Rethinking Learning Environments for the Future

Terry Cottrell,Vice President for Information Technology and Planning, University of St. Francis

Terry Cottrell,Vice President for Information Technology and Planning, University of St. Francis

Terry Cottrell brings more than two decades of Executive IT expertise and is currently serving as the Vice President for Information Technology and Planning at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. Terry has also served as a publicly-elected official and on the boards of various organizations. The most recent is HData, an company focusing on the newly emerging field of Regulatory Technology. He has taught and designed various management and business classes at Colorado State University-Global Campu and Computers for Educators at Northern Illinois University. He is currently teaching Advanced Cybersecurity in Northwestern University's MSIS program and is enrolled in Columbia University's online M.S. program for Enterprise Risk Management.

What are some of the major challenges and trends that have been impacting the Education space lately?

Today's challenge is related to a realistic understanding of what's financially possible versus an unlimited amount of demand for services. Customers sometimes expect a business-level personalized experience to be almost instantaneous, becausethe commercial app market is growing so fast for personal device use. There's a mismatch between the timing for app functionality delivery and the raw availability of new applications on the market. Bridging the gap is a task easier said than done. We have to manage expectations realistically and speak with authority about technology in the face of insatiable demand. Users—no matter who they are (a faculty or administrative member)—will always benefit if the functionality they can imagine is manifested quickly in their hands. There's no reason for them to refrain from asking for new feature changes as soon as possible.  Delivering on these expections is the challenge.

Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful projects/initiatives that you're currently overseeing?

Some of the latest projects that we have been working on are virtualizing our desktop software interfaces, moving users to a safe remote-based experience, and acknowledging that one of the trends in mobile and wearable devices includes the desktop experience being completely ubiquitous. As a result, certain people in various positionscan work from their preferable locations. If we have a pandemic again, we'll need to quickly pivot back to this environment 100%. A large portion of our projects entail virtualization with necessary cyber security control as a part of that new paradigm. Secondly, we're striving to increase camera, mic and speaker capabilities of our physical spaces so we can flex them in the future. Also, we are focusing on collecting more data on how we use all of our new and legacy tools. This will enable us to see dashboards for efficiencies, or lack thereof.

How would you see the evolution a few years from now with regard to disruptions and transformations within the arena?

The education space will change so that there will not be a need to completely stop activity for any weather-related reason or any other sort of other disruption. In the next 12 to 24 months, there will be no technological reasons for instructional delays, because we have all the multimedia technology in placein order to instantly change modalities given the need at the time. If some institutions decide to purposely turn off their online instructional features, or any capabilities related to online course delivery and instructional design, they will fail to keep abreast of trends in the field. I think students and parents will want that flexibility in the K-12 and university education space, as the flexibility of the technology enables multiple pathways to deliver the complete experience. We will also be finding ways to secure these systems and make them more permanent, because the expectation will still be around.

What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to your colleagues to excel in this space?

I will advise them to stay focused on gaining input and buy-in directly from the user base. Even if this is achieved through small think tanks, taskforces or workgroups, bringing people together to talk about new ideas, such as the “roses, thorns, and buds” approach to planning and input gathering, holds immense importance to deal with present emerging challenges.Roses are getting people together to talk about what is great and works well; the buds are the things they think are already looking good, but could be great someday if they receive more investment of time, energy and budget dollars. The thorns are the things that just aren't working well and are risks to be managed and mitigated, or are dangerous pieces that need to be cut off or not invested in any longer. It's essential to build buy-in input through shared governance so that userslegitimately have some stake and feedback into how systems are designed, how they are oriented, and what capital is spent on which pieces of technology. 

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