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Metros on IT Strategies to Support a Mobile, Global, and Digital Citizenry

Q&A with USC's Susan Metros

Campus Technology talks with Susan Metros [photo, right] about some of the topics she’ll present in her live keynote at the upcoming CT virtual event (November 18, 2010). Metros offers her views on both why and how IT leaders should strive to understand teaching and learning principles at their institutions more fully, and to support them--and today’s students as “mobile, global, and digital citizens”--more directly in IT strategic plans.

Campus Technology: On November 18 you’ll be giving a keynote at the Campus Technology 2010 Virtual Conference entitled “New IT Strategies for a Digital Society.” Could you give us an idea of what you’re going to talk about?

Susan Metros: The premise of my talk is about how IT leaders need to align their IT strategies to support their students who comprise a mobile, global, and digital citizenry. I think what tends to happen is that IT organizations are sometimes located off campus, they are not always in the center of the academic environment, and, as a result, they are isolated and do what was expected of them in the past, which is to run utilities. I’m going to argue that we have to be much more collaborative with our academic counterparts in today’s digitally rich, mobile, and global environment. It behooves us, as IT leaders, to really understand what our students need to learn and how our faculty help them obtain that knowledge.

CT: It’s intriguing that you characterize today’s students as “mobile, global, and digital” citizens. Presumably these terms reflect relatively recent changes in student attributes. Will you be talking about IT strategies in the context of changes in students, or in teaching and learning, that IT leaders need to react to? If so, how far-reaching are these changes?

Metros: I plan to talk about what education looked like in the past and how it’s slowly evolving. I do think we’re part of a sea change. If you look at what’s happening with education today--if you look at the growth in for-profits or distance learning, or consider the effects of the economy and how we are having to reshape education to be much more accessible and affordable, and how we are having to use technology in ways we’ve never used it before in order to become more efficient and more effective--indeed you see that we are part of a transformation in higher education. At Campus Technology 2010 this past July in Boston, we asked, “What’s the new normal?” Things are changing and we can no longer assume that we can do “business as usual.”

I’ll also talk about what it means to be literate in today’s society, because the definition has changed. Literacy used to be defined as reading and writing. Now it’s much broader. It’s about understanding information and technology and being able to communicate digitally and visually and having the critical thinking skills to make valid, credible, and ethical choices and decisions.

CT: Will you offer some specific examples or takeaways for IT leaders?

Metros: The more practical part of my talk will be to take examples of USC’s 2010 IT initiatives, that could really represent any organization--we all tend to have the similar problems to solve--and then compare those to principles of undergraduate learning. I will illustrate where we are making a difference, where there are still big gaps, and how we can bridge those gaps.

CT: So you will be mapping some principles of undergraduate learning to IT initiatives?

Metros: Yes, and my examples will focus on general education requirements, because an institution’s GE program is a really good litmus test of what faculty believe their students need to learn to be successful contributors to society. It’s also very interesting because I would wager that the majority of IT professionals, the people who lead IT organizations and initiatives, don’t know what the undergraduate education requirements are at their institutions. They’ll understand the institution’s strategic plan, and they’ll understand some of the higher-order curricular decision processes, but they won’t really know the nitty-gritty of what students are required to learn. And the point is that if they did know, they could align their resources closer to that need.

CT: Then you’re posing some particular challenges or suggesting some approaches for IT leaders, to understand more of the objectives for student learning. But on the teaching and learning side, what about the people who are involved in creating the curriculum, at whatever level… Do they know how to approach technology? Are they able to see the potential technology solutions? This reminds me of the old question about where innovation in education technology should come from… from IT or from faculty and academic leadership? Or from both, together?

Metros: I think there are innovations on both sides, but never the two shall meet. For example, when faculty committees get together to revise their general education requirements, it would be very unusual for them to include IT professionals in that meeting. But I think we in IT have become our own worst enemy in some ways. We’re perceived--or we’ve allowed ourselves to be perceived--as providing the solution or the tool but not being part of the process to deliberate what is the best solution.

CT: That sounds like a kind of siloing or separation of IT from teaching and learning professionals--at least in some of the planning processes. What would change that, if institutions seek to change it--to encourage more interactions between those two entities at their respective planning tables, if you will?

Metros: I’m both a faculty member and an IT professional, and I’m very fortunate that at my institution our president, provost, and CIO see the worth of bringing someone with my skill set to those tables. I was just appointed to the university’s strategic planning committee, co-chairing one on undergraduate education and one on the new faculty profile. And I was an active contributor and participant in our recent WASC accreditation review. So, I get pulled into a lot of committees, task forces, and think tanks, but that’s the norm here and it should be!

I would advocate that for an IT organization, you do need to invest in individuals that can bridge that gap--whether they are faculty that you could “deputize” or whether you have IT professionals that can work with faculty. There has to be much, much more of a crosswalk between the two entities.

CT: Thank you for giving us a peek into your keynote topics. I know there’s much more you’ll cover in your November 18 presentation about how IT leaders can work to realign their strategies to support that “global, mobile, and digital citizenry.” But given the “new normal” and the budget realities of today, including the challenges to IT staffing, is all that you’re suggesting really going to happen?

Metros: I don’t see how it can’t happen, especially with the new normal and the budget realities of today… You have to reallocate and invest in what’s important, and I think understanding the teaching and learning and research missions--not just understanding but being an active contributor to the growth and strategic direction of the institution--is what’s going to be the underpinning of what’s important for us in IT going forward.

[Editor’s note: Susan E. Metros is Associate Vice Provost and Deputy CIO for Technology-Enhanced Learning and Professor of Visual Design and Clinical Education, University of Southern California. You can attend her November 18, 2010 keynote, “New IT Strategies for a Digital Society,” by registering for the Campus Technology 2010 Virtual Conference. There is no charge for registration. The keynote is live and Metros will take 15 minutes of live Q & A from Web attendees at the end of her talk.]


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