What EDUCAUSE’s 2022 Top 10 IT Issues Mean for Libraries

Posted on 10 minute read

Last month, EDUCAUSE published its Top 10 IT Issues for 2022 with the subtitle “The Higher Education We Deserve”. To reach the top 10, EDUCAUSE members were asked to prioritize 17 issues identified by the EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel members. The members of the Issue Panel then broke up into groups to write essays on the 10 topics. This report starts with a 1,500-word summary of the common themes in the pieces, followed by the essays themselves. There is significant overlap in the essays to wade through with this publication style, but some valuable thoughts and observations are also there. Here are my highlights. In a number of places below, I will refer to sections of the EDUCAUSE article using Hypothes.is annotation links. If you’d like to see more or carry on a conversation, see the Hypothes.is-enabled version of the page.

Side note before we start: Psst. EDUCAUSE. Over here. First, kudos for publishing this as an HTML page and not some excessively designed PDF file. But why in the world did you publish what must be a 15,000 word HTML article with no table-of-contents anchors? It sure would be nice to refer to specific essays and sub-parts within each essay.

The Big Picture

At the top of the article, the EDUCAUSE editors put a rosy hue on the opportunities for higher education coming out of the pandemic that can be enabled by educational technology.

The EDUCAUSE 2022 Top 10 IT Issues take an optimistic view of how technology can help make the higher education we deserve—through a shared transformational vision and strategy for the institution, a recognition of the need to place students’ success at the center, and a sustainable business model that has redefined “the campus.”

At least they are admitting upfront that it is an optimistic view. If I were to write it, I’d say something like:

The EDUCAUSE 2022 Top 10 IT Issues describe a watershed moment in higher education at a time when there isn’t much water behind the dam. Faculty and staff are tired (several essays acknowledge this), and students are anxious. Calls for digital transformation mean that old ways of doing things must be replicated in two new ways: in-person/online hybrid and entirely online. And the transformation must be done at or below current budget levels. By the way: if we screw this up, our institution might die on the vine.

I’m not naturally a pessimistic person, but all this talk of Digital Transformation—that phrase is used so often in the article that the writers shorten it to a new buzzword: “Dx”—has me somewhat concerned. There are some profound implications here, and I’m unsure where the capacity to carry out the vision described in these 10 issues will come from.

The 10 Issues

  1. Cyber Everywhere! Are We Prepared?: Developing processes and controls, institutional infrastructure, and institutional workforce skills to protect and secure data and supply-chain integrity
  2. Evolve or Become Extinct: Accelerating digital transformation to improve operational efficiency, agility, and institutional workforce development
  3. Digital Faculty for a Digital Future: Ensuring faculty have the digital fluency to provide creative, equitable, and innovative engagement for students
  4. Learning from COVID-19 to Build a Better Future: Using digitization and digital transformation to produce technology systems that are more student-centric and equity-minded
  5. The Digital versus Brick-and-Mortar Balancing Game: Creating a blended campus to provide digital and physical work and learning spaces
  6. From Digital Scarcity to Digital Abundance: Achieving full, equitable digital access for students by investing in connectivity, tools, and skills
  7. The Shrinking World of Higher Education or an Expanded Opportunity? Developing a technology-enhanced post-pandemic institutional vision and value proposition
  8. Weathering the Shift to the Cloud: Creating a cloud and SaaS strategy that reduces costs and maintains control
  9. Can We Learn from a Crisis? Creating an actionable disaster-preparation plan to capitalize on pandemic-related cultural change and investments
  10. Radical Creativity: Helping students prepare for the future by giving them tools and learning spaces that foster creative practices and collaborations

Increasing Role for Libraries

Libraries and library staff are seen to be doing more of what they are doing now. For example, these two parts from the same essay:

Institutions will need IT staff who are able to engage with students to provide them with the technology training and skills that they’ll need to be successful.

Faculty will need to learn about and adapt or adopt new [self-guided learning] methods to make the best use of these technologies. They must be well supported by IT staff who understand not just the technology but also the concepts behind its application to teaching and learning.

These requirements are not new to many library staff, and I can see where library staff might be pressed into service to meet these instructional needs. This is especially true where library staff have existing liaison relationships with faculty. It is also a general call to improve the technical proficiency of all staff.

Both faculty and staff will need to become more flexible and adaptive in order to respond rapidly to changing circumstances and students’ needs. Faculty will need to become adept at remote teaching, learning, collaboration, and advising so that they can confidently revise and improvise in the moment.

From the above paragraph one could also go on: …and staff will need to understand the context of how the delivery of their services fits into the student experience and the training on how to create a supportive, equitable environment.

I also noted this paragraph about services:

As a result of the pandemic, students want and expect more opportunities outside of the normal, traditional hours that institutions typically offer. They want weekend, evening, and holiday hours for everything from classes to student services to the library.

Let’s bring it home: Students want weekend, evening, and holiday hours for … the library. Much of what the library offers is self-service already. Still, I’m trying to imagine what this means for all library services. Not just the building space, but the staff services as well. We know about the example of reference services at all hours of the day. But what of the student has an overdue fine that they want to be waived at 3am; is there an overnight staff member empowered to do that?

Student Privacy versus Student Analytics

Because these essays were written by different groups, there are some internal contradictions. For instance, at the end of the second essay there is a call for the use of analytics for everyone past, present, and future at the institution:

[Digital transformation efforts] will provide a holistic view of students, alumni, employees, resources, and more in ways that can result in beneficial outcomes. New architectures increase access to data and resources, which can offer better insights about institutional products and services and enable faster, more accurate decisions.

…paired with an issue that didn’t make the top 10:

12. Where Have All the Applicants Gone?: Using technology to streamline administrative processes and leveraging artificial intelligence to assist the enrollment pipeline

This observation from the first essay is closer to how I want higher education to behave:

Culture clashes between data preservationists and leaders managing institutional risk and legal exposure may intensify as higher education institutions introduce more conservative records-retention policies and processes. Institutions that can frame data security and privacy protection as partnerships among various stakeholders may see fewer of these and other culture clashes.

Setting aside legal exposure, data preservation (“data hoarding”?) goes against higher education themes of open inquiry and safe exploration. Higher education institutions must keep privacy at the forefront when collecting data on students, faculty, and staff. There are also enough recent examples of bias in artificial intelligence—especially where human judgment calls come into play—that there is very little room for it to be a part of the application process.

And there is this from the third essay:

Learning analytics can help faculty adapt their teaching to identify and support students quickly and efficiently. Assessment technologies, although often controversial, are maturing, and with the help of learning and assessment advocates, these technologies can become more valid and better safeguard privacy.

Too bad there are no citations here. This is not my area of expertise, but the privacy concerns with assessment technologies haven’t been adequately addressed to the best of my understanding. Safeguarding privacy must not be an afterthought.

To be clear, there is a recognition for the need for privacy and security:

In all cases, institutions need to have a security and privacy strategy. Endpoint protection platforms, two-factor authentication, and cloud monitoring tools are some of the technologies that IT staff use to protect institutional data and individuals’ identities.

How to ingrain this into an organization without being dictatorial? I imagine: public pronouncements from high levels about the importance of cloud service governance, lots of education for decision-makers and implementers, clearinghouses of shared information, and open/blameless issue resolution reports.

Instructional Technologists and Designers

Whoa boy…these professional areas are in for some stress ahead. Take this suggestion:

Using collaborative technologies like Slack or Microsoft Teams can foster dialogue and community around how faculty are using technology in their teaching, how they are teaching, and how they are changing the curriculum.

I’ve witnessed very few examples of “if we deploy this communication technology, people will come” that were successful. Introducing Slack or Microsoft Teams for their own sake will not foster the desired discussion. The technologies aren’t hard…it is the facilitation of the dialog that will be difficult and essential. But the best folks that could be community managers for this discussion are the already overworked instructional designers.

There is probably a need for an eat-your-own-dogfood approach here. Whatever technologies end up being used in the classroom need to form the foundation of this faculty discussion space; this reduces the number of tools being used and creates greater familiarity with the adopted tools.

And to be clear, this isn’t a one-and-done activity:

Instructional support and IT staff must provide more training for faculty and staff, to keep them up-to-date and to ensure that they have the skills needed to teach and work securely and effectively beyond the traditional campus.

This reinforces that there isn’t an end goal in sight—except to be more agile to the change that is coming beyond what we see. “The only constant is change?” Everyone needs training in not only the technology being deployed now, but also how to learn the technology that will be coming after. Layer that onto how tired everyone is. I can hear: “I just want to learn what I need to know now…the rest of what’s coming doesn’t concern me.”

In-person AND Online AND Hybrid, Oh My!

From the Digital versus Bricks-and-Mortar Balancing Game essay:

The biggest challenge may be finding ways of successfully working and learning in a hybrid mode. Meetings, teaching, and other synchronous group activities work best when everyone is online or when everyone is in the same room. Technologists are investing in various technologies that support “dual mode” instruction or meetings; these technologies include additional cameras, screens, audio, and collaboration technologies. Not every effort will work, so technologists often frame the technologies as experiments or pilots and encourage faculty and staff to test various options. Yet the solution is not only a technical one; equally important is re-engineering academic and work processes to enable people to conduct their work in a seamless way regardless of the modality.

I don’t think it has sunk in yet that “hybrid” (simultaneous combinations of in-person and online activities) is not a mix of what works for in-person instruction and what works for online instruction. Instead, it is a new thing all on its own. We’ve seen this tried with conferences already, and reports are that neither the in-person attendees nor the online attendees are happy with the outcomes.

And much more…

There is much more in the report than I touched on here…including some interesting bits that didn’t manage to work their way into this blog post. (Take a look at my Hypothes.is annotations of the report if you are curious about what was left out.)

If you want to hear more, it is probably a good idea to check out the EDUCAUSE Webinar about the report to be held on December 14, 2021, from 1:00–2:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. time (UTC-5). Registration is free for EDUCAUSE members; I’m not one, so I’m hoping there will be a public recording afterward.

If you have your own thoughts to add here, feel free to make comments on Twitter or Facebook. Just mention the URL to this blog post and your comments will show up below.