< Back to Main Site

EDUCAUSE review onlineEDUCAUSE review online

Higher Education in the Connected Age


Homepage [From the President]

Diana G. Oblinger is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

The change started with the network. Moving digital information instantly from one place to another has reshaped delivery systems, business models, and economics and has led to the globalization of almost every industry. However, this "network effect" is about more than the dissemination of information. It is about connections. We are no longer in the information age—we are in the connected age. Everyone and everything is interconnected. Anyone who can access the web can participate. The connections magnify the reach and value of not just information but also our relationships, creating opportunities for learning, working, and collaborating on an unprecedented scale.

Higher education has always been about more than information, no matter how quickly that information can be disseminated or how much of that information can be stored. Our institutions have always been communities driven by connections—connections among faculty, students, research, education, disciplines, communities, and the institutions themselves. In the connected age, it doesn't matter where the information is, where the student is, or where the faculty member is. What matters is the value that comes from the connection.

Learners are connected. They connect with other students, faculty, advisors, and their families and friends through multiple systems and applications. Learners also need to connect formal and informal learning, education and exploration, the physical world and the virtual world. Information technology can enable those connections as well. The data that institutions collect can be used to provide feedback to students and to offer them the next opportunity. Analytics can be used to reveal pathways for students, whether those are personalized learning pathways, course-selection systems, or tools to ensure students stay on track to graduate. And for those learners whose academic careers encompass multiple institutions, information technology can make the process of connecting credits to credentials more seamless and productive.

Faculty are connected. They are connected to databases, archives, tools, and other scholarly resources. They are connected to students. They are connected to colleagues. They are connected within their discipline and to other disciplines. They are connected within higher education and to the world at large.

Institutions are connected. Colleges and universities have local, regional, and global alliances. They interchange students, faculty, and staff. They interact with entrepreneurs, established industries, and governments. Whether through public service, education, or scholarship, our institutions rely on technologies, applications, and systems to sustain an expanding range of connections that are critical to higher education's mission.

For our learners and scholars, "connecting the dots" is critical. Scholars from multiple disciplines may need to collaborate to find answers to "grand challenge" questions such as those affecting the environment or health issues. In the connected age, data, collaboration tools, and communities can come together in ways never before possible. Students may need to connect the dots between different disciplines, such as science and literature. Information technology can help. Immersive learning experiences, augmented reality, simulations, and other tools enhance our ability to "teach information" to help students develop the valuable skill of transfer—of being able to take what they know and apply it to a new area. Transfer is a 21st-century skill that differentiates high-impact learning from information age approaches.

Technology makes the connected age possible. Cloud networking allows us to connect to data, applications, or services regardless of location. The implications of the cloud go well beyond where the bits are going (or coming from). Ownership of an asset becomes less important than access. Technology enables pervasive and continuous access, not only to information and ideas but also to resources, tools, people, and communities.

If everything is connected, we can connect, disconnect, and reconnect. BYOD is an example. Consumers are choosing to mix and match devices, applications, providers, and more. Megan Fitch, in "The Wild-Card Character of 'Bring Your Own': A Panel Discussion" in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review, observed: "We need to embrace BYOD not to save money but to be able to spend money instead on specific technical capabilities that our community members really need from us and that they find unquestionably valuable as they pursue their goals at our institutions." Another panelist, Michael McPherson, commented: "This is a unique moment in technology, a fundamental shift in the expectations, needs, and technology self-determination of our users. . . . What is different this time is ubiquity—the fact we can assume that virtually all of the members of our communities have access to some sort of computing device." BYOD can be extended to a much larger scale with "bring your own everything" (BYOE), even to the institutional level. Colleges and universities are contracting with third parties in order to add "private label" services. Many institutions are using the "put your logo here" approach for products that range from student support to website services to online degree programs.

If everything is connected, institutions can connect data and integrate advising systems to improve student success. In "Bigfoot, Goldilocks, and Moonshots," Josh Jarrett describes systems that provide online advising and personalized student support for degree planning. Such systems might alert a student who just enrolled in a course: "You just moved yourself from the four-year plan to the five-year plan. Are you sure you want to do that?" These interconnected systems help the institution as well. Arizona State University's eAdvisor system, for example, lets the institution know, three semesters out, "how many class sections it will need, which means the university can be much more efficient with classroom space and faculty time. In addition, once the university knows who is on which path, it can use predictive analytics to determine which students will need help staying on the path. As a result, ASU went from 22 percent of students 'on track' in their programs in 2007 to 91 percent on track in 2010."

If everything is connected, questions may be raised about institutional affiliation and roles. Individual faculty members are offering their courses, independent of their institution, to MOOC providers. Some institutions are disaggregating faculty roles, separating course development from mentoring, tutoring, and evaluating. In "Thinking about Accreditation in a Rapidly Changing World," Paul J. LeBlanc suggests this "may signal new possibilities for how faculty members are situated within the industry. For-profit StraighterLine has announced a model for 'self-employed' faculty to teach courses: faculty set their own price models and share the tuition revenue. Similarly, Udemy offers 5,000 courses in which the professor sets the fee and shares 30 percent of the revenue with the company." With MOOCs, the "course" is disconnected from institutional credentialing systems. As LeBlanc observes, these new models "reinforce the notion of learners 'grazing' or assembling their learning from multiple sources." Although a MOOC can be independent of a particular institution, it can be reconnected in different ways through testing and competency measures. In a world where individuals and institutions are choosing to bring a bit of everything together into a degree, questions are being asked about whether accreditation should be at the institution level, the course level, or the provider level. LeBlanc notes: "Accreditation is now faced with assessing learning in an increasingly disaggregated world with organizations that are increasingly complex, or at least differently complex, and that include shifting roles, new stakeholders and participants, various contractual obligations and relationships, and new delivery models."

Pragmatists may ask: why bother with a notion like the connected age? Because metaphors matter; they help us integrate what we are experiencing into a coherent picture of where we are and where we might go. Information technology is about more than information or the information age. Information technology can change learning experiences, catalyze new forms of scholarship, reveal pathways, and interconnect a world that is highly interdependent. Information technology can enable alternative business models that have disrupted many industries—and that may disrupt our own.

Information technology is about connections, which are fundamental to our institutions, our faculty, and our students. Information technology forms a vital neural network—it isn't plumbing. If we can shift the metaphor we use for information technology—the way information technology is seen and understood—perhaps we can realize more of the potential that resides in the best uses of information technology.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 48, no. 2 (March/April 2013)


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 2,400 colleges, universities and education organizations, including 250 corporations. Previously, Dr. 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, Dr. Oblinger has become known for innovative product and services growth as well as international outreach. For example, Dr. 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 Game Changers.

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.

Dr. Oblinger serves on a variety of boards including the American Council on Education (ACE), and DuraSpace. Previous board and advisory service includes the board of directors of ACT, the editorial board of Open Learning, the National Visiting Committee for NSF's National Science Digital Library project, and the NSF Committee on Cyberinfrastructure. She currently serves 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.

Dr. 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 eight books: The Learning Revolution, The Future Compatible Campus, Renewing Administration, E is for Everything, Best Practices in Student Services, Educating the Net Generation, Learning Spaces, and Game Changers. 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 three honorary degrees. She is a graduate of Iowa State University (bachelor's, master's, and PhD) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi.


Tags from the EDUCAUSE Library

Most Popular

Stay Up-to-Date

RSS Email Twitter

Share Your Work and Ideas

Issues coming up will focus on designing the future of higher ed, digital engagement, and new business models. Share your work and ideas with EDUCAUSE Review Online.

E-mail us >

Annual Conference
September 29–October 2
Register Now!

Events for all Levels and Interests

Whether you're looking for a conference to attend face-to-face to connect with peers, or for an online event for team professional development, see what's upcoming.


Digital Badges
Member recognition effort
Earn yours >

Career Center

Leadership and Management Programs

EDUCAUSE Institute
Project Management



Jump Start Your Career Growth

Explore EDUCAUSE professional development opportunities that match your career aspirations and desired level of time investment through our interactive online guide.


EDUCAUSE organizes its efforts around three IT Focus Areas



Join These Programs If Your Focus Is


Get on the Higher Ed IT Map

Employees of EDUCAUSE member institutions and organizations are invited to create individual profiles.



2014 Strategic Priorities

  • Building the Profession
  • IT as a Game Changer
  • Foundations

Learn More >

Uncommon Thinking for the Common Good™

EDUCAUSE is the foremost community of higher education IT leaders and professionals.