As a lead-up to this year’s EDUCAUSE conference, we’re interviewing some of the speakers who will be sharing their knowledge and experience at the conference. It’s our hope that these interviews will spark conversation and give conference attendees a better sense of this year’s speakers.
For the second installment of our series, we spoke to Jude Higdon, the Director of Innovative Learning and Academic Technology at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. He is leading two sessions at the 2011 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference: one on “Engaging Learnings Across Time and Space: Models for Distance Learning,” and another on “Opportunities and Challenges in Leveraging and Supporting Cloud Computing and Personal Devices.” Jude was gracious enough to answer our questions on cloud computing, the challenges of his position at the University of Minnesota, and more.
To read all our EDUCAUSE 2011 related posts, click here.
1. You’ve held a variety of roles at different higher ed institutions. How are your current responsibilities as Director of Innovative Learning and Academic Technology uniquely challenging?
Working in the College of Pharmacy is uniquely challenging in that it is the first time in my career where I’ve worked in health care education. This is also the first position I’ve had in quite a while where I am not surrounded by technologists. It is a strange position for me to be in to be one of the technically most proficient people around; I’m used to being the psychologist in the room. So I tend to do a lot more technical work than I’m used to doing, because the College is smaller and we wear a few more hats than I’ve worn in the past.
I think there is also a long tradition of distance learning in health care education, too, which presents both opportunities and challenges in my current role. The language of putting course materials online is very much a part of the culture in health care education, and that general direction seems to me more accepted than in, say, a College of Liberal Arts. However, many people have seen online health care modules emerge over the past years and have been relatively unimpressed, so there is sometimes a healthy skepticism about the quality or even potential of online learning. One of the fun challenges of my position is to help people dream about (and then execute on) ways in which online learning can be as good or an even *better* experience than face-to-face courses, both for instructors and for learners.
2. What are some of the ways the College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota leverage cloud computing and personal device technology, and what were the greatest lessons you learned from their implementation?
We have given our students iPod Touches in the past, which creates a sort of elegant infrastructure against which to experiment. If you know that your students all have a standard device, there is quite a lot you can begin to do in the cloud. The small form-factor of the Touch precluded some uses that instructors were interested in exploring — such as using eTextbooks and digital annotation of course notes — but allowed for other types of uses, such as cloud-based student responses (we have a home-grown tool called ChimeIn as well as TurningPoint clickers), using Twitter during class to create dialogic backchannel, and investigating drug databases using tools like Lexicomp and Facts and Comparisons. Students have also found the use of their Touches to be helpful while on rotation, particularly for researching drug information as part of a care team.
Over the past year we conducted a fairly exhaustive evaluation of mobile tablet devices (like the iPad) to determine if we should scale up to one of those devices. After asking students from the current curriculum to use a tablet in their coursework over the semester, evaluating the myriad devices exploding onto (and then often falling off) the market through a rubric created by our faculty-led Technology Committee, and ongoing conversations with eTextbook vendors, our conclusion was that the market was too nascent for us to standardize on a single device at this time. Instead, we chose to create a simple series of standards and work with our bookstore to identify devices that met those standards. Students were given store credit that they can use toward the purchase of a device of their choosing that meets certain standards.
I think the biggest lesson is that the space is nascent, and we are going to have to rethink our ideas about support and standards in order to be flexible enough to move with the currents. Precisely how that looks is still unclear, but we have put a stake in the ground and I believe we’ll be able to do something interesting over the coming year given our current standards and infrastructure.
3. Where do you envision the future of cloud computing and personal devices in higher ed heading? What are the greatest barriers to the realization of that future?
If I had to prognosticate, I would guess that we’ll have some bleeding edge adopters who have lauded successes in the space (Arizona State’s early adoption of Google Apps and Purdue’s HotSeat, for example) and maybe a few situations where we go headlong into the cloud and bump our heads in high-profile ways over the coming years (imagine protected data in the cloud during the four hours of “password optional” access to DropBox last June, for example). Higher-education has very talented system admins and programmers; I’ve worked with many of them. That being said, we aren’t Google, and we aren’t likely ever to be Google. So it will make sense for higher ed to figure out some type of relationship with the cloud and cloud-based services, because their technology is going to outpace what we can build internally. That relationship, however, will need to be thought through fairly carefully, and will likely emerge uniquely at each institution. Regardless, I imagine that our IT professionals will likely begin to move away from being the security and technology owners and builders, and move more toward being technology gatekeepers and guiders, helping to design and educate around best practices regarding individual decision-making about when and how to evaluate and utilize a range of tools. Technology as a service from the institution will likely begin to fade (but will likely not go away entirely) to some degree; protocols for determining when, if, and how to choose a tool to meet a specific need will gain in importance.
Similarly with devices, I think the idea of locking a device down and mandating the make, model, and overall specs for devices is likely to begin to evolve into a series of general features and functionalities that a device will need to comply with in order to leverage the infrastructure of the University.
There are definite down sides to this, but the fact is that individuals are becoming very used to the app ecosystem and the low-cost, esoteric software environment that drives mobile devices. If we simply forbid the use of cloud-based tools, or, worse, ignore theses shifts and pretend that people aren’t already beginning to migrate toward the cloud, I’m not sure we’ll like the outcomes. I think that a thoughtful dialogue that involves administrators, faculty and technical folks (including academic technologists) should happen to help develop policies and guidelines to help make the integration of an emerging cloud-based world thoughtful and compliant with our legal and ethical obligations to learners.
4. Have you attended EDUCAUSE before? If so, what’s your favorite part of the conference? Do you have any advice for first-time attendees?
This will be my first Educause, but I attend the Educause Learning Initiative each year. I love the poster sessions, because you can really get into some fun discussions and do some intellectual sparring with very bright people.