Business as Unusual: Today’s CIO To Do

I read an alarming article the other day. Inside Higher Ed ( published an a story describing how students are voicing concerns that they did not receive the value of their tuition when they were sent home. The article also discusses how some are talking about wanting refunds.

I think most people, in the height of the emergency response to a pandemic, will tolerate a one-time event such as we have all experienced with universities and colleges shifting to online instead of shutting down the semester.

What I don’t think most people will tolerate is a continuation of online teaching in the fall for the same price as in person tuition – particularly at high reputation private schools.

While there is a history of intentional distance education classes charging the same costs as traditional classes, that intentionality has two important differences from the online education we are often conducting right now. First, people choose to sign up for it instead of being forced into it. And second, it is designed from the beginning to be online with (in most cases) appropriate pedagogical decisions about distance education.

So, today, what can a CIO do about this?

Of course, we’re not going to be making decisions about institutional pricing for courses. But we can do two things focusing on supporting faculty and projecting presence. I’ve been talking about the latter one for several years and I have real hope that its time may have come.

The first thing is to focus on providing support to ensure the best value in the online experience. This is something most IT departments know how to do but they are often under-resourced in this space and this work sometimes lacks priority focus. We need to think about how we can retool our teams to assist faculty with developing online content, especially those faculty who were forced into delivering lectures online for the first time this semester. This doesn’t mean dragging faculty into training rooms to sit on the wrong side of the podium where an instructional designer lectures them on what to do. It means sending people to faculty offices to think through with them how to retool their course, it means helping faculty do the work of developing online content, and most importantly, it means connecting them to other faculty who are already teaching effectively online. We don’t need to expect faculty to become experts in developing video for example. We need to provide experts who can work with them and for them. And we’re probably going to need to make cases for short-term funding support to staff up to do this.

The other thing we can do to add value to online instruction is to assist student support units in moving support online. The most obvious way to do this is to strengthen our enterprise resource planning systems and simplify and preferably mobilize the user experience. But to truly project presence to the student at home, we need to think about how a financial aid officer can interact via video conference with the student. Both sides of that conversation will likely now be conversant with using video tools but now we need to be able to easily and smoothly share screens, to quickly scan and send documents, and to coach that officer on how to deal with a new cultural environment where their interaction with the student connects them more closely to the school, creates a relationship that can help the student succeed, and crosses cultural boundaries in a way that better serves a diverse audience. It isn’t just the technology that enables this, it is developing training and coaching to effectively use the technology to help the student and drive the university forward.

So there’s a third idea in here. That IT has to stretch its sense of itself from provider of technology to enabler of the technology user. In both these examples, we have to go beyond providing “training” to serving, mentoring, and coaching people to be successful with technology.

So what do you need to do first today? Find a partner. Call the director of financial aid, the leader of student advising, the bursar and find someone who wants to project presence and then begin the conversation about how to get it done.