Monday Jul 06, 2015

Are we on the edge of a tipping point or just another hype cycle?

The month of June (2015) is like a blur to me.  There were so many conferences and events for higher education where Oracle had a presence that I barely had enough clothes to reload my suitcase each week.  

Despite the crazy schedule, there were some very interesting themes that emerged from all of the meetings.  First off, let me describe each of the conferences.  In early June, Ovum sponsored the first ever Future EdTech event for higher education in London.  The predominate attendees were from the UK, but there was a remarkable number of western European institutions that made the journey to London.  The following week was EUNIS, the European University Information Systems Congress which took place this year at Abertay University in Dundee Scotland.  This was followed by what I consider to be the most enriching conference I attend every year, the Forum for the Future of Higher Education, held at the Aspen Institute. And then last but not least, during the final week of June was my semi-annual Oracle Education & Research Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington, DC.

Three of the four meetings I outlined are ed-tech focused, with the notable exception being the Future's Forum.  But what struck me about that meeting, even though the audience was largely non-IT (presidents, provosts, deans, and representatives from various financial services and non-for-profits focused on education) the underlying themes of so much of the content was technology.  Whether advances in on-line learning platforms (the Minerva project was a fantastic example of this) or the use of predictive analytics to measurably improve student outcomes and foster data-driven decision making in higher education, it is clear that IT has "crossed the chasm" from an auxiliary service that keeps the trains running (i.e. wireless networks operational, payroll processed, IP telephones working, etc.) to a strategic enabler of transformation in higher education.  But has the IT function in higher education made this shift, or has the need for the shift to be made come into sharper relief?

I was struck by many of the comments at the Ovum event in London and from EUNIS around the methodical if slow progress that certain parts of Europe are making towards the US model of funding based on outcomes, and the need for the "consumers" of education to bear more of the cost.  Whether or not this is a good move, I'd rather not debate here (as we would drift into the discussions around whether funding higher education is a public good) but the reality of this kind of shift is that "consumers" will become much more conscious of value and demand a more modern "experience" with which they are accustomed from their interactions with entities that have made much greater strides in leveraging technology (specifically CRM technologies) to make the experience much more personal and "frictionless" (to borrow a term from Nicole Engelbert of Ovum).

For the final week of June, we convened the 8th meeting of the Education and Research ISC (Industry Strategy Council) in Washington.  As I told the group during opening remarks, this is by far the most enjoyable part of my job at Oracle (and also one of the more stressful, but in a good way).  We get two days of largely uninterrupted quality time to get feedback from this distinguished group and to put ideas in front of them in a somewhat non-threatening, open, candid environment.  In many respects, it is fulfilling what I had hoped to create with this group four years ago - the development of a commons - an environment where we can push the limits on some of the issues that we're confronting in a safe, closed environment where ideas and thoughts can be surfaced openly.   I'm sure each of the ISC members has their own opinion, but I believe we accomplished that in this meeting.  The makeup of this group is largely IT leadership (CIO), but increasingly more functional and business leadership participates (CFO, VP Enrollment Management, even a couple of presidents). However I have sensed over the course of the last 8 meetings, culminating in the most recent one, that IT is becoming very strategic in higher education. Yes there are still many examples of what I called “science project” thinking, but on the whole there has been a significant shift in the way IT in higher ed underpins the strategy of the institution, not reacts to it.

On the second day, we were joined by three members of Congress who are stakeholders in education policy: Chairwoman (of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee) Virginia Foxx from the House, Chairman Lamar Alexander from the Senate side, and Senator Bob Casey.  Each of them commented on the breaking news regarding the Dept. of Education's decision to back off of it's plan to develop a college rating system.  In particular, Senator Alexander highlighted the committee's efforts to dramatically reduce the paperwork involved in applying for Federal Financial Aid, and also the drive to dramatically reduce duplicative and needless reporting and administrative burden that is costing higher ed so much by chasing compliance.

In my next post, I’ll spend a bit more time on some of the comparisons between two industries that have had similar struggles with realizing the value of enterprise IT systems: Healthcare and Education, through the lens of someone who spoke on the topic at the aforementioned Forum for the Future of Higher Education.


Monday Apr 06, 2015

The Critical Nature of Technology in Education

Two important events occurred recently in Oracle education circles: Alliance (the global meeting of the independent Oracle Higher Education User Group or HEUG) in Nashville Tennessee, and Oracle Industry Connect (an Oracle-sponsored industry thought leadership event) in Washington DC. Both conferences signaled the continued and heightened role that technology must play in order for education and research to survive and thrive in the coming years.

Alliance once again drew a large crowd of nearly 4000 to interact on issues and opportunities in leveraging Oracle and other complimentary technologies in the running of the academic enterprise. But what was noteworthy about this conference in 2015 was not the size of the group nor any one specific presentation or announcement. It was rather the sense of change that seems to be permeating the organization. This was evident in the installation of a new HEUG president (Mario Barry from Lone Star College) as well as in the discussions that took place during the Executive Forum sessions at the conference. There is a decided shift in importance and dominance from the large, monolithic "administrative" applications such as student information systems and ERP (which were the underpinnings of the HEUG's origin), to more "front office" systems such as student engagement, learning technologies, recruitment, retention, and analytics.

One might be tempted to talk about this in terms of a shift from on-premise applications to all things cloud, but I see that as simply a technology evolution that is permeating everything. The real shift is rooted in the dynamics affecting our systems of higher education: the need to deliver education and research at scale (increased access), the need for differentiation between institutions (and to expose those key differentiators through technology), and the need for higher education to become more data-driven. This was clearly evident during the Student Success panel at Alliance Executive Forum, where Andy Clark, Vice President of Enrollment, Marketing and Communications from Valdosta State University, the aforementioned Mario Barry from Lone Star College, and outgoing HEUG president Steve Hahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison all discussed how important the development of enterprise-wide approaches to the use of data to enhance student success had become one of the most critical drivers for executive team in their respective institutions.

In the week following Alliance, education was one of several featured industries at Oracle Industry Connect, a thought-leadership conference sponsored by Oracle in Washington DC. I was privileged to chair a panel of several university presidents accompanied by an industry analyst from Ovum, as the keynote presentation which initiated our industry track. Joining me were Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Professor Michael Fitts of Tulane University, Dr. Mary Hawkins of Bellevue University, and Nicole Engelbert of Ovum. We discussed a wide range of issues including the considerable change higher education has already experienced and need for further change, the imperative for institutions to become more "data-driven," and the need for reduced "friction" in the student experience, as their interactions with the institution shift from purely in-person, on campus interactions to those which have a significant technology component, from many different devices at many different times, and throughout the student lifecycle (from prospect to donor and all stages in between).

What struck me during some of our sessions the following day when we convened a small panel of undergraduate students was just how clear they are about the need for this "frictionless" interaction with their institution, and the role they expect that institution to play (much more of an advisor and coach and mentor than of "parent"). There are definitely boundaries that students expect their institutions to observe in their use of social media and data, but those boundaries are dissimilar from the expectations they have from their interactions with commercial entities on the internet, which makes our jobs of creating the frictionless environment that much more difficult! But it was also evident from these discussions that we have a long way to go in our efforts to focus investments on student experience and engagement; that basic concepts like authenticating one time into the many systems with which students interact is still elusive.

The sessions from OIC were recorded, and I'll post shortly the URLs for the various sessions where you can see them as they were delivered.

Later in the day we examined topics like The Strategic Management of Academic Portfolios: Traceability to Cost of Education and Empowering Modern Finance in Higher Education, where experts like Erin Gore (formerly CFO of UC Berkeley and currently the head of education and non-profit banking at Wells Fargo) and John Curry (former CFO of MIT, UCLA, and USC and currently with Deloitte) spoke on the need to modern technology and process to make informed decisions about strategic investments, as well as in the need to reduce the massive duplication and redundancy that exists on many campuses where local optimization for departments and divisional silos have been allowed to continue unchecked. All of this is in an effort to sift shrinking resources to teaching, learning, and research and reduce the overall cost of education (which, incidentally, was the primary focus of the Q&A following the Industry Connect keynote address from Dr. Condoleezza Rice!).

For those of you that weren't able to join us for OIC 2015, I sincerely hope you'll consider this event next spring. While I realize I have a strong bias, I believe it was some of the best industry content, focused on the most relevant and pressing issues our industry faces, that I've been privileged to help deliver in quite some time.

Tuesday Oct 07, 2014

Educause, Internet2, Gartner Symposium, Kuali

It's been a while since I've posted - as I think I've mentioned in earlier posts I really don't excel at blogging.  Posting short snippets of thought has never been my forte.  Perhaps that is why I don't tweet as often as some of my colleagues.  But on to the topic(s) at hand….

I'm just coming back from two weeks in Orlando, where both Education 2014 and the Gartner Symposium were held.  Incidentally the week of Educause was also the week of Oracle OpenWorld.  So within a two-week timeframe there were a bunch of announcements that are relevant to education & research.

The first of these (that got relatively little attention) was Oracle's announcement of joining Internet2, and our intention to develop, in partnership with I2's members, cloud service offerings from Oracle that will be made available via Net+.  I've followed what Net+ has been doing for the past several years with some interest, and while I wish we could have joined the organization sooner I do believe that the timing is optimal, primarily because of the aforementioned announcements coming from OpenWorld.  I would certainly forgive you if this escaped your notice, given the dozens of press releases during the conference, but many of them pertained to our PaaS (Platform as a Service).

A lot has been written in the past several years regarding Oracle and Cloud, most of it misguided in my view.  The press love a good story and for some reason (perhaps because of some anti-cloud comments from our former CEO, now executive chairman) we have been painted into a corner as being "late to cloud" or "not committed to cloud."  I even read an article this week that actually said Oracle's cloud was "fake."

The reality is quite a bit different and now I will circle back to I2 and Net+.  While we have huge focus on developing/acquiring/delivering applications in the cloud (HCM, Financials, CRM, our recently mentioned Student Information System initiative, etc.), it's this development of a robust, comprehensive PaaS cloud that is critically important in my view.  This is where I believe we'll see tremendous value from our relationship with Internet2.  In our PaaS cloud, we are delivering mobile services, identity and security services, and (most important) data and process integration aaS.

Terri-Lynn Thayer, lead analyst for Gartner in higher ed, in her presentation entitled "Prepare Your Campus to Compete in a Digital Education Ecosystem" at the Industry Day during Gartner's Symposium, talked about the importance of iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) as institutions shrink their core ERP systems down to a system of record and source a variety of services from public and private clouds.  I think this gets missed a lot in all the hype around cloud's promise of providing higher ed more agility; if the data and process integration foundation isn't solid, we will end up with a bigger mess than we have today with our heavily customized on-premiss applications.

So to that end we will be putting a lot of emphasis on our PaaS in our I2 relationship.  More to come on that, particularly in the December timeframe when we meet with our global education & research industry strategy council.

The other half of the Educause announcement we made last week pertained to our design partner for our Cloud Student initiative.  University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stanford, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the University of Texas (system office) will be our four primary contributors from a core design partner standpoint.  We are close to adding a fifth partner in Europe which we should be in a a position to disclose after next week's EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Higher Ed User Group (HEUG) meeting in Utrecht, NL as well as our EMEA education & research industry strategy council.  We believe this gives us a broad spectrum of the higher ed panoply from which to draw a great deal of insight and council as we build the next generation student system in the cloud with mobile and social attributes at the core of the development initiative.

The last point I wanted to make in this post was around the recent decision by the Kuali Foundation to create a new for-profit entity.  Much as been written about this change, with a wide range of opinions on what is really under the surface and what questions this now raises.  As I've said many times before, much (not all, but much) of what Kuali has been positioned to deliver already exists as off-the-shelf (COTS) products, with multiple sources (i.e. robust competition) and a broad user community and ecosystem that develops and innovates around these products and platforms.  To me, the creation of the for-profit entity is demonstrable proof that open-source in the area of complex administrative and business apps in higher education is a bad idea.  It's totally against the grain of what needs to be "core" - teaching, learning, and research.  The move towards cloud applications and platforms in higher education (something we're aggressively pursuing) will in my view be the nail in the coffin.

Don't get me wrong; there are definitely areas where Kuali (and other open source initiatives) fill gaps that the private sector will likely never pursue - Coeus and the open library environment are excellent examples.  Parts of Unizen may be another.  But in the broader areas of human resources management, financials, student information systems, and mobility where ample (and growing) competition exists to drive innovation up and costs down, there is no justification for investing shrinking resources in higher education on software development and support.

Monday Jul 14, 2014

Data vs. Information in Higher Education

I thought I would share the text of a letter that we've submitted to Senators Tom Harkin and Lamar Alexander, Chairman and Ranking Member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee where the Higher Education Re-authorization Act (HRA) and higher ed reform more broadly is being discussed and addressed.  While some of what is being discussed around higher ed reform doesn't intersect directly with Oracle's interests or strengths, the issue of leveraging data to make better decisions (i.e., converting data into useful information) is something that Oracle has not only a keen interest in but also considerable expertise from our work across many different industries.

 -Cole

 ----------------

July 10, 2014

The Honorable Tom Harkin
United States Senate
Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Lamar Alexander
United States Senate
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
835 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin and Senator Alexander:

Oracle has a shared interest in data related to higher education, and have watched with interest the series of hearings held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP Committee) related to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. We appreciate the thoughtful and deliberative approach taken by the Committee related to this reauthorization. While we realize the hearings thus far have not directly dealt with data they have touched on the collection of better data in a general sense. Now that legislation has been introduced, we are offering our comments on the topic of data as it relates to higher education and look forward to working with the Committee as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.

Oracle is a leader in providing innovative and comprehensive data systems for institutions of higher education in the United States. Our software and hardware systems are the foundations for the data platform in higher education throughout the country, with over 1400 campuses leveraging Oracle technology, 430 of which run Oracle Peoplesoft Campus Solutions student information system, the core application of the academic enterprise. Our products are used everywhere, from small community colleges to the largest world-class, multi-campus university systems. Over 11 million students have data stored and processed using Oracle’s systems, more than any other provider of its kind in the United States.

PeopleSoft Campus Solutions is a comprehensive software suite that provides institutions with support for the full student life-cycle, from prospects and recruiting to enrollment and alumni management. Our products allow institutions to provide services and information to students, as well as prospective students, in an easy to use format both online and in real-time.

Industry Strategy Council

Oracle incorporates feedback from its most strategic customers through industry strategy councils. The longest standing of these councils is Oracle’s Education & Research Industry Strategy Council. Meeting semi-annually, this group consists of a broad range of 29 higher education institutions (with representation from community colleges to the largest AAU research universities) which provides input on the most pressing issues facing higher education where technology can play a pivotal role.

DATA AND HIGHER EDUCATION

Without question, higher education institutions are “data-rich” organizations that collect information on students at multiple points and for various purposes as they progress through educational systems. In fact, higher education institutions likely possess more raw data and information on their students than any other type of organization in any sector. While some institutions have structures and processes in place to analyze and use the data, few have the ability to quickly turn that knowledge into timely action.

Data Silos
Within most higher education institutions there exists a complex web of disconnected systems such as learning management, library, fund-raising, recruiting, human resources, financial systems, research grants, and more. Although these systems could benefit from sharing information with one another, most institutions do not have a uniform way to collect and compile the data produced. As a result, information technology budgets on most campuses are heavily burdened by high costs to connect and maintain integrations between all these systems and the information they hold, which is money that could be spent on higher-value projects to support the institution’s mission.

Particularly at larger institutions, these divisions lead to numerous data silos. A large research university is not unlike a mid-sized city with its own police and fire departments, hundreds of buildings in a multitude of locations, thousands of employees and tens of thousands of constituents. The departments within such a system routinely collect information on students for a variety of purposes, and often times this happens without coordination or sharing of information. For example, Student Financial Aid, the Office of the Registrar, and the Student Affairs Department with a university system all generate separate data that could be useful together, but the lack of collaboration and organization result in a missed chance to use data to tell a comprehensive story. What are absent are the tools, data and IT governance structure, and the organizational capacity to turn data into meaningful information to drive student success.

The keepers of the most data within college systems, Institutional Research departments, typically spend much of their time compiling statistics into fact books and meeting basic regulatory reporting requirements, and are rarely focused on the strategic use of data to support one of the core missions of the university –increasing the productivity of teaching and learning. Operational and performance reporting has fallen to the diverse silos of operations within the complex enterprise that is a higher education institution.

Duplicative Data and Data Management
While one might assume that there exists just one record for each student within a system, this often is not the case and can cause problems on many levels. Human error is one contributing factor to duplicative data. A seemingly insignificant mistake entered into a system from day one can result in duplicate data that over time, contributes to inaccuracies in reporting and in many cases, a false representation of student success (or lack thereof). For example, if an applicant uses the name “John B. Smith” during his first interface with a college, and simply “John Smith” during a subsequent interaction, two records have been created for the one student. In many instances, the “John B. Smith” record is never replaced or deleted, and can actually count against an institution as a non-progressing student or a dropout.

Duplicative data is often created as a result of discrepancies in “data definitions.” Institutions are routinely asked for data on their student population, from various local, state and federal sources, all of which may ask for the exact same information, but in different ways. For example, there are numerous definitions that vary across federal and state program reporting, such as the definition of a full-time student, ethnicity, dependency status, date of birth vs. age as of a certain date and residency, to name just a few. These definitions vary across programs from the Department of Education to the Department of Labor to the Department of Health and Human Services to other agencies interacting with institutions of higher education. Time wasted to report a duplicate record, as well as the amount of unnecessary data amassed as a result are both serious and costly problems for institutions.

Definitional confusion frequently becomes a volume management issue. The volume of required compliance reports is vast and made cumbersome by the multiple definitions of data that vary by report. This pulls limited resources from Institutional Research departments to focus on non-strategic activities like compliance instead of valuable strategic analysis such as evaluating student success and risk factors.

Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) As required by the Higher Education Act, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is a system of surveys that collect data from all U.S. postsecondary institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs. IPEDS collects data within a variety of categories, including institutional characteristics, completions, enrollment, student financial aid, graduation rates, finance, and human resources. While it may have been an appropriate tool for capturing a snapshot of student populations in the past, it is essential that as the Committee considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, IPEDS is brought into the twenty first century.

Students in 1966 experienced higher education very differently than students in 2014. Rather than applying for a specific program, staying in it until completion and subsequently becoming employed in that specific field, a typical student today may start out at a community college, change his or her major two or three times, transfer institutions, take a leave of absence and return to school, or even reduce at some point to half-time status. The availability of on-line courses from many different institutions contributes to the swirl though an academic system versus a linear path at one institution. Market forces and employment trends push students into different majors and schools, and family circumstances or simply the high cost of a college degree can also impact how, where and why a student attends college. We need to study students, not just institutions. Further, we need to recognize that each institution has a different mission, and meets the needs of its students in a unique way.

Specific problems with IPEDS are well-documented and agreed upon across industries. For example, as noted in a 2010 GAO Report, “IPEDS graduation rates only measure the outcomes for first-time, full-time, degree/certificate seeking students, which comprise 49 percent of entering students nationwide according to IPEDS data. Students who attend part-time or transfer in are not counted toward a school’s graduation rate. All nongraduates are treated as dropouts, even if they go on to graduate from another institution.”[1] We agree that this is a problem and symptomatic of an outdated system in need of refreshing.

A more longitudinal method that provides a comprehensive, 360 degree view of a student moving through and out of a system can make the same data much more valuable and worth the time and financial resources institutions of higher education invest into complying with IPEDS reporting rules. While a longitudinal view of a student’s progression through higher education is a laudable goal, the endpoint should be inclusive of all learning, K-through-adult continuing education.

Contextualizing Data

It is important to note that the repeated calls to link data to outcomes should be tempered with the reality that defining meaningful outcomes for all interested parties is extremely difficult. Although institutions can influence and support student success, we must remember that the mission of Federal Student Financial Aid programs, as defined by the Department of Education, are to “make college education possible for every dedicated mind.”[2] Although the ultimate goal of every academic institution is to educate students, the way each institution approaches that mission can be almost as varied as the populations they serve. As a result, the outcomes for each institution may be very different, but no less effective.

For example, students often begin a program and acquire the sufficient skills and credentials to be hired by a company without having to complete the entirety of the program or earning a diploma. In such instances, the Department of Education fulfilled its mission by providing education to a dedicated student, and the student achieved his or her goal by gaining the skills necessary for employment in the field of his or her choice. We can all agree that these are not “failure” type situations, and must not allow extremely strict or “one size fits all” definitions for student success.

DATA SOLUTIONS

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act presents an opportunity for Congress to amend antiquated policies and complex and duplicative reporting requirements that are costly and burdensome to institutions of higher education. In addition, improving data reporting rules can help companies responsible for storing and processing student data, like Oracle, to create products and applications that can help students, faculty and employees of higher education institutions get the most out of their time and efforts.

Creating Additional Resources for Student Services

Our Education & Research Industry Strategy Council members have shared concerns with us regarding the countless hours and resources they must commit to ensuring they are in compliance with federal regulations.

Simplification of data collection requirements across the board would allow institutions to better fulfill their individual missions by utilizing their resources to focus on serving the students themselves. Regardless of type, every single department within an institution of higher education desires for its staff to spend less time behind computer screens collecting, analyzing and reporting on data, and more time enriching and improving upon the experiences of their student population. Academic Advising Departments can spend more time keeping students on the quickest and most efficient pathways to completion, and provide students with additional resources on their career choice or professions. Researchers could spend more time producing research, and less time jumping through administrative hoops.

One Council member recently reported that its Financial Aid Office spends approximately 85% of its resources tracking, monitoring or reporting in order to follow federal regulations. This is clearly a tremendous burden and expense for the institutions, which must abide by a number of separate programs that each come with its own rules and regulations that do not coincide with one another. Further, such systems must be set up and maintained separately, but must work together as each influences the eligibility for the other. For instance, each institution has its own refund policies for students who do not complete their enrollment in a term. Financial Aid must independently perform intricate calculations using specific guidelines to determine if funds must be returned to various federal programs.

It is our firm belief that it is possible to simplify reporting requirements and enrich student experiences while at the same time collecting and synthesizing information necessary to ensure the integrity and quality of our nation’s institutions of higher education.

Increased Efficiency through Simplification

Streamlining data collection requirements could also allow companies like Oracle to
improve the products we offer to institutions of higher education. If the systems we create, operate and maintain are less complex to develop, we can increase our speed of delivery and deployment to our higher education clients, enabling them to operate more efficiently.

With additional time and resources, Oracle could shift emphasis towards more modern technologies such as predictive analytics, device-aware access (mobility), and embedded social capabilities, which would lead to increased utilization and collaboration among our higher education constituents. As mentioned previously, common data definitions could allow for data to be transferred more easily and efficiently, which would make the interface easier to navigate and draw conclusions from. Further, harmonization of data definitions could help us to make the interface more user-friendly, and ultimately result in greater adoption among students, faculty and staff.

Finally, data standardization would be an enabler for common business processes across institutions, which could lead to increases in shared services between and among higher education institutions. Significant efficiency and effectiveness gains could be realized if there were a greater reliance on shared infrastructure (public and/or private cloud technologies). For example, community college systems within states could share a common instance of human resources (human capital management), financial, and student administration systems, among others.

The goal shared among servicers, institutions, and Congress during the Higher Education process is above all, to improve opportunities for students to gain a quality education. It is our belief that the challenges and suggestions outlined above could help that goal become a reality.

Sincerely,

Cole Clark
Global Vice President, Higher Education and Research Industry Business Unit, Oracle
Chair, Higher Education and Research, Industry Strategy Council



[1] GAO Report to Congress – “Institutions’ Reported Data Collection Burden is Higher Than Estimated but Can be Reduced through Increased Coordination” (2010) p22

[2] “Who We Are” United States Department of Education Federal Student Financial Aid website. <http://studentaid.ed.gov/about>

Thursday Jun 26, 2014

Summer in DC

I just wrapped up a week in DC for our Education & Research Industry Strategy Council (ISC) - the seventh meeting over which I've presided since stepping into my current role.

It's exceptionally gratifying to see how much we've progressed in three short years.  We now have a fairly regular dialog with policy officials in Washington, a robust agenda touching on a variety of issues that are in focus for higher education executives, and tying all of that together with a technology underpinning.   We had exceptional turnout of the members as well, including new participation from Vanderbilt, Illinois State, Seneca, McMaster, Chicago, and Valdosta State.

The agenda themes for this session included a Cybersecurity in Higher Education, Information Discovery, Student Success, and Higher Education Cloud.  Two days was not enough time!  While we did spend a considerable portion of the discussing and deliberating, I do think we need more time to tee up issues and have more open discussion than presentations.  It's a hard balance to strike, given that the mission of the ISC is multifaceted (exposing the ISC to new ideas and technologies, getting input on our strategy in education and research, providing access to Oracle executives, and facilitating dialog with policy officials) but the real value comes from the interactions and we need have more of that throughout the time we are together.

I was most impressed by the amount of interest we had from the members of congress that spent time with the council.  We had three Senators (Isaacson from GA, Murphy from CT and Casey from PA), and two members of the House (Foxx from NC and Petri from WI).  Further, Undersecretary of Education Jamie Studley joined us for a long conversation about the proposed higher ed rating system and the implications for data and information in driving those rankings.

The real in-depth discussions, however, were reserved for our Higher Ed Cloud session.  It's clear to me that while the broader industry in moving to Cloud aggressively, higher ed is taking a more deliberate approach, and we need to provide guidance and leverage some of the lessons learned and best practices from other industries who've already made this journey.  There is a real opportunity here for higher ed to become more agile and nimble in order to adapt more rapidly to the dynamics in higher education, but equally possible that they could rush headlong into Cloud for Cloud's sake without a plan and create more issues than already exist in higher ed IT today.

Overall I was very pleased with the outcome but the real test will be in the feedback we receive from the approx. 30 member institutions.  I am already looking forward to December when we reconvene in Redwood Shores!

Friday Jun 13, 2014

Latin America HEUG and EUNIS

I wanted to post a few quick notes on a couple of recent events in education IT that were positive developments for the community and for Oracle.

First was the inaugural Latin America Higher Education User Group May 29-30. The event was held in Bogotá and Universidad Javeriana acted as the host institution.   Roberto Montoya, Vice President for Administration and Finance, played a large roll in getting this first-ever LATAM HEUG off the ground, as did the executive team from HEUG (Lew Connor, Steve Hahn, and many others). With over 180 attendees, it struck me as a real success. Of course there was the focus on specific applications and products, roadmaps and plans, but there was a theme running through the event of the need to align IT to the strategic goals of transition and transformation in the academy; the real imperative to change the way we examine, acquire, deploy, and derive value from IT in higher education. We added two universities in the region to the Oracle higher education family on the Friday of the conference, and I look forward to supporting this community and participating in next year's event in Lima.

There is an unspoken hero, however, that deserves significant recognition, at least in terms of Oracle's overall presence at the meeting. That is Luz Marina Torres Forero (or Luz Ma as we call her). She and her team did an amazing job of rounding up the necessary resources to ensure our support of the customers and prospects attending the event felt comfortable and welcome. This is a difficult job to do for events that span multiple countries in a region.

I also want to mention another meeting that is long-standing but is relatively new for us at Oracle and that is EUNIS Congress (European University Information Systems). EUNIS has been around for many many years but Oracle has not participated (beyond attending) for quite some number of years, and so it was gratifying to join with this community at their meeting in Umeå Sweden at Umeå University, and speak to the group on leveraging IT for transformation in higher education. In addition to presenting I was able to listen to a number of the other talks given at the meeting, and I was especially excited by the message "The Death of IT" from Michiel Boreel, CTO of the Sogeti Group. He talked about the transition we are experiencing globally from "IT" to "BT" (business technology), and how that is driving a shift in emphasis and focus from the "What" of IT (applications, servers, wires, databases... basically all the "stuff") to the "Why" (what is the business value and the resulting transformations that result from the initiative). He also talked about the imperative to infuse the senior leadership team with people who "get" this "BT" thinking, and while his talk had little to do with education, I think this message is so applicable to our leadership in higher education (and frankly ALL education) today. We need people in leadership roles who understand "BT" and can partner with IT leaders to drive the necessary change in the academy to harness the capabilities that technology has the potential to deliver. But it comes from cultural and process change happening first - throwing the "What" of IT at education is largely waiting valuable human and capital resources.

This was a great start for us in the EUNIS community and we've already committed to 2015 and 2016. I look forward to engaging with this group in the coming months and speaking at their next conference at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland next year.

Monday May 19, 2014

Own the Problem

Most if not all of my blog entries since taking the role of global VP for Oracle's Education and Research Industry team have been about, well, Oracle and/or Education and Research.  Today, however, I want to use this space to pay tribute to someone who's made a significant impact in my life and career, and also to talk about role models and the important place they hold in our societies as managers, mentors, and advisors.

To provide some context, my boss of three years is retiring.  I've had a lot of bosses.  In fact when Juan (Rada, the individual in question) announced his intent to retire at the end of our fiscal year (May 31) I tried counting all of my bosses since college.  I've only worked for three companies (Apple, Sun, and Oracle) + a little time in a university IT organization (the medical school at the University of Tennessee), but by my count I've worked for 15 different bosses since taking my first job out of college in 1988.  That doesn't include bosses during part time work in high school and college (I held a job of some sort since the 10th grade).

All of my bosses had the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses; some were much better than others in terms of being mentors and coaches; some were just successful people as individual contributors that were promoted (without really possessing strong management skills); like most people I've had a small minority (but still significant) that made my life a living hell.   But across that entire portfolio, good and bad, I can confidently say that I've learned something from every experience.

However the last three years have been for me (and I expect for most of my colleagues in Juan's orbit) an extremely rare mix of development, learning, growth, and broadening of perspective that I think only a few of us are privileged to experience.  Juan has an incredible array of experiences, coming to Europe as a political refugee from a country he will now spend part of his time in retirement assisting and advising (Chile), he has been one of the preeminent leaders in all things "industry" at Oracle.  He has understood the vast treasure trove of IP that can be brought to bear on industry problems, and how to maneuver through a large complex organization to bring those solutions to life.

Granted my circumstance my be somewhat different than the others on Juan's team, but I can certainly say I've grown more professionally in the last three years than in the previous 10.  Some of that growth came from new challenges presented by the role - this is the first global position I've held in education since entering the field 25 years ago - but much of what I take away comes from the exceptional perspective (taking the long view), patience, and people skill that Juan has taught me by example.

It's no secret that Education has been at times a challenging industry at Oracle - where financial services, media, telecommunications, and other industries with large concentrations of spend in small numbers of customers abound.  In his most recent role, Juan's industries included government, health care and life sciences, utilities, and education, and on a pure global revenue basis education was # 4 of those five sectors.  Nevertheless, Juan understood the criticality of succeeding in education, given the importance to our society as well as to Oracle (as education represents 8% of GDP globally, which puts it just behind healthcare and just above military spending).  Time and time again, when I would hit a roadblock and want to give in to my fatalistic tendencies, he would (subtly) help me see a different path.

I guess what I'm most grateful for is being given the opportunity to do this job in the first place.  Three years ago this role didn't exist, and Juan went to extraordinary lengths (there was considerable pressure at the time not to create the position) to invest in a global leader for education.  I am my own worst critic when it comes to stuff like this, but thanks to an amazing (small) team, I believe we've made progress, and we can look Juan in the eyes and say that, while there is still much more to accomplish, we've made demonstrable progress.

Juan's parting words to me and my colleagues at a dinner we held for him celebrating his years in Oracle were "Always act as if you Own the Problem."  Those words will live in my thoughts and actions for many, many years to come. 

God Speed, my friend.

Tuesday Apr 29, 2014

"This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed, the Tambellini Report, and other random thoughts

I realize it's been some time since my last post - updating blogs in short, stream-of-consciousness bursts doesn't always come naturally. However I do have a number of somewhat unrelated items that I want to highlight.

 First off, I'm very pleased that Oracle Education & Research will be a founding sponsor of the upcoming "This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed weekly audio newscast. This will be in many respects very much like a "meet the press" weekly program that will touch on the timely and relevant topics in education technology, along with the policies, funding, and cultural and political dynamics and issues that are prevalent in our industry. Casey Green is spearheading this effort with Inside Higher Ed, and we are extremely pleased to sponsor what we believe will be a strong contributor to the dialog that needs to take place as our industry undergoes significant change and transformation. As are part of our participate in the "This Week" series, we will be engaging in quarterly podcasts with Casey to talk about Oracle's position in the industry and where we see our industry solutions playing a role in enabling some of the transformation I just referenced. The first of these will take place on May 7, 9am PT, "Pathways to Student Success" webinar.  Register for this webinar where my colleague, Mark Armstrong, and I discuss Oracle's latest investment for Student Success with moderator, Casey Green. Lastly, here's where you can go to get more subscriber information about This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed weekly audio newscast.

In other developments, the 2014 Tambellini Report (created and distributed by Tambellini Group, LLC) was released this week (week of April 28) and shows extremely strong results for Oracle in the Student Information Systems market, with nearly three times the selections of any other competitor. This validates a couple of trends I've commented on previously: that we are entering a era where the business systems of higher education implemented 10+ years ago are in need of a refresh, and the staying power of niche vendors who lack the breadth and depth of a multi-industry, multi national company like Oracle are being severely challenged.

Finally I wanted to highlight a number of the topics and agenda themes that we'll be discussing at our upcoming summer Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington DC: Cyber Security in Higher Education, Student Success, Information Discovery in Higher Education, and SaaS business applications for Higher Education. We'll be joined by our Chief Security Officer Mary Ann Davidson, Jamie Studley from DoED, and several members of congress from committees focused on higher education policy. We are welcoming several new members to the council including Vanderbilt University, Seneca College, and the University of Chicago. We're looking forward to a content-rich two-days in downtown DC! Stay tuned where I'll share some of these outcomes in my next blog.

Monday Mar 10, 2014

After months of rumors, it's official… Oracle announces Cloud Student

Greetings from Alliance 2014 in sunny Las Vegas, where today we made a number of announcements about increased investment by Oracle in the higher education market.   During the opening reception last night and in more detail this morning, we outlined our plans to build (from the ground up) a new Student Information System (Oracle Cloud Student) that will be offered as SaaS and designed with the modern student in mind.  Make no mistake, this product will have the student, and the student's success, at the foundation of the development effort upon which we are embarking.  

There will be a strong focus on mobile, social, and the student experience, with a significant amount of attention given to the "modern" (now what some might even call "traditional") multi-channel student who takes courses across multiple institutions, some (to potentially all) on-line, and in some cases "on-demand" (i.e. term-less).  It will embed predictive analytics,  which will significantly enhance the modern academy's effort to improve student success.

Probably the biggest overlooked element in all of this is the enormous head start we have as a company given the massive investments in SaaS, Cloud infrastructure, CX, and analytics.  No other company on the planet can draw on the rich portfolio of IP, development talent, deployment and implementation experience, and industry expertise than Oracle.   While I've said in this blog in the past that it's a very exciting time to be a part of the higher education IT ecosystem at this point in the industry's evolution, our focus on developing a modern SIS for higher ed of 2015 and beyond makes this period even more compelling.

Our CEO was personally involved in approving these projects, and we aren't stopping with just a new Cloud SIS.  We're building higher education-specific functionality into our existing robust SaaS HCM and ERP products, so that colleges and universities have the option of running their entire business systems footprint on Oracle's Education Cloud.

And given the breadth and depth (both from an IP as well as from a financial stability perspective) we are continuing to develop, enhance, and improve the already most mature, functional, and global suite of business systems for higher education: Peoplesoft Campus Solutions, HCM, and ERP.   While many have assumed these were zombie products, the delivered features and enhancements in Campus alone over the past 8 quarters are greater than all of the R&D done on the product in the prior 5 years.  To help the market understand this commitment to our existing portfolio, we will be launching Campus Solutions 9.2 concurrent with the Cloud announcements I mentioned above.

I can't end this post without a final comment on "cloud.  The hype around cloud computing is palpable.  Many of the new entrants into the market like to paint Oracle into a corner as "legacy" and "non-cloud."  But with this announcement, as well as with the capabilities we have today with our complete end-to-end stack and investment in all Cloud "layers" (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), there is no software consumption modality that we cannot provide at extreme performance and extreme efficiency and cost-effectiveness (again, because of the end-to-end capabilities we have in designing how the software and hardware are integrated to work together).  We've learned a lot from many other industries' foray into Cloud and believe now is the time for us to help higher education as it embarks on a similar journey.

Sunday Dec 08, 2013

Another Oracle Education and Research Industry Strategy Council is in the books

December 4-5 were the dates for our winter Industry Strategy Council meeting that we hold semi-annually, with the December sessions always being at our headquarters in Redwood Shores California.  Institutions participating included the Cal State system, Georgia Tech, Qatar University, Griffith University (Australia), University of Maryland, Western Ontario, Michigan, Central Florida, and  Kansas (to name a few).  We discussed some exciting new announcements in our higher education applications portfolio (under non-disclosure), a status report on Sun Microsystems inside Oracle, 3 years after acquisition, our strategy for research, and our views on operational excellence.  We had tremendous third party participation in a number of these sessions include Erin Gore, EVP of higher ed at Well Fargo (former CFO of UC Berkeley), John Fowler, or SVP for Systems, Steve Miranda our EVP for application product development, and Joanne Olson our EVP for North America Applications sales.

We have a three-fold objective with these meetings: to garner input from the council on our strategy, to inform and provide insight on our strategy in a way not available to the bulk of our customer and prospect base, and to provide a networking and interaction opportunity for the council members not only among themselves but also with senior executives from Oracle.

While it's impossible for me to be specific given that some of what was discussed at the meeting was confidential, some of the news shared this week hallmark a major "doubling down" for Oracle in the education & research industry with significant plans to increase out investment and portfolio in this area.  Stay tuned for more information on what these announcements entail in a future blog entry.  But suffice it to say there has never been a more exciting time for Oracle in Education & Research.

Thursday Oct 17, 2013

College Ratings via the Federal Government

A few weeks back you might remember news about a higher education rating system proposal from the Obama administration. As I've discussed previously, political and stakeholder pressures to improve outcomes and increase transparency are stronger than ever before. The executive branch proposal is intended to make progress in this area. Quoting from the proposal itself, "The ratings will be based upon such measures as: Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants; Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.”

This is going to be quite complex, to say the least. Most notably, higher ed is not monolithic. From community and other 2-year colleges, to small private 4-year, to professional schools, to large public research institutions…the many walks of higher ed life are, well, many. Designing a ratings system that doesn't wind up with lots of unintended consequences and collateral damage will be difficult. At best you would end up potentially tarnishing the reputation of certain institutions that were actually performing well against the metrics and outcome measures that make sense in their "context" of education. At worst you could spend a lot of time and resources designing a system that would lose credibility with its "customers".

A lot of institutions I work with already have in place systems like the one described above. They are tracking completion rates, completion timeframes, transfers to other institutions, job placement, and salary information. As I talk to these institutions there are several constants worth noting:

• Deciding on which metrics to measure is complicated. While employment and salary data are relatively easy to track, qualitative measures are more difficult. How do you quantify the benefit to someone who studies in one field that may not compensate him or her as well as another field but that provides huge personal fulfillment and reward is a difficult measure to quantify?

• The data is available but the systems to transform the data into actual information that can be used in meaningful ways are not. Too often in higher ed information is siloed. As such, much of the data that need to be a part of a comprehensive system sit in multiple organizations, oftentimes outside the reach of core IT.

• Politics and culture are big barriers. One of the areas that my team and I spend a lot of time talking about with higher ed institutions all over the world is the imperative to optimize for student success. This, like the tracking of the students’ achievement after graduation, requires a level or organizational capacity that does not currently exist. The primary barrier is the culture of "data islands" in higher ed, and the need for leadership to drive out the divisions between departments, schools, colleges, etc. and institute academy-wide analytics and data stewardship initiatives that will enable student success.

• Data quality is a very big issue. So many disparate systems exist (some on premise, some "in the cloud") that keep data about "persons" using different means to identify them. Establishing a single source of truth about an individual and his or her data is difficult without some type of data quality policy and tools. Good tools actually exist but are seldom leveraged.

Don't misunderstand - I think it's a great idea to drive additional transparency and accountability into the system of higher education. And not just at home, but globally. Students and parents need access to key data to make informed, responsible choices. The tools exist to not only enable this kind of information to be shared but to capture the very metrics stakeholders care most about and in a way that makes sense in the context of a given institution's "place" in the overall higher ed panoply.

Thursday Aug 15, 2013

Shamless Plug for Oracle OpenWorld

It's almost that time of year again - Oracle OpenWorld 2013 is just over a month away in San Francisco Sept. 22-27.  OpenWorld has always seen relative solid attendance from Education & Research customers; usually between 1000-1500 individuals that attend OOW and JavaOne are from the education industry.  But from an executive and leadership standpoint, the conference hasn't been a significant draw.

In 2013 we're hoping to change that.  Not only do we have 5 general OpenWorld sessions planned (see below), but this year we're launching our first ever Education summit at Leader's Circle, an invitation-only event for customer and partner executives, showcasing Oracle's vision and strategy.  During our 3.5 hour summit on Sept. 25, the main attraction will be a panel focusing on advanced analytics as a foundation for enterprise-wide student success initiatives.   Joining me will be Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University, John Webster, CIO of Maricopa Community Colleges, Nicole Engelbert of OVUM, Abdullah Togay, from the National Ministry of Education, Turkey, Gordon Wishon, CIO, Arizona State University, and Steve Hahn, President of the Higher Education Users Group.

Advanced Analytics and Student Success have been described as the "killer app" in education today, and we hope through this session at OOW to share some experiences and best practices across a wide swath of the education landscape on how these applications are being implemented, what steps are being taken to enable them enterprise-wide, and how a cultural change in the institution is necessary in order to move these projects from departmental and siloed to enterprise and scale.

If you are an executive in any walk of life in the education arena and are interested in joining us for the session in September, please reach out to me at cole.clark@oracle.com.

And as mentioned, here's an overview of our 5 sessions at OpenWorld this year:

CON9612 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time:10:45am Achieve Student Success with Unified Processes and Insight
CON9613 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time: 12:45pm Oracle Learning Exchange
CON9614 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time: 1:45pm Improve Operational Efficiency to Achieve Institutional Excellence
CON10726 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time: 3:15pm Campus Solutions: Supporting the Global Future of Higher Education
CON8715 Moscone West , 3rd Floor Transforming the Constituent Experience in the Education Industry

-Cole

 

Friday Jul 05, 2013

The Summer ISC and the Futures Forum

The summer meeting of our semi-annual industry strategy council (ISC) took place in Washington DC at the end of June.  We enjoyed the highest percentage of member participation since I've been leading this group, and the range of topics we covered included our student success solution, our work in the area of student experience (which includes many of our social relationship management tools), an update on our investments in our student information analytics and student information system products, and a update on our budgeting and planning tools for higher ed.  All of that was covered in the first day, with the second day reserved primarily for discussions with policy officials from Congress and from the current administration (DoE) regarding policies and initiatives in higher education where information technology can play an enabling or supporting role.  

During this second day we heard from Richard Culetta (Director of Education Technology) at DoE, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana, also on the Higher Education Subcommittee, and Matt Chingos, fellow, at the Brookings Institute. 

We were hoping to have Senatos Rubio and Wyden, authors of the "Student Right to Know Before You Go" bill which they introduced through the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but the immigration reform bill which came to a vote on the very day we were meeting took up their schedule.  However, we had Emily Bouch (Senator Rubio's Legislative Aide on Education Policy) and Laura Bernsten (Senator Wyden's Domestic Policy Advisory) who crafted the bill visit with the ISC and engaged in a spirited debate on it's merits.

We also filmed a number of short interviews with several of the council members which, once through post-production, we'll post to our website and also place links here.

Several key themes emerged from the two days of meetings with the council.  One is that we have much work to do at Oracle making sense of the myriad of products, especially those recently acquired, in terms of their value and how they enable solutions to the thorniest problems faced by higher education.  Another is that the role of IT in higher education is slowly changing.  IT leadership is becoming more strategic although the tactical and transactional demands haven't waned.  Many of the members expressed their view that Oracle's engagement with higher ed over the past two years has really changed (for the positive), both in terms of product strategy but also in terms of field engagement.  We have a few members on the council that are not from IT (CFO's, Presidents, COO's) and these representatives consistently communicate how IT is by far the most important (aside from funding and personnel) strategic asset the institution has to maintain and improve competitiveness.

The Forum on the Future of Higher Education

The strategic nature of IT in education was reinforced for me at the forum referenced above.  I missed this conference in 2012, but after seeing the output from the meeting I pledged to myself that I wouldn't miss it in 2013.  There was not an IT leader in the 100+ person group (aside from me), but big data and analytics themes ran through virtually all of the discussions, as well as the need to leverage technology to strengthen our major research university's competitiveness in the global research arena.  The changing business model was also at the forefront of the conference, and the need to use tools and "world class" best practices from industry's use of IT to not only run the "business" but also model the business in a future state that may be significantly different from today's reality was clear.

As an added bonus, I met many of our ISC's members bosses at the Future's Forum!

Our next meeting is already being planned for December.  We plan to devote a much larger chunk of the agenda to the research enterprise, to budgeting and planning in higher education, and to security and access management.  Watch this spot later for more details.

Sunday Feb 24, 2013

Crossing the Chasm

For those that know me well, it's no great secret that despite having now held my current position at Oracle for roughly 20 months, I still talk about how much I have to learn about not only the ways in which education institutions use technology to impact their various missions, but also the endless list of possibilities for how it might be leveraged for real and permanent improvement in the industry.

For the better part of 20 years during my time at Apple and Sun, I had a very hardware-focused view of the world.  And while I had occasion to interact with "line of business" leadership within various education concerns, I was mainly traveling in CIO and IT leadership circles.  But during my last three years at Oracle, I've been exposed to the real possibilities that technology holds for educations, especially now in a time of deep introspection in the industry given the multitude of pressures (political, social, and financial) being applied at present.

What strikes me as one of the great "misses" (and at the same time opportunities) is the chasm that exists between IT leadership and functional leadership within most of education, especially in the developed economies around the world.  With a few rare exceptions (see the article from former Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester Information Technology and Tomorrow’s University: A President’s Confessions and Advice) IT is still viewed with the same skepticism and "necessary evil" attitude as 10+ years ago.  This is no where more evident than in the position of the IT leadership role at most education institutions, usually reporting into a business and finance leader or, worst, into an academic officer.  While exceptions exist, the organizations that treat IT as integral to the institution's future success are those where it reports directly to the president or a chief operation officer (or equivalent).

But even in the absence of wholesale change in this regard, a lot could be done to cross the chasm between IT and functional leadership in education, with the goal being an evolution in the use of IT from the transactional to the strategic.  I'll be the first to admit that my profession hasn't exactly contributed to this evolution in all cases, but there are a number of efforts underway to advance this cause.  Over the past 20 months I've attempted to redirect the advisory council that we host and are fortunate enough to have some leading education institutions from around the world participate) to focus more around transformation in education through technology vs. input and strategy around specific products.  I intent to make Affordability, Accountability, Transparency (and how technology has the power to enable all of these "virtues") the primary themes of the upcoming meeting in June, and to continue to entice CFO's and other line of business leadership within the member institutions to participate along side their IT leaders.

Additionally, our largest user group, the HEUG, is founding an executive advisory group (EAG) made up of both IT and functional leadership, to attempt to address exactly the same issue - how do we begin to think about technology in the context of where education needs to be in the next 10 years to meet not only address the pressure and issues that are present-day problems, but more importantly to address what we see as the needs and demands of society in the next decade.

There's no question we could be a lot more, and this is an area that I'll be talking about in future blog entries throughout this calendar year

-Cole

Monday Oct 08, 2012

Will Online Learning Save Higher Education (and does it need saving)?

A lot (an awful lot) of education industry rag real estate has been devoted to the topics of online learning, MOOC’s, Udacity, edX, etc., etc. and to the uninitiated you’d think that the education equivalent of the cure for cancer had been discovered. There are certainly skeptics (whose voice is usually swiftly trampled upon by the masses) who feel we could over steer and damage or destroy something vital to teaching and learning (i.e. the classroom experience and direct interaction with human beings known as instructors), but for the most part prevailing opinion seems to be that online learning will take over the world and that higher education will never be the same.

Now I’m sure that since you all know I work for a technology company you think I’m going to come down hard on the side of online learning proselytizers. Yes, I do believe that this revolution can and will provide access to massive numbers of individuals that either couldn’t afford (from a fiscal or time perspective) a traditional education, and that in some cases the online modality will actually be an improvement over certain traditional forms (such as courses taught by an adjunct or teaching assistant that has no business being a teacher).

But I think several things need immediate attention or we’re likely to get so caught up in the delivery that we miss some of the real issues (and opportunities) around online learning. First and foremost, we’ve got to give some thought to how traditional information systems are going to accommodate thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of individual students each taking courses from many, many different “deliverers” with an expectation that successful completion of these courses will result in credit at many or most institutions. There’s also a huge opportunity to refine the delivery platform (no, LMS is not a commodity when you are talking about online delivery being your sole mode of operation) as well as the course itself by mining all kinds of data from the interactions that the students have with the material each time they take it. Social data analytics tools will be key in achieving this goal. What about accreditation (badging or competencies vs. traditional degrees)? And again, will the information systems in place today adapt to changes in this area fast enough?

The type of scale that this shift in learning could drive has the potential to abruptly overwhelm just about every system in place today in higher education. I would like to (with a not so gentle reminder) refer you back to a blog entry I wrote when I first stepped into my current role at Oracle in which I talked about how higher ed needs an “Oracle” more than at any other time in it’s evolution (despite the somewhat mercantilist reputation it has in some circles). There just aren’t that many organizations that can deliver the kinds of solutions “at scale” that this brave new world of online education will demand. The future may be closer than we think.

Cole

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Comments, news, updates and perspectives from Oracle's global vice president of the education and research industry--which includes higher education, research, and primary/secondary education (K-12) organizations worldwide.

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