Leading Ahead of the Curves – EDUCAUSE Midwest Conference Closing Keynote by Brad Wheeler

Brad Wheeler is vice president for IT and CIO, dean, and professor at Indiana University. Here are some notes I took during his talk.

Brad’s message today: let’s see how we (in higher ed information technology) can “be the miracle” that brings everything together.

Curves. Technical possibility: we’re moving at endless possibility. But CIOs need to look at technical maturity more than technical possibility. 

Social desirability – “gotta have it.” And they want it this afternoon. We have to time our development and delivery of new services to be in sync with real needs. Adopting something too early or too late has consequences.

Economic feasibility – costs go down over time.

Good question posed by Brad: can our actions substantively affect the shape of the curves or do we just adapt as they are revealed? Brad suggests that be leading ahead of the curves, we can shape these curves.

Curve benders – examples. The future is open – the 21st century is about “open”. Open resources. Charles M. Vest, President Emeritus at MIT, said “we are seeing the early emergence of a meta-university – a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced.” 

Gateway to IU’s open content: open.iu.edu 

In search of certitude. Curve bender #2. Projecting our expertise to our community via a commercial alliance. Brad’s example was that of needing to find a certain quote. He made some progress on his own then involved a librarian on campus. Quote found! Now he asked if the chacha.com search engine could find this. He tried it and found it. The search result was imperfect but good enough. It showed that a search engine could almost replicate the work of a professionally trained librarian.

They set up search.iu.edu to allow campus to easily access the knowledge bases of the support center, the library, and other organizations on campus. Created this in partnership with chacha.com search engine. You can search with the help of a librarian and chat with a librarian in your search screen.

Search pyramid. Machine based algorithmic approach is generally good enough – 50-60% of needs are satisfied. But moving to a higher level of certitude takes more human analysis. So the next level up on the pyramid is “gems”. Guided search is the top level of the search. See the next edition of EDUCAUSE Review to read more about this.

“When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.” –Kevin Kelly (2008).  Kelly identified eight generatives: immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, embodiment, patronage, findability.

Curve bender example #3. Classic models of software production: the cathedral and the bazaar. See Eric Raymond’s excellent book on this. Brad suggests there is a hole in the middle between cathedral and the bazaar – that whole can be called “community source” – a hybrid model. The pub in between the cathedral and the bazaar where people sit down, have a drink, talk things over and think about how to get things done. Sakaikuali foundation, and Moodle are good examples of communities coming together to get things done.

Addressing the monopolization of software vending to higher ed that occurs over time — community source software solutions appear very promising. Consider the example of emergency notification systems. Now there are maybe five big vendors. In five years, that will probably boil down to two main vendors who dominate this market. Higher ed is hard to sell to. We don’t have tons of money. Replacement cycles are long.

What have we learned in higher ed IT? Distributed knowledge in the community that has efficient/effective ways of communicating solves many problems.

Curve bender example #4. A work in progress. It’s time for us to ask how do we wish to buy software, and communicate clearly with commercial sector that wants to do business with us. Apple iTunes example – IU ended up in a year long campus by campus fussing match with Apple. Examples of cost per seat fees and when they’re appropriate.

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