EDUCAUSE 2019_Ernie Perez

EdTech Perspective: EDUCAUSE 2019

The 2019 EDUCAUSE conference was held early October in Chicago, Illinois, and was the largest to date, attracting over 8300 participants from 41 countries. It is always refreshing to see what other institutions are doing and to connect with fellow information technology/educational technology professionals and vendors to see what has happened in the past year. I find it amazing what we can produce in so little time.

Although I would like to write about all the sessions and vendor presentations I attended, I am going to focus on just a few: 

  • Steven Johnson and Reshma Saujani keynote addresses
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 
  • The Campus Computing Survey 
  • Top 10 Issues in IT for 2020
  • Rise of Chatbots
  • Thoughts on Digital Ethics
  • Is the LMS a thing of the past?

EDUCAUSE Keynote Speakers

EDUCAUSE Steven Johnson
Photo credit: EDUCAUSE

The event kicked off with Steven B. Johnson as the keynote speaker, you may remember him as the author of Where Good Ideas Come From.  He spoke about the history and the importance of innovation. A key takeaway from his keynote and a thread that crossed the entire conference was diversity. He talked about genuinely innovative ideas come from collaboration across a diverse set of ideas and though, diverse groups are collectively smarter.

Photo credit: EDUCAUSE

This is why diversity in IT and EdTech are so important. A quick take away is to be intentionally diverse on whom you connect with on social media.

To end the event, Reshma Saujani, founder of the group Girls Who Code, gave a great talk on helping close the gender gap in technology. Her quote, “We raise our girls to be perfect, and our boys to be brave.”  left me thinking how do we start unlearning perfection and raising girls also to be brave.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been a topic for many years at the EDUCAUSE annual conference.  However, this year, John O’Brien, President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, announced: “that the CIO Commitment to DEI has generated almost 500 signatures and at this year’s conference we offered over 35 sessions dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Since that quote was released, the number has officially hit 500 signatories. 

Diversity in higher education is essential for student success; institutions must reflect the world’s population as well as the population they serve. Just like Steven Johnson said: diverse groups are collectively smarter. 

On a personal note, I have been lucky enough to work with leaders in the Higher Ed DEI movement; every higher education institution for which I have worked has signed the commitment #323, #12, and #189, respectively. 


The Campus Computing Survey

Casey Green gave us the rundown of the 30th National Survey of eLearning and Information Technology in US Higher Education, which is the longest-running survey of its kind. 

The key takeaways from this year’s survey include:

  • 78% of CIOs and senior leaders see uncompetitive campus salaries and benefits as a significant problem in the quest to hire and retain IT talent.
  • Only two-fifths of the survey participants view their presidents, provosts, and CFOs as “well informed” on digital learning and digital transformation, and less than a third report their presidents and CFOs are “very engaged” in these initiatives at their institutions; in contrast over two-fifths report their provosts are “very engaged” in these topics.
  • The 2019 data highlights once again the continuing “organizational churn.” The percentage of institutions reporting recent reorganization and also expect to do so again in the next 24 months jumped from 31% in 2018 to 55% in 2019.

The top 10 issues in IT for 2020

Photo credit: EDUCAUASE

The top 10 issues in IT for next year were announced at the conference. You can see the full list of the top 10 issues for 2020 here.  These issues are put together by an expert panel and then voted on by the EDUCAUSE membership (full disclosure: I was part of this year’s expert panel).

I will call out two of the ten issues:

(2) Privacy: Privacy will continue to be very important as we move toward a more connected world. Students, staff, and faculty use apps for everything. We need to consider what data is being collected. Where are these data being stored, and where is the data being used? How will these data be used in the future? In addition, at the institution, as we continue to invest in educational technologies, and we continue to collect terabytes of data; learner data will be the next big thing. Many institutions are looking at how we can use learner analytics to improve student success. We will need to be vigilant around vendor contracts to ensure we, the institution, own our data and not the other way around. We need to ensure that these data are secure and used ethically and appropriately. 

(4) Digital Integrations: Digital integrations are essential to everything we do. Today we rely on the student information system to feed data into our learning management system (LMS). We get data into the LMS from a plethora of vendors: Turnitin, Echo360, and Kaltura, to name a few. These integrations will only increase in the future and will continue to be vital to the institution not only for ease of use but also for the interconnected student to be able to access their information from any device, from any place, at any time. These integrations will become more and more critical, and we will need to continue to be vigilant that they work and that they are protected from prying eyes (see above PRIVACY).


The Rise of Chatbots

EDUCAUSE chatbotAs expected, chatbots are the tool du jour. Many institutions that I spoke with are feverishly trying to incorporate chatbots into their university app. Many of the chatbots that are being deployed are overrated FAQ answering machines. They are limited to answering basic questions, with limited answers that they have been “taught.” Very few institutions are doing anything like Georgia Tech and Jill Watson, which was using AI to answer student questions.

I spoke with a vendor that promised a fully working Chatbot “with just a one week visit” to campus. “We will come to your campus, interview key staff and by the end of the week, we will deliver a working chatbot.” AMAZING where do we sign… In reality, we know that although they may be able to deliver a cookie-cutter version of a chatbot, it is not what we would want to introduce on our campus. However, this does bring up that with time, it has become easier to deliver what was just a few years ago unthinkable. 

Some fun numbers:

  • 42% of consumers already use digital assistants, while 53% of millennials are using them. (PwC)
  • 27% of consumers weren’t sure if their last customer service interaction was with a human or a chatbot. (PwC)
  • By 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. (Gartner)
  • Half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. (Prospect)

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are technologies that we need to continue to research and possibly develop to deliver a quality experience to our faculty and students. Stay tuned.


Digital Ethics

John O’Brien, President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, delivered a great session on digital ethics. 

O’Brien shared his working definition for digital ethics: Doing the right thing at the intersection of accepted social values and tech innovation. 

As we see a rise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Extended Reality (ER) and Mix Reality (MR) we must really think about what we are doing. The question goes with my previous thoughts on privacy, its not “CAN we do it” but instead “SHOULD we do it.” 

We already see the weaponization of AI. “In Florida, adults with clean driving records and poor credit scores paid an average of $1552 more than the same drivers with excellent credit and a drunk driving convictions” – Weapons of Math Destruction.

We should think about the ethical implications of misuse—the “unintended consequences.”

Recommended book readings:


Is the LMS a thing of the past? The future of the LMS at Coventry University

I attended an interesting session, “Improving Outcomes by Ditching the LMS to Drive Social Learning at Scale” by Ian Dunn, Provost at Coventry University. He talked about an interesting experiment; they will be ditching Canvas, their current LMS, next year, and going with a relatively new player Aula. Aula claims to be a social learning platform. 

Coventry is a large public institution in England. According to Dunn, they are the fastest-growing university in the UK. They have been testing this approach with approximately 1800 students in 26 courses at four schools during the past year. 

Dunn believes that the LMS has been highly successful in enabling the administration of learning but less so enabling learning. They believe moving to social learning in courses will create community. In their pilot, they have seen high digital engagement levels. Their engagement analytics show a 2.1x increase in daily activity.

They think this change will:

  • deliver measurable impact
  • deliver a data-driven approach to pedagogical change 
  • deliver an ecosystem of learning technology

Wow! I don’t know what to say… This is something that we will definitely need to keep an eye on!

I leave you with a quote from Steven Johnson — “Chance favors the connected mind” – Steven Johnson

Ernie Perez

About the Author: Ernie Perez is director of Educational Technology with Boston University’s Office of Digital Learning & Innovation. As director, Perez plays a leading role in the visioning, management, selection, and deployment of enterprise-level educational technology services.