Home Administrative Solutions Ed Tech Thought Leader Interview: Innovative CIO Phil Komarny (Part 1 of...

Ed Tech Thought Leader Interview: Innovative CIO Phil Komarny (Part 1 of 2)


CIO Phil Komarny has spent many years at the intersection of education and technology. Here, in the first of a new series of education technology thought leadership interviews, Komarny shares his thoroughly informed perspective on mobile learning, iPads in higher education, social media's role in learning, and more.

As a prominent higher education CIO, Phil Komarny has a very full plate. In addition to the many IT management issues faced in any sizable organization and various challenges unique to a residential university, Kormany also has to address the challenge of supporting a diverse faculty with the integrating technology and instruction. Seton Hill University has been a leader in the integration of technology in teaching, most notably as a pioneering adopter of iPads and Macbooks for all of its students. EmergingEdTech interviewed the respected CIO, seeking his insights into the successful integration of information technology in teaching and learning.

1. First, let me say ‘thank you' for taking the time talk with EmergingEdTech readers and share your insights and experiences. So, Seton Hill was one of the first universities to go ‘all-in’ with the integration of iPads and Macbooks into their curriculum. Any changes planned for the iPad & Macbook program in the near future?

The big change in the program occurred as we welcomed the incoming class in August of 2013. Originally the students had their MacBook Pro refreshed as they entered their Junior year. After we realized that the iPad is intended to be a 2 year device we changed the program in the following ways.

  • Upgraded the MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air
  • Students receive an iPad Mini or iPad Air (choice of academic depts)
  • At the start of their Junior year they receive another iPad
  • Upon graduation, Seton Hill students keep all of the technology they received over their time at the university

We will continue to adapt the program to align with what we deem is the best ‘mobile technology’ available for our students. I am a Google Glass Explorer and have been kicking around a few ideas on how to integrate the device into the culture. The wearable market, in conjunction with sensor based technology,  is about to explode and I am sure that it will effect the technology we use at the university and how we interact with our information. Welcome to the age of context. Contextually aware applications will be the next big boom and will affect the direction of any technology program including Seton Hill’s.

2. Any advice for other schools considering a similar programs, based on your involvement in Seton Hill’s implementation?

We’ve learned many things from our mistakes.

In 2010, I too had trouble letting go of some very antiquated thinking that did not play well in this new wirelessly connected world. The concept of ‘logging into a domain account’ or ‘binding the devices to the domain’ were simply foundational IT thinking but these concepts become very disruptive when you are trying to embrace a different mode of consumption, in this case the iPad.

I guess the best advice I can give anyone would be to keep the users experience in the forefront when visioning your program. I learned early on that when you are using technology as a strategic driver for the organization, at the end of the day the metric that you will be judged by is not the feeds and speeds of IT (those are a given), but how good the users experience was. By visioning from the users perspective you will be able to mold your policies and procedures in support of this new mode of consumption.

The recipe I used at Seton Hill looked a little like this:

SHU Mobile Strategy = (Mobile + Cloud + Social) * DevOps / Vision

Seton Hill University Mobile Learning

Mobility was the key driver as we built out our infrastructure in 2009 and launched the Mobile Learning @ the Hill a year after, we formally embraced the cloud. We now have over 90% of our servers inside of the Amazon AWS cloud, in many availability zones, on both coasts. Making the move from on-campus virtualization of equipment to the cloud has cut our IT spend dramatically. These funds are reallocated and go to support the enhancement of our mobile learning initiative.

Then came social. Social, in the context in which I am referring to is, people and data interacting together in an online environment. That environment is the key to being able to understand and enhance the users experience.

Multiply that with a culture of DevOps and you quickly will see just how intune you can become with your users and their wants and needs. Making this change to a DevOps culture was the hardest change we made at Seton Hill, and still is a daily challenge. I have found that you must provide a clear, focused and reiterated vision or the culture will revert back to its old habits very quickly.

That is why I divided the equation above by the ‘vision’. If you are successful and translate your vision correctly that factor is ‘1’, exactly what you want it to be. Competing visions around mobile strategy will dilute your success. That is why it is best to have these conversations at the highest level.

3. You were recently ranked as the #1 Social CIO in Higher Education by the Huffington Post (Congratulations!). Do you see social media having a special place in teaching and learning?

Thanks Kelly, and you deserve congratulations as well for making the list! I was very proud to be named to a list with some many forward thinking higher education CIOs. #honored

Do I see social media having a special place in teaching & learning? Absolutely, YES!

Phil Komarny Twitter Self Paced Learning

I see Twitter in a different way than most of my colleagues do, I view it as a curiosity engine. I have presented our internal community with concepts that I covered in a recent blog that I wrote for the Huffington Post and published at Medium. Sharing information, conversations, images, videos, and most of all, obtaining a view of the material from an alternative context, leads to learning… Twitter IS learning.

We say that we teach our students to critically think about issues. What better way to gain insight than from a community of people who want to share their views and experiences. Some of our faculty are engaged on Twitter and use it daily in and outside of the classroom. I see this trend to continue to grow in the coming semesters as new platforms emerge that provide social contexts like Twitter a prominent role in the flow of the educational experience.

4. You are an avid user of Twitter. Do Faculty come to you for guidance on using Twitter in an instructional capacity?

Not formally. We do interact on Twitter quite often. That is all the training you need, just get on and start sharing things you read to a community of tweeps you might think would find your commentary interesting. I introduce the concept of a #hashtag and they're off. 🙂

Click here for Part 2 of our Interview with education technology thought leader and CIO Phil Komarny.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Discussing The Future of Electronic Textbooks And Digital Course Materials With Jill Ambrose
CXOTalk featuring Phil Komarny, Stephen diFilipo and Kelly Walsh (Video)
Instructional Designer James Hill Discusses the Ups and Downs of Technology (Interview)


  1. […] CIO Phil Komarny has spent many years at the intersection of education and technology. Here, in the first of a new series of education technology thought leadership interviews, Komarny shares his thoroughly informed perspective on mobile learning, iPads in higher education, social media’s role in learning, and more.  […]


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