12 tech trends higher education cannot afford to ignore


Higher education faces an onslaught of disruptive forces right now—and ​no one should be suprised to hear that news. Burgeoning technologies such as MOOCs and mobile devices are disrupting institutional structures from the classroom and across entire campuses. As tech transforms these learning environments, universities must decide whether to resist the change or get out in front of it. To choose the latter option, however, we need to envision what universities of the future will look like​if they exist at all

Lev Gonick CIO Case Western Reserve University

Lev Gonick, the VP for information technology services and CIO at Case Western Reserve University and CEO of OneCommunity, isn’t afraid of gazing into the proverbial crystal ball.

In his keynote address Tuesday at the Campus Technology 2013 conference in Boston, Mass., Gonick laid out his vision for the future higher ed and campus IT.

“The challenge I’m going to present to you, as the revolutionaries out there, is that it’s not anymore—or perhaps never was—simply sufficient to say that we were there at the beginning," Gonick said during his opening remarks. "What really needs to be considered here is, what are the challenges that we face and how can we remain engaged in that vanguard role while, at the same time, figuring out what we want to hold onto from the past. Not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of the core services that our institutions provide to the broader initiatives in society, because, as these mutations unfold, there are certain things we want preserved and we have to be very clear about what the value [is] of the things we want to preserve along the way.”

[Editor's Note: If you are interested in debating the vision he’s laid out, get in touch with Gonick on Twitter @levgonick.]

Gonick's speech spotlighted the key trends he believes will drastically alter the higher education landscape. Here are the 10 trends that will transform the space:

1. THE DEATH OF PERSONAL COMPUTERS

“It’s OK to say the PC era is dead. And yet […] the cost of our institutional support, for the PC and desk-side support, […] is $4 billion, I would estimate conservatively. […] It’s hard to change. And it turns out even as we can see these inevitable declines of a platform technology, people fall in love with the technology platform like the PC and then we scaffold it with institutional and organizational realities that actually stem the wave of mutations, even though in the secular world, the world of technology, there is this incessant destruction, this incessant reinvention going on […]and our organizations are very, very slow, by their very nature, to make the move."


2. THE PROLIFERATION OF MOBILE DEVICES

"We are still struggling on many of our campuses  on whether or not we should be PC or Mac, our organizations are still fighting that day in and day in, and there are conversations about whether […] local IT should be able to support BYOD […] these conversations are fascinating for the moment in time, but really [they] are of no consequence because the young people, who are currently in our university [and] college systems and who are coming to our college and university systems, have moved on. Check your own surveys of what technologies people are coming to campus with and you will see that their worlds have, in an amazingly fast transformation, moved from PC and laptops to smartpads, tablet devices and the like.

Only three years ago, when I gave a similar presentation, I noted that there were more notebooks shipping than PCs. That was a big deal! Look what’s happened in three years! The tablet industry, which had lots of early false starts, is really taking off in a huge way this year, will ship more than all PCs and  next year will be shipping much more than all of our notebooks as well. And let’s not forget that the smartphone, worldwide, dwarfs all of that! How many of our campuses, how many of you on campus, the revolutionaries, are really feeling like you’re on top of the ability to introduce tablet and smartphone-based educational solutions? If you’re like me, I spend a huge amount of my time on campus trying to provoke, trying to insist, trying to cajole the campus to leave behind the PC and go mobile.

Over 20 years, [I see] the end of the laptop, the evolution of the tablet and the absolute requirement, if we’re going to remain relevant as technology leaders, that we need to be developing—not simply consuming—applications and services that run on the preferences of our students today and tomorrow."


3. THE RISE OF SOCIAL NETWORKS

"The other great religious war we have on campus: should we or should we not outsource email? It’s of no consequence! Should we or should we not […] figure out how to engage students with instant messaging? It’s irrelevant! To our current student body and to our incoming student body that is out there. And that is because both email and instant messaging are on a precipitous decline of use for the 15-24 year old crowds that are there.

The explosion that is underway is with the social networking technologies. […] but we on our campus are significantly mired in conversations that are arcane to our students and , in the future, put us in peril  in terms of spending precious institutional resources on things that truly, truly at this point have been commoditized and students are more and more simply ignoring. No, not every student, to be fair, and not in every geography.

[This slide here] basically shows the social networking explosion that’s underway, especially in terms of young people, is simply a global [phenomenon] that’s taking place and it’s fascinating to see how, all over the world, social networking has eclipsed all other modes of communication. Again, it doesn’t mean that email or instant messaging have fallen away; it’s simply suggesting that the ways in which we have built our institutional capacity to be engaging with our learners is something that needs to be moved to a completely different gear [and] needs to be put on steroids. Otherwise, we will be washed over in terms of the revolutionary impact of creative destruction and we will moan for, we will [wax] nostalgic for the days of yesteryear when we were 'in control.' We are not in control and let’s celebrate it! The question is: how can we remain relevant?"
 

4. THE NEXT GENERATION OF NETWORKS

"When I came to Case Western Reserve University, and certainly when I was in California and Canada before that, we were talking about being able to get broadband that […] could you get 10 megabits off the campus? That was it. If you’re not old enough to remember that, you’re already part of a very important generation that simply takes [that] for granted. And that’s ok. We need to understand that that is exactly what is going on. We now have a global network in the research and education community which is simply the envy of the world. We need to find a way to maintain that edge in a networking environment. 

Let me share with you a few insights about the future of networking on our college campuses that are on the way and share with you the vision that the NSF has begun on 100 campuses, perhaps not yours just yet, called GENI, which is really focusing in on what could actually happen if we actually built a next generation network that was more open than the Internet—that allows for the possibility of end-to-end experimentations, end-to-end uses of channels on the network? […] not simply as a virtual private networks (VPNs) […] Just like we went from the mainframe to some form of a personal computing world we take for granted, we are still in the mainframe era of the network. It’s all one network; it’s all one, big, mainframe-like network and now we are poised towards a very personal networking reality. There will be, in the next 20 years,  a revolution unfolding in the network environment and it affords us enormous opportunity to engage in experimentation and to maintain that leading edge across our campuses and between our campuses and the communities around us."


5. THE PRIVATIZATION OF THE CLOUD

"Certainly, five or six years ago, there was a big debate about whether the cloud was ready for primetime. We can continue to debate that but today I want to share with you another prognostication in terms of the future […]. We have learned some things about the cloud, especially in the last year and, if you want to be more precise, the last couple of months, which are giving a lot of us on our campuses, certainly our faculty, cause for concern. And it does not have to do with the reliability of the service. It has to do with the privacy of the service. The NSA activities that of course exploded in the press in the last month give us all cause for some reflection on how to balance the opportunity to scale associated with the cloud, the robustness of that solution, with, obviously, our concerns for our equally important set of values which involve privacy. To that end, in the next 20 years, I think that you will see a personal cloud infrastructure unfold.

Personal cloud infrastructure, in my view, will unfold in some ways as a peer-to-peer encrypted solution environment. Rather than it being only a cloud that is available in the Pacific Northwest by very large corporate interests, who are all, with very good reason, committed to do no harm, there is no way to avoid the challenge that it presents to all kinds of folks from naïve to nefarious when it comes to being able to tap into those environments. And, clearly, big government is worried about that too. A lot of privacy advocates, and many of you may already know this, are beginning to advocate for a new architecture on private clouds, where you are basically clicking and saving your end-point infrastructure, whether it’s your tablet, smartphone or whatever device it is, to peer-to-peer environments where  the only questions that remains to be figured out—and it will be—is really the keys to the initial encryption exercise."
 

6. THE VALUATION OF X-AS-A-SERVICE

"One of our biggest challenges to work out here is how do we have the conversations on campus about what is in fact a unique contribution that we can offer on campus that, in fact, these X-as-a-services are either at some risk of being unable to fill a void, at least for the time being, or that we actually want to get in front of.  We actually want to get in front of, for example, the opportunity to take advantage of infrastructure as a service and not get in front the research computing cluster, but maybe give it Amazon as a service and get the front-end so that it has a campus experience associated with it. And if there are compliance and regulatory issues that we have to work on, [we need to be] making sure […] where our value-add is in that."
 

7. THE PROMISE OF BIG DATA

"It seems to me that we all acknowledge that Big Data is upon us and I think at the same time it’s fair to say that we realize that we don’t have a compass to navigate how we in the technology and leadership community are going to navigate the tsunami of data available from the learning environment to the research environment. I want to suggest to you that zettabyte-scale research activity is absolutely on the cusp of happening. […]With zettabyte-scale transformational research, [we’re going to have] discoveries from the cures to cancer, Alzheimer’s and the like, these are all combinations of bench science with data science going on. […] There’s just enormous opportunity in front of us and what’s [important] today is our challenge about attending to the scale required to actually support zettabyte-scale research.

No one campus—in fact, no set of anything fewer than probably 25 or 30 of our largest campuses working together—can actually provide for a research platform that will support zettabyte-scale activities that are going on out there. It behooves us as leaders to do something that perhaps we have reluctantly begun to agree to in the world of the PC and email and some of those earlier trends, and that is to concede that we are ready to give up control. Not the architecture, not the service support, not the analytical support. But to acknowledge that it’s about finding data centers large enough on our campuses, whether they’re urban or rural, to actually build up the facilities and support the ongoing operational costs presented by [zettabyte-scale research]. We want to hug the trees of our data centers [...] at our own peril.

[...] At least on my campus, well over 60% of the network traffics video. Today that’s Netflix. That’s YouTube. That’s Hulu. But the zettabyte-scale research activity, we ought not to clamp down, we ought not to make excuses about how we have to figure out how to [limit] access to video because video is also the imaging technology that is going to transform American inner cities, rural economic futures and the like. [It’s] incumbent upon us to realize our role in that kind of environment."
 

8. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FLIPPED CLASSROOM

"Not everyone is a Salman Khan who can figure out how to create a market condition for flipping your learning environments. One of the things we have to acknowledge […] is to figure out if we’re committed to the idea of experimenting with flipped classroom […]. How are you going to double and triple—that’s my experience—the size of the talent pool required to basically move from this idea of flipping the classroom […] to realizing that it takes a village to really flip a classroom. And that village is really the talent set that the university will look to us for, and then we will go, we don’t have the incremental dollars to do it. We need producers and more instructional designers because Salman Kahn is, perhaps, right now one-of-a-kind. Those faculty champions who are […] the vanguard, they alone have the passion and the altruism to try to do things that are essentially superhuman."
 

9. THE FUTURE OF THE LEARNING SPACE

"There’s been a traditional conversation about change in lecture halls in [terms of] more interactive and active learning environments and those are all to be applauded, all those initiatives are enormously important. […] But the real opportunities seem to be the ones that will evolve over the next 5-10 years [which] are, essentially, life-size, wall-size, interactive, multi-touch experiences […] that actually beg you to come up and touch the learning, that encourage you to have an opportunity to engage and share, not only at the front of the room, but from anywhere in the room as part of the experience. [This is] the leading edge of the [learning] experience and who but us in the education community to take up the leadership role. If this is a corporate boardroom or a corporate training environment, this is, I would say, a very minor league use of this enormously powerful technology. Think about the opportunities to transform medical education so that experts around the world can interact not over video conference experience but, essentially, immersively through holographic technology."
 

10. THE LEGITIMIZATION OF ONLINE LEARNING

"In the next 10 years, the conversation about online learning will have shifted away from this first generation of hysteria to a much more profound question, and that is the value of […] the degree. That is what’s at play, that’s the big bet. That’s why this year there will be $1 billion in venture capital spent on disrupting higher education.

At least 20% of it is focused in on the true challenge which is disturbing our core, last monopoly that we have and that is the certificate called the degree. We might say that’s just fine; in fact, we may want to engage and get in front of it rather than letting it be done to us. But I have no doubt that in the next 10 years, there will be valuable alternatives to the certification that we are currently holding onto as if it were the last vestiges of the core value that we represent. That is creative destruction at play, whether we choose to be resistant to it or whether we actually get in front of it. That is a choice that all of our institutions and organizations need to grapple with." 
 

11. THE EVOLUTION OF THE COLLEGE CAMPUS

"Our college campuses, for 800 years, to varying degrees, were very much viewed as castles with the highest walls possible keeping us from the barbarians, which oftentimes were our neighbors in our own towns. That’s very much the legacy and most of it has been by choice. In the next five years, I think you will see dramatic transformations as we try to extend the amazing treasure of technologies, science, service learning and other activities that are all about creating experience for young people who find their way inside the walls of the castle. […]

A group of 47 universities created an organization called GigU that actually extends our amazing network services to the immediate neighborhoods around us. If you’ve been watching this, you know the University of Chicago, you know the University of Washington, Case Western Reserve University […] in Alabama and several other major city-university partnerships are underway to develop this next generation network infrastructure, to bind us to the communities around us that historically have had walls around them, to actually create the kind of interdependency that we believe in in our mission statements, but we’ve built walls in which the backs of our campuses face the neighborhoods around us. That great cities and their campuses are actually synergistically connected one to the other. If we build these networks, what will we do with them that is consequential and meaningful to the communities around us?

This gives me a moment to talk about my venture that I’ve been working on called OneCommunity, an organization that began 10 years ago at Case Western Reserve University in which saw the opportunity to leverage what the university does best, which is, among the country and therefore the world, the best network organization in the world. We got out in front of it and chose to give it a wing for our community. Which is to say we became the architects of an urban and now 24-county broadband architecture that connects our schools, our museums, libraries, governments and hospitals over what is the world’s largest and fastest community-owned 501(c)(3) broadband network provider. Breaking out the shell that began as a bit of a tough love message to those of us who grew up in the R&E network. Our mission is not alone to serve the insular castle of the research community and school. Our mission is to transform the human condition and that now means extending our networks to extend our engagement with the community in much more significant ways."


12. THE ADVENT OF THE URBAN OPERATING SYSTEM

"If one community is the model, in the next ten years, the city becomes an operating system. The city becomes an experimental Internet of Things. The Internet of Things will certainly find value in our campuses in a lab setting for creating experiments, but think of the opportunities for creating experiential learning by letting students and faculty write proposals, write PhDs and NSF grants that actually attend to thinking about the city itself as an intelligent system that in fact teaches us more about sensors and polemetry, that teaches us about air quality particulates, that teaches us the ways people use technology that will make things like Google now seem like minor child’s play. It’s only, it seems to me, if we can tie our commitments to our curriculum in which this will really make sense. There is an opportunity for us to be the architects of the urban operating system of the future. It is already filled with ideas and software tools that our own students or recent graduates have created, but so far it is divorced from our actual campus curriculum.

We could think about our future as remaining committed to the plumbing role that we have played on our campuses. But I hope today that I provoke in a number of you to think about the alternatives as enormously exciting, as enormously generative and indeed not without risk. […] But if we choose to remain plumbers, we do so at our own peril, realizing that we will likely be washed over in the tsunami of change that is happening around us. [...]

The enormous opportunity for us is not to think about the end of the university. Our universities and colleges will be here for the next 500 years. The question is whether or not they will be relevant. And remember that the revolution will not be televised; that is what we are all here to do. "


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