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 ( 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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January 06, 2010

2010: The Year Ahead for IT in Higher Education

What a difference a year makes. Most CIOs in higher education are turning their 2009 holiday stockings inside out looking for any extra crumbs that Kris Kringle might have left behind. For many technology leaders, the general fiscal crunch facing higher education – and the double digit percentage cuts to IT budgets it has compelled -- may have made playing the holiday Scrooge a piece of cake compared to the negative consequences to core IT services and offerings likely in the year ahead.

To those living with the hopeful yet delusional strategy of an early return to the status quo ante, my suggestion is to get use to the so-called “new normal”. The reality of our 2010 technology services portfolio on the campus is likely to make CIO leadership seem more like ‘high siding’, the art of leading a white water river raft down a Class 6 set of rapids, than the image of the captain of the enterprise ocean liner that many associate with the slow moving, reliable, robust, legacy organization on campus. High siding is the deliberate act of leaning the weight of the entire raft and its riders towards the obstacles ahead, rather than approaching the obstacles sideways following the current.

The new normal carries the contradictions of both a fragile macro-economic recovery and a countervailing trend of only modest increases in enrollment and new federal research investments predicted for the fall of 2010 (with the important exception of the community college environment). The new normal is less financial leverage and smaller investments in core infrastructure, including IT on campus, even though the price of borrowing money has never been lower. The new normal is more and faster disruption to the consumer technology eco-system at the same time that levels of investment in our aging IT enterprise infrastructure decline in both real and relative terms.

Finally, the new normal is reflected in the contrarian wisdom of the need to be more, not less, innovative, more creative, not more conventional. During a downturn, at the very moment when the real fiscal pressures leads to squeezing out almost all of our abilities to provide strategic capacity, this is the very time our universities need it most.

The portfolio of managing requirements for operational excellence, customer service, and even more selective innovation (r&d) activity has never been more challenging. Taken together, the prospects of multiple years of negative budget growth in IT on campus, end-user expectations for near real time, free, and fully integrated services to their consumer world (choose your favorite mobile platform as an example), and a series of real Tylenol 3 headaches around security and personal information breaches -- both in the enterprise domain and across the distributed parts of the campus -- portend for a wild river ride ahead in 2010.

With dueling banjos strumming in the background, if you’re old enough to remember the movie “Deliverance,” here are my top 10 trends for higher education for the year ahead, 2010.

(1)Public Cloud Services Go Private. Cloud services are a wide range of hosted services and solutions that migrate from the data center on campus to hosting environments somewhere on the Internet. The “somewhere” is known as the Cloud. First came e-mail, then calendaring. What were once critical on-campus services are now living a normal and nomadic lifestyle. The overall outcome for the campus has been positive. But it doesn’t stop there. Hundreds of campuses have migrated their video platforms off campus to iTunes and YouTube. Millions of hours of branded academic and academic-related content including lectures, performances, panels, colloquia, and student content are now reliably served up in the Cloud. New cloud services roll out weekly. In 2010 we will likely see the next frontier of these tools, and even turnkey solutions. Expect new “private cloud” services that allow the same economies of scale associated with public cloud services, yet are “protected” with a layer of privacy and regulatory ability. These new private cloud services will afford additional certainty that data are residing on geographically knowable infrastructure, or in a way that assures compliance with export licensing, or honors certain service level agreements regarding privacy or a no co-mingling requirement for certain data. More pragmatically, starting in 2010, universities will want to embrace a hybrid architecture for storage and computing that combines on-campus resources, private cloud services for others, and open public cloud resources for other kinds of applications. The emerging typology will go a long way to define taxonomies for our services portfolio for 2010 and beyond. Hard resistance to this mega-trend remains futile; the value proposition only grows in its attractiveness. Confronting cloud services on campus is a proxy for an always important dialog on what constitutes today’s ‘core’ services for IT and what can be considered ‘context’ around which others have developed core competencies.

(2) The President’s Climate Commitment Meets the Campus Data Center. Nearly 700 college and university presidents have signed up to go green. Plans follow and each one contains a commitment to be scored. IT infrastructure on campus produces perhaps as much as 20 percent of the total carbon footprint of the campus. According to the Climate Group, 37 percent of the carbon footprint comes from network electronics, 14 percent from the data center, and 49 percent from PCs and peripherals. Going green is important to University Presidents, our Boards, our students, and hopefully to the IT community. One trend for reducing campus carbon footprints is the move to the Cloud. Cap and trade, and/or some kind of carbon regime, is emerging on the fast track. There’s a lot of work to be done by the IT community both on campus and in the corporate vendor community to get on board. In 2010 we’ll see several major offerings to contribute to reducing campus carbon footprints by investing scarce resources to virtualize more of our data center infrastructure, monitor our infrastructure on an even more granular scale, and embrace campus-wide commitment to go both smart and green through our purchasing offices. Pro-active engagement by IT on the Climate Commitment and our own infrastructure affords us an important opportunity to work with the facilities and planning communities on adopting a smart and green plan across the campus. More introspectively, embracing the commitment also positions IT leaders to begin an overdue internal discussion on organizing a single, unified, and intergraded network engineering team for data, voice, video, and now data center services.

(3)Big Science meets Next Generation CyberInfrastructure. In the past 12 months more than $100 billion in federal “stimulus” funds have found their way to universities and research labs across the country. Coordination of the big science projects across the federal agencies has been constrained by one time gold rush fever, combined with bureaucratic imperatives and exacerbated by the directive to get dollars out the door quickly. Obviously not all big science is computationally based. That being said, university-based big science teams together with their computational research infrastructure colleagues on campus and across the country have an opportunity in 2010 to map out how to leverage this unprecedented one-time set of investments into a set of sustainable, network-enabled and network-based mega science endeavors. It’s been more than seven years since the NSF blue-ribbon committee in 2002/2003 posed the question “how can we remove existing barriers to the rapid evolution of high performance computing, making it truly usable by all the nation's scientists, engineers, scholars, and citizens?” While the challenge of breakthrough science remains as compelling and important as ever, the absence of an integrated national cyberinfrastructure planning framework and action plan serves as a major rate-limiting dead weight on the nation’s future. 2010 would be a great time to join the President’s Climate Commitments on campus and turn them and a handful of other big science challenges into a national call and strategy for scientific renewal and advancement, leveraging next generation cyberinfrastructure.

(4)Time to Declare the PC Dead and Embrace the Mobile Platform. In 2010, it will become more obvious than ever that the PC as we have known it for the past quarter of a century is obsolete. For the foreseeable future there will be three kinds of emergent learning hardware platforms. One will be a fixed and tethered brick (or something) product designers can make look more interesting than the only semi-intelligent thin-client representing the legacy of the PC. The second hardware platform will be personalized-pizza-box-sized “laptop” computers. Now the dominant hardware platform on campus, laptops, netbooks, and tablets are all descendants of the PC, featuring similar interfaces enhanced by mobility. The third and clearly emergent hardware platform for learning is the mobile smart pad, including smartphones, e-book readers, next generation iPods, and what will likely be a bevy of smart pad entrants in the market in the year ahead. The major difference of this third generation of hardware is that we have all but left the old computer interface behind us. For those interested in disruptive innovation, the broad availability of the underlying platform infrastructure, devices, and generative application environment for smart pads is where the action should be. Look for innovative applications relevant to the campus associated with geo-tagging, location-based services, and a whole new generation of intelligent search tools related to our work, study, and play on campus. It is time to break with the 25-year run of PC culture on campus centered on hardware break fix. With new platform technologies and application development tools, the next 25 years of personal computing support should move to developing and providing services and experiences that contribute to innovation, workflow, and discovery.

(5) The E-Book Reader Grows up and Goes to Campus. 2009 marked the birth of the e-book reader in the university market place. The first set of entrants put the already nervous higher education (text)book market on notice. New business models, publishing models, revenue sharing strategies, and new models around intellectual property and the assigned ‘text’ for a course proliferated and served to dislodge the staid legacy economy for many universities. If buying second hand books online was not enough, the new e-book readers were perceived by some to disintermediate traditional providers of services and economic benefit in the college supply chain. In 2010 a whole new generation of E-Book Readers will emerge as the life cycle of innovation really takes off for this class of mobile smart pads. Dedicated, single purpose readers will be eclipsed this year by new, integrated platforms supporting new functionality, Web services, rich media, open application development environments, and a wide range of new experimental interface approaches. Publishers, bookstores, technology, and entertainment giants will all clamor to the market marking a significant if not final shift from the traditional bound book toward fully repurposable content for learning, including traditional texts.

(6)Social Networking Finds its Niche at College. The next killer app for social networking in support of the traditional curriculum on campus will be student tagged, rated, reused, and remixed learning content. The single most popular site among students at many universities is a tossup between Facebook and Google. Google is their library, Facebook is their hangout. Many students will spend more time per week on social networks, engaging, commenting, tagging, digging, and rating their experiences than they do watching traditional television, talking on the phone, in the physical library, and attending classes combined. Nearly a third of students report that they use existing social network platforms for studying and reviewing their courses. University technology strategists have spent five years trying to building alternative social networks. More recently a small cottage industry has flourished in building hooks from campus feeds to popular social networking platforms. The search for the Holy Grail continues. The most compelling content poised to undergo the social network effect is video content of everything in and around the learning environment on campus. Formal lectures, recitations, study groups, mini-documentaries, recordings at the nerd bar, reality tv for campus are all prime time candidates for a new part of the learning eco-system. Look for early experimentation and emergent business models for repurposable and reusable video content for learning in 2010. Publishers, campus media consortia, platform players, and faculty innovators are all poised to make a run at the rich media centric learning environment.

(7) Course Management Platform Alternatives Make Major Inroads. Promising a kinder and gentler attitude to the competition, the dominant course management platform is coming to terms with a new reality in the marketplace. Campuses are not prepared to accept a single dominant course management platform and have been voting with their feet. Course management services are emerging in publisher suites, platform players, new and maturing open source alternatives and dozens of atomized stand alone modules for popular services like grade books, and collaboration tools that readily ‘connect’ to other web services. In 2010 expect an active listening effort by both dominant and emergent players in the course management space. New innovation and offerings are all but certain in the year ahead. While there is a temptation to spend time reflecting through the rear view mirror about the missteps and judgment of some of the decisions made in the course management vertical, the more important issue for 2010 is to see whether Blackboard or any of the other players can effectively execute on a new generation of requirements for learning systems. The stakes are high. The year ahead will be the most interesting since 1995 when Murray Goldberg began innovating and developing what would become known as WebCT, one of the first early entries in what would be known as the course management industry.

(8) Serious Gaming Gets Serious. Gaming software is now both big business (bigger than the Hollywood economy) and a more readily accepted pedagogical tool for a wider cross section of disciplines including science, history, sociology, business, economics, communication studies, engineering, and a wide range of health sciences. Serious gaming, as the term has been coined, is now working its way through faculty curriculum committees, faculty senates, and up to deans and provosts. In 2010 we will see an important inflection point reached as new company entrants join campus-based serious gaming software (both in solitary mode and massive online player formats) to build and compete for robust gaming platforms dedicated to the serious college market. Changes in the textbook and course management markets make the serious gaming platform particularly compelling in the immediate future.

(9) Mobile Security Hits the College Campus. Information Security is an important and growing facet of the University IT landscape. Gone is our innocence. Our university networks and communities of users are prime targets for every conceivable denial of service attack cooked up by hackers from Azerbaijan to Zambia, all looking to earn their stripes. Campus information security leaders need to help the university get ahead of the curve on a range of emerging realities. Many CIOs have ignored or wished away the emergence of smart pad devices that integrate voice, video, and data services. After all, most use the public network and not our special campus networks. In 2010, expect to read research findings and security bulletins that report that the single fastest growing exposure and vulnerability facing the campus is mobile smart pad devices. While corporate enterprise CIOs have been gnashing their teeth for years on risk mitigation strategies for mobile security, 2010 holds high probability for that reality hitting the college campus. It’s not a matter of “if” mobile security headaches will bring down the wrath of audit committees and public exposures in the headlines of local and national media. It’s only a matter of ‘when’. My bet is 2010.

(10) Open Content meets the Open University and the Vision of the Metaversity. It’s hard not to reflect on the past decade as we say good bye (good riddance) to the first decade of the 21st century. University CIOs have contributed in important ways to the transformations underway in the university mission over the past decade. The arc and rate of activities on our campuses, as breathtaking as they may seem, are moving at a completely different slope and velocity to the genuine explosion of open education, research, and innovation enveloping the broader Net eco-system. On a global scale, on a population-wide vector, our institutions are generally ill-suited for addressing the needs and opportunities in 2010 and for the next generation. To be sure, universities are not heading for obsolescence. What continues to be worrisome is our collective ability to remain genuinely relevant to the Internet society in all its complexities and contradictions. While this country has a rather anemic tradition of Open Universities, these organizations all over the world are now engaged in regional and global dialogues on how the Open University platform can contribute to the Internet-scale challenges and opportunities. Former MIT President, Charles Vest (building on Kerr's 1963 thesis) suggested (as early as 2006) that a meta-university would be “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.” We’re quickly approaching the maturing of all the requisite elements in Vest’s analysis against ever sharper and growing emphatic need for collective response. In a year in which a movie called “Avatar” will likely be the odds on favorite for a golden boy or two, look for new sources of inspiration and experimentation in framing up the 21st century metaversity project(s).

A decade from now, those reflecting on the second decade of the 21st century will likely point to the new normal, in which learning follows the student/professor rather than student/professor coming to learning and the research agenda. Technology is already far more than ‘just’ an enabler of 21st century learning. Both informed by and helping to shape the next 10 years of the intersection of technology, learning, and university leadership is an agenda that should excite the academy. The year 2010 will prove prescient in our ability to think beyond the possible.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio
January 2010

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September 10, 2009

Time for Higher Education To Step Up on National Broadband Strategy

Blair Levin is a man on a mission with a major Tylenol three headache. Levin's day job these days is Executive Director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative for the USA. He has less than 160 days to deliver a national framework. The challenges are considerable. The broadband czar is not hiding his angst.

We are looking for creative solutions from everyone – government, think tanks, spectrum license holders, wireline providers, cable systems – that will help deliver the synergies of broadband to the entire nation. ... we need everyone to be, shall we say, “constructively worried”. So let’s be creative and find a solution together so that five years from now we don’t have to worry about the ramifications of our failure to plan ahead.

More recently, he added, "It is striking how the parties [in broadband comments] have stayed within the same framework in looking at a problem that is evolving; seeing things only in the light of long-established patterns that are tied to preferred policy outcomes, not analysis."

I have had limited direct exposure to the inner workings of this effort but I have a wide range of trusted colleagues who are actively and tirelessly working to constructively engage and position the Omnibus Broadband Initiative for advancing the birthing of national broadband policy for the United States.

Given the historic opportunity, in view of the national need, because this is so important to the future, it is high time for higher education to become actively and constructively engaged in the national broadband policy making effort. The futurists in academe have offered their crystal balls to the FCC panels. Higher education, and in particular our research and education networks, have much, much more to offer. In turn, we have much to gain from active and constructive engagement with Levin. Hyperbole aside, this may be the single most important moment in the Internet's short history to reposition the future of the era which I think future historians will rightly call the Broadband Epoch. I have no doubt that our research and education networks will be around 25 years from now. I think we should be recasting the question and ask 'how relevant will our research and education networks be' if we continue to think, build, and operate a national and regional set of shadow network infrastructures as in 'our interest' somehow separate from the 'national interest'.

The time has come to offer leadership and commitment to contribute to the designing and ultimately build out an integrated national broadband fabric. We should begin by placing our coveted publicly-funded research and education networks on the table as the foundation of a national public broadband infrastructure. We should offer up the billion plus dollar State and Federally funded investments in the more than 30 regional optical networks in 37 states, reaching more than 55,000 community institutions. We should offer up our two national backbone services in Internet2 and NLR with investments totaling well in excess of another quarter of a billion dollars over the past decade. The infrastructure assets entrusted to and built by higher education over the past twenty years are the single most important catalytic resource available to the nation in the pursuit of a national public broadband strategy.

Ed Lazowska from the University of Washington in Seattle outlines the tradition of innovation and the contribution of higher education to our nascent and current broadband state as a nation in a submission to the Department of Commerce (in the context of NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunity Program).

Colleges and universities are innovation incubators. They brought us ARPANET in the 1970’s, the Internet in the 1980’s, the graphical World Wide Web browser in the 1990’s, and Google and Facebook in the current decade. These and other transformative innovations from America’s colleges and universities have generated countless millions of jobs and countless billions of dollars in economic growth, making America the world leader in information technology. We would not be here today, were it not for these engines of innovation.

College and university applications drive advances in networking. These institutions are the heart of demanding, advanced scientific applications. The data-driven experiments, simulations, and analyses of science today require high-speed broadband to move data from remote instruments to the lab and to share massive data sets among scientists globally. Why does this matter? Because these scientists will help us model climate change, discover genetic markers for inherited diseases, and explore the potential of low carbon and renewable energy sources. Colleges and universities are also the source of innovation in America’s health care system, providing cutting-edge health research, medical education, clinical care, and rural telemedicine. The bandwidth demands of today’s advanced scientific applications – tens of gigabits per second – foreshadow similar bandwidth needs in homes and businesses in the future.

Colleges and universities have a four-decade proven track record in deploying, managing, operating, and continually upgrading advanced networks. With seed money from NSF in the 1980’s and 1990’s, CSNET, NSFNET, and Internet2....provided neutral territory for open, non-proprietary, unclassified advances, fostering close partnerships with and among industry and government and across all sectors ranging from education to health care....

Two lines of questioning emerge. Why and how could the Higher Education network infrastructure become the basis of a national public broadband framework. Second, why and how would Higher Education leverage these stewarded infrastructure assets in support of the research and education mission of their respective organizations and the national imperative for research and development a global competitiveness.

First, the debate in Washington on the future of broadband is bounded by the view from 'inside the beltway'. Make no mistake about it, as intelligent, objective, and visionary as the FCC and the architects of the Omnibus Broadband Planners may well be, policy making is the extension of politics and interests by other means (to bastardize von Clausewtiz's well known idiom about war). As Levin notes in his comments quoted above, much of the policy debate and thought leadership is bounded by what "is" and the inherited sense of "self interest" which leads to a pervasive condition of incremental and bounded policy making. The future vision of the policy possibilities are extensions of and highly constrained to what we see in our rear view mirrors. Those charged with policy development end up being self-hostaged to their perception of the limits of the policy options as articulated by the delimited set of self-interested parties.

Second, America's research and education networks offer an existent proof point of a very different vision of the future of broadband. Ours is an integrated, national, regional, and local set of inter-connected advanced network infrastructures built to advance a public services set of needs and requirements. Today, a wide range of education research, learning, teaching, and outreach activity is supported on the only truly globally competitive broadband infrastructure in the country. It is globally competitive not because of the size of the bandwidth pipes. It is competitive because the range of educational research and development services, educational learning technologies, educational teaching innovation, and the abundance of Net-based education experimentation is world class.

Third, the public services platform can be and should be extended as part of an integrated effort to extend to a vibrant and transformative set of network-based activities ready for take off in the health and wellness eco-system. Our national broadband policy should aspire to leverage network-enabled health and wellness technologies and services to create efficiencies and to service the nation's diverse and multi-faceted health and wellness agenda for the 21st century. If health care and wellness follow the higher education network deployment architecture we will have a world-class infrastructure not because of the size of the pipes (or the number of lambda waves we light up). We will be competitive because health research activities, consumer and public health education technologies, health and wellness advocacy and a wide range of health economic efficiencies will make our integrated public services platform second to none in the world.

A national broadband policy which does not begin and remain constrained with the assumption of an incumbent-only provider set of policy options can include not only education and health care but also our national interest in energy management both across the grid and within communities and neighborhoods across the country. An integrated public services grid can and should include a strategy for not only network-based and home-attached utility readers to support the objectives of efficiency on the energy grids. Energy management can and should extend through a smart-home sensor network to enable household energy management. If energy management, designed as end-to-end energy management follow the higher education network deployment model we will have a world-class infrastructure not because of the number of smart grids or the size and speed of our grids. We will be competitive because energy research in both the commercial and university labs will be integrated with consumer and public energy management education technologies in home, integrated education programs, and a wide range of energy management sensor-based technologies that will make our integrated energy management the most innovative and consequential to Americans from coast to coast to coast.

There are additional public sector services, such as public and neighborhood safety, environmental and home health, smart and connected public and private real estate, and transportation grids that together with education, health, and energy form the basis for an integrated and public national broadband future. Our broadband future becomes informed by a national consensus to build, manage, and operate a smart, green, and connected infrastructure to service the needs of communities both urban and rural, aged and young, rich and impoverished, new immigrant or well established families. The architecting of a public services network can leverage and scale on the foundation of the research and education networks that touch tens of thousands of communities across the country. The new 21st century community emerges as an integrated, dynamic eco-system whose DNA is knowledge and innovation in support of and delivering against articulated community needs.

The broadband policy debate about our future must extend beyond the rear view mirror image of current 'triple play' services offering. Architecting next generation ultra broadband connectivity is a necessary but insufficient condition for a globally competitive America. Becoming globally competitive is not a debate about whether incumbent providers do or do not provide broadband services to America's underserved. Serving America's needs today and tomorrow is intertwined with advancing and sustaining an open and inherently generative platform that continues to enable innovation and unconstrained experimentation. The threads interwoven with the platform will hopefully be an integrated approach to providing broadband services for education, health care, energy management, public safety and so on. The broadband technical requirements are an extension of, not a substitute for, our common vision of a smart, green, and connected future.

Some might well ask, why should the research and education networks place their assets into national play? How does an integrated public sector platform advance the dynamic and important network-based research activities that are the raison d'etre of our networks? R&E networks is one of relatively few things in the national and globally competitive broadband space that we can proud of. Why screw it up and let our relative advantage devolve into a dumbed down version of, fill in the blank's, commercial provider service? There are probably a dozen other expressions of cynicism, horror, and disbelief. At the very moment that the R&E community is driving towards a new 100 Gig national backbone standard, why at this very moment would we want to 'give it away'.

First, our networks are public networks. They have been funded with public tax dollars and entrusted to higher education. By and large, we have been good stewards of that investment and created leveragable value. Second, we need not 'give it away' our access to commodity, research and development, and experimental use of the networks. The governance authority for provisioning tiered public access from institutions, consumers (outside their institutional relationships), and commercial users is both attainable and can and will lead to win-win-win scenarios. Third, the University's sphere of influence and interests continue to bleed well beyond the confines of the University's physical plant footprint. Fourth, our long term health and well being is intimately and perhaps inextricably linked to the well being and health of the communities around us. And fifth, and finally, it is in on our selfish and narrow interests to be part of, rather than separate and apart from, the single most important set of investments in broadband in our generation.

To be sure, it is possible that our siloed approach to securing broadband network funding from NSF, NIH, DOE, and so forth might have some short term legs. However, there is growing evidence that, at least under this administration, there is an effort to orchestrate, coordinate, and leverage major policy objectives, especially in the infrastructure arena. Working together, we should be able to make the case that it may well be within the institutional self interest of the federal funding agencies to also join and lock arms in trying to work with one another, as well as the FCC, Commerce, and the White House on an integrated approach to public sector investments in broadband. Making an effort to align Federal and State agency interests, higher education research interests, and the interests of the provider and managers of the higher education network infrastructure is as difficult as it is important if we are to keep an eye on the challenge facing Blair Levin and the nation as a whole.

Finally, a word about the incumbent carriers and the presumed insurmountable interests of the telecommunications industry. Advancing the cause of a next generation ultra broadband public services platform is not antithetical to the interests and position of the incumbent providers. The notion of binary choices between the incumbent provider or a public services platform is a framing that is simply false. Many off the record conversations with leaders within the telecommunications industry suggest that the 'either/or' framing is simply 'more of the same political posturing'. Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence that the telecom industry will continue to pursue the "Janus" approach of breathing fire on anything smacking of public sector investments in the public policy 'dialog' while, turning around, presenting a willingness and interest to advance collaborative approaches to public and private investments to reach new communities and to enable new services. Embracing that ambiguity is an art form, especially when it is underwritten with very substantial financial resources and long standing political influence. An integrated public services platform will create new dynamics in the marketplace. As long as there remains a commitment to an open and neutral network platform, there will be competition, innovation, and service options to the consuming public. That's generally thought to be a good thing.

It is quite reasonable to assume that there will not be consensus on every last detail of an advanced, ultra broadband future for the United States. There is, however, plenty of evidence that there is significant consensus on many of the goals, including a portfolio of approaches to investment, adoption, use, and accountability. The time for higher education and in particular the higher education regional optical networks and the national backbone providers to engage in the effort to design a comprehensive broadband strategy is now. We should do so because we have much to offer. We should do so because we have much to gain.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH
September 12, 2009

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December 14, 2008

Top 10 IT Trends for Higher Education in 2009

What happens when tough economic times combine with fatigue across the campus community hyping the latest 'killer app', and the growing intolerance of disruptions to services occasioned by security-related activities. I think the intersection of these three realities represent the most important challenges for IT Leadership on the campus in 2009.

The truth is that we've not seen 3 years of negative economic growth since the birth of the Internet. We are one year into the global recession and the crystal-ball gazing efforts underway on most campuses are not producing rosy scenarios. CIO leaders at most universities are closing in on 'core' operations as they look for options for cost cutting requirements after more than 5 years of marginal growth. CIOs are portfolio managers. Like their counterparts, CIO portfolio management is really about combining requirements for operational excellence, customer service, and selective innovation (r&d) activity. In a three-year secular downturn, there are going to be tough decisions ahead to keep strong performance in all three core activities outlined above.

For many university technology leaders the emergence over the past couple of years of web 2.0 technologies represented a confluence of maturing underlying technologies combined with the rise of what we asserted was the first really promising set of mass collaboration tools. Here we were sitting on the precipice of the long promised 'transformational' potential of technology to the education enterprise and then the economy tanks. In reality, the economic downturn is only one reason that the campus community is less enamored with web 2.0 tools than most of us technologists. For many across the university the rate of change in introducing ever more exciting technologies has left them, to put it diplomatically, breathless. In reality, the hype over web 2.0 is only the most recent instantiation of the long held view that we technologists are amusing ourselves and the rest of the campus to death, forever one gadget or applet away from the ultimate breakthrough.

Finally, whether it is the latest facebook virus, botnets instigated from far flung corners of the world, or the now predictable 'urgent' security fixes from our favorite vendors, there is a real sense across the campus that the 'bad guys' are winning the war. What was simply a nuisance that could be solved with a bit of end-user education and throwing some hardware at the problem has emerged into our own full fledged war on the forces of evil on the Internet. Like recent international conflicts, most on the university campus are ready to conclude that we have neither a strategy for winning this war nor an exit strategy.

Combined, economic blues, end-user fatigue, and a growing sense of collective vulnerability to the forces who would seek to harm us has the campus technology community facing its biggest set of challenges in 25 years.

Against that sobering backdrop, here are my top 10 IT trends for higher education for the year ahead, 2009.

1. To The Cloud and Beyond. Watch for significant moves in the university space going well beyond cloud email services. I expect we'll see the emergence of shared storage utilities and a range of 'web services' in 2009 following industry trends, campus economic pressure, and ecological considerations. While the same resistance points will find their way into campus deliberations, resistance is too expensive, distracts us from where we can bring real value, and ultimately futile. But for the most regulated storage requirements, there really is no alternative.

2. The Consumer Reigns Supreme. There has been an academic debate in most large organizations for 5 years about how we were going to manage the growing presence of consumer technologies within our enterprises. No more. The tsunami is here. Those of us still debating the merits of attending to Facebook, iTouch/iPhone, streaming media, massive player online gaming, mashups, and virtual reality platforms are staring at the wall of this tidal wave of consumer technologies. New trends in 2009 will likely include the first college-centered breakthroughs for mobile computing after mass notification. Watch for location-based technologies and presence technologies embedded in mobile smart phones and other devices (like wi-fi enabled iTouch) to lead to the first set of scalable campus applets.

3. Streaming Media for Education Goes Mainstream. Students expect it. Teachers accept it. Network engineers will have to live with it. Academic technologists need to figure out how to scale it. In the next 12 months, I think YouTube, iTunes U, and the plethora of campus-based services for academic streaming media are going to hit main street. Economics plus assessment data now provide compelling evidence that student success is positively associated with the integration of streaming media into the capture and review of traditional learning models of instructor-centered delivery. In the next year I expect that we will see significant acceleration of efforts associated with video/speech to text technologies to provide real time transcripts for purposes of enhanced search capabilities. I also expect that large repositories of meta-tagged and transcoded academic assets (classes, recitations, seminars etc ...) will begin to emerge allowing for federated searches and mashing up of learning content by students and faculty alike.

4. SecondLife Goes Back to School. Initial exuberance and hype led to hundreds of universities experimenting with 3D Virtual Worlds three years ago. The user-generated universe requires new pedagogy and curriculum considerations. Academic technologists and the education community has learned a lot over the past several years. Look for new functionality and education-centered technology capabilities over the next year. The net result should be an exciting and provocative set of new collaborative capabilities to help enable more campus control and flexible tools for learning. Dust off your avatar and get ready for one of the most important collaborative learning platforms to make inroads in the year ahead.

5. e-Book Readers Disrupt the College Text Book Marketplace. Early predictions of the demise of the college text book market in 2008 were highly exaggerated. Sony and Amazon (among others) are in e-Book Reader space for the long haul. Early in 2009, expect to see new hardware form factors reflecting a more mature and robust technology. More important, I think we'll see pilot activity among the Book publishers and the e-book publishing industry to work with the campus to create relevant tools for learning embedded in their core technologies.

6. The IT Help Desk Becomes An Enterprise Service Desk . Long underfunded and staffed with underpaid students I think we are going to hit an inflection point in the IT Help Desk world. Customer service matters. Truth is that with a few important notable exceptions most campus Help Desks are not our strongest service lines. An emergent group of higher-education focused companies have entered this space and are offering a compelling value proposition for many campuses. On some campuses, the Berlin wall between IT Help Desks and Facilities and other customer service organizations are also coming down. The trend line is about to hit a take-off point. I think 2009 may well be the year.

7. Course Management Systems are Dead! Long Live Course Management Systems! Proprietary course management systems are heading for a brick wall. The combination of economic pressures combined with saturated markets and the maturing stage of the life cycle of these once innovative platforms means that 2009 may well be the year of change or a year of serious planning for change. Relatively inexpensive and feature-comparable open source alternatives combined with some now learned experience in the process of transition from closed to open systems for the inventory of repeating courses makes real change in this once bedrock of education technology a growing possibility. As product managers and management view these trend lines, I think we might see incumbent players make a valiant effort to re-invent themselves before the market drops out from underneath them. Look for the number of major campuses moving (or making serious threats to move) from closed systems to climb in the year ahead.

8. ERP? What's That? No, I don't think the large enterprise resource planning systems that undergird our major administrative systems are going to fall off the face of the earth like antiquated dinosaurs in the next 12 months. I do think that ERP upgrades which many campuses are now facing, planning, and staging are going to need to be re-positioned. At a minimum, I think we will see decisions made to delay major upgrades for 18-24 months. It is also possible that pressure will grow in this next year on the duopoly of these integrated systems providers to re-open their maintenance and other fee schedules in exchange for continuing multi-year commitments from the campus community. We will also see new models mature in the hosting of ERP services both as shared services among the campus community and as a commercial service offering. For these glacially-moving systems, change is happening. It's just hard some times to see the rate of change until you're looking in the rear view mirror 10 years from now.

9. In God We Trust -- Everyone Else Bring Data. Decision support software and data warehousing tools have been available on campus for well over a decade. While cultures of evidence are not well rooted in the decision making on many University campuses, the growing pressures for better decision making in the context of budget pressures is compelling the campus to make better decisions. The small priesthood of campus analysts with skills to support decision making have more job security than most. At the same time, look for new reporting tools and growing expectations that metrics, scorecards, and data analytics will be used to drive tough decision making on campus.

10. Smile, Interactive High Definition Video Conferencing moves from the Board Room to the Research Lab and the Lecture Hall. Facing budget pressures and public pressure to go green, corporations around the world are investing in next generation video conferencing. Moving operating dollars into infrastructure investments in this collaboration platform technology has led to significant reductions in travel costs, better space utilization, and a growing conscientiousness about carbon footprints. As businesses continues to look for capabilities to support global operations video conferencing has become a daily part of many companies. The logic facing corporations now confront the University community. Over the past 18 months some public universities have been mandated to reduce their carbon footprints. Most everyone else is facing growing operating pressures pinching travel and other budget lines. New students care about pro-active green initiatives as part of their University experience. Over the next 12 months look for double digit growth in campus adoption of next generation video conferencing tools, including integrated collaboration technologies.

One more trend for good measure. Substitute this one if you disagree vehemently with any of the other items above.

11. The campus data center goes under the scope . Most every campus technology leader has been zinged for disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Add to this that there is exponential demand among the research community for computational research space to support high performance computing. The facilities community is under growing pressure to distribute the costs of power consumption on campus. Data centers consume disproportionate amounts of space, cooling, and power. Finally, growing green is a campus imperative leading to potential operating savings through virtualization, data center optimization, and new greener strategies. Board audit committees and senior management are going to hold technology management accountable for robust data center operations in a highly constrained budget environment.

I don't know about you but my holiday gift wish list includes an extra bottle of Tylenol three, a Teflon flak jacket, and a hope that structured innovation remains part of the campus IT portfolio. Against multiple pressures, focus on structured innovation remains our best hope of remaining central to the University's strategic mission and activity.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH
December 15, 2008

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