Time to Invest in Readiness Commitments for the Future

Rob Lowden, Vice President and CIO, Indiana University Bloomington

Rob Lowden, Vice President and CIO, Indiana University Bloomington

In less than 18 months the global COVID-19 pandemic propelled colleges and universities through what might have otherwise taken 5-10 years to evolve online education delivery alongside on-campus education.  Many colleges and Universities have been proactive in their planning and acknowledgement of this shift; however, the Coronavirus pandemic shone a light on those that were prepared and those that lacked the technology infrastructure and planning to make a shift quickly and effectively.

The pandemic demonstrated that IT teams who had already become a strategic partner with the teaching mission realized the value of successful preparation,learned and earned collaboration skills, and an ongoing capability maturity which will be the foundation for innovation into the future. 

“Never let a catastrophe go to waste”, too often organizations respond to changes in the marketplace in a reactive mode.  IT is no different and even when organizations know things like business continuity and disaster recovery are critical, it unfortunately often takes a major event to heighten the awareness of the problem to a level of action.  Whether that was Katrina in 2005 and the substantial attention and investment organizations began to put into disaster preparedness, the COVID-19 Pandemic and the rapid pivot to all online learning, to most recently the attention and resources being thrown at defending against ransomware.  Now is the time for campuses and their IT teams to invest in their readiness commitments for the future.

“Successful preparation, which includes making strategic investments in products, services, and infrastructure well in advance of major crisis, makes all the difference when these crises occur.”

Successful preparation, which includes making strategic investments in products, services, and infrastructure well in advance of major crisis, makes all the difference when these crises occur.  For example, Indiana University had long since provided a common and ubiquitous Learning Management System with add-ons and 24-hour support.  Faculty and Students had resources and support to innovate and succeed with the platform.  IU spent years working with course capture technology, streaming, and other online pedagogical tools in support of its education mission.  These meticulous steps in collaboration with the faculty ensured when the next challenge arose, the IT team was prepared to be a trusted resource and partner with the faculty. 

Given the potential for major crises, IU’s keep teaching.iu.edu was created well in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It provided detailed resources for transitioning to teaching online in the event of campus or building closures or unexpected events. In addition, the IU Online platform made learning possible wherever and whenever with hundreds of online classes and over 100 online academic programs. Next.IU helps faculty explore and advance digital education at IU, by participating in pilots and helping shape the future of learning technologies at IU.

Deep collaboration with Faculty and academic units is not accidental.Collaboration is an earned skill and takes time, trial and error, and substantial effort and communication to mature within your organization.  IU has a long history of large-scale collaboration not just across IU but in collaboration with numerous other leading institutions in the country.  Collaborative projects like Sakai, Hathi Trust, Kualiand Unizin have sharpened our collaborative approach.  Collaboration comes with substantial overhead and is almost always more challenging than moving forward alone and in isolation.  That said, the results of a successful collaborative effort far exceed the possibilities of going it alone and can return exponential results. 

When you have the appropriate amount of preparation in place and have achieved a successful level of collaboration with your colleagues, innovation begins to happen naturally.  Faculty in the academy, when given the time, resources and appropriate IT infrastructure can achieve monumental outcomes.  For example, over a decade ago, working with Faculty, IU began an early exploration into eText initiatives to do something about the high price of textbooks.  The technology was early in its maturity as the business models for the publishers were not yet established and comprehensive software packages to support a large-scale operation of such magnitude simply did not exist. 

IU leveraged its IT organization, in collaboration with the faculty and began innovating in this space in 2011.From those innovative roots,IU developed one of the most successful eText operations in the country.  In calendar year 2020, the program distributed more than 200,000 eTexts and saved students $8.01 million making college more affordable for tens of thousands of Hoosiers across the state. The program allows students and faculty members to access digital course materials anytime, anywhere, and with any device. IU eTexts has successfully evolved from being a digital version of paperback textbooks. Today, IU eTexts encompasses a full range of digital learning tools, courseware, including games, simulations, and video feedback tools.The IT team is working to create partnerships with campus libraries, increase the use of open educational materials and faculty-created materials, and increase the use of IU eTexts to at least 75 percent, from 56 percent, of the student population over the next 10 years.

When collaboration happens to address a fundamental barrier or problem in higher education, innovation happens. Successful preparation, learned and earned collaboration skills, and maturity will continue to be the foundation for innovation into the future. 

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