higher education institutions."

A worthy challenge to our profession. A broad view for the future will help us meet the challenge and succeed.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 46, no. 1 (January/February 2011)

Diana Oblinger

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger President and CEO of EDUCAUSE

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. The current membership comprises over 2,300 colleges, universities and education organizations, including 250 corporations. Previously, Oblinger held positions in academia and business: Vice President for Information Resources and the Chief Information Officer for the University of North Carolina system, Executive Director of Higher Education for Microsoft, and IBM Director of the Institute for Academic Technology. She was on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Michigan State University and served as the associate dean of academic programs at the University of Missouri.

Since becoming president of EDUCAUSE, Oblinger has become known for innovative product and services growth as well as international outreach. For example, Oblinger created the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), known for its leadership in teaching, learning and technology innovation as well as several signature products, such as the 7 Things You Should Know About series. She also initiated EDUCAUSE's first fully online events and its e-book series, including Educating the Net Generation and Learning Spaces.

In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation she led the creation of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a $30M program focused on improving college readiness and completion through information technologies. Partners include the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Hewlett Foundation.

Oblinger has served on a variety of boards such as the board of directors of ACT, the editorial board of Open Learning, the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, and the National Visiting Committee for NSF's National Science Digital Library project. She currently serves on the American Council on Education (ACE) board and works with other higher education associations as chair of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat. Dr. Oblinger has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Employment, Safety and Training and the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Technology.

Oblinger is a frequent keynote speaker as well as the co-author of the award-winning book What Business Wants from Higher Education. She is the editor or co-editor of seven books: The Learning Revolution, The Future Compatible Campus, Renewing Administration, E is for Everything, Best Practices in Student Services, Educating the Net Generation, and Learning Spaces. She also is the author or co-author of numerous monographs and articles on higher education and technology.

Dr. Oblinger has received outstanding teaching and research awards, was named Young Alumnus of the Year by Iowa State University and holds two honorary degrees. She is a graduate of Iowa State University (Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D.) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi.


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