At the opening session of the annual EDUCAUSE conference, held this year in Indianapolis, EDUCAUSE president and CEO John O’Brien announced that about 7,000 people from 43 countries were in attendance. The focus of conference presentations was on trends in IT that affect all aspects of higher education, which makes sense because EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association for IT professionals in higher education. Its membership consists of institutions, corporations, and associations; there’s no category for individual membership. The organization’s membership currently stands at some 2,300 academic institutions and 300-plus corporations. This translates to at least 68,000 individuals participating in EDUCAUSE.
Most of the EDUCAUSE attendees represented the IT departments of their colleges and universities, many at the CIO level, although a smattering of librarians were also present. What caught their attention? Tools to facilitate and measure student recruitment, engagement, retention, and graduation. On a more granular level, companies demonstrating personal learning products, learning management systems, and video techniques gained attendee interest.
Top 10 IT Issues
Unveiled in Indianapolis were the top 10 IT issues of 2016. EDUCAUSE grouped the issues into three themes: Differentiate, Reinvest, and Divest. The issues themselves were:
- Information security
- Optimizing educational technology
- Student success technologies
- IT workforce
- Institutional data management
- IT funding models
- BI [business intelligence] and analytics
- Enterprise application integrations
- IT organizational development
- E-learning and online education
In two sessions previewing the issues, Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE’s VP of data, research, and analytics, led discussions on how IT and strategic technologies contribute to institutions overall and, specifically, to managing, retooling, and transforming IT organizations. New infrastructures are coming into play that will affect how higher education accomplishes its goals. In an era when data breaches are becoming increasingly common, beefing up information security is imperative. The conundrum is making data more secure—two-factor authentication was mentioned as a basic requirement—without putting barriers between it and students.
Such a large conference is a sensible place for companies to make announcements of new and enhanced products and to reveal corporate deals and alliances.
When it comes to information security, protecting passwords is the first line of defense. LastPass, which has a free version of its secure password management system, offers professional packages for campus use in partnership with Internet2 NET+. Passwords stored with LastPass can be applied to websites and apps, plus it syncs to major browsers, smartphones, and tablets. It has two-factor authentication and identifies weak passwords.
Cengage Learning featured charging devices at its booth, inviting EDUCAUSE attendees to “recharge.” It announced its acquisition of Pathbrite’s ePortfolio, a portfolio learning platform that, in tandem with MindTap and Learning Objects, positions Cengage to leverage publisher content with open educational resources (OER) as well as help students complete coursework and, best of all, graduate.
Dell announced that it is making its Statistica predictive analytics software free to students and faculty in the U.S. under its Free Academic Program. Designed to bring data science concepts to the academic environment, the Statistica Free Academic Program includes not only the software package but also a free online statistics textbook, how-to videos, and access to a base of collegiate and professional users in the STEM community.
Concentrating on nursing and allied health education, Elsevier showed a prototype of Sherpath, a personalized approach to teaching nursing fundamentals. Drawing on Elsevier textbooks, Sherpath allows drag-and-drop customization and exam construction. With visual representations, virtual simulations, and personalized quizzes to help students improve in the areas in which they are weak, students learn at their own pace. Sherpath should go live in mid-2016. Fifteen schools are currently piloting the product.
At the Google Education booth, EDUCAUSE attendees were invited to jump into the world of immersive virtual reality via cardboard viewers. Choose a geographic location, and Google displays it in front of your eyes while an instructor can tell you the background of what you’re viewing, as well as its history and significance, and direct you to move your eyes to see a different part of the display. Personally, I felt a great deal of eye strain using the cardboard viewers, but no one around me experienced any discomfort. Google was also inviting feedback to its education products through its Google User Experience Research studies.
LabArchives, LLC, an Internet2 NET+ member, has two varieties of site licenses, a professional one for researchers and a classroom one for students and professors. LabArchives’ platform ensures that data is secure. It supports rich text data, tables, images, sketches, and annotations. Given the prevalence of electronic laboratory notebooks (ELN), I was surprised to learn that some organizations still keep paper notebooks that are locked up when not in use.
Blackboard announced the integration of Microsoft Office 365 plug-ins for Moodlerooms. The plug-ins include authentication with Azure Active Directory, calendaring with Exchange Online, file storage with One Drive for Business, assignment submission and feedback with OneNote, and interactive course content with Office Video, Mix, and Sway.
Microsoft expanded on Blackboard’s announcement by stating that Canvas, Schoology, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Haiku, and Moodle now support OneNote Class Notebooks and Office Mix.
Following its acquisition of Three Rivers Systems in June and subsequent establishment of a Global Center of Excellence for Education, Unit4 introduced a student information system, Unit4 Student Management, that it says provides an “end to end” system to attract, manage, and support students.
Asynchronous and personalized learning are gaining in popularity. Copley Retention, a Mark Cuban company, unveiled its system to monitor student progress, tailor alerts when students fall behind, and provide case management for faculty and administrators. Additionally, Copley co-sponsored Start-Up Alley in the exhibit hall, where new companies showed off their wares.
VitalSource Technologies, Inc., an Ingram Content Group company, added interactive digital content from Cerego to its etextbook platform, VitalSource Bookshelf. It can be read on iPads, Android and Kindle devices, or through Cerego’s mobile app. The first release is expected in early 2016, and VitalSource is recruiting launch partners.
Libraries at EDUCAUSE
If there was an overarching message at EDUCAUSE, it was that higher education is changing. IT is both driving the change and reacting to other drivers of change. Distance learning, personalized learning, asynchronous classes, and student empowerment stem both from student expectations and technologies’ ability to support those expectations. Without having video course lectures, learning management systems such as Canvas, and the internet infrastructure, these initiatives wouldn’t be possible.
Although the presence of libraries was minimal at the EDUCAUSE conference, librarians should pay attention to the new educational technologies on display there. Having knowledge of the “latest and greatest” allows librarians to couch the work they do and the resources they need in the terminology of their IT departments. Aligning with the goals of the institution and speaking the language of the various constituencies of the library leads to library success.