MOOCs and mobile: How Georgetown is pioneering the campus of the future

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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.

Will mobile devices overhaul traditional teaching methods—or are they just a very shiny and expensive distraction? Are MOOCs eliminating the need for a campus-based education—or are they just an over-hyped fad?

IT departments across the U.S. right now want to know the answers to those questions—and the brains behind campus tech at Georgetown University are no exception. As higher ed institutions rethink long-term strategies, their chief information officers (CIOs) are driving the changes, ultimately deciding which technologies live on and which don't.

Lisa Davis, the former CIO of the U.S. Marshals Service and current CIO at Georgetown, faces big question about devices and systems every day. On the heels of our 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey, Education Dive spoke with Davis about the challenges and opportunities afforded by MOOCs, mobile devices and other new technologies. Here's what she had to say:

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

Lisa Davis of Georgetown UniversityLISA DAVIS: I had completed a 26-year career in government with the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice. I was eligible for retirement and I was looking—not necessarily looking, I guess the recruiter found me through some peers of mine in the Department of Justice and asked if I’d be interested in taking a look at the opportunity—and here I am, 15 months later.

What kind of challenges have you faced since you were hired?

DAVIS: There is a tremendous amount of change occurring in higher education today. We talk about the disruptors—the digital disruption, the politics of what’s occurring in higher ed, the new type of learners, the 21st century classroom—and how all of these forces are converging on higher education, which makes it an exciting time to be in higher ed but also presents challenges to the IT business.

In most IT business, because of constrained budgets, we’re trying to find efficiencies in how we run IT so that we can reinvest back into the business, modernize our applications and provide innovative tools and capabilities for our students, faculty and staff. Operating in that environment certainly makes it challenging.

You mentioned the 21st century classroom—what do you think that might look like, and what is Georgetown doing to get there?

DAVIS: We have a bunch of different initiatives occurring. We joined the edX consortium so we could experiment in the MOOC space and, I really like how our provost says it, to provide evidence-based answers to why should someone pay X amount of dollars to come to a certain university. Certainly, Georgetown must experiment in this space and do our analysis like many of the other universities. 

But, because of that, it puts a new requirement on the technology that is in our classrooms and in our labs, supporting our faculty and our students. We’re engaging in an initiative to elevate the classroom technology throughout campus, including our labs. As we do master planning, we put in new bricks and mortar and new buildings on campus, integrating our strategy to think about design in terms of innovation and digital that is overlaying those master planning efforts as we continue to build Georgetown for the future.

As you said, Georgetown will offer MOOCs this fall—what kind of challenges are you facing there and how are you overcoming them?

DAVIS: It’s probably the same challenges we’re all facing—trying to understand the impact MOOCs will have. We are just beginning; we will launch our first two MOOCs in the fall of 2013. Right now, we’re in the process of production, trying to understand how to maximize the quality but also minimize the cost and engagement from our faculty in producing MOOCs. How do we leverage the full capability of the edX platform, which, because its new, is still an immature platform? And how do we use our own expertise, understand the cost and provide the technology to be able to leverage capabilities at the same time?

What kind of technologies and expertise is being used to produce these first MOOCs?

DAVIS: edX has helped with the production aspect, but we also have the Center for New Design and Learning and they’re really at the center of the pedagogical curriculum development, working with our faculty, the edX team and producing these MOOCs.

From a technology standpoint, one of the things we’ve had to do is really look at our scholarly system’s architecture because there are so many new partners and vendors in the space. And, like in many universities, because of the decentralized nature of how we like to operate, the business school or school of continuing studies or law school will want to leverage one of these online vendors.

We recognized we needed to take control of our architecture. What we started to do is an enterprise architecture approach for scholarly systems—what are our core platforms and capabilities, and how will we require these vendors to integrate with us so that we’re taking charge of our architecture and taking control of our IP and our content?

Georgetown has a mobile app—can you tell me why they decided to create one?

DAVIS: Oh, it was long overdue. We finally launched Georgetown Mobile within three months of me being on board because GU Mobile is really a critical piece of our architecture—how we communicate with our students, how we streamline access to data and applications, we use it for emergency notifications, event management—it’s really an epicenter of how we contact and communicate with our students, staff, faculty and alumni.

After the launch of GU Mobile with Modo Labs’ open source platform, we were able to use the platform and framework to encourage mobile app development across campus and also to work with our partners, such as an advancement for alumni events that has just been recently released. In August, we’re actually going to deploy an app that will provide real-time emergency monitoring to improve safety across campus. We’ve done a lot of work on GU mobile over the last year and it continues to get better.

How has the rise in smartphone and tablet use impacted Georgetown’s long-term strategy?

DAVIS: Mobile devices continue to increase across campus. I think the number is 70% of students are now taking notes on digital devices. We’ve seen a 10% growth up to 11,000 mobile devices in just the last 6 months at Georgetown. What that does is create a capacity issue because those mobile devices and Wi-Fi are running over our network. It forces us to make sure our network is modern, stable and secure to support those mobile devices and has the capacity to do so. One of our major priorities is to modernize our fiber infrastructure.

What do you think are students’ most pressing technology needs on campus? Are you hearing from students how they’d like the school evolve technologically?

DAVIS: We’re very engaged with our students. We use an application called IdeaScale that we launched last year where students are allowed to share concerns, problem areas or new ideas and really crowdsource and vote on those ideas and those ideas are reviewed by senior management on a weekly basis.

I have a student advisory board that I work with very closely, highlighting and helping me prioritize those issues that students want us to address from a technology perspective. We created HDot Innovation, which is a group of students focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, and, in the last two years, we’ve hosted the first hackathon and education summit at Georgetown and we’ll have another hackathon this November.

In doing the research and working with students, the things that they want are: ubiquitous Wi-Fi across campus, mobile and modern printing solutions that we’re working on, an integrated communications platform, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do with our mobile app development. I see those as the top ranking three issues.

How are able to adapt to the constantly changing nature of technology? How can you plan long-term when you don’t really know what kind of technology is going to be available 5 or 10 years from now?

DAVIS: I’ve been in the technology business 26 years. There will always be a shiny new widget and that’s an opportunity for pilots, innovation, experimentation to see what integration to your architecture—does it scale, can we support it, can we secure it, can we maintain it? There’s a process we go through when new technology is introduced.

On the back-end, there’s still the business of running IT, in which we have core infrastructure, core data needs across our student, financial, alumni databases—how we access that data, how we provide mobile capabilities to our students—so there’s a lot that is more consistent and stable.

But then you’re always going to have those new things coming and I think higher education is a great market. Coming from government, we didn’t have the opportunity to test and pilot these new technologies and open-source technologies. Being in academia and higher education allows us to do that.

And I see Georgetown migrated their email services to Google?

DAVIS: Yes, last year.

How has moving to the cloud helped students, educators and administrators alike?

DAVIS: Actually, it was a fantastic migration. We were on an antiquated email and calendar system. I can’t remember the name of it because I’d never heard of it. It was awful.

Migrating to Google not only provided email and calendar integration for the first time for students, faculty and staff, but provided a communications platform that everybody was on. It integrated the communications platform. We did a lot of planning and preparing, and we completed over 25,000 accounts in a 90-day period. It was extremely successful. I think our customers love it. We’ve had really performance and support out of Google and Google’s suite continues to evolve and provides new capabilities for us that are really interesting in a higher ed environment.

What do you think is going to be Georgetown’s biggest technological challenge over the next decade?

DAVIS: Online learning is going to be really interesting to see how it’s going to play out and how it affects institutions. I’m really curious to see, from more of a pedagogical or curriculum standpoint, how it disrupts that traditional model, how it brings more opportunities for hybrid learning in the classroom, accepting credits from other universities—all of those impacts online learning will have as it plays out over the next several years.

Personally, I think it will reshape the higher education set-up.

DAVIS: I agree. One the things I’m really enjoying about being in higher ed—I have a fourth and sixth grader— is it really forces us to think about, as we develop our strategies for the future, how we’re going to leverage technology as a strategic asset, how our kids are learning and using technology today, how we have to prepare higher education and our institutions so it meets their demands and expectations, and how we need to evolve to do that.

What projects are you working on right now?

DAVIS: We recently moved our HR and payroll into a cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) and we’re going to be migrating our financial system into a cloud solution next year. Another one is a very large analytics project—we’re going to be implementing Blackboard analytics so we can have better operational reporting and data across our core data systems, which are HR, finance, payroll and student.

Is Blackboard your LMS provider?

DAVIS: We use several but Blackboard is our core LMS.

What are Georgetown’s other LMS providers?

DAVIS: We use Moodle and Sakai.

What problem would you like to see your LMS providers solve for you?

DAVIS: Integration.

Across all platforms?

DAVIS: Across all platforms—and giving us the ability to plug-and-play content on whichever platform we choose.

And does Georgetown have a student information system?

DAVIS: We do—that’s our Banner system.

Are you at all concerned about breaches and cyberattacks?

DAVIS: No, we use many best practices—defense in depth, least privilege access, authentication systems that require business unit authorization, regular security checks and audits of these systems. A combination of all of these tools and mechanisms in place are how we protect our data and applications.

Does Georgetown have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy?

DAVIS: We don’t. We recently implemented a mobile device management tool for our faculty and staff so we could drive some cost-savings and put in place a consolidated device acquisition program. What that consolidated program did was not only modernize our fleet, but reduce costs and put in place MobileIron to increase our mobile security and audit those devices.

On the student side, that’s much more difficult to do because there are so many of them. Our securities and acceptable use policies extend to the personal devices. All of our applications are web-accessible and require SSL encryption, another security protection. We also offer support for our students’ personal devices and we license anti-virus software for installation for students and employees. We really try to increase our security awareness and education to stay on top of this, but it is still an area we are looking at and investigating to see if we can improve and how in fact we could look at a BYOD solution.

Do you use your smartphone at work and, if so, what apps do you use?

DAVIS: I am on my email and calendar non-stop. I use a lot of note-taking apps because I use my iPad in meetings, and that’s where I keep all of my notes. Our financial system is mobile-enabled so I use that to approve time-sheets and leave and so forth on my mobile devices. That’s what I primarily use my mobile device for. Obviously, I’m on Safari a lot, researching different things, I’m on my Twitter feed, LinkedIn and I use my mobile devices to look at the latest tech articles and things of interest occurring in the market.

If you could one thing to make life easier for yourself, what would that be?

DAVIS: Increase my funding—increase my budget ten-fold.


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: Lisa Davis