Joel Reeves, Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Chief Information Officer, University of Tennessee
In light of your experience, could you please talk about the emerging trends that you see in the Education space?
I started my career at the University of Tennessee as an undergraduate student in information technology. In 30 years, I went up the ranks in my career and worked in several positions. I played the role of an administrator of applications in my initial days. Over time, I became the head of the Administrative Student Information Systems, and later on, moved on to an associate CEO’s role. I had my hand in a number of things and then became the CEO in 2012.
Within these 30 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the education space. First and foremost, I recognized that a manager needs good people around him to help him execute his duty and thus lead his functional area to success. I am blessed to be surrounded by strong and dedicated staff, considering their discipline. They are very savvy, keeping up with current trends. They are trying to keep us on the right track. Today, we need to be vigilant and clever to see down the road, and look at what is coming. We also have to understand that we can’t just drop our existing systems and technologies, because when you’re managing these services for an enterprise like the University of Tennessee, adoption of a new system or technology won’t happen overnight.
"We have tocreate the right combination of old and new technologies to serve the wide variety of people associated with the education space"
It is evident that some technologies take years to roll out. Let’s consider the adoption of 5G for instance. 5G is going to be wonderful and impactful, across all industry verticals. This wireless technology is going to be a game-changing innovation, not only in terms of businesses but also in other segments of human life. However, the sad part is that all devices in the world are not capable of adopting 5G, thus making several people stay away from the innovation. Therefore, as a University, we should be flexible enough to allow everybody to catch up with new technologies. In this scenario, we can’t just drop the older technologies and adopt the new because, at the end of the day, the instructors and the students need the technology that serves their functional area.
What according to you, are the significant implications of technology in the Education Space?
I would like to say that technologies can make a massive impact in the education sector. Everyone associated with the arena is using multiple mobile devices to deal with their daily activities intuitively. They use it, but don’t typically want to know about the technology. I think it has become so ingrained and pervasive that people don’t want to be technology experts anymore. They want the technology to make their job easy—be it learning, teaching, or research. They want the technology to align with their skills and needs seamlessly.
To this end, what we have to do is make the right combination of old and new technologies to serve the wide variety of people associated with the education space. On campus, some people are obsessed withold technologies and do not want a change at all. Simultaneously, we have students who are keen to adopt newer technologies. We have faculty and staff who are working with us for more than 30 years. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain the right balance between the needs of this diversified population. We have mobile phones, wireless systems, social media platforms, collaboration tools, and email, which are still pervasive and common among all. Therefore, just adopting, say Slack, won’t serve a majority of our needs.
What are the strategies or initiatives that you have adopted to drive your organization toward success?
In the last couple of years, we were on a drive toward deploying technology into our classroom stack. Our goal was to improve the visibility and engagement within the classrooms. In order to effectuate this, we have implemented a technology to bring in wireless connectivity into the classrooms. As a part of our program to enhance engagement between staff and students, instructors want to move around the lecture hall. While moving around, they were not able to focus on the content presentation. We have introduced wireless connectivity inside classrooms in a bid to eliminate this. With this new technology, they can move around amongst their students, making better and effective engagement possible. In addition, instructors can have students share their devices with the class, to foster engaged learning and collaboration. Better engagement would lead to better chances of student success.
We have faced several challenges while heading toward achieving this goal. The key challenge in managing standardized classrooms, which is more than 250 in numbers, was financial constraint. Technology has a price, and keeping it updated can be a costly process. Several years ago, we, for the first time in history, increased the student technology fee to focus on classroom technology stack and keeping it updated. We provided devices and other subsidiary pieces of equipment to our instructors so that they can operate multiple projectors and do different things in the classroom. The results were inspiring. The replacement of decade-old technology with modern and advanced technologies has created massive transformation in the operations of the university as a whole. Instructors seem to enjoy the wireless connectivity to the classroom stack as they can be active amongst the students. Furthermore, we have enrolled more students, and our graduation rate has increased.
Considering the current advancements in technologies, what are the key priorities of education institutions?
In my opinion, the topmost priority of educational institutions is to continue to focus on gathering more data, its analysis, gathering insights, and leveraging those insights effectively to increase student success metrics. Several technologies have been used for this purpose—learning management systems, interactive classrooms with wireless connectivity, Internet of Things, and more. However, our concern is on using this data to build an insightful resource to enhance our capabilities in terms of enrollment, teaching, engaging, and so on. We have to find the academic levels of students and identify what might be the most helpful tool for them for their success.
What are the key strategies that you follow for selecting the right technology partner?
The methods and strategies will vary depending upon our demand. As a public organization, we have to follow certain purchasing guidelines and need to ensure that we respect student privacy. Faculty and students will always be a part of our core evaluation team throughout the process.
Listening to others and taking the input to make the right decision is the key to success. A service provider must listen to people and act according to their needs. Keep your eyes open and be flexible in that regard. My message to the readers is that providing technology services and higher education is an extremely fulfilling career, which keeps you young, and that these are great places to work.