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.
Questions about devices and policies played prominent roles Education Dive's 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey, the full results of which will be published on Monday, June 17. However, in our search to understand the state of mobile tech at universities and colleges right now, we wanted to account for the factors that make individual campuses unique. No two CIOs in higher ed have the exact same job, so we spoke at length to as many as possible about where they see their Wi-Fi and mobile device ecosystems headed.
Cecil College Vice President and CIO Stephen diFilipo knows all too well about the importance of mobile device accommodation—and he will be the first to tell you it is nothing new. We spoke with diFilipo briefly about how crucial mobile access has become for his Maryland school, as well as what challenges lie ahead for higher ed in end-user education and cybersecurity.
EDUCATION DIVE: How did you get into ed tech and your current role at Cecil College? Were you into education or tech first?
STEPHEN DIFILIPO: Actually, I was born into tech. I’ll give you the short story. I’ve had four different career paths, but the common thread through them all has been technology. It started with my father when I was a kid—when something in our house would break, we would take it apart just to see how it works. So I was always comfortable with all kinds of technology and learning how things work.
At the tender age of 14, I became a working professional musician and spent a fair number of hours in recording studios. I became enamored with all of the buttons and knobs and dials and all the things that glow in the dark. So I basically have a sound engineer background. I was in that industry when it went from 48-track tape recorders to conversion to computers and everything going digital.
I went into the creative services field after that, working in radio, television and film—primarily in film and television. So again, watching things go from 16mm film and 35mm stills to all digital, and I became very comfortable with how computers worked and what they did.
Then, I exited the corporate world in the late/mid-‘90s, and decided that I’d always loved education and thought it would be a cool place to go. I saw that there was a burgeoning field in the world of CIOs and higher ed. So I got into the higher ed space and have been there a little over 12 years.
What can you tell me about the campus that you serve at Cecil College? Do you have a lot of distance learners and continuing education going on?
DIFILIPO: We are the traditional community college—in terms of Carnegie class, we’re in the two-year Carnegie class. But we dropped the community moniker about five years ago because we had a number of affiliate-direct partnerships with four-year institutions, whereby our students essentially don’t have to leave our campus to go and get their four-year degree. So once they have their two-year degree they can then transition over to a four-year school. And through those partnerships they can go on and get their bachelor’s degree without necessarily having to go off to school.
We have four locations—two primary campuses. We serve on the credit side around 2,500 students. On the non-credit side, probably around six or seven thousand students. On the credit side, close to 20% of our contact hours are delivered online exclusively.
Has that changed much in recent years?
DIFILIPO: It goes up incrementally. We’re trying to grow that part of the business, but it depends. It’s more faculty-driven at this point.
I have two roles. I’m the vice president, and I’m the CIO. So as the vice president I have a larger responsibility to the institution beyond just technology. We are involved in a lot of the decision-making that goes on, but really in terms of the growth of online, that only happens on the academic affairs side of the house. We support it from a technology point of view and make sure everything is working. And then instructional technology reports up to the CIO office, so I have some tie-in to that, supporting faculty and students with the learning management system that we utility and some other tools. But the decisions to grow online really come out of academic programs—although the college has the desire to want to do that.
What’s the LMS provider that you use?
DIFILIPO: We’re using Blackboard primarily. Some of our math faculty are using Pearson’s MyMathLab—that’s more of a content management system.
We have an interesting arrangement at our college where Blackboard is built into our business continuity plan. So actually, it’s not Blackboard per se but the learning management system. Every one of our courses as we build the semester courses gets built into Blackboard, and every student who registers, adds or drops is automatically put in Blackboard. And the faculty are encouraged strongly to build out some course materials in Blackboard—even if they don’t teach online—so if we close the campus for any period of time, we can still deliver learning to students in some measurable way.
What’s the biggest project that you’ve undertaken since you arrived at Cecil—for the sake of challenge or success?
DIFILIPO: For challenge’s sake, it was building out our portal so that students and staff and faculty would have ubiquitous access to the primary tools that they need every day. That was multi-disciplined; it was breaking down silo walls. It was encouraging a significant amount of collaboration, just like any ERP [enterprise resource planning] implementation would require. But at Cecil, it wasn’t the mindset when I got there.
When you say “portal,” is that connected to the Blackboard infrastructure that you mentioned earlier?
DIFILIPO: Actually, no. We use an ERP solution that’s provided by a company called Jenzabar. We picked up their portal solution so we would have tight integration on the backend. And that has been very successful, both from the student and the faculty point of view.
There is a connection to their email; we use Gmail and Google Apps for students—and Blackboard is all tied in through the portal. The databases for the library are all tied in through the portal. So everything that the student or the staff or the faculty really needs for the largest part of their daily activity is delivered through the portal.
I think the biggest impact for us has been the use of Blackboard Mobile Learn. If you look at our metrics, we have a disproportionate[ly high] number of students using Mobile Learn. This is all coming from Blackboard, and it’s all hard metrics that are measurable, based against Blackboard’s more global/national metrics. Our use of Mobile Learn is significantly higher.
That’s interesting—and it gets me to another thing I wanted to ask you about, which is how mobile access has impacted your priorities over the last few years.
DIFILIPO: It hasn’t impacted our priorities, because it has always been a priority. This is not to toot my own horn, but just to give a frame of reference—in 2002 or 2003, I was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education as stating that the mobile/cellular phone would be the killer device in higher ed over the next 15-20 years. I’m sticking to that—only now I’ve modified the language from “cellular” phone to “mobile devices.” Because who knew the iPad was coming along?
So I’ve always had that orientation. I brought it to Cecil with me, and it quickly was adopted by the college campus in that we want to be in the students’ pockets and pocketbooks—because that’s where they live and breathe, on their mobile devices. Our strategy is—whether it’s infrastructure, middleware, things of that nature—is to deliver mobile all the time.
Do you have a stated BYOD policy yet? Is that something you’ve had to think about in terms of students and/or faculty?
DIFILIPO: I co-authored a recent Educause ECAR [Educause Center for Applied Research] report [titled “The Consumerization of Technology and the Bring-Your-Own-Everything (BYOE) Era of Higher Education”], and it was a research report on the state of BYOD in higher education today—and where it’s going to go.
Again, I’d already had that orientation that it’s always about mobile, and I didn’t care where the device came from, whether the college provided it or the student provided it. So the real hinge pin to BYOD for me is what we call middleware. Some people refer to it as infrastructure, but it goes beyond just the infrastructure that we usually refer to as networks.
You have to have a robust and nimble Wi-Fi environment that meets capacity demands. So we have done that. In the last two years, we blew out our wireless, so that we have full penetration, basement-to-rooftop, wall-to-wall, edge-to-edge in all of our buildings. Students have ubiquitous Wi-Fi. We have public Wi-Fi. So we segmented our Wi-Fi environment so that we have secure Wi-Fi and public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi requires you to jump through no hoops to get to the Internet, and that’s all we give you on the public side is just Internet.
The second piece of this middleware is cellular service. So we perceive cellular as our back-up network. So we made certain that the four major providers—Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon—had significant penetration across all of our campuses. We did have a problem with Verizon, but at their expense they came onto our campus and built out a repeater network system. That also feeds into the emergency notification system. So it was important to have cellular service for a whole lot of reasons.
It’s been my perception that when the student opens up their device—whether it’s a laptop with wireless or a phone or an iPad—that they don’t care where the signal comes from. They just want a signal.
The third part of that middleware piece is the ubiquitous delivery of services through browsers—or device-based apps. One hundred percent of everything a student does on our campus every day can be accessed through some form of a browser-based environment. We’re giving them access to a browser through cellular service or through public Wi-Fi, so they can get to the things they need as though they were sitting on the curb across the street from our campus.
That’s the middleware component.
We have virtual computer labs so students can get to access to specific software. One hundred percent of what faculty have to do is delivered through browsers. About 90% of staff activity is delivered through a browser. And the things that aren’t browser-based, they should be sitting at their desk to do anyway.
That’s sort of a general philosophy of mine.
I know that was a long answer.
It was a good answer, though. In terms of the overall tech environment, are you satisfied with where things are at? If there was one switch you could flip to change something, what would it be?
DIFILIPO: From my chair as the CIO, I think we need to do a better job of making our end users aware of—and then providing them with the education about—the tools that they use every day. And that’s really, really focused on BYOD kinds of things. As these devices proliferate, they need to understand the implications for their own personal privacy issues, and they need to understand how their devices handle our sensitive data.
If you see me on Twitter and Google+, I’m always posting things. And then our instructional technology team takes those tools and resources, and we do a monthly e-blast/newsletter kind of thing. We just need to do a better job of educating our end users.
That makes a lot of sense. There was that Pew study that just came out a few days ago about teenagers’ confidence levels in managing their own online security issues vs. the reality of how well they’re actually doing.
DIFILIPO: A prior colleague of mine from a prior college I worked at once said that the Internet is the wild, wild West, and there’s no sheriff in town. And if you approach it with that sort of notion that you have to protect yourself and no one is going to protect you for you and keep the bad guys away—but the inevitability is that it’s going to happen sooner or later.
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. Keep an eye out for downloadable survey results on Monday, June 17.