Higher ed is becoming more entrenched in tech — what does this mean for CIOs?
We spoke with Virginia Tech CIO Scott Midkiff to find the answers.
Higher education campuses are hotbeds for cybersecurity threats — college and university servers house countless pieces of data on current and past faculty, students and other stakeholders. But as institutions become more and more technologically entrenched — and customers demand that the college experience be more modern, while still guaranteeing safety — securing this data and ensuring that members of the institution's community do not inappropriately handle ed tech becomes more of a daunting task for administrators, in particular CIOs.
Even the most basic data are susceptible to theft and use on the Dark Web. As students start using more ed tech, without knowing the proper security protocols for passwords and usernames, even the simple email becomes a security risk. A report from Digital Citizen Alliance, "Cyber Criminals, College Credentials, and the Dark Web," explains .edu addresses are particularly vulnerable, because they can be used to purchase goods online often at discounted rates. The report found 13,930,176 email addresses and passwords belonging to faculty, staff and students could be purchased in the dark web.
Not to mention institutions that still house data in easily accessible hardware. Washington State University this year had to inform one million of its current and past students, faculty and stakeholders their personal information, including social security numbers, might have been stolen when thieves broke into the safe containing a drive with all this information. With the average cost of a data breach amounting to about $245 per record lost — administrators are going to have to ratchet up their cybersecurity strategies, as ed tech takes hold of their campus.
So as higher education continues to invest in ed tech and online tools, how will this impact the role of the CIO? Education Dive spoke with Virginia Tech CIO Scott Midkiff to find the answers.
What can CIOs do to become better leaders? Focus on the mission of the institution.
"I think what's really important is that the CIO and the IT organization better integrate itself really with the core missions of the university. So, I think that if you look at maybe sort of maturity level IT organizations — at one level you're strictly kind of providing commodity IT services for the university, and good IT organizations go beyond that to make sure that they're really supporting the business needs, the functional needs. And that's on the teaching side, the research and the policy, administrative side of the university, to really sort of understand how to best support those organization with their IT needs," said Midkiff.
"But I think where there's really an opportunity to improve beyond that is to think about it really almost as a kind of a two way street. What can we as IT organization do to better support the academic programs at the university and the research programs. And what can those programs do to help support us?"
How can CIOs enhance cybersecurity and educate students on risk? Integrate students into IT programs.
"We are a great opportunity for experiential learning for students for example, that students and not just work on our help desk, which lots of universities do. But, students can work in our research computing group. They can work in our software development groups as developers. They can work in our IT Security office really in an operational environment, learning about IT and bringing creative ideas into IT. And, so it's really developing that pipeline of new IT workers and better workers in general, that will help IT in the long run, but also the IT organization can help the university develop those skills in students."
How can CIOs help the institution invest in the right, secure technology? Create relationships across IT and administrative units.
"I think what's really important is to have prestablished relationships between those different functional units between academic units, the provost office, administrative units—between those units and the the information technology organization to make sure that there's a conversation able, so that the IT organization understands what the functional needs are, what the academic needs are, what the research needs are and that the functional units understand what some of the constraints of the opportunity some of the IT environment is that will help distinguish between what's going to be a successful product and what's going to be perhaps a failure. When that conversation happens early and IT and operational units are involved in evaluating products, that often usually works pretty well."
"But too often what happens is there is sort of sales opportunity, someone believes something is interesting and they go out and they get well down into procurement process and then IT get involved. And, then you start running into well the integration challenges, the data privacy challenges, compliance challenges for this product. And, especially some of companies that aren't very mature — that can lead to real issues, so I think it's that early engagement between functional units and the IT organization that leads to success."
How can CIOs help the institution improve student success? Consider the students first in edtech decisions.
"What are the expectations of students today? Students are coming through K12 with more technology in the classroom. They are consumers of technology, and so there are certain expectations about access to technology to help them learn in their classes at the university. And just in terms of being competitive and providing a good experience — it's important for the university to make those investments."
"If you look at measures of student success — how do we get students through a program effectively, so that they spend less money, we spend less money, and the student comes out really knowing what they're supposed to do. There are opportunities to help those students in the classroom through technology? Learning analytics is an area, for example, to help students focus in on the areas where they have difficulties and to let them learn those objectives more effectively. And those are all things that help attract students and they help students be more successful and overall help reduce costs. But the evaluation, the assessment is not always straightforward. Certainly there have to be some experiments with assessment to see what really works."
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