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Innovation: Rethinking the Future of Higher Education

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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. 1 (January/February 2010): 4-6

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.

The economic downturn has caused many college and university leaders to question — even more frequently than usual — what the future of their institutions will look like. But the future challenges for higher education are not just financial. Information technology has catalyzed society-wide changes. Rethinking the future of higher education must take the innovations of the digital age into consideration.

James Hilton, Vice President and CIO at the University of Virginia and an EDUCAUSE Board member, speaks of digital-age forces such as disintermediation, asking whether faculty, students, classrooms, and courses must always be bundled together as "a campus." What happens if they are separated? Another force is consumerization. Will higher education in the future continue to look like traditional colleges and universities, or will it look more like the University of Phoenix or Capella? In addition, commoditization has already had an impact on campus IT organizations: students bring their own laptops, mobiles, and other devices, often preferring what they bring to what the campus might provide.

Many historic challenges are amplified by the digital age. Along with issues such as access, retention, and graduation rates, students of all ages today demand greater engagement and flexibility in terms of resources, support, courses, and degree programs. Cost, another perennial challenge, is driven by a human-intensive model, by IT and infrastructure needs, and by regulatory and compliance demands. Sustainability too has become a society-wide challenge in recent years: although information technology brings great power and opportunity, these come at a price in terms of energy and e-waste. Other challenges for the future of higher education include assessment, productivity, and accountability.

The articles in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review address these future challenges and issues. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, authors of the best-selling book Wikinomics, argue that if colleges and universities can open up and embrace both collaborative learning and collaborative knowledge production, they have a chance of surviving and even thriving in the networked, global economy of the future. According to Brenda Gourley, former Vice Chancellor and CEO of the Open University in the United Kingdom, lessons from our history lead to questions for the future of higher education: is innovation being embraced quickly enough, have we reached a scale necessary to the task, can technology help, can we bring more hands to the wheel, and are we managing and leading in appropriate ways? The third feature article draws from a recent white paper compiled by four higher education associations: Australia's CAUDIT, the United Kingdom's JISC, the Netherlands' SURFfoundation, and EDUCAUSE. These associations agree that although the purpose of higher education has not changed in centuries, information technology — with its drive for innovation and entrepreneurism — has increased the options for widening that purpose from the campus of today to the future of society worldwide. And lastly, in a web-bonus article, William H. Graves makes the case that the time is right for higher education to pursue "best for the world" strategies enabled by the strategic use of information technology to improve learning productivity by serving more students more effectively while simultaneously creating a privately and publicly affordable, stable financial model for learning — thereby transforming the educational opportunity of today into the educational assurance of the future.

Throughout 2010, EDUCAUSE will continue to explore the future of higher education in the digital age; these explorations may take the form of publications, podcasts, conference presentations, special working groups, and/or partnerships. A second EDUCAUSE theme for 2010 is cloud computing. In the future, owning an asset may no longer be the key to providing services to students, faculty, or staff. Access may be more important than ownership. In spite of the hype and hyperbole, many in higher education information technology consider cloud computing to be the future. If so, much will change. Many services may no longer need to be provided by the campus; instead, the provider may be "above the campus" in a cloud. If the IT unit's role moves more toward "sourcing" and away from "providing," what does that mean for the skills needed by IT professionals? And if campus users access services in the cloud, how much can an institution trust the security and privacy promised by the service providers?

The third theme for EDUCAUSE in 2010 is student engagement. With demand for postsecondary education and student success being greater than ever, student engagement is key. Institutions can provide hands-on opportunities for students to explore by accessing remote instruments (e.g., telescopes) or data sets. Engaging students in problem-solving, in virtual communities, and in active learning is an effective learning strategy?and it is more affordable and scalable than in the past.

Underlying not only the future of higher education but also the themes of cloud computing and student engagement is the EDUCAUSE value of innovation — that is, the seeking of new insights and solutions. Although we cannot know for sure what the future will look like, the light of innovation reveals the outlines of areas we need to explore. I hope you will join all of us in the EDUCAUSE community on our explorations throughout 2010 as we continue "uncommon thinking for the common good."

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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