UBTech: Shaping the future of higher education

Highlights from UB’s annual higher ed technology and leadership conference

The setting: AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, a 230-acre Spanish Revival resort where guests strolled along the headwaters of the Florida Everglades (beware of gators) and next to a championship golf course en route to UBTech sessions and other conference activity.

The conversation: technological innovation and leadership as well as institutional and student success, with UBTech’s attendees learning management insights, getting technology updates and networking with each other.

The event, held June 15 to 17, featured a packed pre-conference program and keynotes by campus presidents on college costs and value, the role of IT in higher ed’s future, and how educators can inspire student innovation. The exhibit hall brimmed with ideas for keeping colleges and universities on the cutting edge of the ever-changing education landscape.

Attendees pursued learning opportunities from two main program themes. The UBTech theme examined how advances in technology are enabling innovation across the campus—particularly in the areas of instructional technology, campus IT, facilities and infrastructure, AV integration, and policy and practice. And the new UBThrive program addressed the innovative paths that higher ed leaders are taking to ensure both institutional and student success. These sessions covered executive leadership, the student experience and the business enterprise.

Titanium sponsor Sonic Foundry presented the conference live to the online audience via Mediasite Cloud. Diamond sponsor AMX by Harman awarded $25,000 each in AMX hardware and software to four institutions honored with AMX Innovation Awards: West Virginia University, the University of Ottawa (Canada), The University of Queensland (Australia) and Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Keynotes: Asking the big questions

The United States needs to reclaim its belief in the value of higher education to solve the problems of cost, debt and income equality that are plaguing colleges and universities, Roger Williams University President Donald Farish said in his opening keynote on Monday night.

“If we think, metaphorically, of America as an automobile, higher education is the gas that makes it run,” said Farish, whose talk was titled “Why Higher Education is Under Siege and What We Can and Should be Doing About It.”

UBTech 2015 Numbers to know

  • 125,000 Total square footage (approximate) used for UBTech
  • 40,000 Exhibit hall square feet (estimate)
  • 30,000 Session room square feet (estimate)
  • 1,008 attendees
  • 862 #UBTech tweets (June 10 to July 10)
  • 500+ Cups of espresso consumed at the espresso bar
  • 130 #UBTech photos shared
  • 76 Program sessions and keynotes
  • 67 Exhibitor companies
  • 58 Gallons of coffee drunk throughout the show
  • 50 Sessions available for on-demand viewing
  • 14 UBTech sponsors
  • 0 Florida gator sightings by staff

The cost of college is rising faster than the salaries earned by most families. While household income has increased only by about 8 percent, tuition for public college has increased by 157 percent.

Meanwhile, a vastly greater share of the new money coming into the economy every year is going to the top 10 percent of earners, he explained.

“Pretty soon we’ll be saying give us all of your money, even before you pay taxes, and we’ll educate your child,” Farish said. Many parents no longer see higher education as an investment because of heavy media coverage that compares students’ growing college debt to credit cards. College loans are more accurately compared to a home mortgage that will provide a substantial return on investment over the long term.

“There’s this sense that because it costs a lot of money and people have to borrow, higher education is the wrong thing to do,” he said. “That’s a major mistake in how we’re allowing this process to be seen.”

Roger Williams has frozen tuition for three-year cohorts of students. It also encourages students to develop specialties in both the liberal arts and business. For example, a dance major will be steered toward a minor in arts management. “If you don’t make it on Broadway, you can run your own dance school,” he said.

In the past, higher education has been seen as essential to long-term economic prosperity. “The spirit we have now is, I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it,” Farish said. “Until we change that attitude, we’re going to chase each other, pointing fingers and not solving the problem we need to solve—which is a well-educated citizenry.”

Another higher ed powerhouse, Gerry McCartney, CIO of the Purdue University (Ind.) system, addressed UBTech attendees on Tuesday. In his keynote address, called “The Long Arc: The Future of Higher Education and the Central Role of IT,” McCartney said that educators would do well to learn from history and understand that technology is not a panacea for all that ails education.

He showed a painting of a university classroom from 650 years ago. There were familiar figures—the “sage on the stage” with students displaying a range of attentiveness.

Social Media Conversation: The retweetable

Most shared tweet from a staffer:

Matt Zalaznick @zalaznick

Keynote: “If we think of America as an automobile, #highered is gas that makes it run” – Donald Farish #UBTech pic.twitter.com/yRbF0EU5d5

Most shared tweets from attendees:

George Lamelza @georgelamelza

Today, students are mobile first. We must be ready for the next generation of mobile only. August Alfonso @DelMarCollege #ubtech @OTCedu

Eric Schmieder @ejschmieder

We need to push back against the idea that the value of a college degree is only measured by the paycheck.#UBTech pic.twitter.com/Bgkenczs4Z

“Some things change, but some things remarkably stay the same,” he said. His point: The adoption of technology should be driven by the reason that colleges and universities exist—to teach and do research.

“We sit at this moment and we haven’t really moved in 600 years. There is this sense that there is a major disruption going on in education,” he said. “But one of the few constant truths about technology is that technology impacts are overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term.”

The fact that higher ed spends too much attention on being first with technology is driven by market realities in a competitive industry. While trying to digitize everything, we’ve lost sight of the essence of education, he said.

“Universities should focus on teaching and research,” McCartney said, taking something of an absurdist view. “No one is going to go to your school because you have electricity or because you have the best payroll system.”

In the closing keynote speech on Wednesday, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Mass.) President Laurie Leshin, who has been involved in NASA’s exploration of Mars, said educators must drive innovation—and the economy—by inspiring students to ask tough questions. The talk was titled “How Innovation is Unleashed by Asking an Unanswerable Question.”

One of the greatest examples of such a query was President John F. Kennedy’s charge to land on the moon—a promise made before an American had even orbited the Earth. “What are the biggest, scariest questions we can ask?” she said. “In the process of answering them, we can unleash innovations, such as the search for life in universe. We haven’t found it, but the search has unleashed lots of innovation.”

Despite the attention paid to startup companies, Leshin said studies indicate the number of new companies in the U.S. each year is actually dropping, from around 200 to 300 per every 100,000 people to about 100.

“I’m a little worried about an innovation lull in our country,” Leshin said.

Students who are going to innovate need hands-on experiences outside the classroom—such as the projects Leshin’s university’s students work on around the world. Worcester Polytechnic has, for example, sent students to developing countries to start sustainable laundry services and to educate communities about clean water. “They take what they learn in the classroom and change the world,” she said.

In session: Attending to the details

Among the highlights of the 73 UBTech sessions this year were the presentations given by the conference’s five featured speakers.

On the student success side, Tim Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success at Georgia State University, spoke on how his institution has used data to identify at-risk students and prevent drop-outs. “Engaging our predictive analytics system revealed there is a correlation between the amount of unmet financial need and academic performance,” he said in his talk on how predictive analytics can be used by advisors.

The responsibility of online communications has shifted from the IT team to dedicated marketing professionals, said Karine Joly, executive director of Higher Ed Experts in her session “Gone Digital, Going Strategic: Dawn and Rise of the Digital Professionals in Higher Ed.”

And at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia, students have access to over 1,000 high-quality course recordings. In “The Fox Video Vault is Flippin’ Good!” Darin Kapanjie, assistant professor, discussed best practices for ADA compliance and effectively flipping the classroom.

“Students are time-short. Breaking apart content works,” said Brian Klaas, senior web systems designer at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in “From Shakespeare to Spielberg: Designing for the YouTube Generation When Flipping the Classroom.”

The final featured session was given by Michael Petroski, director of faculty development and academic assessment at Lynn University in Florida. In his presentation, he detailed the institution’s successful 1-to-1 iPad deployment.

The UBTech program also included tabletop discussions, a new opportunity for networking and peer learning on hot topics in higher education. Chosen by attendees, the most popular topics were “All Things AV” and “Meeting the Needs of Faculty Training and Support.”

They’re among the topics that higher ed leaders will have on their minds in the coming year and can discuss more at UBTech 2016. The conference returns to The Mirage Las Vegas and will be held June 6 to 8. Visit www.ubtechconference.com for details about joining us.


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