How Baker U.'s CIO is bringing learning to the 21st century

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This CIO profile is part of the "Mobility in Higher Education" survey underwritten by Sprint Higher Education Solutions and conducted by the Education Dive editorial staff.

The higher education space is adapting to new technologies like smartphones and tablets and universities' chief information officers (CIOs) are helping guide their institutions' hands and set the technology agenda. As part of Education Dive's 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey, we wanted to understand the specific challenges and opportunities university CIOs are facing on campuses across the country.

As the CIO of Baker University, a small private university in Baldwin City, Kansas, Andy Jett knows that technology is changing the way his school operates. Education Dive spoke with Andy about how the rise of mobile devices has impacted his campus, how students and educators alike need help adapting to new technologies, and how he is able to facilitate the process. Here's what he had to say:

EDUCATION DIVE: How did you arrive at your current role?

Andy Jett of Baker UniversityANDY JETT: I have worked in higher education in various roles for over 20 years. Seven years ago, I joined the Baker IT team and worked as the system administrator for the university’s enterprise resource-planning (ERP) system until last April when the current VP for IT left and they reconfigured the job into a CIO position and asked me to take on that challenge.

What kinds of challenges and accomplishments have you experienced in your time there?

JETT: The challenges are probably common to many of my fellow CIOs—lack of funding to stay current with hardware, to stay ahead of the needs of bandwidth and to keep staff trained on all the technologies coming at us.

I am proud of a couple of things we have been able to accomplish in my first year as CIO.  First, since I sit on the Executive Cabinet of the university and was actively involved in developing our new strategic plan, we were able to—for the first time—have the word ‘technology’ as part of the long term strategic goals. Before it was vaguely alluded to or combined under facilities. Now, the strategic plan for the university speaks directly to maintain current and relevant technologies that support the University mission.

Second is the development of an independent Learning Management Team. In conjunction with our Chief Academic Officer, we have taken the task of developing quality and highly engaging courses via our Learning Management System (LMS) Moodle and moved it out of the four schools and into the hands of a team of technical and teaching experts that have begun to develop a set of standards for online learning and support LMS courses and the professional development needed to ensure our faculty have a set of tools they can use effectively to teach our new 21st century learners.

Baker University includes online learning as part of its offerings. What challenges have you faced on that front and how were you able to overcome them? 

JETT: We really struggle to get our faculty trained on all the new online tools and have them stay current. Sometimes our students bring us new tools for us to use as collaboration tools, etc. So it really is the professional development of our faculty to stay up with our students' (both traditional and adult) expectations.

What are students' most pressing technology needs on your campus?

JETT: Sufficient wireless access for school-related and gaming-related needs.

From an IT perspective, how have smartphones and tablets impacted your daily work?

JETT: Huge impact. First, it has impacted how my staff works. We use or smartphones/tablets now for constant contact and to live into that responsiveness that our students and staff expect in the world of instant on-demand resolution. Secondly and more importantly, it has created issues around developing accessibility in all areas—wireless access, changes in security settings on networks and firewalls, etc. Our students live on that screen and we have had to move consider how we can move what we communicate and support to that screen as well. We are working toward building out some apps to allow us to communicate and share information to students and staff via their mobile devices, especially the tasks related to our LMS system.

In terms of mobile devices on campus, how have things changed in recent years?

JETT: Students, but even now staff, demand the ability to use those devices to access what traditionally was set up for access from a PC/Mac. This has required us to add significant infrastructure to support a wider wireless environment and improve our bandwidth and the management of that bandwidth.

Does your school have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy right now?

JETT: We don’t have policy per se, but for our traditional campus environment we use a software tool that allows us to put some restrictions or expectations about the state of the machines that attempt to register on our network. Similar situation at our offsite locations as well.

If you could change one thing overnight to make your life easier on campus, what would it be?

JETT: Because our main campus—where our data center is—is in a small rural town, we are limited to one possible vendor to support our bandwidth needs. If I could wake up tomorrow and have one or two more vendors as options to allow us some better competitive rates and redundancy, I would sleep better.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more CIO profiles from Education Dive as part of our 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey underwritten by Sprint Higher Education Solutions. Download the full survey results here.

Filed Under: Higher Ed Technology
Top image credit: Andy Jett