The modern college is more than just a learning community. These days, the campus serves as an incubator for what’s new in technology. Students that crisscross the quad with smartphones in hand and tablets in tow seem to know the next big thing before the rest of the world. With student populations collaborating more than ever, expectations for technology in higher education are evolving. So too has the role of the university CIO.
Project Spotlight: Accelerated Summer College
A look at the effects of the infrastructure Anderson’s IT team built to harness tech, deliver content, and allow enhanced communication.
Weeks to complete course. Students work independently or in small groups, meeting several times a week
Credits earned for these classes that address low e-learning completion
Courses that participated in 2014
Students enrolled in 2014
Students willing to take a similar course
Faculty who think students learned as much or more in the program
Bill Anderson has had a first-row seat to all the action. He’s spent the last four decades at Vermont’s St. Michael’s college, where he began his career as a professor in business and computer science. In the 1980s, Anderson developed a computer software company in the HUD compliance space that he later sold to a public company. That caught the attention of St. Michael’s president, who asked Anderson to fill a temporary, two-year position as a special assistant to the president for technology.
Now, Anderson jokes that he’s in the thirteenth year of his two-year appointment. After running the technical side of his own software company—a business with 7,000 customers and 60 employees—he stepped onto campus to fix Internet reliability problems, address virus outbreaks, improve service, and reintegrate the help-desk functionality. “By the end of the second year, I explained where we were, and I was asked to stay on and do more,” Anderson says. “We used to have that same conversation every year.” In 2005, he officially became St. Michael’s CIO and set out to bring technology to bear on organizational issues, provide tech support to facility and students, and improve reliability and capacity for students using the college’s systems.
As students increase their amount of collaboration and online activity at the private Catholic liberal arts college, Anderson works to keep pace. “Modern students have the expectation that they can stream video content, play games, and use the academic systems when and how they want,” he says. “We’ve virtualized a lot of academic systems so students can use them remotely.” His IT professionals have also upgraded the learning management system by converting to Canvas, a SaaS learning management system.
These modern tools help Anderson keep his tech plan current, while still gathering input from students, faculty, and administrators. “We get a lot of organic feedback about the services we provide,” he says, adding that students have driven many IT efforts, including wireless access, swipecard door locks, and a Tegrity class capture system—an automated solution that records classroom lectures. Most notably, Anderson and his colleagues have created a new Accelerated Summer College program and even worked with a third-party to develop SMC Knights, a recruitment game available in the Apple App Store.
“We work hard to make sure we make the right decision, and then we stick with it as long as we can,” Anderson says. That also helps the IT team build systems that can meet the evolving needs of St. Michael’s campus and its 2,000 undergrads. Additionally, Anderson’s IT team has built a tech plan framed around EDUCAUSE’s annual Top 10 IT Issues in Higher Ed, combined with internal input from faculty committees, budget processes, and specific requests. When he investigates an issue, Anderson leads his team to be specific about the process they’ll use. “That gives us some balance to uncertainty, because we can plan in advance but still respond accordingly,” he says.
In late 2014, Anderson finished writing his five-year IT plan. This year, he hopes to double enrollment in St. Michael’s Accelerated Summer College program. He’s also taking his department through a significant infrastructure update as well as looking to push ahead with a newly hired director of business intelligence. St. Michael’s will create a consortium with nearby Champlain and Middlebury colleges that will help the institutions purchase PCs and services. With the plan firmly in place, Anderson and his team are set to keep St. Michael’s on the cutting edge.