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UBTech: Technology changes everything

Our conference explored new tech challenges and opportunities facing key areas of campus administration
University Business, August 2013
  • The theme for speakers and attendees of UBTech 2013 was how technology continues to change the landscape of higher education.  As a bonus, there also was karaoke and a 5K.

Vanishing boundaries, emerging opportunities. That was the overarching theme in Orlando this June as approximately 1,000 attendees gathered at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort for learning, networking, and fun. Some traveled far to UBTech 2013—with attendees from Brisbane, Australia; London; and Rio de Janeiro—and others came in from a few dozen colleges and universities in Florida.

How is technology continuing to change the landscape of higher education? That question was examined in keynote presentations, breakout and featured sessions, pre-conference events, and exhibit hall floor conversations. The topics covered by a total of 134 speakers spanned all areas of technology-related higher education administration: marketing, teaching and learning, finance, facilities, and campus networks.

And when it was time for fun, our attendees enjoyed a standing-room-only karaoke night at Kimonos Restaurant, where the signature drink, UBTech Elixir, was well received and former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, who happened to be out for the evening himself, even joined in and sang. On our final day, dozens of attendees supported One Fund Boston by participating in the inaugural UBFit 5K run.

Read on for highlights from UBTech 2013.

Keynotes captured

Gene Wade, co-founder and CEO of UniversityNow, commanded the stage for the opening keynote, “Re-imagining College: A Model for Today’s Workforce.” He painted an alarming picture of U.S. education as it compares with some other countries. For example, in the U.S., 30 percent of college students never finish school, while China’s population has a higher percentage of college degrees than this country. He also pointed out that, from 2005 to 2012, American adults borrowed more than $415 billion to finance education—an amount greater than the endowments of all U.S. schools combined.

UBTech 2013 By the Numbers

      • Total attendees: 971
      • Pre-conference event attendees: 176
      • Most attendees from a single institution: (Temple University) 11
      • Exhibitors: 63
      • Rooms used at the Swan and Dolphin: 2,212
      • Exhibit hall square footage: 33,556
      • Total conference square footage: 68,758
      • Breakout Sessions: 93
      • UBFit 5K runners and walkers: 59 (all reached the finish line)
      • Best UBFit completion time, male: 19 min, 49 sec.
      • Best UBFit completion time, female: 22 min, 37 sec.
      • No. of caffeine jolts consumed during show: 1,552 (espressos, cups of coffee, and soda cans)

UniversityNow’s model combines an online learning platform with campus partners, focusing on outcomes rather than seat time. “We start with where we want students to end up and design the curriculum to meet that end,” Wade said.

UniversityNow is an adaptive learning platform that enables students to advance at their own pace. Each student is assigned an advisor or life coach who follows the student’s progress and helps determine what mode of learning is most effective. Courses are taught by experts in their respective fields, but a team of evaluators does the grading to gather objective data about what students, who remain anonymous, have learned.

Students can take any number of courses, and a full year of classes costs less than $4,000, including all books and materials. Wade believes this model is at the forefront of a new way of learning. “This is the world that’s being created right now,” he said. “There is a tsunami coming, and it’s not asking for permission.”

In the closing keynote, Sree Sreenivasan of Columbia University revealed some creative, practical, and effective ways to keep an institution ahead of the trends in online education, digital learning, and social media. As Columbia’s first chief digital officer, Sreenivasan is always looking for the next big thing.

“We want to think about our efforts so they are sustainable, so we don’t lock ourselves into a technology we’ll regret later,” he said. “Our goal is to inspire, not just inform. Our efforts are meant to supplement what is already happening in the classroom and to learn as much as we can and put it into practice at the university.”

The latest “next big thing,” of course, is MOOCs. Although he supports them, Sreenivasan said it’s too early to predict where they will go. “I don’t think any piece of technology has moved as quickly over academia as MOOCs have,” he said. “To think that we didn’t appreciate the internet this fast, to think that we didn’t even appreciate electricity this fast, but here we are going full steam ahead on MOOCs. It’s fascinating to me and in some ways a little scary.”

Advancements in education will come from the professors who are willing to try new things and experiment with technologies like online learning and social media, he said.

Columbia has nearly two decades of online education experience, but it took on added significance when the dean of the school of journalism volunteered to be one of the first to teach an online class. “People paid attention,” he said. “The more we can co-opt, cajole, and encourage our senior folks to get involved, the folks with the most legitimacy, the better off we’ll be.”

Pre-conference action

Prior to the conference’s grand opening, 176 attendees participated in the pre-conference summits.

“The AV Summit: Automate Innovation,” sponsored by AMX, brought together top AV professionals for presentations on best technology practices. Attendees learned how administrators at Queensland University of Technology (Australia), which is constrained from expanding its campus, get creative when they are renovating buildings and upgrading technology.

Other AV Summit presentations covered automating sustainability, efficiency, and success.

AMX also sponsored the AMX Innovation Awards, designed to recognize innovative institutions for their use of technology in improving the campus experience. Winning $25,000 each were: Temple University (Pa.), Queensland University, Texas A&M University, and the University of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada).

At the “CIO Summit: Security in a Borderless Network,” sponsored by GovConnection, Tim Ryan, security consulting systems engineer for the US Public Sector at Cisco Systems, discussed the most common threats to data centers and tips for protection.

BYOD necessitates knowing exactly who is using your network and what device they are using, Ryan said.

When managing a cloud with your data center, not only is a robust firewall essential, but so is an authentication system. Certification allows for a two-factor authentication, which adds an enhanced layer of security. “The link between the cloud and data center must be encrypted,” Ryan said. “Data needs to move up and down through the encrypted path quickly.” As bandwidth gets cheaper, achieving this speed is possible, he added.

The CIO Summit also addressed threat assessment and simplifying management of BYOD.

At the “CFO Summit: The Power of Data,” sponsored by Higher One, the focus was on leveraging data to improve operational efficiency and save money, as well as sustain revenue.

Nicole Engelbert, industry practice leader at Ovum, spoke on what “Big Data” is, how it differs from business intelligence and analytics solutions, and the business value of applying it in the institutional context. She also gave CFOs a vision for handling big data and a strategy for improving decision-making.

Overall, Engelbert said, with an increasing number of online courses and mobile devices, higher ed is experiencing an “explosion” of data, much like the rest of the world, where data doubles every 18 months. When choosing the right platform, she says CFOs should “do more than cut a check,” and be more involved in the process to select data tools that will act as an investment.

The CFO Summit also covered how to leverage experiential and transactional data to guide decision making; efforts at the University of Florida’s student affairs division to increase efficiencies and use data to document contributions to the bottom line; and how institutions can take a proactive stand against the growing problem of financial aid fraud.

The “Future of Video in Education Summit,” sponsored by Sonic Foundry, featured three speakers and an interactive roundtable discussion of best practices and lessons learned.

In “Thriving in the Age of Digital Education,” Scott Walker of Waveguide Consulting asked attendees whether their institutions plan to use MOOCs. Forty percent of attendees said they plan to create their own MOOCs in the next year without relying on a third party. On the other hand, 13 percent said they plan to market against MOOCs in the next year.

Other speakers included Sean Brown, vice president of education at Sonic Foundry, who spoke on how the use of video in education has reached a tipping point due to advances in production, editing, storage, and accessibility. John DeAngelo from the University of California, San Francisco, spoke about meeting faculty needs for online video in a severely constrained environment.

The “Community College Leadership Summit,” also sponsored by Sonic Foundry, featured speakers such as Thad Russell, dean of technology and distance education at Dodge City Community College (Kan.). After requiring all 2,000 students, plus faculty, to have iPads last year, the school’s retention rate has improved by 10 percent. The purpose was to develop critical thinkers, tech-savvy students, and self-learners, Russell said. It was also about encouraging faculty to change teaching methods and adapt to new technology.

In addition, the summit covered the state of online learning at community colleges, harnessing the power of video, and using data to improve student success. In addition, for the first time, UBTech attendees could attend a special interest group (SIG) meeting just before the show.

The “Big Data and Learning Analytics” SIG explored how data-driven decision-making can provide an unprecedented level of insight into student retention, faculty performance, knowledge acquisition, and systems effectiveness. There also was a focused look at learning analytics and a workshop on collaborative tools.

“Using Technology to Meet Special Needs at College and Beyond” covered how advances in hardware—such as assistive devices, mobile digital devices, and instructional technology, such as improved instructional design and hybrid learning models—have paved the way for students with disabilities.

And “WordPress + Higher Ed: Moving Beyond Blogs” focused on how this web application platform, which offers many tools beyond traditional blogging, is gaining inroads on campuses.

Featured sessions

Ten featured sessions covered hot topics of today, from big-picture questions about the future of higher education to details about branding and administrative process.

Daniel Rasmus of Bellevue College (Neb.), whose latest book is Management by Design: Applying Design Principles to the Work Experience (Wiley, 2010), spoke on “Education in Uncertain Times.” He examined various uncertainties facing education, including: technology, funding and costs, textbooks and content, degrees vs. skills, the influence of gaming, the use of analytics, and the regulatory environment.

He said techniques such as scenario planning can be used to navigate through an uncertain future. Scenarios give you permission to imagine a positive future, not just a worrisome one. For example, one scenario is that there won’t always be budget cuts.

In “Avoid the Globaloney: Ten Insights for Building a Global Brand Image,” Jessica McWade, director of worldwide consulting services for Maguire Associates, argued that no matter what size your institution is, it can be a global one. Two examples of what she considers strategic insight to building an authentic global brand: making globalization part of the institution’s identity in all marketing materials, and pumping up the narrative in communicating about the meaningful work the institution is doing in other countries.

In other featured sessions:

  • Rick Matthews, CIO and associate provost of information systems and technology at Wake Forest University (N.C.), spoke about his school’s implementation of Google Apps, while Anne Scrivener, vice provost for information technology at UMass Boston, advocated for the use of Office 365, in “Google Apps vs. Office 365: A Tale of Two Implementations.”
  • Alan G. Walker, former president of Upper Iowa University, speaking on “Using Multiple Delivery Methods to Reduce the Cost of Higher Education,” suggested saving resources while improving retention and completion by delivering programs online or establishing centers as locations off-campus.
  • John R. Curry, managing director at Huron Education and former top financial officer at MIT and other universities, covered “How the Financial State of Universities Is (or Should be) Driving Technology Investments.” He discussed how to get serious about developing business cases and how enterprise administrative systems can yield savings.
  • Mark Greenfield, director of the Office of Web Services at the University at Buffalo, spoke on how today’s higher ed system was built for a world that no longer exists, how technology and globalization will redefine higher ed, and how institutions not only can survive, but thrive.
  • Future Shock columnists and higher ed consultants James E. Samels and James Martin, authors of the book The Sustainable University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), introduced “Myths and Realities of Campus Sustainability: 10 Questions to Ask Before You Pledge Financial Allegiance to Green Energy and Technology Solutions.”
  • Tony Bates, an online learning management consultant and the former director of Distance Education and Technology at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), explored leveraging online learning and learning technologies to transform higher education in “Meeting the Challenge of Learning Technologies: Are We Failing as Managers?”
  • Tom Dougherty, who has helped national and global brands such as Lexus and IKEA with branding, explained how to change the mindset of college and university officials and administrators who don’t see their institution as a business in “Branding Your University to Steal Market Share.”

In the final featured session at UBTech, new and notable companies exhibiting in the LaunchPad aisle of the exhibit hall floor pitched their businesses to attendees, who then voted via text message for “Best of Show.” That honor went to LoudCloud. Founded in 2010, LoudCloud offers intelligent teaching and learning platforms powered by behavioral analytics.

Breakout seesions

The 93 additional breakout sessions at UBTech 2013 spanned five focus areas: teaching and learning technologies, campus networks and infrastructure, marketing your institution, facilities planning and design, and financial services.

One topic that continues to get a lot of attention is the cloud. “Deploying and Utilizing a Statewide Private Cloud: Lessons Learned” explored the advantages and disadvantages of the University System of Georgia’s shared network. Speakers Curtis A. Carver Jr., vice chancellor and CIO for the Board of Regents of the system, and John Scoville, chief technology officer, explained how USG’s PeachNet statewide network is working for the system, as well as individual institutions within it.

The private cloud dramatically lowers costs and has proven to be more agile than working with a third-party provider, they said. Negotiating and then adding or decreasing bandwidth, for example, could take four to six weeks with a provider, but can be done in 15 minutes with PeachNet.

“There are no limits associated with this; you can buy it as you need it,” explained Carver.

And research grant project teams can just rent the storage and processing capability from the USG, for as long as is needed, rather than having to build a shadow IT organization and shadow data center.

Just one example of potential savings: When compared to the cost of Amazon’s virtual data center, one Georgia institution saved about 70 percent by turning to the system’s private cloud instead. But the key is to actually use what you’re paying for, Scoville said.

For a closer look at this and other sessions from UBTech 2013, visit Then block off June 14-16, 2014 on your calendar to join us in Las Vegas for next year’s UBTech.