Redefining the Role of Technology in Education

By Interview of Sue Workman, Vice President and CIO, Case Western Reserve University

Interview of Sue Workman, Vice President and CIO, Case Western Reserve University

Sue B. Workman, Vice President for University Technology and Chief Information Officer at Case Western Reserve University, has had more than three decades of experience in a broad range of functions within the field of Information Technology. In her role at CWRU, Sue is responsible for creating the vision and strategies which enable the delivery of technology solutions that support Case Western Reserve University’s mission of teaching, learning and research as well as the day‐to‐day functions of the university. In an interview with Education Technology Insights Sue B. Workman discusses about how technology is changing the dynamics of education. 

In light of your experience what are the challenges you’ve witnessed happening in the education technology space?

In higher education the big issues include everything from retaining the value of a higher education degree, delivering that value, and ensuring students are well-prepared for the existing job market. We, as an industry, are going to face difficulty in the years to come because of the enrollment and funding challenges in colleges and universities, and only those institutions that are preparing now will survive. We must start thinking about doing things differently and more efficiently while still adhering to values and practices that have been longstanding in higher education for hundreds of years. It is time for us to take a new perspective and see how can we do this differently in a way that might be better for our students, faculty, and staff.

"We need to provide simpler, cheaper, safer and more user-friendly environments to our general audience and to our faculty, staff, and students"

How do you get the changes going at your organization?

The key is to get the stakeholders to support our initiatives from the outset and we do that through lots of talking and good listening. Not only do we get our highest senior level administrators onboard for change but also faculty, students, researchers – whoever will be affected. Students are typically the easiest; they are generally more open to change. But in order to ensure buy-in from students, we have to do a lot of interactivity and make changing easy without requiring too much time for training. We need to make any change a value-addition to faculty and staff jobs and not something that could be perceived as a waste of time. So, if there is any change activity— whether it’s in technology or elsewhere—work is needed to align stakeholders.  I also find it best to include them in planning and decision-making along the way. I try to engage various audiences before making a big decision, so that by the time an implementation is ready to launch, there is no need to go out and sell it at that point; it’s already sold.

How do you see the evolution of the learning management space a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

We are starting to see change happen in the LMS environment at a faster pace and it’s good. It’s not like we are changing just for the sake of change—we are actually innovating and making the platform more user-friendly and be more agile, which is difficult—not just from the user’s experience but also from the point-of-view of the IT organization. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that can help by automating the repetitive tasks and saving people time and energy for higher level thinking or tasks. This has powerful potential. There is also great potential emerging with AR/VR/MR, and at CWRU we are already in the mixed reality mode of teaching. I see this as opening great possibilities for teaching and learning, and at CWRU we have started to see how that can benefit our students.  Greater innovation is possible through opportunities for us to provide more user-friendly environments to our audience, faculty, staff, and students. In addition, there is so much starting to happen with AI and even in the applications development. We have a chatbot that we released a year ago, just for this purpose.

Would you like to give a piece of advice for the CIO community as to how should they approach the technology?

My first piece of advice is to embrace it, and have fun with it, and help your staff have some fun with it as well. You have to allow your technical staff to experience new tech, formulate their ideas, and play with the mechanics to see how they might apply it to help your campus. We must be willing to take some calculated risks and try it out. We also need to be willing to accept if something is not going to work. Certainly, enterprise software is still in a very old architectural model, in my opinion, and I think we need to see if we might design better, and more secure options. So, I would say embrace technology and change, try to find people at your organization who will enjoy these kinds of challenges and changes and let them work on it and begin to build knowledge around it. There are some different dynamics depending on the type of institution; research universities may have a few different challenges than a community college and may have to move more quickly. But I think every institution is going to have to figure those dynamics out, in order to support their audiences while also coming together to both influence the market and even share the expense to get some things developed.

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