Academic summits on new technology in universities kick off

Next week in Redmond, in the US state of Washington, leaders of universities in Mexico will gather to learn about uses of new technology in higher education. It is the first of a series of Academic Summits to be held worldwide by Microsoft in partnership with the International Association of University Presidents, IAUP.

The next summit will be in Washington DC on 18-19 April, followed by others in all of the world’s regions. “We anticipate that the summits will proliferate,” the IAUP secretary general, Neal King, told University World News.

The role of the IAUP is to provide a high-level focus group for discussions around new technology in teaching, research and administration – it has around 400 university presidents worldwide who are members – and “provoke a conversation”, said King.

For example, in his speech at the summit being held on 8-9 March, King will argue the need for a prominent role in university leadership for the chief information officer, or CIO, in an increasingly high-tech networked higher education world with ‘digital native’ students.

“In my view the role of the CIO must be strategic, political and in partnership with the university president. The CIO job must carry more weight. This person should sit on the president’s cabinet,” said King. “I hope this will spark a debate about how presidents can make their CIO’s more effective.”

The Academic Summit initiative is part of Microsoft’s nearly US$500 million Partners in Learning programme, which in higher education also focuses on professional development for education academics in new technologies to support teacher training, and a social networking site for educators to discuss issues around technology in education.

“Microsoft has for some time had a Partnership in Learning in schools. It is venturing into higher education with the IAUP. Our members will give keynote speeches at the summits, and give a global context to how and where technology fits into the academic world,” King explained.

Each summit will include a business case presented by a university, information about a technology solution offered by Microsoft or one of its partners, and discussions about the challenges facing participant universities and possible ways to tackle them.

“There are opportunities for impact in both directions,” said King.

The summits will provide university presidents, senior managers and CIOs with a platform to discuss new technology implications and applications for their institutions going into the future. “Microsoft is designing new versions of technology and wants them to be relevant to the end users and higher education,” said King.

At the summit, King will present a ‘snapshot of reality’ on what university presidents deal with on a day-to-day basis relative to new technology, and the need for understanding of areas ranging from website development, content management systems and identity redesign to search optimisation, apps and social media, and their role in student and public relations.

Increasingly, universities are incorporating live text in exchanges with students, integrating streaming video onto their websites, and building internal communications portals to free up university websites for an external focus, among many other developments.

Presidents also need to be familiar with web diagnostics, the role of key words, cloud storage and other aspects of new technology. They need to tweet and blog and speak the language of the CIO at least to some extent if this person is to fulfil a strategic partner role.

Not all presidents are interested in or able to keep up with the rolling changes brought about by new technology and their uses in higher education, King continued. “Some are going to be more engaged than others.”

He uses the example of the head of a national US university system, who is approaching 70 years of ageand is responsible for campuses around the country. “She’s decided she doesn’t do technology, and has fully delegated this responsibility.”

At the other end of the technology scale is a younger university leader “who has made a commitment to continuing education and sees technology as a vital part of his responsibility.

“The position one takes towards new technology affects a university’s personnel, budget, infrastructure and competitiveness,” he added, and so the attitudes towards new technology of university leaders have a major impact on the institution.

Indeed, the implications of new technology for higher education are profound in a context of the need to prepare global citizens, ever-more online educational programmes and students who are generally more technologically advanced than their teachers. “The uses of social media and the power of connecting technology is going to grow over time,” said King.

“Futurists tell us that the next generation of students will be ‘digital natives’ who have grown up hardwired to new technologies and computer games. We’re told that if we want to knowledgeably receive students in a few years' time we must start gaming, as this is the best way to get to know them.”

University leaders, said King, also need to align their organisations strategically regarding new technology. If an institution’s technical staff are going in one direction, council is going in another and the president in another, the results can be discordant.

“My view is that alignment doesn’t happen by itself – the president must take the lead and set priorities.”

The new technology needs and uses for universities in different countries and regions vary considerably. Holding Academic Summits across the world will enable university leaders to troubleshoot issues of relevance locally, and to think about appropriate technologies.

“Our focus groups of university leaders have a handle on the issues faced regarding new technologies, and how they vary across countries and regions. This gives Microsoft a unique window on the world of higher education,” King concluded.