July 27, 2011

Case Western Reserve University Joins Gig.U

Why is Case Western Reserve University supporting Gig.U?

Universities have a critical role to play in the R&D efforts of our nation. Some of that R&D is in support of basic science and other efforts lead to commercialization and technology transfer. Many of the discoveries and new ideas that originate in our labs, classrooms, and residence halls are among America’s best and most competitive offerings in the global economy. We have the absolute challenge and privilege of living the future today.

Before there was a commercial Internet, Case Western Reserve was one of the earliest universities connected to the ARPANET in January 1971.

Before there were companies that supported online bulletin boards and online libraries, Case Western Reserve pioneered the early FreeNet systems in 1986 and indeed the Cleveland FreeNet software drove a majority of such early pioneering efforts across the country.

Before all-fiber-optic networks became part of the way large organizations were wired up, Case Western Reserve was the first university to have an all-fiber-optic network, in 1989.

Case Western Reserve was one of the 34 charter university members of Internet2 in 1996 and an original member of the National Lambda Rail in 2003 which has helped drive new standards for our national network providers and the electronics from vendors like Cisco and Juniper that drive those national backbone providers.

In 2002, when 100 megabit /second was the standard network speed, and five years before switched gigabit became the de facto standard for large organizations, Case Western Reserve partnered to roll out the first switched gigabit fiber optical network in higher education across all of the university.

Case Western Reserve was one the founding members of OneCleveland now known as OneCommunity formed in October 2003. OneCommunity is an "ultrabroadband" (gigabit speed) regional fiber optic network. This network is for the use of organizations in education, research, government, healthcare, arts, culture, and the nonprofit sector in Northeast Ohio and has partnered with the Telecom and Cable industry to extend advanced networked connectivity to 22 counties in Ohio. OneCommunity has proved to be an important proof point and exemplar for the Department of Commerce's NTIA as it sought principles for the investments to be made in broadband through the National Broadband Plan and the Recovery Act.

In May 2010, Case Western Reserve lit up the nation's first gigabit fiber to the home research program, connecting 104 homes and apartments in a regular Cleveland neighborhood around the University known as the Case Connection Zone. Our research program was to advance the pre-commercial exploration and the advancement of new applications and services in health and wellness, energy and smart grid management, neighborhood safety, and STEM education that would leverage these unprecedented capabilities to advance both our research program at the University and the priorities of the neighborhoods around the University.

The Case Connection Zone is a proof point in creating a University - Community partnership, taking the very first steps in exploring what could be done and whether a marketplace might develop to support the replication and scaling of smart and connected communities.

Today's launch of Gig.U is the aggregation of the demand side interest for ultrabroadband among great Universities and Colleges across the nation, both for ourselves and for the neighborhoods around us. It is a call to the provider community both traditional and emerging that there is an expression of interest from the leadership of our universities and our cities to advance the research and education on our campuses and to help catalyze market forces to partner with us in transitioning our pre-commercial efforts that are part of our core mission to the competitive forces of the market.

We want to attract and retain the best and brightest students and scholar/researchers to bring distinction to our universities and to jumpstart never before seen ideas into globally competitive companies that will bring new jobs, wealth and enhanced the quality of living in the cities within which we live, work, study, and play.

Lev Gonick
Cleveland, Ohio
June 27, 2011

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January 04, 2011

2011: The Year Ahead in IT

2011: The Year Ahead in IT (as published in the Jan 3 edition of Inside Higher Education)

It’s difficult to make sense of changes and dynamics beyond our control. There are seismic shifts under way and many of them have various impacts on the university campus, teaching and learning, the research agenda, and yes, information technology.

While many university CIOs share collective angst and various manifestations of existential crises about our relevance and influence, there are larger contexts and micro-dynamics at play that warrant reference in this annual prognosticating of the year ahead.(For previous years’ versions, click here and here.). A myth is a larger-than-life story that serves to create a narrative filled with symbols, heroes and assertions of truths. Many of our inherited myths are crumbling around us. The challenge is to understand the dynamics leading to change and to be positioned to contribute to the creation and socialization of new myths, relevant for the year and decade ahead of us.

1) The Big Picture: The State of the Global Economy and What It Means for IT on U.S. College Campuses (or, globalization and localization). Is it possible to reconcile the twin myths that (1) there is global restructuring under way that privileges so-called emerging economies and (2) the counterpoint, namely that the global economic crisis is cyclical and the U.S. economy will bounce back, eventually? While both assertions are at play, university presidents, boards, and influencers from faculty to mayors are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place if, and as, they try to place equal bets on both dynamics at once. The long-term health and well-being of our universities is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of the cities within which we work, research and live. As we continue to experience, our cities, knowledge clusters and regional economies are closely coupled to the dynamics of the world economy. As strategy begins to emerge, university technology leaders can and should play a strategic role to architect, enable, and help lead global engagement and collaboration strategies. In the next year we will see a critical mass of universities leveraging technology in new and innovative ways to create engaged learning strategies and more robust business models to enable universities to advance their strategies for sustaining our universities, the scholarly mission, and the student experience in the global era. At the same time, strategic IT efforts can be instrumental in the university’s relationship and strategy at the city level through partnerships, innovation activities, industry and commercialization relationships, and attending in demonstrable ways to the priorities of the communities around us.

2) How do you spell opportunity? A-U-S-T-E-R-I-T-Y (shared services and entrepreneurship). Public investment in higher education has become a victim of the general fiscal crisis of the state. No matter whether one reads the prospects of this as being cyclical decline/recovery and/or fundamental structural realignment, a “new normal” is likely to crystallize in the next year or so ahead -- with the outcome being multiyear predictable austerity measures impacting all segments of the higher education ecosystem. If economic austerity weren’t enough to give indigestion to the president’s cabinet, growing demands for accountability from accrediting agencies and federal oversight bodies will necessarily increase and grow bolder even as the rhetoric and hyperbole from campus defenders and apologists persist. The consequences on IT are equally predictable. Double-digit budget cuts will be the norm for many administrative units on campus, including IT, for several years to come. So too will the usual demands for further transparency and justification of central IT investments in technology. These scenarios will remain our lived reality, along with the myth that financial discipline alone can lead our way to recovery. Alternative scenarios and new narratives are possible, including (1) advancing long-overdue shared service models on the campus for IT and other administrative service organizations (see slides 20-33), (2) legislatures and boards demand and expect shared service models between campuses for IT services and demand a demonstrated reduction in duplicative services among all administrative organizations on campus, and (3) generating interest in moving IT from nothing but a cost center toward challenging IT to have its own profit-and-loss statement and become a revenue generator.

3) Operational Excellence Is Good Enough (leveraging the cloud for strategic re-engagement). For decades the Holy Grail for IT managers has focused on operational excellence. In the year ahead, operational excellence becomes a necessary but insufficient condition. More so than ever before, and largely related to the first two mega-trends, operational excellence must be tied to creating organizational capacity. Part of the capacity will be necessary to backfill holes in the general institutional financial books. The other challenge is to position IT to be strategic and to be positioned to demonstrate value-added services and a solutions orientation across the university. This calls for heavy lifting and the difficult task of rethinking the basic organizational structure of IT divisions within the university. For more than a quarter of a century IT has been organized along functional lines; IT services for infrastructure, IT services for application development, academic technology and so on. This traditional model has run its course. To become strategic and to demonstrably provide value-added AND generate additional financial capacity, IT needs to focus on new solutions architecture and alternative sourcing strategies for building and running much of IT on campus As secular, market-based IT trends like cloud services and software as a service continue to both shape and respond to the new realities on the college campus, IT organizations on the campus need to be poised to enable universitywide capacity to leverage new technologies. There is a distinct risk to IT organizations in our universities if they continue to cloak themselves in the guise of the fully integrated, full service, all services model for the campus. Leading IT organizations are aggressively positioning themselves through strategic effort to shed what were once considered distinctive and unique sets of service lines in order to re-imagine and reinvent their roles and responsibilities on campus, while of course owning operational excellence.

4) We Go to University to Learn (mobility, simulations, gaming, and unified communications). For many knowledge and creative workers, sometime over the past decade we woke up to realize that we no longer go to our workplace to work. Work follows us and is enabled through the growing pervasive availability of connectivity, tools, and solutions that make it viable to have an office at Starbucks, the airport, a park bench, or the library. The nature of work, the workplace, spaces, building, and architecture are all in a dynamic flux to accommodate these new realities. Less popularly understood, but equally true, is the reality that we no longer go to university to learn. The great myths of the inalienable value of “place” for learning is melting away and many students have significant cognitive dissonance when it comes to exactly what is learning in the confined space of a schedule and the four walls of a classroom.

While the rhetorical debates will continue, blended learning models based on hybrid pedagogies of face-to-face interactions with online exploration, discovery, reflection and mentoring are emergent realities. Universities will necessarily continue to grapple with how best to lean into these new realities. Leading institutions will embrace the change and seek to shape the evolving meaning of excellence through faculty innovation and demonstrated student success. There are a host of technologies that have contributed to this new reality so far and are likely to shape it moving forward. Mobile platforms extend where and when learning takes place. Gaming and simulation technologies can advance problem-based learning, hands-on learning, and play-based learning. How and when simulation and serious gaming technologies are experienced as part of the learning environment need not be a trade-off between pedagogical design and serendipity. New platforms will emerge that support both real time and asynchronous learning opportunities across multiple mediums, from traditional classroom experiences to online, large-scale online collaborations to personalized interactive video and telephony conferencing, and field-based, lab-based, or classroom based learning, either in stand-alone mode or in various permutations of integrated learning environments. Nascent experimentation leveraging these new technologies is poised to help frame new and powerful myths that might attract, engage, and retain student interest and time on task, two critically important conditions associated with deep learning.

5) Content is King… No, No, Platform Is King … No, No (learning management, publishing, and learning middleware). The perennial debate on the hierarchy of value and the most important determinants of educational success is derived from a series of powerful myths that are informed by and help to reinforce competing world views, reward and incentive systems, and efforts to shape the future of the education economy. Technology sits at the crosshairs of the debate. There are those who advocate a fully coherent, integrated, and fully specified theory of learning that should envelop assessment, content, platform, services and support systems, and outcomes analysis. Others advocate a more laissez faire and componentized plug-and-play approach to the future architecture of the learning environment. Platform players continue to position their offerings as "neutral" to the competing approaches. The platforms wars will continue to heat up in the year ahead, but only because the market place is fully saturated and disruptive entrants are positioned to challenge the monopolistic behavior and positioning of the dominant offering.

A second platform dispute regarding traditional textbooks and e-books will continue to evolve. New models for the publishing industry will continue to evolve, although the motivations for providers to take anything but an incremental approach to the changes in the market place are unlikely to lead to significant change among traditional content players. As the e-book industry begins to move from core functionality to feature development, there is a distinct possibility that we will see new emergent kinds of multimedia books in which more enriched, dynamic, and network-enabled learning materials and interactive experiences will be embedded in the presentation of text, charts, pictures, and video content. Given the maturity of the traditional course management platforms, the lethargic character of the academic publishing industry satisfied with its annuities in traditional textbooks, and the early state of e-books for learning, a new set of players in the area of student engagement, assessment, and support is likely to offer to stitch together the layers between the content and platform providers. This learning middleware play is as rich with possibilities as it is immature with requirements.

6) I Used to Walk 10 Miles in Snowshoes to School (rich media and 21st-century learning). It is hard for many to imagine a learning environment that is not text-centric and largely two-dimensional. We are the products of more than a thousand years in which text was treated as a sacred medium and in which, at least over the last century, powerful myths and economic interests associated with text became deeply embedded in our education system. Of course, higher education is a particular system that asserts universal principles while privileging and creating a dominant ideology of what constitutes literacy, citizenship, and the good life in the image of ourselves. Students of the history of science acknowledge that the intersection of the technology (printing press) and the supply chain of that economy have been contributing influences into what has evolved as our education system. Early on in the history of the Internet, the preponderance of Internet traffic was, not surprisingly, text-based. Telnet, DNS, newsgroups, FTP, and e-mail were all extensions of the dominance of the text-centric world we have known.

This year video, video-conferencing, and video-based collaboration will become the dominant form of Internet traffic in terms of percentage of total traffic on the Internet. Over time, we will see a maturing of video for learning take place. Early and exciting niche players are using basic video-capture tools and traditional mini-lecture pedagogies to deliver learning objects in multiple languages to learners all over the world. Homeschoolers, self-directed learners, family and peer enabled learning are turning to learning animated by video to support their needs. Popular platforms have turned a handful of university lecturers into rock stars with hundreds of thousands of downloads of great theater for learning. Still others have begun to experiment at cottage-industry scale with the exciting proposition of engaging students in a new form of learning based on digital storytelling through student video narratives. While industry remains focused on lecture capture, there is a groundswell of exciting new experimentation going on in the rich media for learning space, and around that we will see new technologies like multi-institutional video for learning cloud services, new learning theaters for integrated global learning, repositories for searchable learning moments nested in video content, the integration of student-initiated handheld video content and the mashing up, rating, ranking, and comment of students own perspective on their learning experiences.

7) If We Hang In There We Will See an ROI on Our 8- and 9-Figure ERP Implementations (new models for administrative systems). The myth of business support infrastructure in higher education is the tale of unsupported, discrete legacy programs, kludged together and webified over time, finally surrendering to a new architecture of big, unwieldy, supposed fully integrated services and enormously costly ERP systems. At many universities the insatiable demand for feeding and caring of ERP is a sacred cow. More recent focus on business intelligence and decision support tools has been an effort to help IT and university business and administration realize and remember that moving from data to information and onto intelligence was the aspirational goal of ERP in the first place. A decade ago, visionaries in the higher education IT community saw the strategic opportunity to focus on developing open source administrative systems as a long-term alternative to the commercial ERP systems in order to take control of our administrative systems’ destiny. Just as open source higher education ERP systems began to roll out into production, the entire approach of campus IT caring and feeding these behemoths began to be challenged by the emergence of new programming languages and new business models that evolved into software as a service. While the conversation has largely focused on proprietary ERP versus open source ERP, this year will we will see the first meaningful fruits of administrative systems as a service, hosted, supported, and delivered on a subscription basis at a fraction of the cost of the proprietary alternatives without the need for the depth of technical bench strength required from the open source ERP. One instantiation will be hosted open source ERP systems that, while not fully architected (yet) to be SaaS-enabled, still shifts many pain points off campus. The second promising direction is represented by the first wave adopters of commercial SaaS offerings in traditional ERP areas like Human Resources and General Ledger Accounting. Universities committed to focusing on business intelligence and the maturing role of business analysts will be in a position to leverage the emerging SaaS services for administrative systems.

8) Consumer Sovereignty Can Be Stopped at the Gates of the Campus (governance and enterprise program management]. There is a persistent and internalized myth that the university campus is (or at least should be) a place that is on the cutting edge of technology innovation and adoption. Faculty, students, and staff have been conditioned to expect that well-designed, multiplatform, fully integrated technology with nearly unlimited customizations and superior graphical user interfaces should be the norm. That environment is their experience in their lives as private consumers -- and no longer the reality of most university IT services providers. Frustration with the lack of agility, available resources and talents has led to a growing position that IT needs to get out of the way other than provisioning reliable network access, limited security and related regulatory and risk-mitigation roles. All other services, so the new mythology suggests, can be accessed with better customer satisfaction through alternatives sources beyond the campus. On the other hand, the wish list of solutions, initiatives, and development projects for IT continues to outpace organizational capacity by orders of magnitude. The unenviable challenge of attending to rising expectations associated with consumer sovereignty, within a constrained environment and real and present dangers associated with budgetary clawbacks, now needs to find an appropriate governance model for making tough choices on direction, priorities, and rationalizing available resources against nearly insatiable demands. While IT governance and project management offices are nothing new, there is significant momentum under way to revisit the assumptions that the issues at hand are IT governance and IT project management. In the next year and beyond, we will begin to see evidence of more integrated campus-wide approaches to governance, common priority-setting, and the emergence of university-wide program management. The inherited and silo-based and hierarchical functions within IT and across the university as a whole will need to give way to project-oriented and tightly choreographed project teams that can advance integrated solutions on big challenges like sustainability, business process management, customer service, internal and integrated consulting service abilities. Those campuses that directly confront these new challenges will be able to demonstrate that beyond consumer sovereignty, there are distinctive value-added services that IT and its partners across the university can deliver that distinguish it, and help to plant the seeds of a new myth of a differentiated experience economy available only at the best universities.

9) Overcoming the Myth of the University as Open. From the 10,000 research scientists and engineers from over 100 countries working on the hadron collider exploring the origins of the universe, to the billions of dollars from hundreds of national and private agencies investing in translational medicine to advance personalized medicine and advancing our knowledge of diseases such as Alzheimer's, many of the big challenges of our time are cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional, and all of them are leveraging information technology for data collection, analysis, and dissemination. The underlying economics of our disciplinary-based institutional arrangements are rarely facile enough to advance these grand challenges. Many faculty view their departments and the university as a whole as oftentimes rate-limiting to their aspirations to take on these global challenges. How the university acknowledges and rewards open collaboration, data sharing, and unprecedented knowledge dissemination, all enabled through information technology, will help distinguish those institutions and their faculty to attract and retain outstanding researchers.

While university administrators can provide incentives (or disincentives) and lend vision to those who might provide philanthropy or external funding for such an approach to 21st century global research questions, it is faculty and faculty governance that will evolve innovative institutional arrangements to enable research breakthroughs -- both on the campus and above the campus through collaborative scholarly societies. In small ways IT can support initiatives for data sharing and make it easier for others to share data both on and between campus research groups. In the year ahead IT can join our colleagues in facilities to create open data repositories reflecting our common commitments to climate change and sustainability initiatives on campus. In addition to trying to affect behavioral change on campus, the resulting open data sets will model the value of openness and sharing for advancing the research and administration of the university. Comparative, cross-campus analyses would and should follow. Closer to campus, university CIOs should consider this year following the lead of the federal CIO in developing transparent and common approaches to an open.gov for campuses (open.yourcampus.edu) and the university sector as a whole (open.edu).

10) American Global Competitiveness and Research and Education Networks (IT and its contribution to reducing the town-gown divide). A full third of the $7 billion in federal stimulus for broadband went to research and education. Next year the real work begins all across the nation as architects and network engineers begin the daunting task of doubling the size of the network to connect more than 130,000 educational, research, and other public sector facilities across the nation. This is the single largest investment that has ever been, and will likely ever be, made in research and education networks in this country. How the narrative around the national effort known as UCAN is told and internalized is likely to focus on the myth of advanced next generation networks being vital to American global competitiveness. After all, many of our international institutional partners and competitors continue to invest -- along with their national, regional, and local governments -- in next-generation infrastructure to attract and retain faculty researchers, graduate students, and creative entrepreneurs. The lighting up of the next-generation advanced network will launch globally competitive industries and bring America back as the “Comeback Nation.”

An equally compelling narrative can be developed to leverage this next generation infrastructure to advance the research activities of our great universities AND attend to the priorities of the communities around us. The result of the new advanced 100-gig network being built across the country could render meaningful a new myth of “impacting global by acting local.” For example, extending enhanced and advanced network-enabled university research and academic curriculum programs to focus on increasing wellness and health outcomes through neighborhood network connected health hubs and home-based wellness education can lead to better and more timely education, identification, intervention and reduction in important health outcomes measures. A rich and diverse research program could inform this effort and include wellness outcomes and examining new models of health economics. Another example might be to focus on improving STEM education outcomes for young people through peer, mentor, and collaborative community partnerships enabled over the advanced networks. The next-generation network will enable us to bring the nation’s best science museums to learners, organize town hall debates over science policy, and stimulate public awareness about STEM and workforce development opportunities delivered from a community center, church, or home. In a series of smart grid research projects (the Case Connection Zone is one such undertaking), university researchers in partnership with industry and public utilities can contribute to educating and enabling residences to reduce their consumption of nonrenewable energy, contributing to the planet and the pocketbook. Augmenting the research agenda of our great universities through deliberate community intervention strategies can be accelerated through choreographed activities of the research community, IT and network engineering, and a commitment to supporting evaluation and at the same time catalyzing innovation, attracting investment and supporting the value of quality of life. Being globally competitive becomes a derivative rather than the objective of the build out of the most ambitious networking project of our generation.

Challenging a myopic view of the year ahead is no small challenge. It is indeed difficult to make sense of dynamics beyond our control. As uncertainty and constraint become the oxygen we breathe in the year ahead, those organizations that can embrace the ambiguity and leverage changes in the environment to adapt will not only assure survival but refocus the relevance of IT to the mission of the university itself.

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December 14, 2010

The Future of IT Leadership on Campus

This past year, I've written four columns for Educause Quarterly on the Future of Higher Education. The first column dealt with the Future of Education and the different and evolving needs of learners. The second column concerned the future of IT staff. The third column speculated on the future of faculty roles. In this, the fourth and final column, I take aim at the future of IT Leadership itself.

    Rosencrantz: My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go with us to the king.

    Hamlet: The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body. The king is a thing.

    — Hamlet: Act 4, Scene 2

In the beginning we cast ourselves as high priests. We had others build us grand temples as modern mausoleums in the center of which resided the sacred mainframe computer. All of us old enough to remember recall the special wizard-like roles of those who tended to the machine. Those who led the wizards, plastic pen protectors in place, were viewed with reverence. Then the advent of the personal computer smashed efforts to preserve the hereditary line of the high priesthood.

The emergence of an era of possibility and plenty recast our role into those of the chosen people. Unabashed idealism combined with charismatic leadership and a healthy dose of rhetoric gave rise to the audacious idea of transforming the enterprise of higher education. The chosen people, themselves led by charismatic technology visionaries, would lead the academy, apparently lost and aimless for centuries in the wilderness of the desert of pre-personal computers, into a new promised land. The advent — and powerful appeal — of networks connecting computers and people from around the campus and around the world represented prophetic leadership. These prophets envisioned a world with as many blinking lights around network routers and switches as there were stars in the skies or grains of sand in the desert. The torch of scientific discovery and historical evolution naturally culminated in the digitally networked campus. A generation of heroes invented the Internet, and their prodigy produced a new platform called the World Wide Web. A new dominant ideology of endless possibilities was born. Compelling indeed were those who invented a leadership role to advance this emergent information technology ecosystem and convinced the powers that be that every president needed a new commander-in-chief for technology.

A message with a certain messianic appeal led presidents to privilege the message and the messenger of the knowledge age. Threats like Y2K positioned the CIO as the harbinger of untold chaos — and the bulwark against it. The insatiable demand for resources from networks to ERP led CIOs to command $100m organizations and staffing levels approaching 1,000 IT professionals on research campuses engaged in an arms race in pursuit of technological supremacy.

And then a funny thing happened. The promise of productivity and efficiency of information technology combined with the centrifugal logic of the networks came to pass. Globalization with all of its disruptive impulses in the economic, cultural, and education domains would not have materialized in the accelerated fashion we are witnessing without the compounding impact of our computing and networking power. Distributed technical architectures and the convenience of personal choice made possible by those architectures, along with the associated consumer sovereignty that they have spawned, have led to a new era of technical rationality. Just as history has recorded many eras of human ingenuity and the social organizations that follow, traditional forms of strategy and vision have given way to tactics, transactions, and method. The encrusting of rules, laws, norms, and practices associated with the use of information technology has become the preoccupation of the institution and thus informs much of its leaders’ roles. Power and authority associated with the hierarchy and control of earlier eras has begun to melt away under the network effect. Innovation and the artifacts of control now flow from the center to the edges of the network. Earlier investment patterns have yielded to incremental funding models in which centralized value is measured against an output calculation largely defined by accounting principles. The foundations of much received wisdom are now in flux. Through the success of our networks, the economies of scale associated with computing and storage capacity, and the innovations and economics of nomadic and mobile experiences, what was once solid is melting into thin air.

Is the king dead? The old assumptions about the roles and privileges of the king and queen and their courtiers have begun to collapse beneath the range of new possibilities for leadership on our campuses. Consider three broad leadership scenarios:

    Embrace the assumption that technology is now a utility and generally does not provide strategic advantage. In this scenario leadership becomes managing sourcing strategies for the utility and internal customer relationships, and squeezing capacity to support new unfunded mandates associated with the new high priests, chosen people, and prophets on the campus planning horizon, whoever and whatever they might be.
    Align the organization and its capacity to genuinely support strategic activity. If the institution embraces any form of strategic direction, IT can become an innovative enabler as well as a transformational agent in achieving strategic work. Maintaining focus on strategic differentiators is not easy in the best run organizations, and it is even more challenging in many institutional settings in higher education. IT leadership can provide a consistent and credible voice for the value of having strategies with which others, including IT, can align.
    Dare to artfully challenge the institution and its leadership to continue to see a vital role for innovation and creative work in IT as an ineluctable part of the university’s strategic leadership portfolio. Learning to thrive in the ambiguity of where and how innovation and creativity dynamically render on campus is an existential identity question, not a strategic concern of the institution. Ceding a modicum of control, celebrating the innovation of others, partnering to co-produce and co-enable others to take the institution to the edge of the possible are the objectives of all 21st century university leadership, including information technology leaders.
Somewhere among these scenarios is what I think Shakespeare meant in parsing the differences between the king, his body, and his spirit. The King is dead — long live the King!

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
December 2010

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October 08, 2010

The Future of Higher Education and the Roles of Faculty

The current issue of the Educause Quarterly includes my third OpEd piece on the Future of Education. This one focuses on the roles of faculty in networked education, global research challenges, and teacher preparation for the 21st century.

About 85 institutions in the Western world established by 1500 still exist in recognizable forms, with similar functions and unbroken histories, including the Catholic church, the Parliaments of the Isle of Man, of Iceland, and of Great Britain, several Swiss cantons, and 70 universities. Kings that rule, feudal lords with vassals, and guilds with monopolies are all gone. These seventy universities, however, are still in the same locations with some of the same buildings, with professors and students doing much the same things, and with governance carried on in much the same ways.
— Clark Kerr1

Forces of continuity and disruption are observable within any ecosystem. The complexion of today's university and college faculty is at once the single most important institutional force representing the high priesthood of continuity and agents provocateurs inciting adaptive innovation and experimentation at an almost breathless pace.

The rollback of public investment in, pressure for access to, and indeterminate impact of globalization on postsecondary education all contribute to significant disorientation in our thinking about the future of the university. And then there are the disruptive impacts of information technology that only serve to exacerbate the general set of contradictions that we associate with the university. The faculty are autonomous and constrained, powerful and vulnerable, innovative at the margins yet conservative at the core, dedicated to education while demeaning teaching, devoted to liberal arts and yet powerfully vocational, nonprofit in their sensibilities and at the same time opportunistically commercial, in what Kerr calls an "aristocracy of intellect" in a populist society.2

Those contradictions are heightened in the information age. Given the underlying anatomy of the Internet — respecting no hierarchy, boundary, or presumptive authority — it comes as little surprise that faculty continue to grapple with their own identities in the context of the changes fomented by information technology. In the first two columns of this series, I reflected on the impact of:

    tectonic shifts associated with the seemingly anarchic world of social networks, the avalanche of research challenges that beg for collaboration in a university social order that has yet to adapt fully and leverage the opportunity to its consequences, and the growing commoditization and consumerization of technologies on the future of students and staff in the university. While the proportions will undoubtedly vary depending on the institutional setting, there is an emergent typology of faculty roles and responsibilities in the Internet era.

Online Mentoring and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning — Revisited

Faculty acceptance of learning moving in part or in whole to online environments has been an important debate these past 20 years. While the debate will continue,3 the marketplace has already hit an inflection point — online education is a growing part of what learners want and are prepared to invest in. What has yet to emerge is a peer or professional association standard for outstanding online mentoring and instruction. Bill Gates's recent prediction that within five years the best education will come from the Internet4 generates ridicule and derision on the one hand and on the other the assertion that the best education already comes from the Net. In aggregate, according to research by Ambient Insight, online learning in both a hybrid bricks-and-click mode as well as completely online is quickly approaching parity with the traditional classroom-only experience.5 One of the studies predicted that by 2014 more than 20 million students will choose exclusive online and hybrid online learning experiences, far eclipsing the 5 million students who will choose the classroom-only options available. While a healthy skepticism about the trends predicted by any one study is merited, defining excellence, what constitutes best practices, and an emerging gold standard for online mentoring and instruction is an opportunity (as well as a threat) to the faculty in our universities and colleges. Beyond convenience, price, and agility, the wealth of experience among the professoriate can — and indeed, should — help distinguish and develop a new set of standards of distinction.

Reimaging Teacher Education in a Connected World

Of all the disconnects and contradictions in the early decades of the 21st century, perhaps none is as important to future generations as the challenge facing faculties in schools of education. Educating for citizenship in the global village, digital literacies, and reflection and originality in a mashup world are enormous challenges even if there were no legacy education system. All too often the refrain "students are simply not ready for university/college" leads to faculty and administrators washing their hands of responsibility. Over the next quarter century, the students we educate today will be tomorrow's teachers, challenged with developing meaningful curricula blending 20th and 21st century realities. Globalization and information technology have been great equalizers these past 25 years in terms of K–12 education, and over the next 25 years other countries' education systems with less legacy and more agility stand to make significant progress in preparing their younger societies with 21st century skills in what looks to be a hyper-connected global economy. Leadership among our university faculty should view the challenge to help rethink the boundaries within pre-K–20 learning as an opportunity to contribute to fashioning meaningful learning spaces and experiential learning opportunities for the 21st century.

Global Research Challenges

From the 10,000 research scientists and engineers from over 100 countries working on the Large Hadron Collider exploring the origins of the universe, to the billions of dollars from hundreds of national and private agencies investing in translational medicine, to advancing personalized medicine and our knowledge of diseases such as Alzheimer's,6 many of the big challenges of our time are cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional. All of them leverage information technology for data collection, analysis, and dissemination. The underlying economics of our disciplinary-based institutional arrangements are rarely flexible enough to advance these grand challenges. Many faculty view their departments and the university as a whole as too often hindering their aspirations to take on these global challenges. The university that acknowledges and rewards open collaboration, data sharing, and unprecedented knowledge dissemination, all enabled through information technology, will help distinguish itself and its faculty, enabling them to attract and retain outstanding researchers. While university administrators can provide incentives (or disincentives) and lend vision to those who might provide philanthropy or external funding for such an approach to 21st century global research questions, faculty and faculty governance will evolve innovative institutional arrangements to enable research breakthroughs both on the campus and above the campus through collaborative scholarly societies.

Reflected through these three prisms of learning, teaching, and research, the university will have an important purpose 500 years from now. Kerr's 70 universities will still be in the same locations with some of the same buildings. However, how professors and students engage in the process of discovery, reflection, and scholarly communication will look different 25 years from now, not to mention 500 years from now. Credentialing and offering the imprimatur of degrees of completion will remain our stock-in-trade. Kerr's reflection on the "uses of the university" in the 21st century7 challenges us to find opportunities to reinvigorate university faculty through new roles, new challenges, and new organizational arrangements to advance and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University, 5th Ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 115.
Ibid., p. 91.
Josh Keller and Marc Parry, "U. of California Considers Online Classes, or Even Degrees," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 9, 2010.
M. G. Siegler, "Bill Gates: In Five Years, the Best Education Will Come From the Web," TechCrunch, August 6, 2010.
David Nagel, "The Future of E-Learning Is More Growth," T.H.E. Journal, March 3, 2010, and "Most College Students to Take Classes Online by 2014," Campus Technology, October 28, 2009.
Gina Kolata, "Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer's," New York Times, August 12, 2010.
Kerr, The Uses of the University.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

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August 31, 2010

Services above the Campus and the Future of IT in Higher Education

As we return to campus this fall, the rituals of the new semester bring with it a familiarity with students moving into residence, faculty rushing to complete their syllabi for the new year, and IT staff working hard to finish all the summer projects that were supposed to be done before classes start up.

This fall there is an interesting dialog underway among CIOs in the research university setting that is very different than previous back to school seasons. As I note in a column in the current issue of Educause Quarterly the topic is the impact and maturing of a range of offerings that challenge us to explore the relevance of "IT as a service" on campus. In particular, in this column I focus on engaging with talented IT staff on our campuses.

As always, I welcome feedback and insights. Welcome back to campus.

Here is the text of the article

Vladimir: Well? What do we do?
Estragon: Don't let's do anything. It's safer.
Vladimir: Let's wait and see what he says.
Estragon: Who?
Vladimir: Godot.
Estragon: Good idea.
Vladimir: Let's wait till we know exactly how we stand.
Estragon: On the other hand it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes.
Vladimir: I'm curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we'll take it or leave it.
Estragon: What exactly did we ask him for?
Vladimir: Oh... Nothing very definite.
— Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Act One

Like the protagonists in Beckett's play, many IT staff are waiting for their own Godot, in much the same manner. We in higher education IT constructed the digital native as an instantiation of our own vision of the student of the future. We fantasized about faculty colleagues who would transform themselves from the sages on the stage to the guides on the side. To varying degrees our ideal types of the emergent 21st century student and the nascent teachers of tomorrow are less of a mirage than our understanding of our own future selves as information technologists in higher education. Secular technology forces and trends, institutional maturation and evolving priorities, new and different market realities, and broad and significant social needs separately and together challenge the identity and role of today's IT professional staff inside the higher education ecosystem.

As our futures become more open, global, lifelong, and informal, how does the role of the professional information technologist evolve to remain relevant to the new "normal" condition full of contradictory technology dynamics, shifting institutional priorities, growing security and privacy issues, and new demand-side realities of voracious consumer appetites that challenge our traditional value and role within the university?

University IT Staff as Experts

Universities and colleges enjoyed an advantage in the emergent networked world. After all, as much as any other major institutional force in society, higher education was there at the beginning. The explosive and transformational change occasioned by the networked world has far outgrown the boundaries of our university campuses, however. Our enormously talented technical staff now lead national and international standards bodies, contribute creatively and abundantly to open- and community-sourced projects, and still keep up, the best they can, with the enormous complexity and dynamism of the technology environments on campus. To the extent that there ever was a balance between agility on the one hand and expertise on the other, most campus technologists in network services, storage and server engineering, security operations, database management, and administrative applications support are rightly concerned about how they can best fulfill continuing professional commitments to remaining both expert and responsive to the multiple and conflicting demands for new services across campus.

Shifting Institutional Priorities and the Future of IT Staff Roles

While there were and indeed still are some exceptions, IT enjoyed its pinnacle as a strategic imperative on university and college campuses over a decade ago. University presidents and boards of trustees broadly embraced the transformational potential of IT in the early 1990s, succumbed to the institutional risks of not investing in IT (most notably during the Y2K "crisis"), and to varying degrees saw investments in IT as a possible differentiator in their broader strategic vision. As the new millennium has set in, general fatigue with the continuing insatiable demand for ever scarcer financial resources has led to a growing bifurcation of the institutional view of IT: the cost center, in which IT is managed for efficiency and directed to save costs; and the strategic force, worthy of strategic institutional investment as both an enabler of other strategic mission work and as an institutional differentiator. While CIOs continue to do their utmost to manage their portfolios between operations and strategic work, IT professional staff run the risk of being caught in changing institutional priorities.

The rhetorical institutional commitment to "invest in our people" has become more complicated in the world of IT on the university campus. To be sure, we need to invest in technical talent; the challenge is how to shift our orientation to staff hiring, development, and retention in a world informed by significant pressure at the institutional priority-setting level. Technologists are, most of them by their very DNA, interested in and attracted to change environments. The general organizational culture and practices implemented over the past quarter-century by IT management do not position IT staff to become as valuable as we might aspire to in the new institutional priority-setting reality of many university campuses. Transforming the traditional functional organization into a more agile, project-focused organization requires capacity building and deliberate organizational development efforts that relatively few organizations either inside or outside the university have carried out.

The Rise of Consumer Sovereignty, the Demise of Central Control, and the Future of IT Staff

Resistance to the onslaught of consumer products and services invading the campus environment is futile. The broad consumer electronics and technology economy now dwarfs the so-called "enterprise" commercial environment in both size and pace of change and innovation. Universities are incubation settings for life-style gadgets, social networking media, and new platforms for collaboration services. The longstanding core value of open environments makes it nearly impossible to imagine policing and locking down our network services. Surrendering a modicum of control need not be a blemish on the resume of a CIO. However, conceding the new reality that will inform our work, study, and play on campus does mean that the work IT staff do on campus shifts in important ways. Some parts of the university IT environment will remain focused on supporting vertical products and platform standards. The dynamic technical part of the IT organization will necessarily shift to competencies focused on integration services that connect different applications, applets, and services to enable reconfigurable, customizable, and personalized user experiences. More than ever, the customer experience rules, and IT organizations on campus will need to be very creative in shifting investments in staffing and cultural orientation to privilege the increasingly demanding requirements of our students, faculty, and staff colleagues.

Technology as a Service and the Future of IT Staff

The elephant in the room at many universities is how to make sense of the secular IT trend broadly described as technology as a service (Resources). Some will argue that the trend is early in its maturity curve, others will speak of first-mover advantages, and still others will warn of universities abandoning IT as a strategic asset in favor of unsustainable business models and market hype about what amounts to privatizing and outsourcing IT on campus. Make no mistake, this topic in various forms will be the central debate on our campus technology agenda for the next decade and beyond. This conversation can serve as a catalyst for strategic dialogue on the future of IT and the role of IT professional staff in higher education. Where will we place our finite IT investments, and how do we creatively generate capacity to attend to both operational needs and innovation agendas of the future? How can we ensure that IT stays relevant to strategic planning and the institutional mission rather than finding itself sidelined and playing a more limited role on campus?

We can wait for our Godot, or we can be deliberative in our internal conversations about crafting our futures. The choice is ours.

Lev Gonick
August 30, 2010

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March 21, 2010

Universities and The National Broadband Plan

Today's lead editorial in the New York Times, along with an OpEd piece by Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler make the case for leveraging the FCC's "Connecting America" National Broadband Plan to create a competitive and open access broadband future to enable a 21st century, globally competitive America. America's higher education community can and should play a major role in leading the nation's long overdue first national broadband plan. Our role can include an assurance that there is an open access option in support of broad public policy goals.

The six leading goals of the Plan include a baseline commitment for affordable access to broadband, leading edge commitments to ultra broadband connectivity for a significant number of households, public anchor tenants in every community with robust capacity to support next generation applications and services, a focus on safety and energy services, and an acknowledgement that mobility is one of the most compelling experiences associated with broadband. America's leading research and education networks have applauded the National Broadband Plan. The Plan's recommendation for One Gbps Connectivity Goal For Community Anchor Institutions positions our regional and national research and education networks, one of our genuine national strengths, for extending the connectivity by provisioning services to schools, libraries, colleges, museums and other community education assets that are still isolated and or not well served. Working with the FCC, our community's broadband leaders have collaborated with a broad coalition of public network champions to develop a comprehensive "Unified Community Anchor Network" (UCAN) touching perhaps 200,000 community anchor institutions envisioned by the FCC.

Building out UCAN is a multi-billion dollar undertaking. Leveraging the more than 60,000 institutions already connected to our regional and national research and education networks provides an undeniable and critically important jump start in completing this hugely important foundational highway building project. If someone asked me, I think funding a multi-phased UCAN is an undertaking of herculean proportion and should be a national priority. UCAN should be a clarion call for inter-agency collaboration at both the federal, state, and coordinated regional level. A deliberate choreography among transportation, education, economic development, general services administration, research, labor and job training, health, energy, and bevy of regulatory agencies is vital. Not unlike the imperative for national security coordinated activity, UCAN calls for nothing less than a national and integrated approach to building out this unified network. The stakes are too high to let the network design, funding, and operation unfold in a business as usual fashion.

UCAN is the beginning but hardly the end of what we in Higher Education should and can contribute to the national broadband plan. Let's recall, there are over 60,000 institutions and community pubic anchor "middle mile" assets already connected to the research and education community networks. In parallel to the highway building project, network R&D activity over the past 40 years has driven innovation and productivity gains, which has aided economic growth and community development. The five goals of the National Broadband Plan, beyond the highway building activity presents an historic opportunity for universities. Next generation research on wireless networks and new protocols for transporting voice and data services are made possible only because we have R&E networks. New sensors and technologies for energy grid and energy management activities can move from computerized simulations from our labs to testbed projects around our universities as part of the broadly endorsed President's Climate Commitment. Many of our great universities are physically located in inner-city settings. We all have responsibilities for public safety. Next generation integrated public safety services over IP using our networks and college neighborhoods for testbed facilities are all ready to come out of the lab and get road tested.

At the heart of America's Universities 21st mission is our capacity to introduce a whole new range of network enabled health and wellness services and advanced education experimental and research activities. Universities and colleges across the nation should align university-based strategic work with what will likely be a century of national investments and national policy goals associated with our national broadband plans. An active commitment to engage in a comprehensive manner with the 6 goals of the national broadband plan will advance a bold 21st century research and education agenda. In addition to supporting research and education we are positioned to contribute significantly to open access and support the conditions for a more competitive and generative network ecosystem. The future of our great universities is intimately and inextricably connected to the health and well being of the cities and neighborhoods within which we live, work, and study. Our network research program can and should reach out beyond the confines of the geographic boundaries of our universities. The social, economic, health, and educational challenges facing the nation are not limited to our research labs and our institutional boundaries. To the extent that we are committed to addressing the great and nasty challenges of our age we need to be deliberate in developing a research agenda and an infrastructure capacity that allows us to contribute to the major policy issues of our day. As we design and build our research platforms that take us to the neighborhoods and communities around our universities our network architecture should be informed by a commitment to open access. This means that we should develop business models and models of network operations that support our research and education program and, at the same time, allows for competitive commercial and non-profits services and offerings to be run over that same network capacity. As we see all around the world, this approach leads to a messy vitality of competitively-priced products and services being offered in the marketplace. Universities have an opportunity to pilot and test this approach. Here in Cleveland, at Case Western Reserve University, we have begun a small set of such research programs.

According to the Plan, "America’s top research universities continue this R&D effort today in their efforts to experiment with very fast 1 Gbps networks (gigabit networks). For example, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, with 40 institutional partners, vendors and community organizations, is planning a University Circle Innovation Zone in the economically impoverished area around the university to provide households, schools, libraries and museums with gigabit fiber optic connections. Case Western expects this network to create jobs in the community and spawn software and service development for Smart Grid, health, science and other applications, as well as foster technology, engineering and mathematics education services."

Later this week (March 25th) we will be providing a demonstration of the early fruit of the Case Connection Zone at our Gigabit Breakfast Club. As noted in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, the morning will focus on alpha demonstrations of big broadband offerings in health and wellness, STEM education, household energy management, and neighborhood safety. The end point in these demonstrations is our newly opened Alpha House, a public briefing center. The Alpha House is part of our first 104 home Beta Block research program. A second Beta Block and Alpha House are now in the early design stages.

If you are interested in more details, or a visit to the Alpha House, feel free to drop me a line. Circle May 6th for another update on the Beta Block here at Case Western Reserve during our Community CollabTech and then a series of public demonstrations as part of the annual Hessler Street Fair.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio
March 21, 2010

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March 04, 2010

The Future of Higher Education

Educause Quarterly has just released an entire issue on the Future of Higher Education. I was honored to be asked by Nancy Hays, the EQ editor, to kick off a four part series on the Future of Education with this dedicated issue. The published piece can be found here.

Below is the original, unabridged version. As always, thank you in advance for your comments and feedback.


    Information is not knowledge, Knowledge is not wisdom, Wisdom is not truth, Truth is not beauty, Beauty is not love, Love is not music, and Music is the best. Wisdom is the domain of Wis (which is extinct)

    Frank Zappa – Packard Goose from Joe’s Garage: Act II and III (Tower Records, 1979)

I want to refract on futures. What will the enterprise we call post-secondary education portend for over the next 25 years, the next chapter of the interaction between challenge, discovery, scholarship, learning, teaching, and technology? The four parts of the prism I will exam through this column are student experiences, staff contributions, the role of faculty, and finally the emergence of learning communities.

Ours is an era of abundance. History, until the mid-20th century, has largely been told as a series of philosophies about the human condition in which everything from the mundane to the metaphysical has been constrained by a world and a worldview informed by scarcity. The explosion of data and information catalyzed by Metcalfe’s Law (http://vcmike.wordpress.com/2006/08/18/metcalfe-social-networks/) positions intelligent search, network affinities, and the prospects for a personalized, customizable semantic web as the conduit for knowledge development and sharing wisdom.

To provide some perspective, writing in the early 1960s, French philosopher, theologian and technology skeptic, Jacques Ellul notes with some evident disdain (The Technological Society, Vintage Books, NY, 1964: pg. 432] the fanciful predictions of American and Russian futurists published in the Paris weekly, L’express regarding science, technology, and society in the year 2000.

    “The most remarkable predictions concerns the transformation of educational methods … Knowledge (according to the Futurists) will be accumulated in “electronic banks” and transmitted directly to the human nervous system by mean of coded electronic messages. There will no longer be any need of reading or learning mountains of useless information; everything will be received and registered according to the needs of the moment.” Ellul shares his skeptical view that “What is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness.”

Autonomous thinking machines are no longer purely rhetorical vehicles for futurists. And while one can debate the prescient insights of the collection cited by Ellul, his framing of the challenge facing students foreshadows the single most important issue for the next generation of learners. The learning enterprise for students is changing, most likely forever. A long historical epoch of scarce knowledge and the pursuit of mastery of relevant domains is nearing its final dusk. Competency is less about comprehensive recall, a function that machines and search engines do pretty well. The emerging learning enterprise is about designing and creating experiences that provide opportunities to discover and gain 21st century competencies based on assembly, synthesis, perspective, critique, and inter-connected systems thinking. The mechanisms for certifying competency, along with what I will refer to as emergent learning communities, are the value and brand of traditional universities in the 21st century. Once a near monopoly producer of a certain set of valued and relevant skills in the post-war era, the traditional university’s market role has given way to a growing number of providers of valued and relevant skills and education in the maturing connected learning era.

Four broad categories of student learners and learning approaches occupy the remainder of this column. They face new challenges and opportunities as they embark on their journey of discovery, securing relevant competencies and experiences for the connected learning era.

1. Open Learning

“Open education” refers to the emergence of a growing repository of nonproprietary, structured learning materials and experiences. Most of these open educational resources originate online, but over time student use of this content will blend both synchronous and asynchronous online use along with self-directed learning and a multiplicity of face-to-face learning environments. Today tens of millions of students are experimenting with first-generation open content. Within a relatively short time more than 100 million open educational learners will find compelling motives to access the single largest, dynamic body of student-centered learning materials available. Lest anyone dismiss this renaissance of learning as having down-market value only, MIT President Emeritus Charles Vest noted just four years ago:

    My view is that in the open-access movement, we are seeing the early emergence of a meta-university — a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced. The Internet and the Web will provide the communication infrastructure, and the open-access movement and its derivatives will provide much of the knowledge and information infrastructure.1

2. Global Learning

The Internet enabled a worldwide connected infrastructure that supported acceleration of the global economy and a variously described flat or flat-with-some-bumps world. Scholars from peripheral outposts, far from pre-Internet knowledge clusters, gained equal access to scholarly research materials and near real-time interaction with colleagues at the most prestigious institutions. This dramatic reframing of scholarship has not been accompanied by a parallel transformation in the student experience, represented by scalable, cross-national collaborations between students of diverse backgrounds. Even though a mountain of data extending back to the Peace Corps era suggests the significant impact of cross-cultural exchanges, relatively few global initiatives support sustained student learning about the world around them.

The single most important student-related experience leveraging the Internet in an international context has been keeping in touch with friends and family via e-mail, blogs, Flickr, or Skype. Many students, especially those from the United States, inherit parochial views of the world until and unless they become engaged in structured experiences to expand their horizons. Along with an imperative to give students a better understanding of their role in a highly interdependent, if still significantly uneven, world economy, there is also a tendency to view Internet-based exchanges as supporting a homogenization of learning and culture. As we gain a more nuanced understanding of cultures, politics, gender relations, and the different kinds of impact technology can have on the relationship between peoples and their governments, the time is ripe to develop a more integrated approach to the student experience and the world stage upon which they can and should play an active role. Deans for Global Experiences and the Internet could facilitate structured engagement among international affinity groups. The subject matter of the Global Experience and the Internet curriculum can itself be a long-tail program enabled through thoughtful design leveraging the global Internet. Ongoing, multi-institutional projects that include discovery, data gathering, cross-cultural training, cross-cultural exchanges, and project work represent a unique opportunity to link relevant challenges to the pervasive global resources of the Internet.

3. Lifelong Learning

The breadth and depth of change occasioned by the Internet and the global economy has been profound. Setting aside the question of whether academic disciplines have kept up with the new realities, the dislocation associated with these structural changes has significantly affected higher education. During economic downturns, universities call upon their offices for continuing and professional education to meet increased need with increased capacity in response to a whole new cohort of learners whose jobs, careers, and skills sets have been negatively impacted. The Obama administration places significant emphasis on building capacity to position community colleges to develop 21st century job skills among students. Likewise, education czars in state capitols across the nation realize that economic development and sustainable recovery are intimately connected to the performance of the postsecondary education sector.

Less obvious is how, if at all, the higher education sector is working with the federal and state higher education bureaucracies to leverage the networked economy in educating millions of workers seeking new, high-paying, clean jobs for the 21st century. A distinct risk exists that recovery will come on top of a service economy, with all the economic weaknesses entailed. The challenge is to create a robust, generative digital economy with a well-developed pipeline of talent and clear articulation of relevant skills.

We need a new master plan for educating today’s students, more than 15 percent of whom are single parents and 75 percent of whom are nontraditional students (nearly forty percent over the age of 25),2 that covers the millions of people seriously impacted by the structural collapse of the economy. The new market for university students is significant by its size, demographic profile, and disinclination to physically attend a traditional college, even if there were enough physically available. Nor should a new national plan for 21st century postsecondary education be built on the artificial segmentation imposed by traditional Carnegie classifications. We should also be wary of unfettered market responses that see opportunities to maximize profit with short-term fixes to structural challenges. We need an integrated approach that leverages the scalable platforms harnessing the Internet to create this generation’s 21st Century Higher Education Opportunity Act.

4. Informal Learning

Finally, while demographic trends are shifting away from the traditional, on-campus residential student, the needs of this important group of learners warrants examination. Choosing to live on campus as part of the collegiate experience represents the value placed on student life and informal learning. For many students, the informal learning moments before or after the formal class or lab remain their most vivid memories. In addition, the innovations generated by students in residence shed light on the value and quality of informal learning. Consider, for example, college startups from Facebook to Corkshare, or the dormcubator program called VeloCity at the University of Waterloo, which focuses on a wide range of initiatives from women and entrepreneurship to mobile and gaming startup ventures. Students apply to join the dormcubator to combine their academic studies with their interests and passions in software innovation.

Residential college experiences have often led on-campus learning innovation at the intersection of science and technology, as well. Experimentation with video, virtual worlds, massive online player games, iPhone apps development, and hundreds of other experiences make life in the dorms a beehive of activity. Within the interstices of a relatively slow-moving curriculum, the innovation associated with the Internet and information technology unfolding in the residence halls of college campuses bears witness to the data, information, knowledge, wisdom hierarchy (not to mention love and music).

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH
March 4, 2010

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