by Divina Paredes

Digital leadership in a much disrupted sector

Sep 17, 2015
Education IndustryTechnology Industry

Enterprise CIOs have an increasing remit to use digital to sell across channels and grow their customer base.

Stuart Haselden, director, information technology services at Victoria University of Wellington, is familiar with such a remit. For Haselden, the goal is to use digital to grow the university.

Last year, Victoria welcomed a new vice-chancellor, Professor Grant Guilford, who was Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Auckland.

“Our new vice-chancellor is really IT focused. A key thing he has said to me is ‘Grow our student base and he knows that digital is one of the tools we can use to do this’,” Haselden told attendees at the ANZ CIO Forum.

“Victoria’s strategic plan outlines an unreservedly ambitious 20-year path that looks to double the number of students.

“I am an IT guy, you would think increasing student numbers is marketing’s job, surely, but the digital world is now so much more interlinked with marketing,” said Haselden.

He and his co-presenter, Nick Smith, senior manager, professional services at VMware, talked about transforming infrastructure to support multiple users.

The ICT team is focusing on programs using digital tools for learning rather than the new data centre.Stuart Haselden, Victoria University of Wellington

In the last year, Haselden has spent a lot more time with the marketing team than ever before.

“We are spending a lot of time thinking about how to reach more students around the world,” said Haselden.

The ‘next generation users’ at the university range from digital natives, to staff and researchers, and academics.

Haselden highlighted the importance of the tertiary sector in the economies of both New Zealand and Australia. There are 43 universities, both public and private in Australia, while New Zealand has eight publicly funded universities.

“We have more than 51 universities just in this relatively small geographic area, [which is] quite a lot,” he said.

Education brings in $15 billion a year to Australia where it is the third biggest export. In New Zealand, the sector brings in $3 billion annually (Victoria University has a turnover of around $400 million, with 22,000 students).

Victoria has a 120-member IT team, who work on over 100 projects or activities throughout the year.

Smith noted how education is one of the most disrupted sectors and that Haselden’s team has one of the toughest customers, the digital natives.

Smith said the goal for Victoria’s ICT function is to make IT as invisible as possible so the IT team can focus their time on improving the user experience for their customers.

In other words, to “try to take away that friction and complexity that can exist and enable them to focus on value areas,” Smith said.

Haselden agreed saying university users are not interested in whether the backups work or that the Internet is running – until it shuts down.

“We are very much focused on a service that we can just run, and how can we give better experiences to students and staff.”

A CIO in attendance asked him if the university is tapping into the knowledge of the digital native students in the goal to transform the learning experience through digital technology.

Haselden said this is already happening in different areas of the university.

“The focus, at the same time, is supporting staff and students in a digital journey,” he said.

“All of our lecturers are used to standing up in front of the class, but many have now developed or are developing different ways of engaging with students through the digital platform.”

He compared his experiences while attending two lectures with different teachers but in the same room. The first class had 320 students. He observed that 98 per cent of the students had laptops, and were engaged with the lecturer.

In the next lecture, there were around 300 students, of which 60 per cent of students had their laptops. He estimated only around 10 per cent of the students were engaged, and the rest were on social media sites or on TradeMe.

“Same lecture hall, but with completely different engagement levels,” said Haselden.

The difference was the first lecturer had “a whole lot of neat things going on as part of his lecture”. He was telling students, “If you have your devices, here is a link, and do a survey on how I am doing, the results will appear immediately.”

He also split the class into groups of four and asked them to solve a puzzle online.

“We are seeing the form changing for lecturers from simply facing the class to using digital technology in teaching and to accommodate and encourage different ways of learning.”

He says this is important as students entering university are digital natives who may see a “real disconnect” to what they are used to doing with technology once they are in the classroom.

“The ICT team is focusing on programs using digital tools for learning rather than the new data centre,” said Haselden.

He said with the rise of online learning institutions, there were predictions half of the world’s universities will not exist in five years.

But he believes universities still have an edge.

The university can be running MOOCs (Massive Online Open Online Courses) but people also learn from each other.

“Really, the interactions students have while they are at university is still a huge advantage, that engagement is part of the university experience.”

He compares this to the driverless car, “This type of car appeals to me some of the time but there are definitely times I may want to drive.”

He says it is the same with books, where digital can further enhance the learning experience through digital books.

“Some will still want that form of interaction,” he said.

“The challenge is how do we match those experiences and still get that engagement through digital technology?”

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