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Evolution and Innovation


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© 2010 Diana G. Oblinger. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 45, no. 6 (November/December 2010)

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

Comments on this article can be posted to the web via the link at the bottom of this page.

In the field of higher education information technology, our conversations often center on technological innovation: mobility, cloud computing, social media, augmented reality. But technological innovation is not guaranteed to have a positive impact. It can bring complexity: issues of adoption, integration, financing. In addition, the gatekeepers of success involve people and organizations, and as Gary Hamel observed in his talk at the 2010 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, organizational innovation typically lags technological innovation.

The articles in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review are predicated on technological innovation. Yet the focus is not on technology; rather, it is on the services that technology provides. The authors of the cover feature article remind us that fundamental principles—such as equal access—should be guiding our use and application of technology. Cyndi Rowland and her colleagues point out: "Even though modern assistive technologies and digital media can enable unprecedented access to information and services, for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities, equal participation requires equal access." Universal Design for Digital Environments (UDDE) can help create new capabilities that will serve everyone in the campus community.

In the following feature article, Molly Tamarkin and her colleagues on the EDUCAUSE 2010 Evolving Technologies Committee ask: "How is technology evolving, and how it this changing your work?" One shift they cite is from technology to service. "The growing distance between computing assets and computing services shifts the focus away from the gadget or the tool and back to the person using it—to the individual." Those individuals may be students, faculty, or staff. Their questions are less about the tools and more about balancing technology with the business of technology and about maintaining alignment between the institution's goals and the tools that help achieve them. Answering these questions will "require IT leaders to become, themselves, a continually evolving technology: You 3.0."

As a case in point, Ron Yanosky traces the trajectory of enterprise IT through fifty years of changing technology—and changes in mindset. He comments on the dissipation of IT assets themselves: "The hard assets of IT are simultaneously proliferating and dissipating—moving up into the clouds and down into pockets and purses." Control of the assets will not determine authority or effectiveness in the future. "Cloud-based services make an increasingly wide spectrum of resources—from raw computing power to sophisticated business applications and rich collaborative environments—available to anybody with an Internet connection." For IT leaders, the keys to the future are people-oriented skills such as education, influence, and negotiation.

For the optimum effect, whether in business or in education, our organizational models must be chosen wisely and must be based on lasting principles. In his book The Future of Management, Hamel uses a variety of companies as examples of management and organizational innovation. He suggests that the Internet may be the best metaphor for 21st-century management. And, Internet-inspired management can lead to organizational innovation. For example, many successful companies have opened up the strategy-setting process to customers and the public, ensuring that "management" is not insulated from the front-line. As Hamel observes, experienced managers may not make the best management innovators. He advocates using the many ideas that can be generated to create a "just try it" culture, emphasizing that continual experimentation is the best predictor of future vitality. The Internet is a "multiplier of human capability," making it easier for people to do the things they love to do—connect, chat, brag, opine, share, and learn.1

Hamel suggests several reasons the Internet is so adaptable, innovative, and engaging:

  • Everyone has a voice.
  • The tools of creativity are widely distributed.
  • It's easy and cheap to experiment.
  • Capability counts for more than credentials and titles.
  • Commitment is voluntary.
  • Power is granted from below.
  • Authority is fluid and contingent on value-added.
  • The only hierarchies are "natural" hierarchies.
  • Communities are self-defining.
  • Individuals are richly empowered with information.
  • Just about everything is decentralized.
  • Ideas compete on an equal footing.
  • It's easy for buyers and sellers to find each other.
  • Resources are free to follow opportunities.
  • Decisions are peer-based.2

Perhaps this list should form the basis for organizational design principles in higher education. For many of us in university information technology, innovation and changes in technology have been a central focus. But perhaps our focus should increasingly turn to the ways the Internet is changing us and our organizations. As the members of the EDUCAUSE 2010 Evolving Technologies Committee observed, technology requires IT leaders to continually evolve. We have an opportunity to invent the future—not just of technology, but of ourselves.  


1. Gary Hamel, with Bill Breen, The Future of Management (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007), p. 119.

2. Ibid., pp. 253–54.

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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