By Helen Norris, CIO at Chapman University
Technology for the education sector – how to include students in Digital Transformation
Higher Ed is a highly collaborative work environment. Governance of universities is shared between the administration and the faculty, and even beyond that, all voices have a voice in governing the institution. This has real consequences for CIOs and other technical professionals working in Higher Ed. How does transformation happen in this environment? The only way that CIOs can effect change in this environment is to know the mission. In corporations, it’s important that IT know the *business* and partner with colleagues on the business side. A university is mission-driven, so that’s where Higher Ed CIOs must focus. Obviously, the mission focuses on teaching and learning, but universities, particularly public universities, also serve the public good. Additionally, universities also often have a mission around research. Engaging in the mission of the university means working with a broad set of stakeholders, not just faculty, staff and administration, but students. Working with students can present unique challenges for engagement.
In many ways, students are like both customers and employees in a traditional business environment. When they interact with us in an administrative way, they are more like customers, making payments, filling up their “shopping carts” with the classes they want to take and so forth. However, they are similar to employees in that the institution provides the tools they need to use to do their work of learning. This includes our learning management systems, our classroom systems and our collaboration systems. We tend to think of this as interacting with us as a member of the academy, much like our faculty and staff. So how do CIOs do the work of engaging students in both of these roles, and ensuring that we are meeting their expectations as we transform these systems?
In the customer role, we can leverage some of the same approaches that corporate CIOs take, through traditional customer outreach, such as surveys. Additionally, this outreach often extends beyond the student to a family member, often a parent, who is also often interacting with the institution on behalf of the student. However, in the role of member of the academy, that interaction is much trickier. It’s not enough to engage students through those traditional customer methods, rather we need to engage them as we do our staff and faculty when we design these systems that they use on a daily basis. This is tricky as students are transitory (hopefully only here for four years!). Sometimes they will work with us on systems that are actually being designed for the next generation of students. Additionally, they will sometimes approach this work through the lens of their more customer-like role with the university. Finally, students are here to learn, not to spend their time with us designing systems for them to use, so we have to be even more respectful of their time and commitments than we do with our faculty and staff.
What are some ways that we can approach these obstacles? First, as with any stakeholder, building relationships is key. This can be done through the official student government organization, which can provide a formal voice into these processes. However, there are many less formal ways to do this. On my campus, we have an active Woman in Science and Technology student group. This overlaps with my personal passion of increasing the number of women working in technology. I have engaged with this group on that topic, but it also gives me an opportunity to hear a student voice around issues related to services we provide and how to transform them. Secondly, we can support students that we want to engage in these processes through internships. Many Higher Ed IT departments employ a significant number of students, sometimes in formal internships. Having a student employee participate in a Digital Transformation project offers wonderful experience to them, while simultaneously gathering that student input that we need. Finally, it’s important to treat this feedback differently than the feedback we receive from a student/customer. The student participating in a digital transformation initiative is a full team member; not a survey respondent. Their input to the process will help shape how the university fulfils its mission for years to come; long after the student has graduated and moved on. This is deep input on processes and needs and will expose the student to the processes of the university. This underscores the value of the experience to both the student and the institution. Hearing directly and in great detail from students as to how and why they use our systems as they do will ultimately result in a better experience for all future users. The student gets the great experience of working in a team environment on a transformative initiative.
Eileen Belastock, CETL, is an educational leader who is fueled by the belief that learning anytime anywhere is critical for both our students and educators. In her experiences as a district administrator, a building administrator, and a high school math teacher, she has been instrumental in providing students with equitable learning environments through multiple 1:1 programs and online educational environments. Throughout her career in both the corporate and educational environments, Eileen Belastock has encouraged and supported both adult and student learners to challenge themselves to find their passions, be lifelong learners and be contributing citizens in the 21st global environment.
Eileen models what she believes through her involvement on two Massachusetts edtech organizations, as a board director, whose missions are to educate and engage classroom teachers. She believes in supporting and highlighting educators and administrators as they work to ensure digital equity and student safety through her published articles in publications such as Tech & Learning, eSchool News, and EdScoop.