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Information Technology

The Need for a Common Higher Education Data Model

In the current state, the ability of higher education institutions to provide holistic assessments of student learning, development, and success and to provide comprehensive advising (using curricular and co-curricular data) and other student services using disparate systems is virtually impossible. This is because the interoperability between systems may be limited, or they require IT, staff/vendors, to develop interfaces so that data can be moved between the systems through some form of files, including text, XML files, or other means. In addition to the limited interoperability, the lack of data liquidity (the ability to move data from one system to another) I shared in this post is an even bigger constraint. That there is not a single common structured data model in higher education is one of the big impediments to an environment where disparate systems within the institution can have a set of systems working together as one. Even a bigger goal is for multiple higher education institutions to have the ability to exchange information between their systems in cases where students may be attending both institutions or if they transfer from one to the other.

I wrote this blog about a proposal for a Common Learning Portfolio Markup Language in 2013 based on my observation working with several information systems at our university and the inability of these systems to easily exchange data among them. These systems include electronic medical records, student information systems, residential management systems, judicial conduct, and other systems. I observed that these systems could not interface with each other because they were either created by different vendors or our developers developed them. These different systems also did not share a common data model or infrastructure, making it easier for our developers to readily build programs to exchange data without developing additional programs to extract, transform, and load (ETL) the data.

Recently, I noticed different vendors’ efforts to develop/implement their versions of structured higher education data models and infrastructures. I haven’t delved into the details of each model/infrastructure to discuss how they are implemented. Still, given my limited access and understanding of the data models, it seems these efforts by the vendors are specific to their set of products (and their partners, however, that’s defined). In addition, these data models do not seem to include co-curricular information such as involvement with student organizations, career internships, and volunteer activities. The links below provide information about these different efforts:

Oracle Higher Education Constituent Hub (HECH)

“Constituent data is distributed across the enterprise among various systems (e.g., HR, Student Information, CRM, and Learning Management) across the Campus and all University locations. It is typically fragmented and duplicated across operational silos, resulting in an inability to provide a single, trusted Constituent profile to business consumers. It is often impossible to determine which version of the Constituent profile (in which system) is the most accurate and complete. The HigherEducation Constituent Hub (HECH) solves this problem by delivering a rich set of capabilities, interfaces, standards-compliant services, and processes necessary to consolidate Constituent information across the institution. This enables the deploying institution to implement a single consolidation point that spans multiple languages, data formats, integration modes, technologies, and standards.”

Salesforce Higher Education Data Architecture (HEDA)

“Leverage a newly established data standard and managed package to meet the needs of any institution. Institutions can continue to deliver value across campus by building on core objects, fields, and automation and integrating with a growing number of Higher Education AppExchange apps that are standardized on HEDA.”

Ellucian Higher Education Data Model

In many industries standards already exist, albeit with only partial adoption. In the HE sector, however, Ellucian had a unique opportunity to start with a “clean slate” and to create something new…and so we created the Higher Education Data Modal (HeDM). HeDM is a defined standard to illustrate a uniform view of “the world”, so that users can view data and interact with each other. The data model itself creates a defined data object or entity, reaching all corners of an institution, covering Recruitment, Students, Finance, Advancement and beyond.”

The US government has also started its effort to standardize education data through a Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project. This project seems to be more abstract in that the data model is not designed specifically for any set of vendor products. Still, rather more of a definition of a structured data model, and the adoption is voluntary.

While education institutions across the P-20W (early learning through postsecondary and workforce) environment use many different data standards to meet information needs, there are certain data we all need to be able to understand, compare, and exchange in an accurate, timely, and consistent manner. For these, we need a shared vocabulary for education data—that is, common education data standards. The Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project is a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20W institutions and sectors.

We are moving in the right direction with the efforts I mentioned above, though we are still years away from having a set of common data models that all higher education institutions can use.

As I noted in my introduction above, it seems to me that until a common structured data higher education data model that can be used as a standard exists, higher education institutions will not be able to develop a holistic assessment of student success and provide services such as advising that use curricular and co-curricular information.


My Professional Reading List 2015

thumbAnother year of professional growth and learning. A significant amount of my time went to my MBA (IT Mgmt Specialization) course work in 2015; I could not devote as many hours to reading about other topics I enjoy, such as higher education and student affairs. Nevertheless, I still managed to enjoy reading the books below. As it was with my professional reading lists for 2013  and 2014, most of the books below are kindle books I read through my iPhone and iPad. The beauty of mobile learning. Please feel free to ask me for any recommendations.

Business & Productivity

Change and Innovation

Higher Education / Student Affairs

Information Technology

Management/Leadership

Technology


Student Affairs Org Technology Leadership Competencies – MindMap

What competencies are required to be an effective student affairs technology leader at an organizational level? This is a question I pondered while reviewing the Technology Competency Area within the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Area for Student Affairs Educators. I specifically mentioned “at an organizational level” because managing/leading the appropriate/effective use of technology at the divisional level differs from one who is leading the efforts at the national or individual levels. There are competencies required to run effective organizations and coordinating technology use at the divisional level. So, I combined the outcomes defined within the Technology Competency Area and my experience leading a student affairs IT department and produced the mind map of what I view as competencies required to be an effective student affairs technology leader at an organizational level.

sa_org_tech_leadership_v1

What other competencies should be included? Thanks!


Technology Responsibilities & Qualifications for Senior Student Affairs Officers

Suppose technology is an essential component of today’s student affairs organizations. How is it that out of the 21 Chief Student Affairs Officers (CSAO) and Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAO) positions posted on higheredjob.com I reviewed today (11/29/2015),  only 1 job posting has the word “technology” in the areas of responsibilities and qualifications?

I reviewed the job postings because of my curiosity about how technology is perceived by student affairs organizations today. I think about student affairs and technology daily because of my role as an executive director for a student affairs IT organization. My curiosity is further driven as I think about my recommendations for a recent external program review of a student affairs and academic affairs IT department and as I think about how the recent inclusion of technology as a professional competency as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators by ACPA and NASPA could shape the future of technology in student affairs. In addition, I’ve been thinking about developing a framework for student affairs organizations to adopt, implement, assess and evaluate the technology.

Technology in student affairs can be viewed from many perspectives. For one, technology should be treated as a set of investments that can enable organizations to be more efficient and effective and transform how they do business. As an investment, technology also needs to be managed holistically from an enterprise level and not as disconnected and silo-ed systems. From this perspective, technology management and leadership require senior student managers to consider sustainable funding, governance structures and processes, and staffing. Technology as a set of resources to be managed is an idea I discussed in the article “CSAO as Information Technology Manager.”

Another view of technology in student affairs is the effective adoption and utilization by student professionals towards their duties as educators responsible for student learning, engagement, development, and career success. The description of the technology competency is the following:

“The Technology competency area focuses on the use of digital tools, resources, and technologies for the advancement of student learning, development, and success as well as the improved performance of student affairs professionals. This area includes knowledge, skills, and dispositions that lead to the generation of digital literacy and digital citizenship within communities of students, student affairs professionals, faculty members, and colleges and universities.” (Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs, 2015, p. 33)

The description above and the outcomes stated for the technology competency area acknowledge the essential role technology plays in student affairs.

In addition, I was reading a book called Designing for Learning: Creating Campus Environments for Student Success which also highlights the impact of technology on student communities. One of the chapters discusses “digital forms of human environments as they apply to the post-secondary educational setting and focuses on the design and potential of these new technologies to effect the inclusion, security, engagement, and experience of community among students.” (Strange & Banning, 2015, p. xii)

Given the significance of technology in student affairs based on what I shared above, it is then puzzling to me as to why all of the job postings for senior student affairs officers positions I reviewed today, except for one, had no mention of technology as part of the responsibility and/or requirements.

Technology leadership must be present at the highest level of student affairs organizations. At the minimum, CSAOs cannot abdicate their roles as information technology managers, and they must either develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions as described in the new technology competency area and/or include a position that can provide leadership to lead effective adoption, utilization, and assessment/evaluation of technology in student affairs. Here are two ideas to consider:

What roles and responsibilities should CSAOs/SSAOs have concerning technology?

Note on the cursory review process of the job postings:

I searched higheredjobs.com using “Vice President Student Affairs,” and the results returned 606 records, but I reviewed the job postings that contained what could be considered SSAO and CSAO positions (Vice President, Associate Vice President).  Some postings provided a link to the institutions’ job boards, but I limited my review to the description/requirements posted on the higheredjobs.com website itself.

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Highered IT Leadership Responsibility: Understand Customers/Users

I once read a line related to application development that goes something like this “we (application/web developers) design and build for end-users, and we are not the end-users.” One of the biggest mistakes IT folks commit, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this, is designing products and services for ourselves rather than the end-users. It’s too easy to get caught in this trap of designing for ourselves when we never leave the comfort of the office and do not understand those who will use the systems we build. To build effective systems, IT folks need to understand their end-users, those who will either benefit from the IT products/services provided or, unfortunately, will suffer the daily consequences of using systems that are either ineffective or inflict physical/mental pain. If you think I’m being over-dramatic with the last sentence, imagine using a system that requires one to have to repetitively use the mouse to scroll up and down web pages hundreds of times a day. After a while, you’ll develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Or, what about websites that are not responsive and the width of the page is wider than the size of the screens the users are using, which require them to scroll sideways to see the entire page? That could be very frustrating, right? How about websites that are so heavy with graphics that it takes forever to display (yes, there are still folks around the world who are connected to the internet on slow networks), which leads to frustrations? Developers and designers need to keep end-users in mind when building effective applications that satisfy the needs of the end-users.

For higher ed IT leaders (or IT leaders in any industry), the burden of responsibility to understand those they serve and their needs are even higher because when at the leadership level, they are essentially dealing not only with technology but business, organizational, and cultural transformations as well. The quality of service and products provided by IT are influenced and driven by their leaders. Consider the following scenario: an IT leader thinks their organization’s role is to “keep the lights on,” and so they pursue a strategy where they don’t pursue innovation and attempt to introduce new ideas, which at times could lead to disruptions in services, are punished. Consider another scenario where an IT leader thinks the cloud, social media, and mobile computing are all fads. So he/she tells their staff to ignore these fads since they’re wasteful investments.

The scenarios I described above are, unfortunately, not hypothetical. From articles, blogs, etc., and my conversations with other IT leaders, there’s a disconnect between IT and the business units when it comes to an understanding of the priorities and/or how services/products are designed. A big part of this disconnect is the lack of understanding regarding what business users want and need. Without understanding the business needs and the end-users, IT will use technology to drive the business needs rather than business needs defining what technologies are to be used.

How should IT leaders begin to understand their customers/users and their needs? In higher education, I’ve found several ways to do this:

1) Be part of campus strategic planning processes. When IT leaders get involved after technology-related decisions have been made, these decisions often have to be re-visited as factors that are only evident to IT folks may not have been considered. IT leaders also need to think like business leaders instead of technologists to frame how their organizations can best address business problems and not just use technology for technology’s sake. The missions of their campus must drive the efforts of IT organizations, so IT leaders need to understand the missions and priorities of their campus.

2) Understand technology trends. IT leaders are often in no position to be technology experts, given their responsibilities as strategists. Still, they should be cognizant of technology trends impacting their campus and higher education. For example, publications/orgs such as Pew Research, Educause, and Gartner, as well as national higher education organizations from time to time, have articles on future technology trends and technology use of different demographics. Attend conferences but not only technology conferences. IT leaders also need to attend conferences attended by functional business users. For example, student affairs IT should attend conferences by NASPA and ACPA, the two major student affairs organizations, and conferences for specific functional units like AACRAO for enrollment management departments.

3) Get out of the office and walk around campus. Observe what devices students are using as they will probably be ahead of IT organizations, especially when it comes to consumer products like social media and mobile computing and the next wave of computing – the internet of things.

4) Get on social media. Some IT folks pridefully tell me, “I am not on social media because it’s a waste of time!” Frankly, I think that’s a misguided way of thinking. IT folks can learn a lot from the network of other technology and business experts/leaders in higher education and other industries. I follow the health care industry because of the similarities between that industry and student affairs. Specifically, the nature of the high-tech/high-touch services must operate.

There are many more ways IT leaders can begin to understand their customers/users, and it’s a continuous process. Technology is evolving faster than ever, but the business challenges/opportunities in higher education driven by the needs of students, the economy, and politics are so dynamic and complex that IT leaders cannot afford to be left behind and fail to understand those they serve.


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