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A Seat at the Table at Last

One result of the Year of the MOOC is that IT is finally getting a say in the strategic direction of the institution.

This story appeared in the January 2013 digital edition of Campus Technology.

When I joined Campus Technology in January 2011, two issues dominated discussion among CIOs at colleges and universities: the immolation of IT budgets and the marginalization of IT within the campus power structure. In June of that very year, for example, Gerry McCartney of Purdue warned attendees at the Campus Technology conference that higher ed IT was in danger of "going the way of the TV repairman...becoming anachronistic maintainers of commodity systems."

What a difference two years make. While budgets remain anemic, IT suddenly finds itself at the epicenter of MOOC mania, potentially the biggest disrupter of higher education since the GI Bill. As our feature "Stanford's Online Strategy" relates, elite schools are rushing to stake a claim in the next frontier of higher education. And IT is on call to help make it happen. At Educause 2012, for example, CIO Brian Voss shared how he got the call from University of Maryland execs asking him to ready the school to participate in Coursera. To make a go of this brave new world, university executives are pulling out a chair for the CIO.

It's interesting that it took an external force to propel IT into this inner circle. I can't recall how many stories CT has run proposing strategies for how CIOs could win a place at the table. At the end of the day, though, changing an institution as hidebound as the average college is not easily tackled from within. In contrast, there's nothing like a little existential angst to shake things up.

But MOOCs aren't the only drivers of this change. We often think of BYOD as stripping IT of control but--on the broader stage--it may be playing its own part in elevating IT's profile on campus. For years, faculty resisted IT recommendations on how technology could improve teaching and learning. Saying no was easy--preserving the status quo always is. That's changing now. BYOD is a force that faculty can't resist. It is, after all, their customers bringing the devices to school. Suddenly, faculty are faced with demands for new styles of teaching that accommodate student preferences for technology and much more. Enter IT and a host of others who see the potential of tech in education.

Is IT still responsible for keeping the trains running and the clocks wound? Of course. It's part of IT's job, whether it's doing the work itself or overseeing an outside vendor. But, for the first time in a long while, the conversation is changing. Listening to the chatter at Educause, I was struck by how much talk revolved around teaching and learning, and less about nuts and bolts. For that, we should raise a glass to our two acronyms of 2012: MOOC and BYOD. Happy New Year!

About the Author

Andrew Barbour is the former executive editor of Campus Technology.

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