UBTech 2014: Innovation Everywhere

Highlights from UB’s higher ed leadership conference

The setting was big, the company was good and the technology talk was buzzing at this year’s UBTech Conference, held June 16 to 18 at The Mirage Las Vegas.

And based on the feedback from our 1,273 attendees, the “Technology Changes Everything” tagline will be put into practice as administrators and educators from the more than 500 institutions represented at the event share information and propose projects and programs back on their own campuses.

From the pre-conference summits, special- interest group meetings and the announcement of the five AMX Innovation Award winners at the show’s opening, to the two keynotes and 77 featured and concurrent sessions throughout the following two-and-a-half days, there was lots to see and do without even setting foot on the Las Vegas Strip.

Following are some content highlights from UBTech 2014.

Pre-conference connections

At the Future of Video in Education Summit, sponsored by Sonic Foundry, Joseph Morris, the director of research and analysis at The Center for Digital Education, talked about how colleges and universities of all sizes are adopting video to drive academic achievement, improve retention and compete for students.

A recent survey by the center found that the top reasons for adopting video were distance learning, blended learning/flipped classrooms, lecture capture, use at satellite campuses, and large-scale forums for virtual town hall meetings.

The center’s survey showed that 56 percent of institutions were using or planning to use flipped classrooms, and the driving factor was personalizing learning. Some 80 percent of respondents also said the top benefit of flipping classrooms was an improvement in students’ mastery of information. And 60 percent of faculty said students were more engaged in flipped classrooms.

During the Student Success Summit, sponsored by Higher One, Josh Martin from the company ideas42 offered new strategies for overcoming hidden, behavioral obstacles to student success. Financial aid, he noted, was one area where students often had more questions than answers.

“Forty percent of students who are eligible for financial aid don’t even apply,” he said. “Those given good info were more likely to enroll. They need that extra push.”

Martin showed how email and direct mail can influence students. For example, a payment form that’s heavy on text with nothing to emphasize the action required was often overlooked. But add graphic boxes that clearly explain what is expected to happen and by what date, and the same content is more likely to produce the required action by the recipient.

Erin Grisham, executive director of educational support services at Northern Arizona University, told attendees that there is science behind student success, and as with all science, it’s based on data. In an institution whose student population is as much as 45 percent first-generation, “data diving” is even more crucial.

Warning signs such as not meeting with advisors or not paying fees are indications that a student may be on the verge of dropping out. Knowing these things helps with intervention.

The keynote of the CIO Summit, sponsored by GovConnection, covered “Why Your Institution’s Success Hinges on a Mobile First Strategy.” Curtis Carver, vice chancellor and CIO of University System of Georgia, shared some current challenges in higher ed IT.

“Our challenge as CIOs is that IT itself is currently going through a transformational change and we need to keep on top of that.”

CIOs should be prepared for even more technology on campus. “Just like BYOD, ‘bring your own network’ and ‘bring your own data’ is just around the corner,” Carver said.

And at the AV Summit, sponsored by AMX, Drew Uth, an audio visual design and support specialist for Stockton College (N.J.) Computer Services, made a more than convincing case during his “Standardization Creates Room for Automation” session. Standardization has saved Stockton money and made life easier for faculty.

The same simple interface, the same reliable device configuration and the same equipment is used in 180 classrooms there.

The standardized classroom also helps prevent interruptions during the instructional process. “You don’t have faculty trying to schedule different rooms or fighting over [a desirable space],” Uth said. And standardization has saved parts and labor costs because tech personnel spend less time troubleshooting problems.

The pre-conference activity at UBTech also included several special-interest groups, or SIGs. These meetings covered analytics, e-learning, creating emotional brand connections, the future of health-care education, adopting cutting-edge technology, the benefits of technology for students with special needs and the WordPress blogging platform.

Keynote ideas inspiration

UBTech opening keynote speaker Richard Baraniuk, of Rice University in Texas, talked to a full house about his initiative to create a library of free, high-quality textbooks for college courses and how that can impact the debt crisis facing students. His organization, OpenStax College, has—at a cost of about $1 million each—published a series of free, peer-reviewed open-source books for biology, sociology, physics and other popular courses.

“Think about a world where everyone has universal and free access to super-high-quality education,” Baraniuk said in the speech titled “Disruptive Innovation with Open Education.”

He called rising student debt a crisis that will damage the U.S. economy when graduates can no longer afford to buy homes or start small businesses. The rising costs of textbooks is a major contributor to debt that has surpassed $1 trillion.

Student debt “is literally changing the way students act and think and how they will act and think in the future,” he said. “If we continue on this rapid increase in the cost of materials, we’re going to be pricing students out of going to college.”

OpenStax’s books have been adopted by about 120,000 students at 700 institutions. That represents a savings of about $12 million. OpenStax also has developed an online editor so the textbooks can be customized by instructors. “Why can’t we create a different textbook for every student?” Baraniuk said.

He called the development of open-source materials the “craigslist-ization” of education, in which the “middle man” between content creators and students has been eliminated.

The closing keynote featured Kartik Hosanagar, a professor of digital economy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He posed two questions: How will technology and innovation change the educational landscape? And, what kinds of education models will survive in the long term? The answer to these questions may be found in retail trends and industries—such as music and film—that have been fundamentally transformed by the internet.

“Education, interestingly, has not been touched in a big way by technology, largely because of a number of institutional barriers that have existed,” he said. “However, there are lots of opportunities for innovation in education and the need for it couldn’t be greater.”

With tuition costs on the rise, education must become more efficient, he said. Some of those solutions include blended learning, gamification, MOOCs, mobile devices, and data and analytics. These trends provide unprecedented access for learners and allow institutions to reach new student populations in a cost-efficient manner, he said.

“Two big changes are happening in education,” he said. “The first is democratization of education that will create more learning options for students. At the same time you have scalability, which allows

institutions and content developers to reach many more students than was feasible in the past. That scalability will create a ‘winner-takes-most’ dynamic. Small differences in quality will result in big differences in outcome.”

To innovate in education, he encouraged the audience to take risks. “The idea is to maximize the number of potential paths or ideas to pursue and iteratively narrow them down. Experiment a lot, fail often and fail early so that you reach the model that will work.”

These are fundamental ideas that are crucial to innovation, and crucial to industries that have scalable distribution, he said. “I think they will be crucial in higher education as well.”

Featured sessions spotlight

Darren Hayes, computer information systems program chair at Pace University in New York, said in a featured session about cybersecurity that the United States is constantly under attack and the target is intellectual property.

Universities that do research with government institutions and government contractors are attractive targets for cybercriminals trying to steal intellectual property. These criminals attack universities because higher ed computer networks are generally less secure than the networks of those government agencies, such as NASA, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.

Hayes said Java and Adobe programs are particularly vulnerable because many users don’t install software updates. “Anti-virus and traditional firewalls are simply not robust enough to be your best line of defense.”

Institutions must not only have cybersecurity policies but they must regularly educate faculty, students and other users about how to resist potential attacks. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that many things that seem innocuous are ways of gaining intellectual property from a university,” he said.

While the “MOOC Madness” that consumed higher ed a couple of years ago has subsided, the concept is alive and well at many institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, said Edward Rock, who coordinates the MOOC program at that school and who presented the featured session, “The Evolution of MOOCs and Higher Education: An Inside View.”

“We do sometimes get questions from parents about why we’re giving away something for free that they are paying thousands of dollars for,” said Rock, who is senior advisor to the president and provost, and director of open course initiatives at UPenn.

The reality is that MOOCs aren’t meant to replace the college experience—and the famously low completion rates for MOOCs shouldn’t be viewed as a problem, he said. The real benefits of MOOCs are that they increase awareness of the institution, help faculty improve their teaching skills and open the doors to new students by allowing them to take basic or remedial courses before they arrive on campus, he said.

“The point of MOOCs is not for a small set of select schools to create content for all other schools,” Rock said. “They’re a mechanism for partnerships between universities, community colleges and content providers.”

In “Yours, Mine or Ours? Intellectual Property in a Digital Age,” Kevin Smith, scholarly communications officer at Duke University, noted that in recent years technological innovation has severely strained copyright law, which dates from 1976. The law is supposedly technology-neutral, but despite additions such as digital rights management systems, it’s difficult to make what applied to the copy machine of 1976 work for the mobile device of 2014.

Digital technology creates a lot of new fears because it allows the production of perfect copies, faster distribution and the ability to reach the whole world in seconds. But there are also new opportunities.

He noted that the question “Who owns digital work?” is complicated by the legal provisions of what makes something a “work made for hire,” or WMFH. This is work is owned by the employer because it was created by regular employees during the scope of their jobs.

Most universities have policies stating that, despite WMFH provisions, faculty still own their own intellectual property. Yet courts may not recognize these policies. The 2003 Foraste v. Brown University ruling stated that Brown owns the work despite the institution’s policy.

“That case ought to make our faculty very, very nervous,” Smith said. Still, he added, “sometimes ownership doesn’t matter as much to faculty as we think it does.”

As for adjuncts, it’s virtually impossible for their work to be WMFH because they’re independent contractors. And institutions don’t gain ownership of adjuncts’ work by paying for it.

In Smith’s experience on Duke’s intellectual property board, most issues can be resolved. “In one case we determined the employee owned the material, but she was willing to let Duke use it as long as she could also,” he said. “In another case, we determined Duke owned the material but we were able to let the faculty member do what he wanted to do with it.”

Smith also explained that trial judges have ruled in favor of fair use, expanding its reach. “It’s a powerful reminder that the copyright law was written for what we do. It was written to facilitate teaching and learning,” he said. “A lot of the time we find we can replace things in MOOCs with licensed material. If you can’t find the transformative purpose, replace with something we have permission to use.”

Administrators from a large and a small institution discussed how they migrated to new learning management systems in the session “How to Survive a Breakup With Your LMS.” Thomas Cavanagh, associate vice president of distributed learning at the University of Central Florida, explained how priorities were managed in his institution’s switch to Canvas. “Faculty desires should be privileged—they will be using the new system for years,” he said.

Multiple departments can pilot different programs simultaneously and report back to a central decision maker to expedite the process, Cavanagh said.

Training on specific features smoothed the transition to Moodlerooms at 1,700-student Keystone College in Pennsylvania, said Justin Kraky, the school’s educational technologist. “We showed faculty this is what you did in the old program and here is how you do it in Moodlerooms.”

And in the session “Managing Innovation from the Ground Up,” the co-presenters said institutions are not always set up to handle change. “Innovation is about more than doing something new. It’s about problem-solving and leadership,” said Eduventures analyst Brian Fleming, who presented with Karlyn Borysenko, the company’s leadership content director.

“Whenever you go from an old process to a new process you’re going to have a period of decreased morale and decreased productivity while people acclimate to the new change,” Borysenko said. “The idea of change management is to reduce the length and depth of that transition to get to your goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Effective change management happens when you meet people on their terms and focus on aligning the benefits of innovation with what they value as individuals. “Frame your vision wisely. Lead with values and mission, not with numbers,” Borysenko said. “Navigate the transition by listening and responding to your people, their concerns, fears, feelings and values.”

Schools often take a top-down approach to change, Fleming said, “but innovating from the ground up is a truly humanizing process.”

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