University Research Is a Prime Candidate for IT Investment

By Dave Doucette of CDW

University research is arguably one of the most important activities undertaken in higher education, accounting for nearly $70 billion in funding in 2014. For many faculty members, research is as important as teaching, and their findings routinely contribute to societal advances in medicine, business, humanities and other disciplines.


With billions of dollars in research funding at stake, higher education institutions have several reasons to reconsider their approach to academic IT.  Despite this significance, parts of the research sector may have some catching up to do when it comes to leveraging educational technology and integrating more effectively with institutional IT. There’s a strong imperative to do so, starting with the fact that more strategic technology investments and deployments can dramatically increase efficiency. State-of-the-art tech solutions are also critical for ensuring that valuable research assets, such as confidential data and proprietary intellectual property, are protected from malicious intruders.

The good news? Institutions that rethink their approach to research infrastructure have a golden opportunity to help researchers work smarter, faster and more securely.

The Potential for Big Gains in IT Research

Back in 2009, a commissioned review of the research infrastructure at the University of California, Los Angeles, found some surprising gaps related to technology. According to the report, despite the large sums that UCLA invested in research — at the time, roughly $1 billion annually — it lacked an overarching strategy to guide research-related IT.

Several months after the review, UCLA released a nine-year IT Strategic Plan that called for a new approach to IT infrastructure, one that connects investments in IT to the university’s larger strategic goals. Among other changes, the plan included a dramatic realignment of administrative activities that support research.

When the infrastructure that supports complex research projects is not maximized, it creates inefficiencies in the administrative tasks that consume much of researchers’ time, making projects more expensive and time consuming. Less-than-optimal technology means that researchers may not have the most cutting-edge tools at their disposal when it comes to collecting and analyzing data and performing compute-intensive experiments.

By contrast, state-of-the-art technology solutions increase opportunities for collaboration with experts around the world and maximize efficiency through cloud-based platforms and services.

The Security Imperative in Protecting Assets

A more strategic approach to research computing — customized to the unique needs of research environments — is important to ensure that researchers can protect proprietary and confidential assets. Research universities possess extensive amounts of such data, both their own and that which they handle on behalf of government agencies and private companies.

At the same time, to accommodate the information sharing that many projects require, institutions often maintain greater openness in their IT environments compared with private businesses. Together, these factors make institutions an attractive target for malicious intruders — a critical concern in an era of rising cybercrime in higher education.

When research programs are too disconnected from IT departments, or when they lack a guiding technology strategy, they run the risk of becoming more vulnerable to attacks. This is important not only to protect data, but also to keep institutions competitive: Increasingly, federal research funding is tied to more stringent cybersecurity guidelines, such as the Federal Information Security Management Act.

Improved Infrastructure Creates Benefits Across the Board

At many institutions, research is closely integrated with teaching and learning, in both formalized curricula and assistantships outside the classroom. Undergraduate and graduate students often support research teams to gain hands-on practice in their disciplines, take advantage of unique learning opportunities and develop real-world skills for the workplace. These benefits, coupled with the extensive use of research assistants in higher education, mean that improving technology infrastructure can also have a dramatic effect on teaching and learning outcomes.

Institutions have many reasons to take a fresh look at research computing, and all of them make a compelling case. Researchers also have at their disposal some of the best minds in the world, not to mention those billions of dollars in research funding. Just imagine the great work they could accomplish with even better IT infrastructure.

Process Builder: Implement Simple Nested If/Then Statements using Invocable Processes

Textbook Example of Unbundling

Looking in the right places to see the transformation of a billion-dollar market. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Alec Whitters

credit-hlt-alec-whitters-unbundlingFor the unfamiliar, unbundling in business is the taking apart and selling of component parts that used to only come in one package. Examples include being able to access a specific television channel when it was previously only available by a package cable subscription, or selling a single song that used to come only as part of an album or CD.

Most often, dynamic-shifting technologies such as online video streaming or iTunes precipitate unbundling events because they change the way consumers access and use products.

In education, unbundling has been a goal, or at least an intended consequence of education entrepreneurs, investors and advocates for several years. Much of their interest and investment has been focused on breaking apart the traditional college education model of spending four years on…

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A Mobile-first Generation

How a unified mobile platform can keep students engaged – and in school.

GUEST COLUMN | by Chris Hopkinson

credit-dublabsHigher educational institutions have a lot of responsibility to not only attract applicants, but also ensure the experience and tools that they provide encourage students to remain enrolled and engaged. As roughly 33 percent of first-year students don’t return their sophomore year, institutions are beginning to recognize that positive experiences for students during freshman year typically set the tone for how the rest of their educational career will be.

Understanding retention challenges, as well as how mobility is increasingly being woven into the fabric of student life, a leading mobile app solution provider to higher education institutions created a platform that enables institutions to easily connect with students on their smartphones. Providing students a robust, authentically mobile experience is an integral part of retention efforts, and hundreds of partnering institutions –…

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From #IoT to IoE [In #HigherEd]: More Ways for Institutions to Connect to Everything

A Q&A with Robbie Melton –
By Mary Grush 09/20/16

IoT higher EdThe Internet of Things has started a new wave of connectedness. We have been able to connect certain common devices to the Internet that simply weren’t there before and discover new ways to interact with them. The ability to connect to — and obtain data from — the real and physical world over the Internet has amazed and inspired us.

Now, as we move further into the IoT, we are seeing that the technology has simply gotten better. From wearables, to smart objects and environments, to sensor networks, and more, our choices are increasing exponentially.

And with all the advancements and innovations, an awareness of the larger implications of connectedness has hit us — now, we are beginning to talk about the Internet of Everything. We’ll be tapping into big data from diverse sources, often outside our institutions as well as within, to help us make decisions in real time. Soon, it seems we will be able to consult nearly everything to decide anything.

But how can our institutions leverage these offerings in a way that supports and deepens higher education’s own enduring values? Here, we asked Robbie K. Melton, associate vice chancellor for mobile and emerging technologies at the Tennessee Board of Regents, for some advice and insight for higher education institutions as they explore — and hopefully benefit from — the unique applications of the IoE in education.

Mary Grush: In your role as the Tennessee Board of Regent’s associate vice chancellor for emerging technologies you have been studying the Internet of Things for some years, to identify the best possibilities for education. Now, you are talking about the Internet of Everything. So first of all, how would you differentiate the IoT from the IoE? Is there a difference, or is the IoE just a more “in” term right now?

Robbie Melton: The “Internet of Everything” is an expression that popped up just recently. But I think the difference is significant. The term “Everything” is telling us that we’re now able connect many, many more things, and that these things will be much smarter. Potentially, almost anything could be connected — clothing and wearables, for example, or maybe your chair. We are truly going to be able to explore how “everything is connected”. That’s why we are now speaking about the Internet of Everything.

Grush: What are some of the things you’ve been looking at in IoT and IoE in your office at TBR?

Melton: We have been looking at the IoT for well over four years now. This came naturally out of our work with mobile devices. We started by connecting through our networks to our laptops, smart phones, tablets, fitness trackers, and watches, and we realized, “Wow, we are pulling data from all of these sources — what can the possibilities be for teaching, learning, and workforce training?”

We’ve looked at learning analytics and real-time data, and, together with faculty, administration, and staff throughout Tennessee, we have envisioned real-time solutions with IoT — and of course now, with IoE. So, from that jumping off point of working with the hardware and the connectivity, we have been pondering what we can do for education and the workforce.

Grush: What are some of the successful applications you were able to demonstrate?

Melton: I’ll give you a simple example relating to student activity. Looking at connectivity and use of student-connected mobile devices, we found through our data that students at one college were more active and participated more on Monday through Thursday, and less on Friday. We were able to determine this much more quickly using our mobile data than we would have through more traditional observations, and we were able to make the change to a four-day week much sooner — we didn’t have to wait until the end of the academic year to make helpful changes.

Another example is related to textbooks. When we were using traditional hard bound and paperback books, it was very difficult to gauge where, when, and what students were reading, in the course material, as well as what content was being skipped. And it was hard to find out, without testing, which concepts were not being understood by the students.

With our ability to track and monitor electronic textbook usage, we can get data on these things in real time. This not only helps inform and improve the teaching and learning process, but it also helps us to utilize our resources in much more efficient ways. One of the benefits of this is that we now can purchase just selected chapters and content from books versus having students pay for the entire book. 

Grush: Are there different levels of use of the IoE, such as faculty versus administrators? And are there differences in how IoE is used, by discipline?

mobile-etextbooksMelton: As an administrator, using the IoE, you are looking at a holistic view of the entire campus operations of networks, teaching, learning, and services. You are not usually looking so much at a particular course — you are concerned with a whole program in regards to its alignment with student performance, retention, health, and safety.

For example, one of our campuses noticed an increase in calls regarding safety and security issues. So, the administrator pulled data (on demand and now in real time through IoE) from not only their internal cameras, but from external community surveillance sensors, law enforcement data, and other connected sources, including campus mobile devices that could help provide insight as to the ‘what’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ of incidents and how campus security systems and safety procedures were working, or not working well, overall or in selected areas on the campus.

A faculty member using the IoE would more likely be concentrating on the lesson at hand and on what specifically is going on in their classroom — especially in the areas of student engagement, performance, retention, and outcomes. An example from a science lab showed us how the instructor could monitor lab use with IoE applications, both to track and improve student learning and to keep up on supplies.

And yes, there are differences in how these technologies are being embraced and utilized in the disciplines. The STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are at the top in terms of adoption, with the medical field being early adopters. I’ll give you an example from a physical therapy lab, where there are IoE wearables such as smart shoes, clothes, and sensored adaptive devices. There are even innovative sensored therapy floors now, that can share data on how, when, and where clients are walking — allowing therapists to track progress with their therapy. So, therapists and their student interns can identify problems quickly, using real-time data from these smart floors and wearable medical devices. Also in the medical field, we were fortunate to have helped evaluate and pilot several of the first smartphone and mobile phone-based blood pressure cups — not merely adopting the technology for use on our campuses, but providing a test bed and feedback for the technology’s development and validity out in the field.

I can add that even my own shoes, clothes, smartphones, earphones, and my watch are now keeping track of my follow-through on commitments I’ve made to exercise, getting fit, and eating healthy — when I don’t keep it up, my shoes and devices will send a message to my phone to get up and get moving!

I’ll give you an intriguing example from physical education: I have a smart basketball. It will coach me by talking me through what I need to do to improve my techniques. And, when the ball is communicating with me, it is also letting the instructor know how I am doing in real time, so my human coach can immediately intervene.

Safety and security are definitely to be added high on the list of disciplines incorporating IoE, along with business and marketing, which are investigating the wealth of IoE possibilities. Have you noticed that when you drive past certain businesses your smartphone will display their logo and products, as well as update your recent purchases?

Agriculture and environmental science gave us an interesting example of the utilization of IoE. Our State Ag departments were consulted on a growing problem with wild hogs. These animals had to be captured and managed usually during the middle of the night. Consulting with Verizon Wireless IoT Connectivity Solutions, Ag agents in the field are now using a ‘smart fencing system’ that is able to track and help contain these creatures remotely without needing on-site staff at 2:00AM. 

Grush: Do some of these devices have dashboards for the instructors?

Melton: Yes, certainly. For example, we are piloting a digital tool called NearPod. This allows the instructor to connect to every device in the classroom — even to several different platforms and types of devices — as well as interacting with students at any remote location. An instructor can use the dashboard to send communications and to deliver content to all the students’ devices, and to monitor student performance as needed. And remember, this is all happening in real time.

Grush: How do you introduce these technologies or offer training that will help faculty, staff, and administrators on campus?

Melton: First, we provide professional development activities regarding the innovations and changes in technology — including emerging tools, new practices, and knowledge concepts. We use terms, symbols, and labels like “smart tools” or even “edugadgets” to convey that these are serious tools, not for entertainment or frivolous use, but for education and workforce training. We make faculty, staff, and administrators aware of what’s out there and what’s coming. We offer showcases featuring what we call “Education and Workforce Smart Tools and Gadgets for IoE”. Seeing these things gives our constituents a fresh perspective so they can help us envision the possibilities for a given device. Very recent examples include our IoE showcases and pilots that use virtual reality, augmented reality, and holograms to improve teaching, learning, and workforce training.

Participants learn to consider: (1) What is the placement or who is the wearer of the smart device? (2) What kind of data can be gathered with this device? (3) How will you monitor and track the data? and (4) What are you going to do with the data — how can you use it to make effective changes?

So the full cycle is: We find emerging tech, we assess it, we pilot it, we evaluate the application of it, and we share the outcomes and the impact of it. Then, after getting feedback and making the adjustments we need, only then do we enter the full institutional or classroom application phase.

Grush: Within your responsibilities at TBR, how are you able to demonstrate which devices are useful and worth an investment by state institutions — and which may not be, at least for now? On the surface, some of the devices you explore in your research could seem as though they might be too expensive or too exotic or just not ready or useful yet. Are you able to show institutions around the state which devices might be both effective and practical?

Melton: Yes. Consider the whole process again: First of all, TBR has invested in — not through a grant, but through its own funding infrastructure — a system-wide office for emerging technologies. This office seeks out innovations and new technologies that have the potential and possibilities for improving teaching, learning, and workforce training. The office provides a research center and testing ground for emerging technologies where campuses may ‘try out’ before purchasing and ‘test out’ for ADA standards.

Next, we introduce these tools to the faculty and administration. Every year we have a major emerging tech conference where they can peruse the latest and greatest, and we see what sparks their interest and which technologies will complement and support their programs and services.

Then, we take these technologies to the campuses, and to the various education programs. We run pilots to track and monitor the impact of the technologies and get the feedback we need to modify them to optimize teaching and learning.

Finally, TBR as a system may choose to say, “Yes, this particular technology has the potential to be a game changer. Let’s investigate and invest more.” And that way, we identify both the very latest and the very best technologies for our institutions. This model has saved the TBR institutions from expensive, one-off efforts at individual schools or programs, reducing duplication and maximizing resources and efforts while offering a proof of concept approach that can ensure our institutions are getting the most innovative technologies — viable, productive education technologies that prepare our students for a technological world of work.

Alternative and Next-Generation Credentialing

In recent years, the higher education space has seen stunning transformation in the way we recognize and credential student learning.With the resurgence and expansion of competency-based education, we’ve seen the value both students and employers put into mastery and learning outcomes. With the expansion and success of coding bootcamps—as well as institutional non-credit offerings—we’ve come to understand that a degree is not the ultimate goal for many learners.

This Special Feature explores the new higher education reality and shares some insights into how colleges and universities can compete and succeed in today’s rich and competitive postsecondary marketplace.

The Changing Priorities of Higher Education Institutions

Innovative Credentials: Turning a Drop in the Bucket into a Transformative Tidal Wave

Innovative credentials still represent just a drop in the bucket when it comes to total dollars spent in the postsecondary space, but with greater employer recognition and participation they could be truly transformative.

Digital Badges and the Career Pathway: Understanding the Value

Digital badges provide community colleges with new ways to forge career pathways for students who are not necessarily enrolling in higher education to earn a degree, but to get a job.

Education Alternatives Offer Exciting Career Transition Opportunities for Military Veterans

By improving access to flexible, alternative postsecondary credentials, colleges and universities can make huge strides in smoothing the transition into the civilian labor market for military veterans.

How Student Demand is Transforming Credentialing

Stackable Credentials Meet the Needs of Students and Society

The number of students earning multiple credentials is already rising—colleges and universities need to do more to formalize the non-conventional pathways students are already taking to earn their degrees.

A Primer on the Present and Future of Alternative Credentials

Alternative credentials will not replace degrees but are strongly following the disruptive innovation process outlined by Clayton Christensen.

Where Are Alternative Options Moving Higher Education?

Abnormal Becoming the New Normal: CBE and Moving Beyond Standard Practice in Higher Education

and Celina Garza | Associate Vice President for Institutional Assessment, Texas State Technical College-Harlingen

The capacity to microcredential through competency-based education formats allows colleges to ensure their content remains relevant and responsive to the needs of students and the labor market.

The Path Forward for Alternative Credentialing

By making use of blockchain verification, stackable credentials can grow to meet the specific needs of today’s just-in-time, dynamic labor market.

The Value of Alternative Credentialing for Students and Institutions

The Differentiating Power of Alternative Credentials

Institutions can use microcredentials as a platform to stand out from the crowd, but their offerings must be verifiable and of the maximum quality possible in order to serve as an effective differentiator.

Resumes are Dead and Transcripts are Ailing

As the traditional college transcript and CV falls further and further out of vogue among employers, colleges and universities need to turn to more competency-focused credentials like badges to communicate their graduates’ skills to potential employers.

Assessing the Long-Term Potential for Bootcamps: How Do They Truly Stack Up?

Though alternative credentials have yet to overtake traditional degrees in value—perceived or otherwise—their focus on short-term benefits and demand responsiveness could lead to a longer-term shift in the powers of each respective credential.

Alternative Credentialing from the Community College Perspective

Normalizing Certificates and Certifications for Today’s Learners

The focus on improving student outcomes starts with ensuring that institutions are directly meeting the needs and expectations of their students. In many cases, this means moving away from the bread-and-butter degrees towards high-demand non-degree certificate and certification programming.

On Bootcamps: Community Colleges Are In A Different Category

While bootcamps provide the hard skills students need to get a job, community colleges teach those hard skills as well as the soft skills students need to get a career.

The Need for a National Certification Ecosystem


As community colleges begin to deliver a wider range of credentials, including but not limited to degrees, it’s critical that a national certification system be established to provide critical information to all key stakeholders regarding their value and potential.

Creating a New Model with Alternative Providers

Partnering with a Non-Traditional Provider: EQUIP and Experimental Education Opportunities

With students demanding more choice and employers looking for more specific credentials, colleges and universities need to work harder to ensure they’re providing alternative pathways for students to prepare themselves for the labor market.

EQUIP-ping Students for a Fruitful Career by Partnering with a Bootcamp

By taking advantage of an innovative and forward-thinking government experiment, SUNY Empire State and Flatiron School have created low-cost access to critical workforce development programming that can transfer seamlessly into a traditional degree program.

HIGHER ED MANAGEMENT – Launching October 1, 2016

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