The Year Ahead in IT, 2013

Lev Gonick January 3, 2013

Those reading this column or any of its annual predecessors (in 2012, 20112010, or 2009) are invited to reflect that the historic challenges facing universities and colleges are less related to technological disruption or market evolution and more causally related to self-induced bruising, glacial cycles of adaptation, and torturous processes that pass for decision-making. Creative destruction, as I’ve written before, reflects the incessant dynamic and mutation of our network-enabled era of global and virtualized capitalism. Many within the academy, from our “risk adverse” faculty to our “rating agency-fearing administration and boards of trustees,” fear that creative destruction destroys more than it creates.

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The irony of course is that while many in the academy live with a collective psychology of scarcity, ours is an era of abundance. History, until the mid-20th century, has largely been a series of narratives about the human condition in which everything from the metaphysical to the mundane has been constrained by a worldview informed by scarcity.  Most of the enduring institutional anchors defining our cities, our urbane lifestyles, and yes, our universities are themselves products of a bygone historic era premised on scarcity.  As the mutations of the network effect continue to erode the underlying economic structures of that earlier era of scarcity, the explosion of data and the dynamics of knowledge diffusion in the emergent era of abundance challenges all of the received wisdom of the 20th century and its attendant institutional character.

The adaptive capacity for higher education institutions to remain relevant deep into the 21st century is a topic of continuing debate, in books such as Ronald Barnett’s Being a University and Clay Christensen’s and Henry Eyring’s The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from Inside Out. As petrified and ossified as the academy may appear to some, the generative and fertile opportunities for discovery and knowledge development afforded to learners, young and old, continues to grow in exponential fashion.

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 French philosopher, theologian and technological skeptic Jacques Ellul, asked nearly 50 years ago what role educators will have with the rise of autonomous expert thinking machines.

The most remarkable predictions concerns the transformation of educational methods … Knowledge 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. [The Technological Society, Vintage Books, NY, 1964: pg. 432]

Ellul challenges the likely consequence of this technological “imperative” and is skeptical that it is possible that “what is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness.”

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 interconnected systems thinking. It is precisely the role anticipated by Ellul to create opportunities for conscious self-reflection.

The mechanisms for certifying competency, along with the persistence of learning communities, in varying degrees of proximity to the received assumption of the centrality of the physical brick and mortar campus, represent the value, brand and opportunity of universities in the 21st century.  And while the university’s once near-monopoly on the credentialing of a certain set of valued and relevant skills in the post-war era is all but over, the emergent competitive landscape will lead to adaptation and creative destruction.

The year ahead will remain turbulent for universities and opportunistic for learners. The top 10 IT trends impacting the future of higher education in 2013 will enable more learning opportunities. The 10 trends outlined below will also afford those universities and colleges committed to reinvigoration an opportunity to leverage technology to advance university mission and the pursuit and re-dedication to relevance in the year ahead and well beyond.

1.  Open Learning Is Dead! Long Live Open Learning!

Much of the oxygen in the world of technology and higher education in 2013 will continue to be consumed by headlines around MOOCs.  This is a positive development.  The current instantiations of MOOCs are unlikely to have a long and enduring impact but they have catalyzed conversations on the future of higher education in the United States like little else since the GI Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944). Punctuated equilibrium is likely to set in some time this year and with it, hopefully, an opportunity to assess the pathways forward.

“Open education” once referred to repositories of nonproprietary, repurposable, and reusable learning materials and experiences. And yes, for most earlier iterations, open education also meant free. Over the past 12 months, open education has largely metamorphosized and been reduced to proprietary and closed educational content offered at no charge. MOOCs have been cast by headlines in newspapers, blogs, and in invitation-only venture capital meetings as a new arms race to give away the once-assumed crown jewels of universities in the form of free classes. The pioneers of the new open learning movement like Coursera, Udacity, and very likely a handful of new, well-funded entrants will continue to provoke angst among university boards of trustees and at the same time catalyze maturing and evolving models of instructional design, course creation, and the pursuit of high-quality online offerings to meet the evident demand in the global marketplace for elite-branded education.

Among market forces, expect to see both open universities around the world and a renaissance of old-fashioned open education offerings attempt to grab some of the reverberation of the overhyped MOOC world. Most of these open educational resources originate and will serve online learners, 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, millions of students are experimenting with first-generation open content. Within the next year or two, more than 50 million diverse open educational learners will find compelling motives to access the single largest, dynamic body of student-centered learning materials available.

The thirst for accessing globally available open online learning environments will evolve from a focus on efficiency to a broader and more diverse set of offerings informed by effectiveness.  As this transition occurs, new and quite possibly sustainable business models will emerge.  Like Hamlet’s famed response to Rosencrantz beseeching that Hamlet tell him where the body is and go with him to see the king. Hamlet says in response, “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body. The king is a thing.” The same is likely the case with the arc of activities associated with open learning.  Open learning in the current overhyped environment is one kind of learning experience but it is not the same thing as a high-quality and sustainable form of learning and inquiry, even when it has elite branding.

2. It Takes a Village to Flip a Classroom

The dominance and near-monopoly of text-based learning is being sublimated by a hybrid of video and supplemental learning materials. The $5 billion textbook industry continues to overwhelmingly resist and impede the emergence of the rich media learning platforms of the future. Over the past century higher education has linked the textbook with a culturally constructed use of time in the form of a lecture as a convenient mode for information transmission. In today’s emergent rich media screen culture of video, games, hyperlinks, and simulation, inverting the traditional classroom time is both logical and inevitable.

Flipping the classroom sets expectations that learners take greater responsibility for their own learning by coming to “class” prepared in advance having viewed and assimilated assigned preproduced video materials. Scheduled class time now affords faculty an opportunity to adopt problem-based, challenge-based, or case-based teaching, enabling learners to become more actively involved in the learning process. And while the convenience of lecture and textbook model produces little evidence of learning that lasts nor transforms the learner, the emergence of high quality video-based learning materials affords even the most reluctant lecturer an opportunity to revisit their pedagogical goals.

In 2013 three models of flipping of the classroom will likely emerge. Following on the pioneering work of the Khan Academy, other solo efforts will continue to emerge across the curriculum. Some of these pioneering efforts will  prove to be sustainable. However, rare is the university or the faculty member prepared to make the investment of resources required to support such undertakings over time.

A second path forward could very well be the future of publishing with enlightened publishers leveraging their editorial and production core competencies.  Pilot projects among leading publishers suggest some interest in investing video-based content, together with highly integrated hooks, into textbooks in their catalogs. And while Chegg and Amazon Textbook rental models extend the half-life of the traditional book, the new frontier for publishers is to take a leadership position in the creation of 21st-century learning content.

At some point in the future, but not in 2013, textbook publishers will realize they are in the design, production, and distribution-of-education business. The Internet is the medium of dominant distribution and it is, overwhelmingly, a rich, media-centric medium. Public broadcasters might also play a role in the production and distribution of flipped learning content either collectively and/or in partnership with publishing groups or others. They too face the challenge of reconceptualization their collective future while at the same offering value to their current audiences.

A third path for flipped content will be from academic societies. There is a powerful motivation for academic professional associations with strong teaching centered traditions to seize the opportunity and provide an alternative model for the co-creation, and co-production and distribution, of high-quality learning materials. While some professional association might choose to partner with traditional publishing, it is also possible that in the next year we will see the first large-scale collaborations of academic society members creating their own offerings.  Math and Science teachers have collaborated to support  http://flippedclassroom.org/ and the International Society for Technology in Education has played an interesting convening role among different disciplinary traditions interested in inverting their learning models.

Between iTunes U, Google education channels, TED talks, PDF talks, institutional lecture capture content, and growing repositories of flipped content, experimentation in creating video search tools, like squrl, for academic content will make for growing value in the educational video environment.

3. The Always-On University

While we were focused on how to contend with laptops in the classroom a funny thing happened. Laptops and personal computers, which we’ve largely thought of as “new” technology for the past 25 years, became largely irrelevant. In the far rearview mirror, we can now recall with nostalgia the era when desktop computers and laptops were more pervasive than smart mobile devices and tablet computing.

No more. On a global basis and among many of our current students and certainly our future students the reality is that they live, work, and play in a world that few in the academy, including many academic technologists, recognize. Twice as many smartphones and tablets will have shipped in 2012 than desktops and notebooks put together. In 2013 the ratio may be as much three times as many. Over the next year more data will move from smartphones and tablets than computers and laptops in countries like India.  And this is just the beginning. Even in economies like the United States, saturated with legacy workplace arrangements and installed infrastructure, nearly a third of adults own an e-reader or tablet, up from 2 percent less than three years ago.

The form factor of choice is a smart phone and/or a smart pad/tablet.  But it’s not only the form factor. The user interface of choice is no longer keyboard, mice, and graphical user interfaces. Touch, voice, and gesture represent the new navigation and invitation to explore.  More than 2 billion Bluetooth devices and sensors are in circulation this year, and there are more than 1.5 billion Wi-Fi devices,  growing between two- and eightfold a year, year over year. And soon we will have wearable computing devices in everything from nanotechnology threads in our clothing to smart and connected wearable eyewear as part of our everyday life.  Our campuses are now always on and connected.  From infrastructure investments to service models, the always-on university is our new reality.

4. Learning Analytics Meet Learning Sciences

For nearly a decade, the Purdue University “Course Signals” project (and its immediate antecedents) led by John Campbell was a beacon to the higher education community of the value of designing a research program to leverage digital artifacts of student engagement and formative assessment to support student success.  A confluence of factors around student success, including demands for accountability, funding formulas based on successful completion, timely remediation and intervention, and the broader social value of a more educated population have converged and the result is a growing expectation of institutional responsiveness.

There has been an explosion of “big data” in research science, consumer behavior, and health care. Framing efforts by the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SOLAR), notable single institutional efforts like Austin Peay State University and multi-institutional data collection efforts led by WICHE’s Predictive Analytics Reporting framework are exemples of important early efforts. In 2013 new and promising initiatives will contribute to greater student success and a better understanding of the ways in which our models of learning experiences can be tested. The e-content and e-textbook program launched by Educause and Internet2 is among the important projects to watch in 2013. Well-designed e-content strategies allow for the possibility of understanding when, where, and for how long students engage on their own, with others and with learning materials.

A more robust learning science informed by both progress in brain research and well-designed learning analytics are prerequisites to the more alluring goal of a learning genome project and the pursuit of a meaningful personalized learning strategy for everyone. Personalized learning ventures like Knewton and startup ventures like Always Prepped and Ontract suggest that in 2013 the market grows more mature and ready for intelligent and savvy use of data for supporting student success.

5. Net+ and University Collaboration in a Cloud-Enabled Technology Era

If ever there was a Tower of Babel in the world of information technology, it would be around “the cloud.”  In its most generic sense, the cloud is any aggregated service offering that leverages the Net. As our university networks have become more reliable (but not infallible), robust (but not impervious to denial of service attacks), and resilient (but still subject to the wrath of Mother Nature), the network effect has led to unprecedented efficiencies, economies of scale, and new sources for substantial investment.

After a number of stalled efforts, the higher education community led by Internet2’s Shel Waggener has embraced the value of highly scalable services enabled over our regional and national research and education networks. Net+, as the service is known, offers two kinds of services. The first is the aggregation of demand from among members of the Internet2 community and collective engagement with various ‘cloud’ service providers. These include dozens of vendor offerings, all of them leveraging Internet2’s dedicated research and education network resources. For many vendors, partnering with Internet2 and leveraging the research and education network actually reduces the cost of delivering commercial services and savings are being passed on to universities participating in those offerings.

In 2013, a second set of offerings is likely to take center stage. These will be services aggregated and led by universities and consortiums of universities.  Building on important existing interuniversity identity management services, the new offerings will include cooperative telephony services, enhanced video collaboration services, data center services, and library and research services all leveraging collective action among Internet2’s university members to enhance the portfolio of services offered and increase the efficiency of the delivery of those services.

While debates at many universities will likely continue to be informed by the division of responsibility between central IT and in other parts of the university, in reality many of those legacy debates are growing increasingly obsolete.  The value of investing in next generation networks is less about access, speeds or raw throughput. As Net+ is demonstrating, the value of our investments is in the enabling and provisioning of service offerings above the campus network to advance the missions of our institution, including research, teaching, and service.

6. The End of ERP (as We Know It)

Some CIOs still wake up in the middle of the night with recurring nightmares, now 15-20 years old, associated with the implementation of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).  Some presidents and boards can still point to continuing and extended payment schedules for the tens (and in some cases hundreds) of millions of dollars spent on implementations. Indeed, having resisted, avoided, or otherwise deferred the decision, there are some institutions that are still in decision mode on whether to implement ERP for their financial, HR, and student information systems.

 

ERPs are bloatware and remain more closely linked to a genus of troglodytes than to anything resembling a modern transaction and decision support system. Universities (and most every other large enterprise business) continue to invest precious resources in these large, complex, and highly profitable software environments.  A pioneering generation of university campuses has broken with the pack and has chosen to join other industry leaders in helping to shape and implement administrative systems as a service.

Software as a service hit the major leagues more than a decade ago with Salesforce.com. Salesforce has announced work.com and of course this past year Workday went public with great fanfare.  Both of these are examples of administrative systems as a service. Modern interfaces (and underlying code) are immediately tantalizing to those who are exposed to them. No hardware, databases, or separate data warehouses on campus.  Full mobility offerings are supported from day one. With debt payments still fresh in the minds of many university CFOs, the year ahead will see important but not overwhelming numbers of new university customers joining these efforts.

There are two key service lines that could well accelerate the adoption of administrative systems as a service at universities.  Some will wait to see what, if, or when Oracle, SAP, and SCT will have meaningful software as a service offering.

In 2013 university leaders should continue to press Salesforce.com and Workday to deepen their collective and common commitment to higher education by co-creating a working group in what might be called a student life cycle product. A platform strategy for leveraging administrative systems as a service, the student life cycle initiative can start as early as the prospect phase, but more likely would begin (for now) with the traditional registration services. Like many traditional student information systems there will need to be a core offering in course selection, academic advising, student records, and grades management. New offerings linked to assessment, forms of authentic evaluation, and embedded learning analytics would all represent value-added features.

The second missing service line would address the faculty life cycle. A faculty-centric initiative can build on the workflow of HR and finance systems. Such a project could likewise begin from the recruitment phase but would most certainly start with the onboarding of a new faculty member and include teaching, research, and service mission-related data elements. Faculty reports, web pages, personalized research grants, customized library resources, and a full suite of benefits-related services would be the foundation for such a project. Both Salesforce and Workday have flirted with such nontrivial undertakings. 2013 is the year for accelerating a go-to-market strategy. The market is ripe and ready.

7. Learning Spaces – The Final Frontier

I often use historic images to outline the continuity of experience of student learners from the 19th century through to the present. While most of these historic images show only male students, they are otherwise very reminiscent of faces and spaces we know, namely the lecture hall filled with students distracted, conversing with one another, “texting” (sending notes to each other), bored, and oftentimes not exactly riveted by the lecturer. Beyond inverting the class with preproduced video content, there is much to be done in re-imagining and re-inventing the physical learning environments.  And while creating a replicable, cost effective immersive adventure in the likeness of Universal Studio’s Harry Potter Forbidden Journey may be ambitious, the era of defining technology-enhanced classrooms as a PC and a projector is past..

The serious conversation about the redesign of learning spaces and the incorporation of technology is a decade old. The empirical evidence affirms that well-designed new learning environments can lead to more active learning that supports both engagement and reflection. These in turn lead to a view shared by students that they are learning more as well as to positive learning outcomes.  New opportunities exist for partnership between student learners, faculty instructors, and facilities and learning technologists to create a deployable mix of learning spaces that blend and afford flexible and repurposable furniture, technology, and tools to support a range of learning environments.

The transformations occasioned by scientific visualization and gesture-based screen technology have crossed over into our popular culture, from “Minority Report” and “Matrix Revisited” to dynamic weather maps and election night results. We also have multiple experiences associated with interactive immersive technology like Microsoft’s Kinect. Almost all of those common representations miss the key for scientists and their experience in using large scale visualization and gesture tools. This form of learning by doing is actually about a hybrid of science and play. Full-body interactive learning is now entering the world of visitor experiences in environments as diverse as museums to STEM education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative has raised the visibility and efficacy of further exploration of these immersive, interactive, and responsive wall and room-sized environments for learning.

In 2013, look for the first number of these next-generation enhanced technology classrooms to be instantiated and available for replication and adaptation in partnership with a wide range of partners.

8. Extending the Boundaries of the University: Gig.U and US Ignite

In their e-book, The Politics of Abundance: How Technology Can Fix the Budget, Revive the American Dream, and Establish Obama’s Legacy (Odyssey Editions, November, 2012),  Blair Levin, the author of the National Broadband Plan and Executive Director of Gig.U, and former FCC chairman Reed Hunt make the case for creating what they call a national broadband advantage. The catalyst for creating a national broadband advantage is leveraging our nation’s universities and colleges. As the authors document, students, faculty, and staff — long the progenitors of much of the economic growth and productivity associated with technology — have unique opportunities to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks in communities around the university campus.

In 2012 a number of city-university partnerships consummated relationships to build out gigabit fiber services to the communities around the country. Leading this effort are pioneers at UC2B, Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Lansing and Michigan State’s Gigabit Ready project, University of Chicago and its Chicago south side community and state partners, Seattle and the University of Washington, University of Florida and the Innovation Square project in Gainesville, University of Maine, and the Case Connection Zones in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve. In 2013 most of these initial pilot projects (and a number of others) will be lit, offering new services that will be shining lights of the art of the possible.

These city-university partnerships afford more than infrastructure services. Across the United States 25 cities have partnered with US Ignite to support the building of a next generation of applications that will leverage gigabit network infrastructure. Born in 2012, the coalition of the willing led by US Ignite is catalyzing network scientists, imagineers, hackers, app developers, video engineers, software programmers, switching engineers, and others to build rapid and working prototypes of a new generation of products and services. With support from NSF and a blue ribbon group of technology partners, US Ignite is at the center of next-generation application development.

In 2013, US Ignite will both invest and promote work across the country to support never-before-seen (or imagined) solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing challenges around health and wellness, STEM education, neighborhood and national security, advanced manufacturing, and energy (among other drivers).

Initiatives like Gig.U and US Ignite are important to creating opportunities for innovation and disruptive technologies that have long been produced in dorm rooms and research labs in our universities and colleges. Gig.U and US Ignite are also important to catalyze the United States and the economy for sustainable growth and new jobs. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a jobs and economic strategy into the 21st century that doesn’t depend on their success.

9. Open Data Models for Campus

Open access data repositories are growing among researchers in higher education. Major funding agencies like the NIH require (within 12 months) that peer-reviewed articles be made available through open access.  Unprecedented access to data from dozens of federal and state agencies has helped to usher in an era of greater openness, transparency, and growing accountability.  An integrated open data framework for universities has been relatively slow in coming.  Clarion calls like those issued in 2012 at the University of North Texas are important but do not go nearly far enough.

Open data needs to be a universitywide commitment. Facilities data are valuable not only for paying the electricity bill; they can be used by students and faculty researchers working on everything from smart buildings to local sustainability efforts. Data collected by librarians are important not only for knowing the number of patrons who use library facilities, butalso for understanding trends in the adoption and use of online and on-shelf resources across disciplines to interlibrary loan borrowing trends and local library portal search terms. Wireless access points data are important not only for network managers, butalso for everything from digital art to understanding patterns of work and study across the university. Institutional research data are not only important for reporting to funding agencies; they can also be used by students to understand their own institution.

In 2013 look forward to a number of leading institutions following the pioneering work at Aalto University in Finland in designing a comprehensive and integrated open data environment for their university.

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10. IT as a Service and the Future of IT on Campus

Michiavelli noted in The Prince (1532) that “[t]here is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”  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. Couple those externalities with the commodification of many technologies once thought to be core to the service catalog on our university campuses and the dilemma is at once clear and confounding.

As technology leaders in higher education assess how to align our organizations to these twin challenges, the time has come to consider discontinuous organizational change. Tinkering and tweaking with traditional organizational issues like the federated models for technology support across the university or whether or how to merge academic and administrative computing are inadequate and unlikely to help the institutions we serve with strategic value-add. Expensive external consulting groups can tell our executives what we already know. Our IT organizations (and many other parts of the university) are products of a legacy environment that has, to varying degrees, become calcified and nonresponsive to the needs of the university going forward.

Resistance to the secularization and commodification of IT as a service is futile. Collective and cooperative action in the form of shared service models is one pathway that is well-worn and will necessarily lead to the requirement to re-architect our information technology strategies. New skill sets like vendor relationship and service level management, portfolio and project management, and business analysts are the new IT jobs for the shared services economy of the future.

More fundamental re-examination of our organizations is in our immediate futures. Multiple IT organizations across the country are rethinking the inherited functional organization. The functional IT organization is layered following a traditional stack of services from underlying infrastructure like network engineering, servers and storage, data base and application services, academic and administrative technology subject matter experts, and customer support. Over time, the logic and reproduction of the functional organization has squeezed out innovation in favor of core operational services.  In many organizations 90 percent or more of the IT staff and financial resources are allocated to daily operations. Over time, the functional organization model will suffocate and strangle itself. Many IT professionals are as passionate about the academic and research missions of our institutions as our faculty. The functional organization model makes it increasingly more difficult for IT on campus to be a meaningful partner and contributor to the strategic future of the University if and as it gets painted into the corner of being an expensive infrastructure cost center.

The alternative models to the functionally organized IT organization are many. The challenge for IT leaders is to cede a modicum of control and embrace the need to experiment in new, more porous, organizational models that facilitate and support the co-production of innovative solutions that meet the needs of higher education moving forward. Becoming a solutions-focused and internal consulting organization is at the core of what I take to be the opportunity for IT in higher education.

Partnering with third parties wherever and whenever possible to support commodity services is vital to being able to redistribute internal resources to be able to lead the new change agenda. Recruiting a cadre of designers with multiple skills, including many with deep and hard-core technical skills, to engage directly with faculty, students, and staff colleagues is at the heart of the new service delivery model.  As every CIO knows, no organization will tolerate the pursuit of fanciful ideas, even if they are “good for the organization,” if the basic utility features of the IT service catalog are unresponsive and nonfunctional. The IT professionals responsible for operations must be the “A” team and at the same time fully aligned to the broader vision and mission of the new IT organization.

No matter what kind of higher education institution you are affiliated with, the year ahead is predictably full of trepidation and constraint. If the organization becomes paralyzed through the psychology of scarcity we will have failed in our mission as IT leaders. The abundant and transformational contribution that IT can make to the mission of higher education is less about resource availability and more about leadership vision and commitment.  Leadership in the year ahead is no longer like captaining an ocean liner but more like whitewater rafting that calls for flattened organizations that can change rapidly and with significant agility, embrace decentralized decision-making, and motivate employees, and inspire relationships.

Success is hardly a foregone conclusion. This is distinctly contested terrain.  Good luck on the rapids.

Bio

Lev S. Gonick is vice president for information technology services and chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University. He blogs about technology at Bytes From Lev.

 

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What Every College Leader Should Know About Blockchain

Amid the hype, the technology really does have major implications for
higher education research, accountability and credentials, Daniel Pianko writes.

Blockchain is at the steep end of higher education’s hype cycle. Institutional leaders and pundits alike are intrigued by blockchain’s potential but often know little about the technology beyond its central role in stories about initial coin offerings or Bitcoin University.

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So how does the advent of blockchain square with the aspirations of higher education? And why might institutional leaders take note of its potential? What should university leaders know about the technology’s origins and application to real-world challenges and opportunities on campus?

What Is Blockchain and Why Does It Matter?

Blockchain is the underlying technological innovation behind Bitcoin — the rise of digital currency. The technology itself solves one of the great problems of society: how to create a system where many people keep verified, trusted information. Today, for example, the record of who owns a plot of land is kept at the town hall. Imagine if every town hall was linked so that every town hall had a copy of a land title?

As Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon recently wrote, “In the same way people dismissed early smartphones because they traded off computing power and screen size for portability and new sensors,” many will view Bitcoin as a fad but ignore just how truly revolutionary blockchain will be for every industry including higher education.

Think of blockchain as akin to online learning during the early 2000s. Most college presidents pooh-poohed the quality and efficacy of the digital revolution, while some entrepreneurial presidents like Michael Crow at Arizona State University and Paul LeBlanc at Southern New Hampshire University have built powerful online learning networks that catapult them to the forefront of the higher education ecosystem.

Blockchain Is Driving Job Growth

It won’t be long before the blockchain “skills gap” jumps the shark. Already, the single most in-demand skill for freelancers is blockchain. LinkedIn postings for blockchain jobs are up 6,000 percent year over year, and starting developer salaries are over $100,000, with hourly billing rates frequently surpassing $100. There are more than 14 job postings for every skilled developer.

If your university is not equipped to introduce courses and concepts rooted in the application and potential of blockchain, now is the time to start. Your students will expect it. Blockchain presents a rare opportunity for differentiation, more than the latest fad. Every major financial services company has announced a blockchain initiative, while whole countries like Malta have initiated efforts to move their identification systems to the blockchain — throw away that pesky driver’s license; your PGP key will suffice. There are, as yet, no standout institutions in the era of blockchain. But early pioneers are clamoring for the title. Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is among a growing few, along with MIT’s recently unveiled course on blockchain and money.

If you don’t have a blockchain course, begin with a certificate and develop a degree program over time. It’s not just about the technical skills, either — an education in the basics of blockchain has implications in product design and business strategy that will support students across a range of careers.

Research Matters

Blockchain research is multidisciplinary by nature and could touch on virtually every department of the university. Even classicists will be pleased to note that the technology’s core innovation is frequently called the Byzantine General’s problem.

Research dollars and opportunities will soon abound. Savvy institutions will build capacity by launching blockchain working groups that cut across departments like mathematics, political science, finance and others.

As you pull together your research team, think about creating a specific center of excellence for your research — blockchain will revolutionize everything from currency trading to issues of digital identity, and is likely too broad a field for even the largest university to cover every topic.

Accountability Implications

Fundamental aspects of university life, like teaching and learning or faculty governance, are unlikely to be transformed by blockchain in the near term. But blockchain will have significant implications for other facets and functions within higher education.

The federal government and private lenders could base the payment of financial aid dollars on course completion, as opposed to seat time. Universities may put student portfolios or other work on the blockchain to enable discovery by employers or other partners.

The blockchain might enable micropayments or easier identifications on college campuses that create the next set of radical innovations in student identification and payment. Each university president should start by exploring just a few areas (e.g., financial aid) where blockchain can create new efficiencies or transform back-office functionality.

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Beyond the Transcript

Blockchain is likely the death knell for the embossed transcript. Records will be kept in distributed ledgers. Students will be able to share much more granular information about their learning to future employers, friends and partners.

Right now, the only way to know if someone graduated from your university is to call the registrar. What if individual faculty or programs could play the role of “authorized credential issuers,” time-stamping accomplishments on the blockchain that can be validated instantaneously? In short order, blockchain can help to solve one of higher education’s most vexing challenges: making the case for a system where many people keep verified, trusted information.

This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. Blockchain already allows millions of computers to securely store the information of who graduated from which university, rather than keeping those records within a single registrar’s office. In addition to hosting the largest MOOC on digital currency, the first such degree program in the world, the University of Nicosia has announced a blockchain-enabled credential to give students a more secure way of verifying their skills online, which is now employed at multiple universities.

Technology innovation and disruption tends to come to education late in the cycle. Newspapers found their business model disrupted by the internet well before higher education did. With blockchain, it appears that the venture capitalists and other financial intermediaries will be disrupted first (there have been over $6 billion in initial coin offerings already this year). However, it is only a matter of time before blockchain technology disrupts the operations of virtually every university — and institutional leaders should be prepared.

A decade from now, which reader of this column will lay claim to being the Michael Crow or Paul LeBlanc of the blockchain era?

20 Ways Blockchain Will Transform (Okay, May Improve) Education

Tom Vander Ark 
Blockchain is a public ledger that automatically records and verifies transactions. The distributed ledger technology (DLT) powers Bitcoin, Ethereum and other virtual currencies (which have taken a beating this month). Less publicized are all the ways DLT could transform many industries. Use cases for a transparent, verifiable register of transaction data are numerous because DLT operates through a decentralized platform making it fraud resistant.

 

With assistance from Educause and CB Insights, we’ve identified 26 ways that DLT could be deployed by school districts, networks, postsecondary institutions and community-based organizations to improve learning opportunities.

1. Transcripts. Academic credentials must be universally recognized and verifiable. In K-12 and postsecondary, verifying academic credentials remains largely a manual process (heavy on paper documentation and case-by-case checking). DLT solutions could streamline verification procedures and reduce fraudulent claims of unearned educational credits.

Learning Machine, a 10-year-old software startup, has collaborated with MIT Media Lab to launch of the Blockcerts toolset, which provides an open infrastructure for creating, issuing, viewing and verifying blockchain-based certificates.

Matt Pittinsky, CEO of transcript service Parchment, said there’s a lot of design decisions to work out before widespread use of DLT transcripts. He thinks blockchain will store locations to systems that that record comprehensive records–a balance between permanence and portability.

2. Badges. Specific skill assertions can be verified and communicated with a digital badge. Multiple badges can be assembled into an open badge passport that students can share with prospective employers.

Indorse is using blockchain to verify e-portfolios. Users upload claims with a link to verification and other users verify that claim.

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3. Student records. Sony Global Education developed a educational platform in partnership with IBM that uses blockchain to secure and share student records.

Storing an comprehensive learner record on a distributed ledger may prove computationally intensive and, as a result, prohibitively expensive. As Pittinsky predicted, DLT may just be used as a directory rather than a data warehouse.

4. Identity. With the proliferation of learning apps and services, identity management is a big problem in education. Platforms like Blockstack and uPort help users carry their identity with around the internet. On Blockstack, users will access apps on decentralized networks and have data portability.

5. Infrastructure security. As schools add more security cameras and sensors, they need to protect their networks from hackers. Companies like Xage are using blockchain’s tamper-proof ledgers to sharing security data across device networks.

6. Ridesharing. Blockchain could inject new options into the rideshare oligopoly. With a distributed ledger, drivers and riders could create a more user-driven, value-oriented marketplace. DLT rideshare startup Arcade City allows drivers to establish their rates (taking a percentage of rider fares) with the blockchain logging all interactions. Arcade City appeals to professional drivers, who want to build up their own businesses than be controlled from a corporate headquarters.

School districts could negotiate with a group of screened Arcade City drivers for hard to serve aspects of pupil transportation (e.g., special needs, isolated students, work-based learning).

7.Cloud storage. As learners and education institutions store more data, DLT cloud storage could offer safer and potentially cheaper alternatives. Dubbed the “Airbnb for file storage,” Filecoin is a high-profile crypto project that rewards the hosting of files.

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8. Energy management. For educational institutions with renewable energy sources, DLT could reduce the need for intermediaries. Brooklyn startup Transactive Grid enables decentralized energy generation schemes allowing entities to generate, buy, and sell energy to their neighbors.

9. Prepaid cards. Blockchains can help retailers offer secure gift cards and loyalty programs without a middleman. Gyft, an online platform for buying, sending, and redeeming gift cards, partnered with blockchain infrastructure provider Chain to run gift cards for thousands of small businesses on the blockchain, in a program called Gyft Block. Loyyal makes loyalty incentives easily exchangeable across different sectors.

Prepaid cards could be used by cities, schools, and families to purchase out of school learning experiences (e.g., an LRNG card) and associated transportation (#7).

10. Smart contracts. DLT can be used to automatically execute agreements once a set of specified conditions are met. These “smart contracts” have the potential to reduce paperwork in many sector including education.

Woolf University, formed by Oxford professors, will use DLT to execute smart contracts. A series of student and teacher “check-ins” are key to executing a series of smart contracts that validate attendance and assignment completion. A check-in could be a simple as clicking a button on a phone app but it executes a smart contract that pays the teacher and provides micro-credits to the student.

DLT could facilitate distributed learning skemes. A state or institution could fund a student’s account using blockchain-based smart contracts and and provide all the funding up-front. The smart contracts would release it when certain criteria are met. (There’s obviously a lot of policy to figure out: desirable experiences and skill verifications, eligible providers, terms and conditions, etc.)

11. Learning marketplace. The core competency of DLT is eliminating the middleman. It will be deployed to create various learning marketplaces from test prep to surfing school.

TeachMePlease is Russian pilot on the Disciplina platform where teachers and students come together. It helps students find and pay for courses, registered by educational organizations or teachers. Woolf (#16) is an example of a new higher ed marketplace.

12. Records management. DLT could reduce paper-based processes, minimize fraud, and increase accountability between authorities and those they serve. An early example, the Delaware Blockchain Initiative, aims to create an appropriate legal infrastructure for distributed ledger shares, to increase efficiency and speed of incorporation services. Illinois, Vermont, and other states have since announced similar initiatives. Startups are assisting in the effort as well: in Eastern Europe, the BitFury Group is currently working with the Georgian government to secure and track government records.

13. Retail. DLT could securely connect buyers and sellers in marketplaces.For example,  OpenBazaar operates as an open-source, peer-to-peer network that connects buyers and sellers without a middleman. Customers purchase goods using any of 50 cryptocurrencies and sellers are paid in Bitcoin.

DLT could be used to power school stores and student businesses. In some cases, a global network would be attractive, but in others, a permissioned (private) ledger could limit the scope of a school economy.

14. Charity. For charitable donations, DLT provides the ability to precisely track donations and, in some cases, impact. For example, GiveTrack, from the BitGive Foundation, is a blockchain-based donation platform that provides the ability to transfer, track, and provide a permanent record of charitable financial transactions across the globe.

Donors to schools and NGOs may find accountability and transparency attractive.

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15. Human resources. Conducting background checks and verifying employment histories can be time-consuming, highly manual tasks for HR professionals. If employment and criminal records were stored in DLT, HR professionals could streamline the vetting process and move hiring processes forward more quickly.

Chronobank is focused on improving short-term recruitment for on-demand jobs (e.g., cleaning, warehousing, e-commerce). The startup aims to use blockchain to make it easier for individuals to find work on the fly and be rewarded for their labor through a decentralized framework via cryptocurrency, without the involvement of traditional financial institutions.

Schools could use similar capabilities in substitute and driver management and for a marketplace of afterschool and summer activities.

16. Governance. The benefits of using blockchain for smart contracts and verifiable transactions can also be applied toward making business accounting more transparent. The Boardroom app, for example, provides a governance framework and app enabling companies to manage smart contracts on the public and permissioned Ethereum blockchains.

The app provides an administrative system for organizations to ensure smart contracts are executed according to rules encoded on the blockchain (or to update the rules themselves). Boards can also use the app for shareholder voting by proxy and collaborative proposal management.

17. Libraries. DLT could help libraries expand their services by building an enhanced metadata archive, developing a protocol for supporting community-based collections, and facilitating more effective management of digital rights. San Jose State’s School of Information received a $100K grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund a year-long project exploring the potential of blockchain technology for information services.

18. Publishing. Blockchain could have multiple applications in the publishing industry, from breaking into the industry to rights management to piracy. New platforms are emerging to level the playing field for writers and encourage collaboration among authors, editors, translators, and publishers. Educators, students, and NGOs may appreciate the benefits of expanded publishing options.

Authorship allows writers to publish their work on the platform. Readers can purchase the books from the platform using Authorship Tokens (ATS), an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency, and writers get 90% of royalties in ATS. Authors own the copyright to their work, so they have the freedom to publish and distribute it elsewhere.

PageMajik is a workflow management system designed to streamline the publishing process. The system provides a secure, centralized catalog of all files, which can be easily accessed by teams of writers, editors, and publishers. Each person’s roles, rights, and duties can be specified before they actually start using the platform to minimize errors. PageMajik is in the process of adding blockchain technology to the next version of its workflow system.

19. Public assistance. Blockchain could help streamline public assistance system for families and students. The UK began working with startup GovCoin Systems in 2016 to conduct trials for developing a blockchain-based solution for welfare payments. GovCoin divides money into separate stashes for different expenses. Recipients gain access to their benefits which are paid in cryptocurrency via a mobile app.

20. Bonds. The World Bank is using blockchain to sell a bond. Moving the process to the blockchain could cut costs and speed up trading for both bond issuers and investors. School districts could benefit from faster and cheaper bond sales.

Writing for Educause, David McArthur outlines the limitations and challenges of DLT solutions in education. He also lays out the benefits Permissioned Distributed Ledgers rather than public ledger. These smaller private networks could enhance security and achieve faster and cheaper transactions consensus.

“When it comes to educational innovation, blockchains and ledgers are likely to lead to evolutionary gains, rather than revolutionary reforms,” concludes McArthur.

For more, see:


Tom Vander Ark is an advocate for innovations in learning. As CEO of Getting Smart, he advises school districts, networks, foundations and learning organizations on the path forward. A prolific writer and speaker, Tom is author of “Getting Smart”; “Smart Cities That Work for (more) Read more of this post

Why Higher Ed Should Do More with Blockchain Tech

Oral Roberts University recently held a conference to persuade higher education institutions that it’s time to get on board the blockchain train. Its recommendations: Learn about the technology’s potential, test it out and collaborate.

By Dian Schaffhauser Published 08/09/18

digital code chain illustration

When Oral Roberts University hosted the one-day event, “Blockchain Essentials in Education,” all attendees received a blockchain-based certificate from the Tulsa university verifying their participation. Perhaps nothing else could have illustrated the potential of blockchain technology more appropriately.

As CIO Michael Mathews, the event’s organizer, explained, blockchain will be as important to transforming education as the internet was. He said he believes those colleges and universities that jump on the secure public ledger concept early enough and begin testing it out will be the ones who could see the biggest benefits.

Mathews believes blockchain will have the “biggest payback” within an organization’s processes where trust is essential as part of a “value chain”: student application processing, transcript evaluations, articulation agreements. Blockchain “templates” that run in the cloud could replace “entire cumbersome processes” — akin, he added, to when Microsoft Word templates were first introduced and people figured out how they could optimize word processing and mail merge.

During the event, Mathews asked attendees (who came from more than two dozen schools) to raise their hands if they could process a student application in less than a day. Nobody did so. Two days? The same. And so on. “The closest we got was six days,” he said. If food companies can track tomatoes (IBM) and parcel companies (FedEx) can track packages and speed up validation using blockchain, he mused, “surely education can start helping people get accepted faster. When somebody out there is thinking they want to get a degree and you take three weeks to get back to them, they could have changed their mind already.” Blockchain technology could “prove that all the information is correct and validate quicker to close out the deal.”

Blockchain isn’t the magic that “changes everything,” he emphasized. “It is the tool that finally lets people see that we should and could speed up processes and validation and security all at the same time.”

Establishing Digital Identity

ORU's Blockchain Essentials in Education certificate

To help issue those certificates as a demonstration of blockchain in action, Mathews called in Trusted Key, a startup focused on blockchain-based digital identity. As Chief Technology Officer Prakash Sundaresan described, his company approaches identity control by supplying a set of software services addressing the needs of the three parties involved in a transaction: the user, the “issuer” and the “relying party.” In education, that might be the student, the institution and the prospective employer, respectively.

The technology is intended to provide a “trust layer” that allows the participants “to work together in a seamless way,” he said. The Trusted Key App is a digital identity wallet controlled by the end user that allows the individual to receive and maintain “all the pieces of information from various issuers.” Using the Trusted Key Digital Identity Platform, institutions would use the “issuer” service to produce and distribute digital diplomas or certificates. A school could “upload a file with the information about the students they want to issue it to, and our platform takes care of all the rest,” Sundaresan said. “Students end up with that diploma in their identity wallet and then they are free to share that with whomever they want.”

In the case of the ORU event certificate, he noted, “Every certificate that was issued would be signed by a key that [the university] owns. Then anybody receiving that certificate would know that this came from [ORU].”

How to Get Started with Blockchain

Sundaresan had two “take-aways” from his participation in the event. First, “there’s a lot of enthusiasm for blockchain in the education community.” That also exists in other segments where his company focuses — healthcare and financial services — but “education is a little more forward-looking. People are looking to the future,” he said. Second, “We’re still very early. The pioneers are kicking the tires on what this can do.”

For people interested in kicking the tires themselves, ORU’s Mathews offered three recommendations for joining the blockchain train:

Learn about it. “You wouldn’t have sold the farm for the internet in 1992,” he observed, “but by the year 2000, you better have. With blockchain, pay attention to how it’s impacting industry and how it can apply to education.” Make sure the knowledge goes beyond the IT crew, he added. “Educate your leaders.” Sundaresan concurred: “When the business people start to get it, not just the technology experts, that’s when you start to see the real transformation take place.”

Test it. Take a low-stakes process that requires some form of verification and try blockchain “so you get the picture,” Mathews suggested. He calls this “micro-innovation.” “We’ll never invest everything in blockchain, but we will see processes, validation and security improved through it.”

Collaborate. Work with other institutions to help each other “on this emerging stuff.” When people bring up what they’re thinking of trying, he advised, listen closely in case there’s something that applies to your own college or university too, where you can co-participate.

“It is extremely complex to do all the things that all the departments want,” Mathews said. “They want more of their alumni, they want more of their prospects, more retention, more persistence, more better grades. And they’re looking for a system to keep improving that. But in my 30 years on campuses I’ve learned that systems make very little impact on those things. They accommodate it, but they don’t solve the real problem. What solves the real problem is somebody having the clearest line of sight and the shortest pathway to the person they’re trying to connect to. That’s blockchain.”

How It Works

Oral Roberts University’s “Blockchain Essentials for Education” event used technology from Trusted Key to demonstrate the process of receiving a digital certificate. Here’s how it works:

Screen 1 shows a user receiving an alert that the certificate is ready. The user clicks the “issue certificate” button at bottom of the e-mail. In Screen 2, the user receives the request in the Trusted Key Identity Wallet to approve the receipt of the certificate. In Screen 3, the certificate has been issued to the user’s Identity Wallet and appears in his or her “My Identity Documents” repository. In Screen 4, the user can open the certificate to see the details and a customized image, which could be made available to an employer, for example, as proof of participation.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media’s education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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Big Data Is Getting Bigger… So Are the Privacy and Ethical Questions


Big data is getting bigger. So are the privacy and ethical questions.

The next step in using “big data” for student success is upon us. It’s a little cool. And also kind of creepy.

This new approach goes beyond the tactics now used by hundreds of colleges, which depend on data collected from sources like classroom teaching platforms and student-information systems. It not only makes a technological leap; it also raises issues around ethics and privacy.

Here’s how it works: Whenever you log on to a wireless network with your cellphone or computer, you leave a digital footprint. Move from one building to another while staying on the same network, and that network knows how long you stayed and where you went. That data is collected continuously and automatically from the network’s various nodes.

Now, with the help of a company called Degree Analytics, a few colleges are beginning to use location data collected from students’ cellphones and laptops as they move around campus. Some colleges are using it to improve the kind of advice they might send to students, like a text-message reminder to go to class if they’ve been absent.

Read more at 

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